Stephen King was a pop culture sensation by the mid-1980s, with successful film adaptations of his best-selling novels: Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), and Christine (1983). Children of the Corn was the first movie to stretch one of his short stories (from Night Shift) to feature-length, as Creepshow (1982) was an anthology mix of tales. Although the short film Disciples of the Crow (1983) was the first canonical adaptation of King’s story (included as an extra in Arrow Video’s trilogy box-set), it’s fair to say Children of the Corn made a far bigger impact.
And it’s an impact that lasts to this day, surprisingly… with a total of 10 sequels, prequels, and/or remakes. However, Arrow Video’s box-set has gone down the Hellraiser (1987-1992) route, by ignoring the opportunity for a comprehensive collection of every Corn film and instead focusing on the first three… before things truly went off the rails.
Children of the Corn (1984)
A young couple is trapped in a remote town where a religious cult of children believes that everyone over the age of 18 must be killed.
Children of the Corn is another example of King adapting his own book for the screen, but the studio wasn’t happy with the result. Hal Roach Studios had optioned the film rights to the story, but King handed in a screenplay that began with a 35-page argument between the two adult leads in their car. Executives asked screenwriter George Goldsmith to write a more commercial version of the story, before the project was sold to New World Pictures and produced for a mere $800,000—as the rest of its $1.3M budget had gone to Stephen King.
Vicky Baxter (Linda Hamilton) and her boyfriend Burt Stanton (Peter Horton) are travelling through rural Nebraska, heading for Seattle because Burt has a new job there as a physician. Unfortunately, their long road trip is interrupted when a young boy stumbles out into the road from a cornfield and is accidentally run over. Noticing the boy’s throat had already been cut, they drive him to the nearby town of Gatlin, only to find it doesn’t contain any adults and looks to have been abandoned years ago. Eventually, they notice a peculiar gang of children is lurking around, led by a teenager called Isaac (John Franklin), who’s revealed to be the self-proclaimed leader of a cult that worships a demon known as ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’.
This is a fantastic premise for a creepy horror story, with Goldsmith hoping it would also work as a metaphor for the Iranian Revolution of 1978, as a small-town was similarly taken over by religious zealots and the two adult outsiders were analogous to the American hostages of that real event. A lot of those intentions weren’t noticed when the film was released in ‘84, but even ignoring them it’s easy to see why the simple idea of a ghost town where kids have murdered the grownups and now devote themselves to a deity that lives in the surrounding cornfields was so alluring. It’s a wonderfully rich folk horror idea, and debuting director Fritz Kiersch starts promisingly with a 1980-set prologue showing the moment the brainwashed kids attack their elders, before developing an engrossing mood once Vicky and Burt find themselves trapped in the same town.
Sadly, once the setup has been dealt with, there’s a rather saggy middle section to get through. Despite only lasting 92-minutes, Children of the Corn feels much longer because only the beginning and end are particularly entertaining. It doesn’t help that this was a low-budget movie, so there are production constraints that kept the story small-scale, as a lot of money was seemingly held back for the climactic action sequence —which is enjoyable after such a lull in the narrative, but also hackneyed and unconvincingly portrayed on camera.
However, there are moments here that definitely work about Children of the Corn, such as the casting of John Franklin as Isaac (whose real-life growth hormone deficiency means he was 25 but able to play a younger boy, and the dissonance of his youthful face and adult soul gives Isaac a wonderfully creepy feel). Courtney Gains is also memorable as Isaac’s flame-haired right-hand man Malachi, while veteran actor R.G Armstrong appears as the town’s last remaining old man in a small supporting role.
I’m sure genre fans will enjoy seeing Linda Hamilton in an early role, a year before The Terminator (1984) kick-started her Hollywood career, and in seeing Peter Horton years before his TV breakthrough in Thirtysomething (1987–1991). Both actors do decent jobs with the material here, but neither can elevate a movie that feels way below the quality of previous and recent King adaptations. Downgrading the filmmaking pedigree from Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, George Romero, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter will do that! Fritz Kiersch was admittedly dealt a bad hand without much money (even Cujo had cost $8M the year before), but Children of the Corn became the first genuinely disappointing Stephen King adaptation. Of which there would be a great many more over the decades to come!
Kiersch didn’t do much of interest after making it, despite it turning a tidy profitable (grossing $14M) and unexpectedly launched a franchise of eleven mostly direct-to-video follow-ups. And there aren’t many horror franchises that have released a film in every single decade since the 1980s, although the continuity between them is weak to non-existent. The most recent Children of the Corn, a prequel, came out as recently as 2020. And a big-budget remake is always rumoured —particularly now, in the midst of another period where King’s stories are proving to be reliable hits.
USA | 1984 | 92 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)
A journalist and his son travel to Nebraska to investigate the mysterious town of Gatlin where, unbeknownst to them, a murderous cult of children are still waiting in the cornfields.
Horror films with the word “final” in the title are never the end of the story. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) ? They made eight more. Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)? Two more and counting . It seems even stupider than usual to make “The Final Sacrifice” the suffix to Children of the Corn II, as it was only the first sequel to the 1984 original.
The reputation of the many Children of the Corn sequels isn’t great, and the reason is that the original did everything one could reasonably expect from Stephen King’s premise. David R. Price’s Children of the Corn II (hereafter Corn II) arrived a ridiculous seven years after the original, now produced by Dimension Films instead of New World Pictures, which is quite something considering the 1980s was the decade of quick turnaround cash-in horror sequels. Corn II does a half-decent job of retooling the first film and working as a direct sequel. We pick things up after Corn’s climax, where the small Nebraska town of Gatlin has been swamped by a media circus, with reporters fascinated by how this place went years without any adult supervision after a cult of kids slaughtered them all. The surviving children are packed off to the nearby town of Hemingford (who never thought to check in with their neighbours before now?!), where they’re soon persuaded to continue the work of ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ after one of their number, Micah (Ryan Bollman), gets possessed by a demonic entity.
Running alongside that story is the ostensible main plot, where big-city reporter John Garrett (Terence Knox) comes to town trying to rekindle his failing career, with hunky teenage son Danny (Paul Scherrer) in tow. The Garrett’s take lodgings at Hemingford, where Danny falls for a local girl Lacey (Christie Clark) and John sleeps with B&B owner Angela Casual (Rosalin Allen) before both romances are interrupted by strange deaths happening around town.
I found Corn II to be loosely reminiscent of Village of the Damned (1960), only with American folk horror replacing sci-fi. The peculiar thing about Corn II is that the lead actors are almost entirely forgettable wastes of time, as your interest is always on Micah and what his cult of oddball kids are getting up to in Hemingford — which is essentially a number of weird murders. There’s one unintentionally comical kill involving squashing an old woman under her own house, which has been raised on hydraulic jacks, which might have worked better if they didn’t seize the clear opportunity for a Wizard of Oz (1939) references—including the visual of her feet sticking out from under the building. The best death is easily a moment involving a man suffering an unstoppable nose bleed during a church service, perpetrated on him using a variation of the “voodoo doll” technique. It’s more gross than scary and the blood’s a little too watery, but it leaves an impression — if only because the congregation (of extras) don’t react plausibly to what’s going on.
The Garret’s are superfluous to the story for too long, which is a huge problem. It’s also strange that both their storylines involve falling for attractive, age-appropriate local women. It was possibly only done so we could get an adult sex scene and a chance to see Christie Clark taking an outdoor shower under a waterfall. There’s also a stupid decision to introduce Predator-esque POV shots for ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’, some bad CGI clouds, strange use of electricity to zap people in cornfields, and generally bad ideas designed to make Corn II be more overly supernatural in nature. But in losing the original’s quietness and sense of unease, there’s really nothing scary about these children and what they’re up to. Ryan Bollman does what he can as Micah, this sequel’s replacement for Isaac and Malachi, but he’s not as inherently creepy as either. The film even throws in some Native American explanation for what’s been happening to the kids, through the character of Dr Frank Red Bear (Ned Romero), which is the sort of thing a lot of ’80s horrors leaned into — from Poltergeist (1982) to Creepshow 2 (1987) . And that only dates it further.
Still, this is the sort of lame sequel that at least doesn’t stray too far from the premise audiences liked the first time around. There are weirdo kids in a small rural town, killing adults because of their twisted beliefs, driven to zealotry by a deity in the cornfields — it just lacks a strong atmosphere and protagonists who feel like part of the main story from the beginning, whose journey you’re invested in every step of the way. Corn II was the last of this franchise to get a theatrical release, grossing $7M from an increased budget of $1.3M, so the studio must have decided the risk-to-reward ratio meant this would do better as straight-to-video releases with some brand recognition going forward.
USA | 1992 | 92 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
Two brothers connected to the murderous children’s cult of Gatlin, Nebraska, are taken to Chicago by an adoptive couple.
Pinhead, Johnny 5, and Babe went to the big city for a sequel, so why not the Children of the Corn? Final Sacrifice was marginally profitable in cinemas, but Dimension Films decided to move this franchise into the direct-to-video marketplace. That’s not often a good sign, but Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest is actually a more entertaining sequel than its predecessor, even if it’s ultimately bad in different ways and dispenses with Stephen King’s folk horror premise by leaning into more generic “demonic child” and “witchcraft” territory.
Eli (Daniel Cerny) and Joshua (Ron Melendez) are two brothers from Gatlin, having grown up there following the events of Final Sacrifice. But after the sudden death of their father — who was actually transformed into a scarecrow by Eli, who’s under the influence of ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ —the siblings are adopted by William (Jim Metzler) and Amanda Porter (Nancy Lee Grahn) and taken to Chicago to start new lives in the Windy City. Their Amish-style attire and weird fraternal bond doesn’t endear them to their streetwise classmates, but older Joshua quickly adapts to their new normal thanks to a beautiful girl called Maria (Mari Morrow) catching his eye. Unfortunately, with the help of a suitcase of magical corn he packed for the trip, Eli continues to worship Gatlin’s rural deity and begins recruiting city kids to his cause by usurping the ineffectual local preacher, Father Nolan (Michael Ensign).
Urban Harvest doesn’t look as good as its immediate predecessor, and the premise isn’t strong on the face of it, but the resulting film isn’t atrocious. It’s just more of a riff on The Omen (1976) this time around, with farming implements and crop-related deaths instead of church spires and panes of glass — such as when corn tentacles strangle a homeless man and bury him up to his neck in soil. There’s some of the Village of the Damned flavour as before with creepy Eli, at least towards the end once more the kids have been indoctrinated into his cult, but this subplot isn’t enough of a focus for it to totally work. It’s a decent idea to have an oddly charismatic outsider like Eli charm city kids into joining a bizarre cult, but Dode B. Levenson’s screenplay isn’t up to making any of it seem plausible— so we’re mostly expected to instead believe they’ve been brainwashed with magic more than the power of Eli’s oratory.
The standout reason for watching Urban Harvest is down to the practical effects, which were created by the legendary Screaming Mad George (Society, The Guyver). By the mid-1990s, digital FX was still only accessible to big-budget Hollywood productions, so low-budget fare was still mostly using 1980s-style makeup and animatronics. Many of Urban Harvest’s visuals look terribly dated by today’s standards, but even mid-’90s audiences would’ve chuckled at a woeful shot where a monster picks up a woman who’s clearly a plastic doll. However, there are some effectively horrifying sequences, such as when one of Joshua’s friends is pulled apart by corn tendrils and his head stretched up by several feet on his exposed spinal column.
It’s also since become fertile ground for a round of “before they were famous” celebrity spotting, with a young Charlize Theron and Ivana Miličević briefly glimpsed as two of Eli’s acolytes, and Nicholas Brendan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) appearing as a basketball player for one scene.
All credit to Urban Harvest for doing something new, as another sequel set amongst the Nebraskan cornfields wouldn’t have gone down well. But by moving things to an intentionally opposing location, you move further away from the fundamental concept. It’ll be down to personal taste how much this bothers you, but Urban Harvest almost has no direct connection to the previous films except another fire-and-brimstone climax with the ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows’ demon (which we finally see on screen in all its cut-price Cthulhu disappointment).
One thing the Corn movies lack is returning characters, as there’s no figurehead to enjoy seeing come back for more antics, as every “evil kid” given the spotlight meets his demise by the end. There’s also a silly throughline of Gatlin’s corn itself having supernatural properties now, leading to a laughable final shot of an opened crate of corn being slowly zoomed into as a choir chant away to an “Ave Satani”-esque melody. Incidentally, the music for both sequels comes courtesy of composer Daniel Licht, who later went on to write for Showtime’s Dexter TV series.
Ultimately, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest is a weak horror movie, a bad Children of the Corn sequel, but a half-decent rental with name recognition if you were perusing the local Blockbuster in ’95. And decades later, while it’s only grown stupider and cheesier over time, there’s enough inventive make-up and bloodshed to keep your interest in this relic. The decision to focus on two brothers certainly works, compared to the forgettable roster of characters thrown together for the first sequel.
USA | 1995 | 92 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Special Features:
Shot on 35mm with the Arriflex 35 BL camera, Children of the Corn has been given a 4K Ultra HD upgrade from the original camera negative, with Dolby Vision that downmixes to HDR10 (in my setup’s case). This was a low-budget mid-1980s film, so there’s only so much that can be done to make it look pristine by today’s standards, but the filmic result is remarkably good and a stark improvement over the last time I streamed a grottier looking HD version on Shudder. The attendant Blu-ray is also a big improvement. And, if nothing else, hearing the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does bring an added dimension to the viewing experience, even if the audio isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off.
Despite not receiving the same 4K restoration, Children of the Corn II doesn’t look half bad in 1080p HD. It was likewise shot on 35mm (with Panavision cameras and lenses) and this representation of the film is incredibly clear with sharp details, perhaps helped by the fact it was a more expensive film produced almost a decade later. Most of the story takes place in the bright outdoors, but darker scenes are handled well and I doubt many folks will be unhappy with this presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is again fine, but noticeable rear channel effects are few and far between.
Children of the Corn III was also shot on 35mm and likewise comes to disc as a 1080p Blu-ray, which is perhaps the best treatment a straight-to-video movie from the ’90s could reasonably expect. Denied the budget of its predecessor, this isn’t as appealing to look at and the blacks are more washed-out, but it’s a decent presentation nonetheless.
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all three films.
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of ‘Children of the Corn’.
- Alternate cuts of ‘Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice’ and ‘Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest’.
- DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio options for all three films.
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- 60-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by John Sullivan, Lee Gambin, Stacie Ponder, Craig Martin & Guy Adams.
- Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin.
Disc 1—‘Children of the Corn’ (4K UHD / Blu-ray)
- Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative by Arrow Films.
- Audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and ‘Children of the Corn’ historian John Sullivan.
- Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains.
- ‘Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn’, retrospective piece featuring interviews with director Fritz Kiersch and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains. A 36-minute featurette that provides an interesting and entertaining reflection on Children of the Corn from three of its key players, covering how the movie came together and got made. The two now-middle-aged actors are perhaps the most memorable of the creepy ‘Corn Kids’ the franchise gave us, so it’s fun hearing them reminisce about appearing in a cult item that’s loomed large in their lives ever since. Kiersch is full of trivia and insights, proving himself a likeable guide through the making of his own film.
- ‘It Was the Eighties!’, an interview with actress Linda Hamilton. She may not appear in the Harvesting Horror featurette, but the co-lead of Corn is the focus of a good 14-minute interview about her casting in the movie early in her career, her love of Stephen King, working with Peter Horton, and watching the crew paint crops green because the corn had prematurely turned brown that year.
- ‘… And a Child Shall Lead Them’, brand new featurette with actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin. These two actors played Amos and Rachel, two of the sane Gatlin kids, who both reflect on their time working on the set. It’s an incredible 50-minutes long altogether, which is overkill, but if you’re a fan and want to know a lot of insider knowledge maybe you’ll disagree and lap up every titbit.
- ‘Field of Nightmares’, a brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith. A 17-minute chat with the screenwriter, who goes through exactly how he got the job to adapt one of his favourite authors.
- ‘Stephen King on a Shoestring’, an interview with producer Donald Borchers. A shorter 11-minute chat, but from someone with a broader overview of knowledge about how the movie got put together. Did you know that a post-Evil Dead (1981) Sam Raimi was being considered to direct?
- ‘Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn’—an interview with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias. A 15-minute interview here with the men who helped give the film its look and sound.
- ‘Return to Gatlin’, a look back at the iconic filming locayions in Iowa with host John Sullivan. The creator of childrenofthecornmovie.com takes us on a tour of the real town where the movie was shot, Hornick, which is an enjoyable 16-minute ‘compare and contrast’ between the buildings and scenery of 1984 and 2014 (when this featurette was made). A lot of residents who were there in the ’80s are interviewed, which offers a fun perspective on things.
- ‘Cut from the Cornfield’, an interview with the actor who played “The Blue Man” in the fabled excised sequence. A brief five-minute interview with a resident of Hornick, community theatre actor Rich Kleinberg, who was a key part of a scene that got deleted where he played a cop.
- Storyboard Gallery. A showreel of storyboards set to music, lasting five-minutes.
- Theatrical Trailer.
- ‘Disciples of the Crow’, a 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story. It’s cool this 18-minute short has been included here, as it was the first adaptation of the source material but has since been overshadowed by Children of the Corn. It’s actually not too bad, working like a proof of concept piece made by students.
Disc 2–Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (Blu-ray)
- Two versions of the film: the International Cut, and the US Theatrical Cut with additional CGI and an alternate audio mix (via seamless branching).
- Brand new audio commentary by critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain.
- Brand new audio commentary by critic Lee Gambin, in conversation with director David Price
- ‘A New Harvest’, a brand new interview with director David Price. A nine-minute chat that’s decent enough, offering some insights into the making of the film and how the screenplay (Children of the Corn II: Deadly Harvest) was altered. If you don’t have time for the commentary track, this is a good alternative.
- ‘Sowing the Seeds of Terror’, a brand new interview with co-screenwriter A.L Katz. Another nine-minute chat, this time with the writer, who immediately admits he’s not a big horror fan, even though he wrote for Tales From the Crypt and Children of the Corn II. Katz comes across as an affable guy, letting slip some eyebrow-raising nuggets of trivia, like who really co-wrote the script with him.
- ‘Framing Fear’, a brand new interview with cinematographer Levie Isaacks. A short interview, just shy of seven-minutes, covering how the director of photography approached this sequel and how he got his own start in the industry (working with Tobe Hooper early on, who then gave him his big break working on Tales From the Crypt).
- ‘It was the Nineties!’, a brand new interview with actor Ryan Bollman. My favourite extra is this 18-minute interview with the then-child actor, who played Micah. It covers a lot of interesting stories about being a young actor working on a horror film, with some entertaining anecdotes that reveal being on-set was a real joy for everyone involved.
- Workprint version of the film. If you’re so inclined, you can watch this unfinished cut of the movie, with difference in scenes and dialogue, before a lot was changed in the final edit.
- Stills gallery. Huh, okay. Put these on IMDb instead, maybe.
- Theatrical Trailer.
Disc 3—‘Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest’ (Blu-ray)
- Two versions of the film, the R-rated US Cut and the Unrated International Cut with extended ending (via seamless branching).
- Brand new audio commentary by critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain.
- ‘Corn in the City’, a brand new interview with screenwriter Dode Leveson. An exclusive Arrow commission lasting 16-minutes, where the writer goes over how he was hired to write Children of the Corn III, a B Movie he had no interested in getting involved with until he realised how many people transitioned from those types of films into the mainstream. That didn’t quite happen for him, as he only has a few subsequent credits for films I’ve never heard of. Anyway, Leveson comes across as a likeable fellow with good stories about being on-set around make-up maestro Screaming Mad George, and how a punishment involving holding a stack of books came directly from British director James D.R Hickox.
- ‘Corn in the USA’, a brand new visual essay by author and critic Guy Adams. This exclusive Arrow commission is an entertaining 18-minute critique of the movie, with some good insights about “corn, culture, and cinema” with a nice line in dry humour.
- ‘Before the Urban Harvest’. A selection of early treatments for what this sequel might have become, from “Earth Warrior” to (amusingly) “The Sacrifice After the Final One”, presented as images to skip through.
- Early treatments, versions of the story from the development process.
- Stills Galleries.
- Theatrical Trailer.
- Re-Release Trailer.
Cast & Crew
directors: Fritz Kiersch (Corn) • David Price (Sacrifice) • James D.R Hickox (Harvest).
writers: George Goldsmith (Corn) • A.L Katz & Gilbert Adler (Sacrifice) • Dode B. Levenson (Harvest) (all based on the short story by Stephen King).
starring: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Anne Marie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena & John Philbin (Corn) • Terence Knox, Paul Scherrer, Ryan Bollman, Christie Clark, Rosalind Allen & Ned Romero (Sacrifice) • Daniel Cerny, Ron Melendez, Michael Ensign & Jon Clair (Harvest).