King's Highway pt. 17: He Who Walks Behind the Rows

The Highway rambles on! I'm fixing to take a pit-stop at the next service plaza. I started reading "1922" from Full Dark, No Stars earlier, saw it was set in Hemingford Home, Nebraska, and said "Oh, that's next to Gatlin, from 'Children of the Corn.'" Before I knew it, I said out loud...

Probably a good time to take a break, stretch my legs and hit the vending machine. I've got blogs in the incubator for "The Long Walk," the other novellas, and a Shawshank/ Green Mile one; I'll wait til I catch up on those, then hit the road again. Still plenty of asphalt between here and Derry.

I covered a bit of the short story earlier, but the movie arrived from Netflix for this eve so popped it in. I've seen it maybe four or five times over the years. It's one that keeps you coming back but not one you necessarily have to own. The plot: Burt and Vicky take a wrong turn on their cross-country trip and end up in wack-a-doo, NE, where the kids get their marching orders in dreams from some weird-ass thing in the corn, listen to the world's creepiest child, ever, and kill all/any adults/each other, once they come of reaping age...

That this one short story, originally published in Penthouse in 1977, has spawned this cottage industry of sequels and TV remakes that continues to the present day is at the very least remarkable. Of those sequels and remakes, Dawn and I watched the third in the series, Urban Harvest, on TV one sleepy weekend afternoon, (THE CORN COMES TO CHICAGO!) and some or most of the SyFy remake with Kandyse McClure, which hewed a little closer to the original story but was not particularly "fun." The original 80s version, tho, directed by Fritz Kiersh, is still fun.

Like "Trucks," it expands the original material quite a bit in its sublimation from story to screen, Back-story and new sequences are added, but nothing that really seems out of place or un-suggested by the source material. Unlike Maximum Overdrive, though, it adds the narration, forgotten after the middle of the movie, of a small boy, one of the Gatlin kids, who yearns to escape. I'm always wary of narration - particularly when it isn't consistent or disappears midway through - and prefer the p.o.v. to be more story-driven. The p.o.v. and plot, here, stay close to your traditional 80s slasher narrative (questionable decisions and exposition and pursuit punctuating kill-set-pieces). SK wrote an original draft for the screenplay, but the studio opted for this one. Considering its longevity in the straight-to-video and TV film market, I guess it was a profitable decision.

One more tiii-iiiime!!
The most notable difference from story-to-screen is probably the relationship between the married couple. Also, Burt becomes an emergency room surgeon in the movie - I kept waiting for that to be useful somewhere down the road in the film, but if it was, I missed it. Burt might as well have been a stunt double for Jackie Chan films, for all the good his profession served the plot. Maybe they were going for that Emergency Room Surgeon demographic.

The music is fun. That choral/chant "Saaaaataani-coooooo-us" sort of score, with 80s synth here and there.
Doesn't look all that different! This is from a blog series devoted exclusively to the movie.
Time travel moment - before I'd ever seen it, circa 1986 or so, I'll never forget my buddy Mike Simons rolling his eyes back in his head on the bus or train during a field trip and intoning "He wants you, too, Malachi..."

In casting my nets for this, I came across an interesting interview with Gwabryel, who illustrated this for a book called Knowing Darkness:

The story's main contributions to American folklore seem to be He Who Walks Behind the Rows (I've heard from more than a few European friends who drive across the US heartland that this story is never far from their minds) and "The Blue Man." That last one resonates mainly just with me, I guess, but when I first heard about the Blue Man Group, I immediately pictured a stage-show of skeletal remains in cop uniforms with corn-husk crucifixes towering over the stage.

Still, C of the C, like Cujo, has a weird staying power in the collective unconscious, does it not?

Seeing Peter Horton in this reminded me of Brimstone. Does anyone remember that one?

Hell, does anyone remember Thirtysomething?

It was a guilty pleasure for the few years it was on the air. Sort of like Tru Calling. (Although Brimstone to its eternal discredit did not have Jason Priestley as the Angel of Death:)

All in all, this is a fine entry in whatever genre you want to fit it in. The religious-crazies parable? The couple with the wrong turn to the crazy town in the middle of nowhere? The world as metaphor for violence/ cult of bad relationship drama? (This last, not so much in the 1984 movie but is the main point of the short story/ 2009 SyFy remake, I think) Take your pick. I, for one, was reminded of the Star Trek TOS episodes "Return of the Archons" or "Miri,"

Couldn't decide between "NO BLAH-BLAH-BLAH!!!" or "BONK BONK ON THE HEAD!" so there, both.

only dropped in the backrows of Nebraska.

But neither serum nor phaser slows
He Who Walks Behind the Rows.


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  2. This will forever be linked in my mind with the Billy Mumy Twilight Zone Episode where he sends people who do things he doesn't like to the cornfield.

    1. I think the cornfield is only where the adults beg Bill Mumy to send the jack-in-the-box he made of Don Keefer, not his general Phantom Zone, but it's been a few months and I could be misremembering. Nevertheless, your comment makes me think of how a mash-up of Children of the Corn, Field of Dreams, and 'It's a Good Life' (that TZ ep) would be great fun.

    2. Nope. I should've checked first - just looked it up and sure enough, the cornfield is Anthony's little Phantom Zone. Well-remembered.

    3. That era had a few omnipotent (or close to it) kids running around pop culture, from The Bad Seed to Village of the Damned to, what, two or three Star Trek episodes? There was a ten year or so period of stuff like that. Weird. Actually, make that twenty years - I just remembered It's Alive, Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen.

  3. I kind of feel bad about the "Donna Martin F**king Graduates" caption. If I was Jason Priestley, I'd punch me. It might be a "Play Free Bird" sort of thing to say, on my part. For the record, I like JP - I'll make amends when i get to "Bag of Bones."

  4. I'm amused by the red-haired kid's hair style. It seems odd for him to look like Dave Mustaine. Maybe the general drubbing Mustaine took years back really got to him - "I LIKE THE GUITAR SOUND ON MUSTAINE'S FIRST SOLO ALBUM!!!"

    That's basically a reference only I get now.

    1. Is DM's first solo album the 1st Megadeth one?

      Because I do! DM shreds.

      Beyond that, absolutely. I can only yell OUTLANDURRR in my head over and over and raise the devil's sign.

  5. I have seen every single one of the "Children of the Corn" movies. Most of them multiple times.


    1. Dude, I totally missed this until right now. I love it - you need to break them down, comprehensively!

      I saw the 'Corn moves to Chciago' one, but that's it.

      The 'Sometimes they Come Back/ Corn' sequel-mill is fascinating stuff.

    2. Oh, I don't think I could possibly bear to do that. That'd be like making a list of the most notable times my cats have vomited in the floor. I mean, yeah, sure I absolutely CAN tell there are differences, but I shouldn't feel good about it.

      The closest I've gotten to doing that -- with Children of the Corn movies, not cat vomit -- is compiling a list of all of the movies based (some of them "based") on Stephen King, from worst to best.

      That can be found here:


      Hint: the Children of the Corn movies appear close to the beginning of the post...