March 20, 2015 The Anatomy of a Remake: Children of the Corn
Driving by a random cornfield will never be the same after watching Children of the Corn (1984). Despite its popularity today, it was quite a journey before the movie made it to the big screen over thirty years ago. Iconic horror author Stephen King wrote the short story, first published in an issue of Penthouse in 1977 and later collected for King’s first book of anthologies, Night Shift, in 1978. The story was turned into a short film directed by John Woodward and titled Disciplines of the Crow (1983), and a year later, producer Donald P. Borchers made a feature length version, Children of the Corn, directed by Fritz Kiersch (Tuff Turf 1985, Swamp Thing 1990) with a screenplay by George Goldsmith (Nowhere to Hide 1987, Blue Monkey 1987). Although movies with crazy, supernatural children had been done before such as 1964’s Children of the Damned and 1976’s The Omen, this movie took the insanity to a whole new level; the fear of isolation and the mystery of what may reside in those mile-wide cornfields forever imprinted itself into the minds of viewers. Filmed in Iowa and California, the movie had a low estimated budget of only eight hundred thousand dollars, had a box office gross of over fourteen million dollars and spawned eight follow-up films, making it successful, despite critics’ opinions.
In 2009, Syfy came out with a television remake of Children of the Corn that was directed, written, and produced by Donald P. Borchers, producer of the original film. Borchers’ modern vision created a teleplay much closer to King’s short story. With a budget of two million dollars, and final costs of three million dollars, he filmed his version of Children of the Corn in three separate areas of Iowa. As with most remakes, people had their doubts, but Borchers had enough experience from the 1984 film to give his re-imagining of the tale a chance.
The original movie tells the story of Burt (Peter Horton: thirtysomething 1987, Singles 1992) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton: Terminator 1984, Beauty and The Beast 1987), a traveling couple who stumble across rural Gatlin, Nebraska, and discover that the children have taken over the town to appease He Who Walks Behind the Rows, a bloodthirsty corn god that speaks only to the squeaky voiced child prophet, Isaac (John Franklin: Child’s Play 1988, The Addams Family 1991). Three years before, Isaac and his knife wielding assassin, Malachai (Courtney Gains: Back to The Future 1985, Can’t Buy Me Love 1987), had convinced the children of Gatlin that He Who Walks Behind the Rows would provide a good harvest if they sacrifice all of the adults over the age of nineteen, a trend that would continue with every child’s nineteenth birthday. This leads us to Burt and Vicky, who happen to be driving by the possessed cornfields when they hit a stumbling boy with their car.
Panicked, the physician Burt goes out to check on the kid, who is dead but not from being hit by a vehicle. This starts a chain of events that leads the couple to Gatlin, a veritable ghost town literally filled with corn husks and insane Jesus paintings made out of corn kernels. The children soon swarm the adults and prepare to sacrifice them to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, but Burt and Vicky have other ideas. Not all of the children in town are programmed – the couple find sweet Job (Robby Kiger: Crazy Like a Fox 1984, The Monster Squad 1987) and his sister, Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy: Invitation to Hell 1984), who help them throughout the movie. After a showdown between the violent Malachai and the fanatical Isaac, Malachai overthrows the tiny preacher and decides to sacrifice him instead of Vicky. Burt sets out to rescue her, telling the children they have been brainwashed and believe in an evil, false god. Isaacs’s corpse comes back possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows and he snaps Malachai’s neck. As a terrible storm starts to brew and evil can be seen in the clouds, Burt, Vicky, Job, and Sarah work together to burn down the corn field and destroy that the evil that resides in Gatlin.
Syfy’s Children of the Corn begins in 1963 as a boy preacher gathers the children of Gatlin, Nebraska, and informs them that He Who Walks Behind the Rows has spoken to him in a dream and has told him that the only way to end the current drought was to sacrifice anyone over the age of nineteen from then on. Twelve years later, bickering, married couple Burt (David Anders: The Vampire Diaries series, Once Upon a Time series) and Vicky (Kandyse McClure: Carrie 2002, Hemlock Grove 2013) are heading toward California for their second honeymoon in hopes to rekindle their marriage. Like the original, they also run over a kid that comes from out of the corn unexpectedly. Despite their continued squabbling on what to do next, they drive into the deserted Gatlin to try to find help.
Meanwhile, the new leaders of the cult, Isaac (Preston Bailey: Dexter TV series, The Crazies 2010) and Malachai (Daniel Newman: The Dark Night Rises 2012), see the outlanders as a test from he Who Walks Behind the Rows and plan to sacrifice them. As Burt looks for help in an abandoned church, the children surround the Vicky in the car, but when she tries to fight back, Malachai kills her. Burt runs out after hearing the shots and discovers his wife has been killed by the children of the corn. He fights them off, killing a few in the process and running into the cornfields to hide. As the children hunt him down, Burt flashes back to his Vietnam days. The children have no luck finding him and must leave the field before nightfall. Later that night, He Who Walks Among The Rows kills Burt, gouging his eyes out and tying him to a cross. Isaac tells the children that their corn god is dissatisfied with their failure to kill Burt themselves, and therefore a new rule would be in effect – the new age for sacrifice is eighteen, meaning Malachai would be next to die.
Both movies have their strong points, similarities, and differences. The scene where Burt and Vicky are driving on the back roads heading towards Gatlin is almost exactly the same, right down to the preaching on the radio. Other than names and basic premise, the rest differs significantly. In the original, Burt and Vicky are happy and dating, while the Burt and Vicky of the remake are about to get divorced. The characters of Job and Sarah, who play a significant part in the original, have nothing to do with the remake. The 2009 version has more background as to why the children worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows and gives a more detailed look into their lives: clothing, food, and routine. Some of the young teenagers are pregnant and there is even a fertilization ceremony where the teens engage in sex in front of everyone in church.
One of the biggest changes is the ending. While the original left the main characters relatively unscathed, the remake had a much darker ending. The sacrifices are brutal and the children of the corn defeat the outlanders. Both movies have an interesting storyline and different outlooks on what happened in the town of Gatlin, Nebraska. The original Children of the Corn may have received negative reviews over the years from critics like Roger Ebert and Rotten Tomatoes, who gives it a rotten score of 38%, viewer demands proved them wrong, calling for sequels and spawning the new edition of the story. Children of the Corn is a beloved story that still leaves people wondering what evil may be residing in those tall rows of corn, along with the desire to spontaneously yell, “Outlander!”