As a former English teacher, I tend to mentally go back to the books I taught and the literature I’ve loved for most of my life–thus why teaching English worked for me. One of those books, which happens to be one of my favorite books of all time, is “Lord of the Flies.” There is something so grotesque yet fascinating about the idea of what would happen if children were left to their own accord to build, control, maintain and sustain a society. What would happen to the previous culture? Where would morals come in to play? How would they survive? Would there be groupings and stereotypes and constructs still in play? For Golding’s most recognizable work, those questions and more were answered; however, it all could boil down to the idea of savagery and civility. For many, savagery became the new normal. Golding’s book emerged post-World War II, a time in which we were culturally and socially wrestling with what happens in a slightly post-apocalyptic America (or world). This is what good works of fiction do, just as Orwell’s “Animal Farm” had done immediately following the war or Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” did during the civil rights moment. I argue film is no different. And in the case of today’s film, Stephen King’s own version of “Lord of the Flies” (the short story he wrote came at the tail-end of the Seventies), we see yet another glimpse as to what children would do if they were left to their own accord (religion and all). Today’s film is “Children of the Corn” (1984).
The film is certainly supernatural in nature, and deals intensely with religious idolatry and subtle hints at religious bigotry and exclusionists. It is also a folk story, meaning it emphasizes the storytelling of common people, and usually is based on some element of superstition. For this film, King’s work isn’t necessarily rooted in a discussion as clear as Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” but rather it is focused on how small communities create and establish cultures that are intricately and passionately passed on from one generation to the next without question or concern. What comes from “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” ultimately is a story that resonates with all: ritual tendencies to ensure success. For the children of the corn, it was for a positive harvest, which is a natural folk story that transcends cultures and time.
Fritz Kiersch chose not to use King’s original screenplay for the film. In fact, King’s screenplay was more about the children’s uprising, rather than the aftermath and pain of it. What came of this is a story that emphasized more aggression and violence, which is certainly in line with the tale told by Golding. As the story unfolds, it is clear that a microcosm is created. The hierarchy of age and religious connectivity serve to keep this created society in line, with the central-most being Issac as he is closest to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Malachi, Issac’s second, is the enforcer, or the brutal older brother who takes no pity or prisoner on any of the younger members of the group. While we see an internal battle of power between the greatest evils in the film, the greater narrative focuses on the desire to leave the cult that was created. This is where Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton’s characters are most important and relevant. In many respects, their interjection into the story is a major component of the allegory itself: societies cannot exist on savagery and immaturity, but rather need strength, maturity and age to create stability. While many of the characters’ lines showcase some depth and maturity, it is clear that they understand things at the level of a child that lacks real life experience and knowledge to live.
The film inspired a number of sequels and certainly maintains a cult following in itself, despite the traditional lashing (because much of horror doesn’t get judged as exceptionally from those in the ivory tower of criticism) from critics. Amidst the pandemic, a prequel to this film was shot in Australia, which may mean that we are possibly getting an original story that hopefully may align more with King’s original intent.
As the fall winds down and many venture into the corn for the traditions of hay rides and mazes, just remember one thing: the stalks have a story of their own and that story might just include you nourishing them for the years to come.