There’s yet another remake of Children of the Corn coming to theaters. Is the 12th time the charm?
"Nothing stays dead in the corn."
In 1977, up-and-coming author Stephen King published a 15 page short story in the March issue of Penthouse magazine, entitled Children of the Corn. The tale regailed the reader of the men’s magazine with the misadventures of a couple stranded in a farm community where the children had killed the adults in a mass psychosis of religious ferver. The 1984 film adaptation was not a particularly good movie, but did entrench itself in horror history by having a few great lines and a memorable creepy kid lead in Courtney Gains’ Malachai.
Since the short story’s release, all told there have now been a dozen film adaptations—shorts, sequels, and reboots. Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, and Eva Mendes have all appeared in Children of the Corn sequels, though all uncredited—the series has lived longer than their mainstream careers. Does Children of the Corn really need to be revisited and (barely) re-imagined this many times in 46 years? Assuredly not. But to what degree are these even adaptations of that original piece versus lightly licensed variations on a theme, since the basic folk-horror concept of children versus adults in farm country has grown to be enough of a pop culture mainstay to have full episode length spoofs on South Park and plenty of mediocre genre pics that riff on this skeleton?
Now, in 2023, theaters this week will host the 12th official film adaptation, this time from writer/director Kurt Wimmer—known primarily for his work around clever-adjacent action thrillers like Ultraviolet, Equilibrium, Law Abiding Citizen, and the recent Point Break remake. As a fan of his work, it wasn’t hard to be interested to see what spin he would bring to a low budget King adaptation of a premise that has already been done to death. Certainly there’d be no reason to tackle this unless there was something worth bringing to the table.
The plot itself centers on psychopathic 12-year-old Eden (played by The Handmaid’s Tale’s Kate Moyer), who recruits a bunch of kids to seize control of a Nebraskan town after becoming possessed by a dying spirit. They’re fairly pissed off because some kids killed some people, so the cops killed some people, and in the press a bunch of children got murdered. Right off the bat, this movie goes to some lengths to make it clear that whatever vegetable these kids identify with, they’re probably in the right to want to murder the irresponsible post-pubescents of this city.
Where CotC seems to go from here is a jaunt around any sort of possession or even religious fervor, and lands squarely in the realm of a more modern outrage/fear set. Eden, as this version’s child heretic leader, absolutely is the reason to see this movie. She has a hellfire burning in her eyes, but equally deploys a fair number of horror film “staple one-liners” that scratch the ole Malachai itch. She is also fairly difficult to not see as a boomer’s worst nightmare, as an anti-hero with zealotry and the ear of the youth tackling environmental threats—she’s… she’s your Facebook uncle’s nightmare about Greta Thunberg. The adult generation here is undeniably responsible for poisoning the earth and killing off her generation with no remorse and selfish disdain. That Eden be on the side of the planet leading a war of defense for both safety and salvation is… timely.
Unfortunately, a solid first act built around this modern eco-terror lens mostly sputters out quickly into a series of checklist plot points and is spread across a decent cast handed some bad writing and told to do their best with it. That said, it never dips into confusing, laughably bad, or worse: boring. It’s an admittedly mid-to-low budget production, famous for plowing through early pandemic restrictions to wrap, and the film shows the burden of that crunch. Even so, it isn’t by a long shot the worst thing on Shudder’s service from the pile of covid horror outings, and does breathe life into an IP that probably doesn’t deserve recitation.
It also contains one of the most memorable sequences of mass cruelty in recent memory, so the film—again—at least takes a few big swings, even if it never hits a double.
Is there any reason we really needed a new entry in this series? Probably not. Would you have enjoyed this film and been on board with what it was trying to do if you had no idea it was a CotC remake? Your mileage may vary, but I’m one of the few critics of the film willing to say that most ringing of all endorsements: “Hey, that was fine!”
RLJE Films’ Children of the Corn also stars Elena Kampouris (Before I Fall), Callan Mulvey (The Gray Man) and character actor Bruce Spence (The Road Warrior). It hits US cinemas for a limited time this Friday March 3, before streaming on Shudder from March 21.