Stephen King’s Classic Horror Tale Gets Creamed in Kurt Wimmer’s ‘Children of the Corn’

“Nothing ever really dies in the corn,” a troubled young teen says at the beginning of writer-director Kurt Wimmer’s “Children of the Corn.” But the husk of Stephen King is left bleeding out, and even “The Farmer’s Almanac” thinks it’s time to put the reheated tale out of its misery. This is the 11th film harvested from King’s 1977 short story, and there aren’t enough fumes left over to power an ethanol hoe. 

Nebraska farm-town children worship a demon known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Taken as fictitious, this is less surprising now than when King first wrote the story. This new “Children of the Corn” is technically a prequel, but it is set in the present. This kind of logic prevails on the screen. The crops are planted in GMO-enriched soil, not King’s fertile ground. The film begins at a massacre in the Rylstone Children’s Home, but the killing is not done by the knife-wielding adolescent who thinks nothing dies in a cornfield, but by local farmers who try to gas him out with enough Halothane to kill 15 children. By the time the opening credits complete their roll, we’re rooting for the kids, and not the ones who want to save the corn with their social conscience, like 17-year-old Boleyn (Elena Kampouris).

Eden (Kate Moyer), a survivor of the massacre, dubs herself the Red Queen, and paints the cornfields with blood to mark the occasion. The young would-be Wednesday Addams’ followers are actually quite disconcerting, equally parsed from refugees of “Lord of the Flies” and “Deliverance,” yet smarter than anyone over the age of consent. Every adult is a moron, bully, or creepy religious zealot, deserving to be culled. When Eden leads a horse hoisting the last of the living parents in town on a noose, it is not a frightening moment, but a triumphant one. 

The ironic victory celebration is quite effective, and the film should have committed to it with a “Class of 1984” modern dystopian party vibe rather than a cautionary tale of a high fructose corn sugar high. Wimmer tries to split the difference between two “Star Trek” episodes, “Miri,” and “And The Children Shall Lead,” except Melvin Belli’s holy angel, Gorgan, in the 1960s sci-fi TV series has a lot more mystery than He Who Walks. Nibble on that. The children would be much scarier if they ate all their vegetables, leaving more to the imagination.

Moyer’s Eden is not the stereotypical disturbing, dark cherub of childhood creeps. She is committed. She has a plan, one more logical than the script, and a motive. A scene where Eden takes graphic revenge on a pedophilic pastor promises a brave new world, and troubled children possibly would try this at such a home. There is enough gore and jump scares to suit horror aficionados’ needs, but not enough subliminal menace to make any of it memorable. Corn fields are inherently nightmarish, from the labyrinthine Halloween mazes the children mock in “Children of the Corn,” to the husking primates of “Planet of the Apes.” Corn creatures, however, are all stalk.

Vengeful 12-year-olds are more frightening than monsters. It is sad when you take away their toys or imaginary friends, but dire when you take away their power. This is especially true in horror films, where bad kids can do the most good. “There goes my reelection,” the sheriff says, when news gets out about the dead children on his watch. The younger generation could have been trusted to protect the corn, and the final CGI shortcuts and pyrotechnic copout should have been put to better use, as should have the environmental social commentary the film spent so much time hinting at.

There are too many logistical loopholes to get involved in the proceedings, and too rushed a plot to care about anyone other than Eden. The “Carrie” vibes in the conclusion hit us over the head long before we should even suspect anything awry, as there is no subtlety in the telling. This “Children of the Corn” is rushed, and will never ripen. That won’t stop it from spawning a sequel. They grow like weeds.

Children of the Corn” releases March 3 in theaters nationwide and March 21 on VOD.