‘Children of the Corn’ Review: In the Latest Sequel Slash Reboot, There Isn’t a Kernel of Fear Left

The 11th film sprung from Stephen King's story is a demon-kid fable that gets lost in the cornfields.

Children of the Corn
Courtesy of RLJE Films

Like a virus that keeps coming back but growing weaker each time, “Children of the Corn” is now a horror movie that lacks the strength to infect you with even a speck of fear. The original strain of the virus was Stephen King’s short story — published in 1977, at the heart of his shivery heyday. The tale of a group of Nebraska farm-town children who worship a demon that lives in the local cornfields, it was like a slasher version of “Lord of the Flies,” with a touch of the creepiness of “The Wicker Man.” The kids killed the adults around them, but the scariest thing about them is that they’d become a cult. The cornfield demon, known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows, was less a monster than a force, one that spoke to gathering forces in our society — impulses of religious zealotry and intolerance that were starting to take shape by the late ’70s.

The new “Children of the Corn” is the 11th film to have been sprung from King’s story. The most famous is the 1984 big-screen version, though there were eight sequels (what, you didn’t know about “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest”? “Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return”?), and the iconography has been referenced by everything from “South Park” to Eminem to Kendrick Lamar to “Wreck-It Ralph.”

The new version is technically a prequel, though all that really means is that the heart of King’s story has now been ripped out and tossed aside. Early on, a sullen adolescent grabs a knife and walks into the Rylestone Children’s Home, where he proceeds to kill every adult in sight. Viewing this as a hostage situation, the local farmers place a hose in the building and use it to spray the cow anesthetic Halathane, which kills 15 children. That they would do this makes no sense. And nothing in the film makes much sense.

The town children, now led by Eden (Kate Moyer), a survivor of the Children’s Home massacre, want to extract their revenge. But the film’s writer-director, Kurt Wimmer, also introduces a half-baked theme of “environmentalism,” as the children fight to save the corn crops that have been poisoned by toxic chemicals. So they’re eco activist…uh, monster kids. If the movie actually wanted to be relevant, it might have played off the issue of how much of the corn grown in the United States is now GMO. Instead, it updates King’s premise from the ’70s to some woozy vague dilapidated-horror-with-a-social-conscience ’80s zone. The other big change is that He Who Walks Behind the Rows now really is a creature, a looming spectral menace made of green cornstalks with a mouth that, if you get close enough, resembles an ear-of-corn version of Alien.

Eden, the kid-cult ringleader in her braided pigtails, is sort of like Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter” crossed with the demon child from the “Orphan” films. It’s not Kate Moyer’s fault that she plays her with a smirk you’d expect to encounter at an early script read-through; that’s how pedestrian and underimagined this production is. The best actor in the film is Elena Kampouris. As the teenage Bo, the one kid who has stayed normal, she maintains a shivery relatability without descending into scream-queen cliché. The adults are mostly cartoon rednecks, the one standout being Bruce Spence (yes, from “The Road Warrior”) as a perverted parson. The storytelling is sketchy and splintered, the visual tone overbright yet unsure. At one point the children are standing in a giant hole, dug so that they can bury the adults alive. They’re painting the corn roots with blood sacrificed from a dripping animal, and they do it with the dutiful glumness of kids on a school field trip. The blood looks like it was made from high-fructose corn syrup — which, in “Children of the Corn,” may be an extreme case of horror turning into its own derivative.

‘Children of the Corn’ Review: In the Latest Sequel Slash Reboot, There Isn’t a Kernel of Fear Left

Reviewed online, Feb. 26, 2023. MPA rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

  • Production: An RLJE Films, Digital Domain release of a Tiger13, Anvil Entertainment, Digital Riot production, in association with Angel Oak Films, Cinemation. Producers: Lucas Foster, Doug Barry, John Baldecchi. Executive producers: John Fragomeni, Sean Harner, Mathieu Bonzon, Daniel Seah, Jimmy Zhu, Kurt Wimmer, Ralph Kamp, Brian Laroda, Kery Nakamoto, Donald Borchers, Pascal Borno, Andre Gaines, Justin Begnaud, Peter Graham, Steve Hays, Brandon Fidanque.  
  • Crew: Director, screenplay: Kurt Wimmer. Camera: Andrew Rowlands. Editors: Merlin Eden, Tom Harrison-Read, Banner Gwin. Music: Jacob Shea, Bleeding Fingers, Tim Count.
  • With: Elena Kampouis, Kate Moyer, Callan Mulvey, Bruce Spence, Stephen Hunter, Jayden McGinlay, Joe Klocek.