Before watching the movie:
I’m not sure if this is so much popular as memetic anymore. It’s still a go-to reference for “creepy and dangerous children”, but I think it’s more referencing other references than familiarity with the film anymore. At least, I haven’t heard of anyone actually watching it recently.
This spawned a ridiculous number of sequels. Yes, it’s a horror movie, but it’s a horror movie about a cult. Seems fairly self-contained.
After watching the movie:
Three years ago, the children of Gatlin, Nebraska, under the direction of twelve-year-old Isaac, murdered all the adults in town on behalf of a being that appeared to Isaac in the corn field known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”. Job and his sister Sarah, who draws visions of the future, are not part of the cult, but must live under their rule anyway. Now, Burt and Vicky are on the road to Seattle for Burt’s career as a doctor, but they get sidetracked in Nebraska when a boy who tried to flee Gatlin stumbles out into the road dying in front of them. Trying to get help in Gatlin, the Outlanders are immediately besieged by Isaac’s children’s cult.
John Franklin has a quality as Isaac that completely sells the cult. I can’t quite describe it. He seems far more adult than he should be at the character’s age, but the actor isn’t much older. At times, I wondered if he was a very short adult, or dubbed by an adult. On the other hand, I was disappointed in how the script used Burt and Vicky in very stereotyped ways. Burt is a strong young hero and Vicky is a horror damsel. She was halfway interesting before everything went south, but once they were driving through cornfields, she doesn’t do anything but complain, scream, and wander into danger. I expected better for “Terminator’s Linda Hamilton”, though to be fair in that series she only gets herself out of trouble in the sequels.
The music has a distracting duality to it. For creepy moments, there’s a very effective score with a children’s choir and not much else, which elevates the movie. But at other times, the music is done by a synth organ that sounds extremely cheap and belongs in a movie from 20 years earlier or a television show with a shoestring budget. Maybe at the time that instrument didn’t sound comically underproduced, but it just destroys the immersion now.
Sometimes the horror gets played up to the point of camp, but maybe it’s more effective on people who are afraid of rebellious children. Overall, this didn’t resonate with me as anything special, but it’s a creepy horror adventure that did its best to sell the emotions it was trying to convey. One of the most effective horror movies I’ve seen.