Stephen King’s short story, Children Of The Corn, appeared in Penthouse in 1977 and later in the anthology Night Shift in 1978, remains one of his most iconic stories. It is the single most expanded of all of his stories. No other tale has seen as many cinematic offshoots. There are no less than eleven, counting the current film released Friday. It endures for one simple reason. He Who Walks Behind The Rows is nightmare fuel. Ambiguous and cruel, he is a demon god who may or may not exist and yet manages to wreak havoc in every mind he invades.
In the original story and film, the kids of Gatlin, Nebraska, kill off all of their parents in a religious fervor fueled by years of strict rules and potential abuse. It’s terrifying stuff primarily because we can’t understand what our protagonists are fighting. Like a Lovecraftian Elder God, we can’t know our villain because it is unknowable. Is it a bunch of sadistic children suffering from a shared delusion? Is it a monster who lurks in the cornfields and corrupts young minds? Could it be both?
I got the chance to sit down with the director and writer Kurt Wimmer of Equilibrium, Sphere, and Ultraviolent and star Kate Moyer of HBO’s Station Eleven and asked them about their fresh take on the iconic source of fear. Wimmer’s latest version plucks a little from all of the story’s central ideas and mixes it with a villain for today. He Who Walks, as he is now known, dropping the “Behind The Rows” part, is born from ecological neglect, systemic child abuse, and a nasty fungus. Even when the fully formed monster appears in the final act of Children Of The Corn, we wonder if what we see is real. Like the trippy Indy film Honeydew, we ponder what is real and what is faulty perception caused by disease.
For Wimmer, he was drawn to dipping his hand in the proverbial cornfield because he believes the title itself is “fantastic.” He goes on to say it is “probably one of King’s best titles.” It also doesn’t hurt that King’s name is attached. He explains this is why there have been so many of them. The idea of “children taking agency” is good on its own, but a child-slasher movie is hard is unique in the horror genre. He says it’s a “subgenre of its own.” The eeriness of the title combined with the subject matter makes it everlasting. Wimmer explains that Children Of The Corn was always about “revolution.” That is why the story is so “elastic.”
Kate Moyer, who plays Eden, the leader of the homicidal children, breathes new life into the creepy kid trope. She isn’t the typical scary-looking child dressed in appropriately strange clothing. Kate admits she has not seen the original movie. She and Wimmer think going in cold allowed her to make Eden an entirely new character from anything anyone has seen in previous iterations. Wimmer bent the script to Moyer rather than forcing Kate to bend to the script. That pays huge dividends as Moyer is a star in the making, and her subtle approach to the murderous child is one of the movie’s best parts.
Wimmer was very animated when asked about the mythos behind He Who Walks. One of the first questions he asked himself was, is it real? Was it a byproduct of a fungus or chemicals? After that, he opened the door to his process that began with a kernel(pun intended) of an idea and expanded to everything, like whether it should have a mouth and what it would be used for. His monster was a thoroughly thought-out Big Bad that sprang from King’s pages in an authentic and unique way. He needed to show the monster in its entirety, but that meant he really needed to meet expectations.
In one of the funnier bits, Wimmer mentions making the creature a giant corn on the cob with a pat of butter dripping off, which would be real but would certainly not be scary. He thought to make it scary, he needed to make it more human. “Anamorphisizing it a bit” was necessary to be relatable enough to frighten the viewer. His take on the monster is a gnarly dried husk of a creature that is as imposing as it is creative. There is also an odd sympathy that He Who Walks invites that dovetails nicely with the ecological message of Children Of The Corn.
When asked what is next, Kate said she will be in Out of My Mind on Disney + later this year, and she has a recurring role in Season 2 of Reacher. Wimmer has several projects, including Beekeeper, Expendables 4, and an interesting peek behind the screenplay writing curtain where he is writing a script from blank page to final word. It can be found on KultKinoHaus on YouTube. For any writer or movie fan, that is an intriguing proposition. Children Of The Corn is in theaters right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.