Stephen King must be the best known name in contemporary horror though, as often happens when people stay at the top for a long time, he seems to have as many detractors as fans. I vaguely remember reading one or two of his novels many moons ago and not being hugely impressed, but I really couldn’t ignore him when it comes to the search for the shivers.
So I spent a while looking at various reviews and there seemed to be a reasonable consensus that Children of the Corn is one of the best known stories from one of his best collections, Night Shift. It has been filmed on several occasions, both for cinema and TV. I settled down under the covers, very late at night, in silence but for the night sounds drifting through the window of the local wildlife having supper, all lights off bar the reading lamp…I think you’ll agree I gave it my best shot for…
“They were standing in a bar of dusty sunlight that fell through the luncheon-room’s big plate-glass window and again he had that feeling of being watched and he thought of the boy they had in their trunk, and of the high laughter of children. A phrase came to him for no reason, a legal-sounding phrase, and it began to repeat mystically in his mind: Sight unseen. Sight unseen. Sight unseen.”
The story begins with a bickering couple, Burt and Vicky, driving along the backroads of the Bible Belt when suddenly a boy steps in front of the car. Unable to stop, Burt runs over him – cue a bout of hysteria from Vicky, the first but sadly not the last. Burt soon discovers that the boy didn’t die from the car accident, but from having had his throat cut in the corn fields bordering the road. As you would, Burt decides to roll the body up in a blanket, stuff it in the boot of his car and drive with it to the next town – cue a bout of hysteria from V…well, you get the picture. But on arrival at the town, it appears that all the adults are mysteriously gone and the old Baptist Church has become the centre of a corn-worshipping cult of children…but are the children just mad or is there something supernatural living in the perfect rows of corn that surround the town…?
“The Christ was grinning, vulpine. His eyes were wide and staring, reminding Burt uneasily of Lon Chaney in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. In each of the wide black pupils someone (a sinner, presumably) was drowning in a lake of fire. But the oddest thing was that this Christ had green hair…hair which on close examination revealed itself to be a twining mass of early-summer corn.”
Honestly, I feel there’s quite a lot here that really could have been spine-tingling, but it simply wasn’t. It was cliché from start to end and the quality of the writing was no more than average. The characterisation was stereotyped and both Burt and Vicky were so unlikeable that this reader at least felt they could only be improved by a horrific death. The children were totally undeveloped as characters, so generated neither sympathy nor fear. How many times have churches been bent to evil purposes and biblical quotations used to herald horror and doom? And I’m afraid that as Burt was running in fear of his life and thinking, of all things, that he was glad he had given up smoking, the giggling began. The climax, for want of a better word, was truly funny – unfortunately I’m not at all sure it was intended to be.
I switched off the lamp and had a pleasant and undisturbed night’s sleep, I’m sorry to say.
Fretful porpentine rating: none but it does get one 😆
Overall story rating: 😦 😦
I’m not willing to give up on King on the basis of one story; his reputation deserves more than that. So, if there are any King fans out there, please tell me which story harrowed up thy soul…
Next week on Tuesday Terror! – J. Sheridan Le Fanu