Children of the Corn, by Stephen King

I honestly cannot say when my love of horror began, but I do know that the Stephen King short story “Children of the Corn” was an early example of finding the thrill in being scared. That is mostly thanks to the 1984 film adaptation of the story starring John Franklin and Linda Hamilton, along with its chilling theme. Does the original short story inspire such dread? Um…

Burt and Vicky are a young bickering couple on their way to California, trying to patch up their marriage. While driving through Nebraska, they accidentally run over a young boy with a suitcase. They try to find help in Gatlin, the next town over, but it appears to be deserted and stuck twelve years in the past. But Burt and Vicky soon find themselves in the clutches of a vicious cult of children that worship a demonic entity called He Who Walks Behind The Rows.

I like this story, I really do, but our main couple, Burt and Vicky, are quite annoying. Vicky is a flighty, whiny brat, and Burt is an asshole who simply doesn’t listen to Vicky when she expresses her worries. They snipe at each other at every turn and I could not help grinding my teeth during their spats. Sure, Burt comes to regret his actions later, but that doesn’t mean that you kind of wish he’d run into the children faster.

Still, the token King atmosphere is here. When Burt enters the Gatlin church, the disturbing imagery and depravity of the children’s cult are quite clear. A twisted portrait of a fundamentalist corn-themed Christ and a pipe organ whose keys are ripped out and replaced with corn husks are chilling indeed. 

The way in which Burt relays the history of the cult works well too. He imagines how he will tell it to Vicky, cracking jokes at the worst parts of it, like how the children killed their parents and took over the town to continue their twisted worship. Some things are so terrible that you have to laugh at them, I suppose, and it works to good effect here. Scary children in horror is not a new concept, but a demon that uses children to specifically murder adults is creepy.

There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the cult, which helps us sympathize with Burt and Vicky, even if they had it coming from the start. I have no idea how a nine-year-old boy became this cult of teenage children’s leader, but the possibilities are what make it interesting. Did the boy, Isaac, have a blood pact with He Who Walks Behind The Rows? Did he show the children the deity and force them to join him under pain of death? Whatever drove all these children to become bloodthirsty zealots, not knowing simply pulls you in.

However, I do wonder if this story would have been scarier if He Who Walks Behind The Rows was never revealed. Granted, we do not get a full description of the monster, but we get a clear indication of something massive creeping through the corn. Maybe if Isaac was just a manipulative creep who convinced these children to join his cult, and Garlin’s massacre was all on his hands, that would give more weight to the horror. He Who Walks Behind The Rows is creepy, but the story might have fully benefitted from having a completely sociopathic fundamentalist nine-year-old as its sole villain.

“Children of the Corn” is a good story idea executed pretty well. It definitely works better as a short story than a stretched-out 90-minute movie, but I’ll probably return to the movie theme more often than the actual story.

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