Back in 2018, a close friend and I decided to start our next horror movie marathon by approaching a series that will be familiar to most Stephen King fans: Children of the Corn. However, while some may know the name, how many are aware that this newest take is actually the eleventh entry? That’s right—there are more Children of the Corns than there are Chucky, Leprechaun, Freddy, or Ghostface movies. While our binge made for one wild ride, nostalgia heavily played into which ones I enjoyed the most. Suffice to say, this is one of the most inconsistent horror franchises of all time. So how does the newest installment, delayed since the pandemic, fare upon release? Sadly, the film written and directed by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Equilibrium) ranks as one of the absolute worst in a franchise spanning almost four decades. Poor CGI, a mess of a story, a troublesome collection of child actors, and unintentionally funny dialogue do confusingly-titled Children of the Corn no favors.
While still set in Nebraska, this entry moves away from the stalks of Gatlin, and subsequently distances itself from the influence of Stephen King’s famous short story. Children of the Corn (notably the third film in the series with that exact title) instead shifts to the small town of Rylstone, home to the “happiest corn in Nebraska!” The movie opens with its one true inciting incident—a red-eyed young teen named Boyd stumbles out of the corn, picks up a knife, stabs his father in the chest, and charges into the local children’s home where he goes on a massacre inside. Local law enforcement arrive, and to flush the boy out for some reason, they stick in a hose of toxic halothane. To everyone’s surprise, this results in fifteen children being discovered dead afterward, succumbing to the halothane fumes.
Boyd’s much younger sister, Eden (Kate Moyer), is taken in by a prominent member of the community to foster her. We see virtually none of Eden in the aftermath of her brother’s murder. Children of the Corn opts to focus on Rylstone fading into obscurity as businesses go defunct, and buildings are boarded up. Fiercely intelligent Bo (Elena Kampouris) is only days away from leaving town for good to head to Boston, but would be leaving behind her brother Cecil (Jayden McGinlay) in this dying town with their parents. As Bo and Cecil wander through the cornfields, they come upon an unhinged Eden on horseback, donned in a red wig and the new self-proclaimed Red Queen. She instigates the children of town committing all sorts of wild and crazy things, like smashing cars, shooting objects with arrows, making kids walk planks, and eventually, murder! Due to loneliness and some weird lapse in judgment, Cecil joins up with Eden’s ranks from the second they encounter her. Bo’s sole ally may be Cal (Joe Klocek), an older teen being abused who desperately wants to get out of Rylstone at any cost.
A town meeting occurs wherein what remains of the townspeople lament the corn is dying. Bo wants them to try to repair the soil and save the town in a way, and melodramatically, the children also want their voices heard during a town vote. Much ado is made about the cornstalks having mystical powers. The children somehow manage to lock every parental figure in the local jail, with horrified teenagers looking on as Eden takes charge. The looming presence of a big bad comes about in the final act, sacrifices abound, kids roam the streets with chainsaws, and psychotic Eden lords over the chaos. Lapses in logic barely justify the film’s brief spurts of violence, the most graphic of which involves ripping out eyeballs. Is the evil ultimately rooted from the children, or from the corn? Bo may be the only chance left to somehow salvage what remains of Rylstone.
So, how does Children of the Corn relate to the general series at large? The answer is unfortunately, not at all. Whilst other installments play fast and loose with any type of an ongoing mythology, there is nary an Isaac, Malachi, or biblically-named individual anywhere amongst the roster of Rylstone. There is however an ominous “He Who Walks,” a shortened version of the “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” figure. Only Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest showed this figure in its ambitious glory, going for the campy jugular back in 1995. This iteration of “He Who Walks” is decidedly less unique—it looks to simply be a giant thing made up of roots, the likes of which we have seen in countless other movies. If one’s low budget film’s centerpiece is a giant CGI creation built of branches and roots, maybe show less of them onscreen instead of brightly spotlighting the obvious flaws.
2023’s Children of the Corn is an unfortunate abomination. In 2018, Feast director John Gulager crafted an entry titled Children of the Corn: Runaway that would have served as a nice bookend to bring the franchise full circle. I had hopes for this new entry either returning to the roots, sticking closer to Stephen King’s text, or perhaps even a grittier, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style take on the material. The sky was truly the limit. What Kurt Wimmer settled on instead is nearly as bad as Children of the Corn: Genesis, the bottom of the barrel for this franchise. While Children of the Corn does at least check the basic boxes of containing both children and corn in its story, both are horribly mismanaged to the point of hilarity. Perhaps it may be time to burn down the corn for good and put this series to rest, considering it has been a long time since anyone properly cared about the property. Plenty of unmined Stephen King books and stories exist without having to take another trip along these tired, rotting “rows.”
Children of the Corn stalks into limited theaters on Friday, March 3rd, then sacrifices Shudder subscribers on March 21st.