After the press show of Children of the Corn (1984), I remember Steve Jones talking about how much better a script draft he’d read – by Stephen King, author of the original short story – was than the version that made it to the screen. Somehow, that very ordinary (if not truly terrible) picture had enough traction in the VHS era to spawn a succession of sequels – and, in 2020, a Kurt Wimmer remake was mounted which I’ve still not seen. In 2009, however, after the minor franchise seemed to have run its course, longtime schlock writer-director Donald P. Borchers (producer of the original) – perhaps to secure a rights extension – made a TV movie apparently based on that closer-to-the-story King draft. That’s a bit of a mixed blessing – the major change in the first film was that the new-in-town couple were bland TV movie types rather than the squabbling, on-the-road-to-divorce couple of the story.
Here, the pendulum swings way too far and simmering Vietnam veteran Burt (David Anders) and ex-prom queen Vicky (Kandyse McClure) are so intent on arguing with each other that it takes longer than it should for either of them to clock how serious their woes are in Gatlin, Neb. A 1963 prologue has a child preacher (Robert Gerdisch) convincing the community’s kids to rise up … but we don’t get the massacre scene. Twelve years later, the original wave of kids have presumably mostly grown up and walked into the corn and a fresh crop is bossed by nasty little shit prophet Isaac (Preston Bailey), with the throat-cutting handled by hulking Malachai (Daniel Newman). While arguing, the ‘outlanders’ run over a little kid who is already dying of a cut throat and Burt and Vicky both make impossible-to-sell decisions about what to do next that keep sabotaging the film.
Elements – probably from King, who shares a script credit with Borchers – are potentially interesting, like Vicky’s rebellion against a childhood dominated by huckster preachers … though she somehow went from that to being prom queen and, oddest of all, marrying a Marine corps NRA vet. Burt is white and Vicky black, but that doesn’t even rate a mention – presumably because it’s a casting decision. The abandoned-in-’63 town, covered in Old Testament graffiti and corn husks, is creepy and there’s some effective choreography of the kids (with a Who Could Killa Child? Echo – though adults here have few qualms when the scythes come for them). But it just keeps falling over implausibilities – while her car is beset by a murderous mob, it takes an age for Vicky to remember there’s a shotgun on the back seat. Vicky gets taken out early and Burt retreats to the cornfield, also having ‘Nam flashbacks while hallucinating – some tendrils grab him, but they might be just in his head, so it’s possible He Who Walks Behind the Rows isn’t real.
Every so often, there’s a good touch which I’d presume comes from King – as the Marine easily beats and kills two knife-wielding teens, a girl in the crowd who presumed faith and justice would ensure a different outcome is visibly shocked and upset … some of the younger kids just tag along unknowingly or wander off or don’t know what to do (this may be a direction issue, but it feels real). There’s some explanation for how this kid society has kept going, with a public fertilisation ritual some reviewers mocked but which is well in line with the beliefs of the Agapemone (or the worldview of Harvest Home), and a slightly muffed punchline – the outlanders incidentally get killed and turned to scarecrows as if they weren’t that important to the story – has Isaac decreeing the date of cut-off has been lowered a year from nineteen to eighteen. Bailey and Newman are less creepy than the kids from the 1984 film.