Children of the Corn and Farm Crisis Horror

Curator's Note

Children of the Corn (1984), with its images of endless fields and idyllic farm town, still haunts the American Midwest. Not insignificantly, large-scale agriculture drives this film’s thrilling plot- two urbanites, Burt and Vicky, famously decried as “outlanders,” nearly become sacrificed to the corn god known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Although its portrayals of poor and uncivilized yokels arguably cemented the rural horror genre, Children also re-presents a dark period in the history of 20th century agriculture known as the Farm Crisis. Indeed, agrifood symbolism disturbs the arbitrary boundary dividing economy and the environment.   

From 1981 to 1986, the combined effects of an international embargo on the trade of U.S. grain, massive farm debt and bank failures, and the worst drought since the Dust Bowl largely killed the family farm system of U.S. agriculture. Children signifies these farm crisis themes, respectively, through the ubiquity of a single crop (corn) and an isolated and abandoned farm town, featuring water as both backdrop and catalyst for the narrative’s dramatic denouement.  

In the opening scene, the words “Corn Drought And The Lord” are visible on the country church’s marquis, immediately denoting the devastation experienced by many farm communities at that time. Corn eerily encompasses the cult-like youths’ identity and mythos- recall the disturbing ritual scene in which the children drink blood from a corn-cob bowl. It is, in fact, everywhere- corn husks sprawl out of mailboxes and blow down Main Street like sagebrush, and Burt and Vicky  even find it stuffed into their car’s engine in an attempt to trap them as they try to flee. Indeed, corn becomes nearly inescapable as stalks ensnare Burt in the climax scene, wrapping his legs and torso as he runs through a field. Finally, it is the strategic use of an irrigation pump that quells the fiery fury of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” the film’s conclusion. Children of the Corn thus disturbs the capitalist logic that externalizes environmental impacts of economic practices by illustrating vulnerable (and vengeful) implications of food/farm system dominated by commodity crops.

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