Disciples of the Crow (1983)


He Who Walks Behind the Crows

Main Cast: Gabriel Folse and Eleese Lester

Director: John Woodward

One year before Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton brought Stephen King’s short story Children of the Corn to the big screen, writer/director John Woodward made his own version of the story with the 18-minute DISCIPLES OF THE CROW.

Many fans of the more famous movie will recognize aspects of the story: main characters Burt and Vicky bickering while driving down a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere and Burt hitting a young boy in the middle of the road, then discovering the boy had already been stabbed before stumbling in front of the car.  They load the body into the trunk and make their way to the nearest town, which is just as deserted as the highway, but they’re soon set upon by a mass of murderous teens and children who keep going on about He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

And this is about where the similarities end.  In DISCIPLES OF THE CROW, the town is named Jonah, OK, not Gatlin, NE.  And while in both versions the adults have all been killed by the kids, in this version, there is no Isaac, no Malachi, no Sarah or Job.  There is a Billy, who is seen repeatedly performing some sort of worship in a cornfield. We’re never told if he’s worshiping the crows or the corn, nor are we given any sort of motivation for the murder spree other than some line about not defiling the land. 

But if the kids killed the adults for defiling the land, that doesn’t make sense because this is obviously a farming community and who respects the land more than a farmer?  In fact, pretty much everything about this short film is left a mystery.  If you’re one of those people who need all the questions answered by the end of the movie, avoid DISCIPLES OF THE CROW.  If you can handle your short films being just as ambiguous as your short stories, then this is a decent little movie.

The quality of the production isn’t too terribly inferior to CHILDREN OF THE CORN (although there were a few places where the editing was choppy and the sound was off), nor is the acting necessarily worse.  In fact, if asked I’d have to say I liked Gabriel Folse’s Burt much better than Peter Horton’s.  Horton, I felt, played the part with a little too much smarm, while Folse (OFFICE SPACE and MISS CONGENIALITY) just seems frustrated and tired, but like he’d be a decent enough guy to hang out with on a regular day.

As for Eleese Lester’s (Walker, Texas Ranger and Friday Night Lights) Vicky . . . yeah, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Burt had decided to leave her behind and let her fend for herself.

I think when it comes to faithfulness to the short story, DISCIPLES OF THE CROW is more accurate in terms of the open ending, but there are just so many other changes I didn’t understand.  At one point a voice-over mentions crows being sacred, and later the boy that winds up in the road has a severed crow’s foot in a bag, like a lucky charm.  The bag is also filled with pieces of corn, almost like a money bag and although this is based on the story Children of the Corn, at no point are we led to believe there’s anything special about corn, not in any terms as specific as how they feel about crows.

There’s no hint in this version of anything supernatural, nor are there any attempts at anything resembling the really terrible effects at the end of the 1984 movie.  Thank God. There is a definite sense of foreboding at the end of DISCIPLES OF THE CROW, but I think once the credits have finished, anyone who watched this one will very quickly move on to other things and likely forget they’d seen it.

DISCIPLES OF THE CROW is a piece of Stephen King memorabilia, the kind of thing that appeals to those collectors who need it to complete the set.  I think there may be some appeal here for casual fans as well, that odd bit of curiosity people may watch just to say they did it. 

But there’s nothing here that demands attention.  If it weren’t for the fact it’s based on a King story, and if King weren’t as huge as he is, I think this film probably would have sunk even further into oblivion.  I mean, how many people even knew there was a movie called DISCIPLES OF THE CROW based on King’s story?  I’m betting not many.  And after seeing this one a few times, I’m not surprised it isn’t well known.

You can watch DISCIPLES OF THE CROW free on YouTube.

Stephen King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Woman in the Room

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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