Three years ago in the Nebraska smalltown of Gatlin, it was a typical Sunday morning and the adults had just left church. Job (Robby Kiger) was in the local drugstore with his father, having turned down the opportunity to go with the other children who had wanted to hear boy preacher Isaac (John Franklin). But suddenly the adults find their coffee has been poisoned and the children arrive to make their move, cutting them down with knives, scythes and machetes. Now, in the present, a young couple, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are driving along the back roads of Nebraska on the way to Burt's new medical post when they unexpectedly become stuck on the road to Gatlin - which is the home of the surviving children and something else... something evil.
Children of the Corn was based on the short story by Stephen King, and adapted by George Goldsmith. It takes the innocence of children and sees it corrupted by a supernatural force in a way that echoes films such as The Bad Seed and The Exorcist, only this time with a whole host of wicked kids. But more than that it conjures up an atmosphere of creepy isolation, with the smalltown situated right bang in the middle of miles and miles of cornfields, which is a real bonus to keeping the main characters feeling as if there is no one around to help them. The mechanics of a town cut off from civilisation might not stand up to scrutiny - didn't the dead have relatives from elsewhere? Where were the police? - but its an effective conceit for the film.
The first thing that Burt and Vicky notice to cause them to think that all is not well out here in nowhere is when a bloody child steps out in front of their car and they run into him. They haven't killed him, however, as he's already dead - murdered by Isaac's right hand man, Malachai (Courtney Gains) for the audacity of wanting to escape. The couple don't know that of course, and Burt places the body in the back of his car, also taking the boy's suitcase with him. Inside are clothes and a cross made from corn - a sign of the running visual theme that we see plenty more of as the film progresses. The couple take a very long time to realise what is going on, especially considering we already know, and it's not until they are in the heart of danger later on that they twig.
Meanwhile, they meet a mechanic (R.G. Armstrong) who tells them to avoid Gatlin (too religious to have phones, he says) and head elsewhere. They take his advice, but he has disturbed the entity in the cornfields and ends up dead for his trouble. The entity, known as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" isn't going to let Burt and Vicky get away so easily, so we are treated to the old "all roads lead to the evil place" cliché, an addition to the "terrifying incident that turns out to be a dream" one, the "you made me jump" one, and that perennial favourite, the "falling over while being chased" one. Once it's clear they're not getting away, the real story begins in earnest, with the children setting up a sacrifice for their mentor.
The villain of Children of the Corn is interesting in that he is basically a variation of an Old Testament God, and is duly worshipped by his followers. His representative, Isaac, terrifically played by Franklin, is a petulant, harsh-voiced tyrant, a miniature version of a fire and brimstone preacher who makes sure he gets his way with threats about going to Hell if you don't obey him - not much different from a regular firebrand, really. The children use Biblical-sounding language like "Hold the outlander!" and "Do not blaspheme, Malachai!" and stage rituals which adds to the feel of religion gone horribly wrong. The story might have been more chilling if there were no supernatural element, but as it is this is a fairly strong entry into the stream of King adaptations, which is mostly down to its trappings rather than its narrative. Music by Jonathan Elias.
[Anchor Bay's Sepcial Edition DVD includes a laidback audio commentary with the filmmakers, a documentary on the film, a trailer and more. It is available as part of a box set of the first three films.]