Horror Education of the Week: ‘Children of the Corn’

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“What about Gatlin?”
“Gatlin! There ain’t nothin’ in Gatlin.”
“What do you mean there ain’t nothin’ in Gatlin?”
“Well, folks in Gatlin’s got a religion. They don’t like outsiders…”

Children of the Corn was released in 1984. Based on the short story by Stephen King, the film tells the story of the town of Gatlin, Nebraska. A demonic god, referred to as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, has commanded that the children of Gatlin kill their parents and all adults to ensure that the cornfields will prosper.

As the years go by, the children continue to sacrifice those who age into adulthood, and any interlopers that happen to stumble into town.

The film version of Children of the Corn differs vastly from King’s original work. However, the differences aid in giving the plot a deeper meaning in regards to religion:

- A couple, Vicky and Burt, are driving across the country for Burt’s medical internship. This establishes that Burt is more than likely a man of science.

- Burt and Vicky mock a religious preacher on the radio as they try to distract themselves from the endless cornfields around them, setting up their presence as ‘outlanders’ to the aura of the town they are about to reach.

- In the small town of Gatlin, Sarah and her brother Job play a board game in dress up clothes while listening to a record player: All of which is strictly forbidden by their preacher’s right hand man, Malachai.

- While music isn’t necessarily banned in most Christian religions, indulgences in certain pleasures are certainly frowned upon.

- When Vicky and Burt hit a child that has had his throat cut by Malachai, moral issues come into play.

- Vicky simply wants to get to a phone to report what has happened, while Burt is cautious, placing the body in the trunk and taking the young man’s suitcase to find clues as to what has happened.

- When the suitcase is opened, further evidence of Vicky and Burt’s stance on religion is noted.

- A bizarre corn husk cross is found in the child’s belongings to which Burt yells, “Jesus Christ!” Vicky replies, “Not in my book!”

- As they reach Gatlin, the atmosphere is not too far fetched. They’ve been warned that the people of Gatlin are religious and do not take very kindly to strangers.

- Anyone who has been on a road trip through middle America has seen endless fields and knows that when you stop in certain towns, you get weird looks. You are an outlander.

- Preacher Isaac and his lackey, Malachai, are seen in a back and forth preaching session with the children in the cornfields. As they throw out the good word of He Who Walks Behind the Rows, the children respond: “Praise God. Praise the Lord.”

- This mock prayer session, while crude in some ways, is not much different than any religious ceremony.

- The children are warned that outlanders will come to town and they will be non believers.

- Vicky and Burt find that the town is abandoned, yet while it is empty – Burt proclaims, “It’s weird here, but it’s safe.”

- As with most small towns, unless you’ve seen way too many horror movies, their appearance is strange, yet they always seem completely harmless.

- Inside the church, many religious sayings are written on the walls, including: “Ye should worship no other gods besides Him.”

- While this is a form of one of the ten commandments, the twist on it as referring to He Who Walks Behind the Rows is clever.

- This cleverness on part of the children is shown as Burt tries one more time to convince them of their wrong doings.

- “This is what God commands? What kind of god tells his children to kill their parents? Did you hear that before Isaac? I can’t believe you’re this blind. I think you’ve been listening to these holy rollers too long. Any religion without love and compassion is false. It’s a lie.”

- There are countless ways to take Burt’s speech and apply it to what we’ve heard of religions. Many of us are not fully familiar with different ways of worship other than what we’ve heard from mass media.

- After Vicky survives the children’s attempt to crucify her, she and Burt learn that the children’s god is actually quite real, as He Who Walks Behind the Rows reveals himself.

- In the end, religion is ultimately what indeed saves these outlanders.

- Job tells them of the ‘Blue Man’ who came before them. He was crucified by Malachai, however, he had a passage from the bible with him:
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

- This passage from the Book of Revelations leads Burt and Vicky to their salvation: They burn the cornfields and escape Gatlin.

Side Note: My first encounter with Children of the Corn was actually in 1985 while watching You Can’t Do That On Television. The show always started with the ‘regularly scheduled program’ – which was always a corny parody of something original – having to be replaced.

Somehow this idea freaked me out before ever even seeing the movie.

  • Chaybee1

    This was one of the first horror movies we had to sneak the VHS tape past our parents to be able to see. When I finally saw it on video I was freaked out!

    I revisited the film a couple of years ago and honestly didn’t think it held up too well (I am 36 now). The atmosphere and tension is still somewhat there, but Malachi and Issac were not as menacing to me as they were when I first watched it.

    • LaurenTaylor

      Try and rewatch it, breaking it down to the religion level. It’s creepy in the respect of what people do in the name of god.

  • Evan3

    Thanks @LaurenTaylor, this is one of my favorite horror films, cheesy though it may be. Isaac and Malachi are perfectly cast and, though I like King’s original downer ending a bit more, this film is a much better encapsulation of the horror King strove for. In any event, your insight on this was top notch, and has undoubtedly pleased “he who walks between the rows”

    FYI, Wal-Mart has a dual pack blu-ray of Children of the Corn and Hellraiser – possibly the greatest 2-pack I have ever purchased.

    • LaurenTaylor

      Aww, thanks!!

  • Goretorium

    Perfect horror lesson!

    -@Goretorium

  • BelaManiac

    Another great post, Lauren! Should really rewatch this one. It’s been way too long and I was probably too young to understand as I would now. Have to laugh at You Can’t Do that on Television though. Used to loveee that!

    • LaurenTaylor

      It was a great show, eh?

      Thanks a ton!!!