Plot: What’s it about?
One of the most anticipated releases of the year from cult distributor Arrow Video is Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. This film is so well beloved that it has been brought to Blu-ray three times now. Image and Starz/Anchor Bay have both put this film out before, so what makes this film so special that it has received the high definition treatment this many times while so many films gather dust in vaults?
The storyline for the film begins with a young boy named Job narrating how a boy preacher named Isaac (John Franklin) led the children of small town Gatlin, Nebraska to kill all of the adults in the town. Job and his sister Sarah aspire to leave the town and get away from Isaac and his evil follower Malachai (Courtney Gains.) A few years after the takeover of the town, one of Sarah and Job’s friends attempts to escape Gatlin by running through the cornfields despite the warning of “he who walks behind the rows.” This attempt is thwarted by Malachai and the boy is stabbed almost to death. Meanwhile, young couple Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are traveling across the country so Burt can start his new career as a Doctor. The couple accidentally hits the young escapee with their car when he stumbles out of the corn field. Wanting to alert authorities, Burt and Linda try to find some adults to help them. Instead they find themselves stuck in Gatlin and terrorized by a cult of children that believe that an evil deity in the corn fields needs their sacrifice.
Children of the Corn is an enjoyable horror film. Both Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton handle their roles capably. The score by Jonathon Elias is effectively creepy and has been imitated numerous times since the film came out. The first thirty minutes of the film actually had me jump a couple times. These were just music cues that hit at the exact second that they should, but they were definitely effective. The middle of the film builds up suspense as the couple find themselves separated and dealing with homicidal children. Unfortunately, the film unravels under the weight of its ideas in the final thirty minutes of the film due to special effects that will completely pull the viewer out of the film. This is largely due to budget constraints but the final sequences of the film unintentionally remove any of the previous tension. The film had built up tension fairly well in the first two thirds of the film. This leads to the film feeling somewhat uneven, but does not completely ruin the film. In fact, the movie is fun from start to finish even with its inability to stick the landing in the finale.
As for why this film would be receiving its third Blu-ray release, I think I know exactly why. When I mentioned this movie to my brother he specifically mentioned how much it had scared him as a kid. He was unwilling to watch it again saying that it gave him the creeps. Two generations of kids grew up watching this film as it aired on TV on TBS and TNT repeatedly. That is two generations that can remember how scary it was back then. I would hope that with this new release of the movie they can revisit it and laugh at their old childish fears now that they have come of age.
Video: How’s it look?
This new transfer in 4K from the original 35mm prints is hands down the best version of this film on the market. To compare, I began by watching the older Image release of the film. The Arrow Video release has much better fine detail. The leap from that version to this one is fairly substantial. The new restoration appears using an MPEG-4 AVC encoding of the film in 1.85:1 whereas the previous versions showed the film in 1.78:1. That said, this was a low budget film that was filmed in four weeks in 1984. You can go into this transfer knowing that it is essentially reference quality, but this film is not necessarily beautiful to look at. The image can be a little muddy sometimes. A soft-focus picture is fairly common.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Two audio tracks have been provided: an LPCM Mono track and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. I watched the film in mono, not realizing that there were two options on the disk.I then rewatched key scenes in the surround mix. The Mono track sounds very good for a Mono track, but pales in comparison to the 5.1 track. The 5.1 track adds much more depth to both the score and some added directionality to the effects. This is most prominent during the finale of the film where the 5.1 track is much more effective than the Mono track. I am glad that Arrow went the extra mile here to provide both options. The tracks are clear and do not have any noticeable hiss. This film is probably best remembered due to the eerie score by Jonathan Elias and it shines here. Go with the 5.1 track when you watch for a better experience!
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains – a solid commentary that was available on the previous Anchor Bay release.
- Audio Commentary – Horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan – new commentary produced by Arrow Video for this release. This track is pretty informative considering that these gentlemen did not work on the film.
- Harvesting Horror – a well-done piece produced by Anchor Bay with interviews with Courtney Gains, John Franklin (who was 23!) and director Fritz Kiersch.
- It Was the Eighties! – an Anchor Bay-produced interview with Linda Hamilton who looks back on the production of the film.
- . . .And a Child Shall Lead Them – a new piece from Arrow for this release featuring interviews with Julie Maddalena and John Philbin who played Rachel(the high priestess kid) and Amos (the nineteen year old.)
- Field of Nightmares – a brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith Arrow Video produced for this release. Probably my favorite of the new features.
- Stephen King on a Shoestring – an Anchor Bay produced interview with producer Donald P. Borchers. He was Vice President of New World Pictures when he produced the film. He was twenty six years old at the time. Good stuff.
- Welcome to Gatlin – this Anchor Bay produced feature offers interviews with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias. I was most interested in what Elias had to say about his iconic score.
- Return to Gatlin – this new feature from Arrow Video has noted fan John Sullivan hosting a tour of filming locations.
- Cut from the Cornfield – this new feature is an interview with actor Rich Kleinberg discussing a lost scene in which his character would have had his throat slit.
- Storyboard Gallery
- Disciples of the Crow (1080p; 18:56) this short film adaptation of the King story was made one year earlier than the film version. This is only available on the Arrow disk. Not exactly the greatest film achievement of all time, but interesting.
The Bottom Line
Children of the Corn is a well loved horror film that terrified the Generation X and Generation Y kids as it repeatedly aired on television throughout the Nineties. It is effective at building suspense until it falls apart in the last third of the film. Surprisingly, I still enjoyed watching the film. Arrow Video have provided excellent transfers of the audio and video along with an enormous amount of special features. Fans will be ecstatic to see it get the royal treatment. This film comes recommended for horror enthusiasts that are not perfectionists. It is rough around the edges and not actually that scary when you get to the ending and some of the most awful special effects imaginable. If you can get past that, this is the definitive version of the film.