When it comes to the world of fright, there aren’t many paths more beaten or trodden than the cornfield.
Whether in haunted house attractions or on the silver screen, an ominous cornfield is pure gold when it comes to scares. Some of the most terrifying chase scenes and claustrophobic paranoia have occurred in between the whistling husks of miles and miles of corn.
This Halloween season, I’ll be calling a cornfield home at the local haunt complex where I will be shambling through the corn cobs to scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting fright seekers. During training, I spent about an hour wandering the cornfield, getting used to the surroundings and letting my imagination run wild. By the time the sun went down and I was preparing for the test walk-through, I had thoroughly creeped myself out. There’s just something about the narrow walking paths, the different pitches of wind whistling through the stalks and the idea that someone (or something) could be directly behind (or in front of) you at any turn that raise the hackles instantly.
During a recent discussion with my mother-in-law, I was asked how many movies use cornfields as a main set location and that got me thinking. So, here’s to you, Ma – the five creepiest uses of cornfields in horror.
It may not be the best movie on this list, but it’s truly the only choice to discuss first when the topic of horrifying cornfields is brought up. Based on the exceptionally chilling short story by Stephen King, Children of the Corn is a fun little romp through the husks from 1984. A couple get stranded in the worst country bumpkin town ever, surrounded by corn and He Who Walks Behind The Rows. A religiously fanatical town run by children after they’ve killed their parents. Of course this is a Stephen King adaptation. The short story is a million times better than the movie (and don’t even get me started on the thousands of sequels that have been pushed into Wal-Mart $3 bins across the country over the last twenty years) but that doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t have some good chill factor to it.
Now that we got the obligatory nod to CotC out of the way, I can spend a few minutes gushing about one of my favorite thrillers ever. 2002’s Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin (that cast, tho!), is not only my favorite fright flick located in cornfields but also one of my favorite alien movies ever. A pastor struggling to maintain his faith, his brother-in-law learning to cope with the fact that he’ll never be a pro baseball player and a little girl asking for a cup of water – put it together and what have you got? Bippity-boppity-HOLY SHIT. Known the world over for perhaps the most terrifying found footage clip the genre has ever offered, Signs is full of everything you need to make a horror film succeed- suspense, heart, character depth and shadows. And cornfields. Lots and lots of cornfields.
The year was 1981. Made-for-TV movies were at the height of their popularity. Practical effects still dominated horror films, mostly out of necessity but also because filmmakers actually spent more than ten minutes caring about what their monsters looked like. CBS granted the horror world a wonderful gift in the form of Dark Night of the Scarecrow. This one tells the story of a man wrongfully murdered by a lynch mob who believe he has killed a young girl. The man dies in a hail of gunfire, disguised as a scarecrow by his mother with the hope that the mob will come and go without finding her son. Everyone knows that a murder committed in the cornfields is just asking for a curse to befall those involved. Especially when it’s an innocent man who is murdered. Especially when the man is mentally challenged. ESPECIALLY when said man actually saved the young girl and didn’t kill her at all. Seriously. Please. Find this movie and watch it tonight.
1988’s Pumpkinhead is the directorial debut of special effects wizard Stan Winston, so it should come as no surprise that the creature in this film is one of the most imposing, visually mesmerizing monsters ever put on the big screen. Vengeance comes with a price when a grieving father wishes ill will on the punks who kill his son. With the help of a witch, the blasphemous Pumpkinhead is born. The monster goes on a killing spree that leaves the devastated father wishing he’d never asked for revenge, so it’s up to him to kill the monster. Almost as entertaining as the film itself, if you are a sucker for practical effects, check out the YouTube video below as the crew work on bringing the great beast to life prior to filming.
To wrap up this list, I’ve saved another personal favorite for last. While not a big screen adaptation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better scary story about a cornfield than Season 3, Episode 8 of The Twilight Zone, ‘It’s a Good Life’. The greatest television series of all time certainly earns its spot on this list. A small boy has the power to create and destroy anything he puts his mind to. One of his favorite things to do is wish people who he doesn’t like into the cornfield, where they simply vanish forever. It’s always fascinated me to think of a cornfield in some other dimension just filled with helpless, scared people wandering around looking for a way out. Get on Anthony Fremont’s bad side and you’ll find out all about what is wandering in the cornfields.