Let me explain. You see, I spent my teenage years in a relatively small town with only two public high schools, which meant that everyone of a similar age was pretty much familiar with each other. So it was no big deal to go to a movie on a Friday night and see 30 or 40 recognizable faces to sit with. That sounds nice, and it was really, but it could also cause problems. Take Children Of The Corn for example. The movie had barely started and it was working hard to amp up the creep factor. There were shots of desolate wind blown corn fields, and you could tell by the camera movements that something awful was in there, and the soundtrack was ratcheting up the volume of its spooky kids choir, and the guy on screen was nearing panic…
And then it showed some poor mutt running out into the fields and a nice girl named Holly who was sitting a few seats down from me yelled out, “Hey look everybody, it’s a corndog!” That was it, game over. For the next hour and a half it was a total pun war. In the years since I’ve sometimes wondered just how many people we ruined the movie for that evening. But in looking at the film again recently, I don’t know, maybe we did them a favor.
Let’s face it, Children Of The Corn is a stupid movie. Oh, it’s certainly entertaining enough, and even a little eerie at times. There’s no denying that the two guys playing the cult leader Isaac (I love it that he went on to play Cousin It in the Addams Family movies) and the sociopathic Malachai are perfect for their roles. And some scenes like the restaurant massacre and the sudden appearance of the dead boy on the highway work pretty well. But mostly it’s just stupid. At the end of the day, we’re still talking about corn. And no matter how many times you wave a stalk of corn in someone’s face, it’s never going to be that scary. Plus it doesn’t help that the special effects for the dreaded He Who Walks Behind The Rows amount to little more than the same ones they used for the gopher in Caddyshack. And even worse than that, when the child preacher Isaac becomes possessed by He Who Walks Behind The Rows, the only outward sign is the fact that the boy grows a Billy Idol hairdo. Stupid.
So why did something so silly spawn six sequels and a remake? Part of it is probably that these movies are so cheap to make. All you need are some unknown child actors (they don’t even have to be good ones), a corn field (one sequel had nothing but a few rows of corn outside an apartment complex), and a handful of butcher knives (if you can’t afford the knives, then just have the kids stare at people till they drop dead, that works too). But the other reason is that religion can sometimes be creepy, especially to those outside of it. Stephen King’s always been one to wet himself over anything that thumps a bible, and his Children Of The Corn does its best to play off of his, and some other people’s, irrational fear of evangelical Christians.
And in a weird way, that’s okay, because it actually points to something true. Religion should be unnerving to people. Not in the freak show sense we see in the caricatures presented onscreen by the Children Of The Corn, of course, and damn sure not in the caricatures we see presented off screen by people like the Phelp’s clan from Westboro Baptist Church. But rather, religious people should be disturbing in the way we see in this week’s reading describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. As the Pope details it in his new book Jesus Of Nazareth: Holy Week, “People had heard of the prophet from Nazareth, but he did not appear to have any importance for Jerusalem, and the people there did not know him. The crowd that paid homage to Jesus at the gateway to the city was not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion… When he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred… Now the people were ‘quaking’: the word that Matthew uses, eseisthe (seio), describes the vibration caused by an earthquake.” In other words, the one's cheering Jesus’ arrival and waving around those palm leaves are the ones who had already been traveling with him and believed in his messiahship, and their fervor is such that it unnerves the general populace who had little knowledge of the Lord.
It’s an image that should give us cause to examine our own Catholic faith. The Catechism tells us that Jesus, through the Eucharist, “is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” Does such a radical way of thinking translate into a real excitement for God once communion is over? And is our faith so passionate that it actually causes tremors in the culture once we walk outside the doors of our churches ? Well, we all know what the answer should be, don’t we? It’s just a matter of making it happen.
Preferably without all the corn and butcher knives.