Based on the 1977 short story of the same name by Stephen King, this is a wonderfully awful horror film. I have no idea how closely it sticks to the story since I never read it or any of King's work for that matter but the script is horrendously written with more plot holes than you can shake a stick at. The only even remotely clever bits such as the depiction of the mob mentality engendered by cults are taken from either much better works or, unfortunately, real life incidents.
The film takes a dash of "Village of the Damned" (1960) and a pinch of "The Wicker Man" (1973) to come up with a storyline concerning evil children who sacrifice people to ensure a good corn harvest. Now, I like corn as much as the next guy but this approach seems a little excessive to me. Isaac is basically an older version of Damien from "The Omen" (1976) crossed with Wesley Crusher and the film's score is a poor man's version of that film's. It's essentially a rehash of earlier horror classics. Unlike "The Wicker Man", however, this film actually attempts to make the relevant crop frightening in a few scenes. Amazingly, it doesn't work very well. The director Fritz Kiersch is hardly Richard Attenborough or Kenneth Branagh but he's no Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau either. Some shots are downright or at least borderline competent.
The plot concerns the lovely little town of Gatlin, Nebraska which is ruled by Isaac and the other followers of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Three years earlier, Isaac, clearly a very persuasive guy, convinced the rest of the town's children to ritually murder their parents and every other adult in town (bar one mechanic). The town has been occupied only by the cultists since then and no one has noticed in the meantime. Isaac even used his powers of persuasion to convince cartographers to take Gatlin off the maps, apparently. John Franklin's performance as Isaac could not be described as good but, by God (or should I say by He Who Walks Behind the Rows?), it is entertaining. He steals all of his scenes and makes the film far more entertaining than it would been otherwise. My favourite line is "Question not my judgement, Malachai. I am the giver of his word." His delivery and contemptuous expression are simply hilarious. It's a great verbal bitch-slap.
Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton play the hapless interlopers / outlanders Burt and Vicki who wind up in Gatlin while on the way to Seattle. Hamilton and Horton are actually good actors who deservedly went on to bigger and better things: the "Terminator" franchise and "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) for her and "thirtysomething" for him. On the bright side, they keep the film from being even more terrible. On the less bright side, they keep the film from being even more unintentionally hilarious. The two of them have good chemistry even though their characters express little affection for each other until the end of the film. However, every time that Vicki yelled "Burt!," I mentally added "Ernie!" The only other actor in the film who gives a genuinely decent performance is R.G. Armstrong as Diehl, the aforementioned mechanic. Courtney Gains, whose career peaked the next year with his one line role in "Back to the Future", is awful as Isaac's disloyal second-in-command Malachai but he is not quite as hilariously awful as Franklin. But, hey, he at least put everything into it! The same is true of most of the other child actors, none of whom went on to great success. Incidentally, "Back to the Future" is my favourite film of all time. This film did not threaten that status.
I mentioned a few of the plot holes already but this is one of the biggest. In the early part of the film, Burt and Vicki exhibit genius level intelligence when they run over a child named Joseph who turned out to be already dead, having had his throat slit. It just wasn't his day. They then decide that it is a good idea to bungle his corpse into the boot of their car and look for help. Right...Did it not occur to them that if they were stopped by the police and they found the body, it might look just a tad suspicious? No one with half a brain would believe that he had been killed by someone else and they were on their way to the authorities. Besides which, wrapping him in a blanket and shoving him into the boot would destroy any and all forensic evidence that may exist. He is never removed from the boot, meaning that he is left there to rot. Very conscientious!
Another notable one is that the cultists kill Diehl, admittedly without Isaac's permission, for no reason whatsoever as he seems just as willing to abide by the condition that he tells no one of their existence as he was before. Furthermore, Job describes the brutal murder of his father which took place within several feet of him in a very calm fashion. One would think that this would traumatise a child but he and his sister Sarah take their parents' deaths and all the other horrific events in Gatlin in their stride. They actually giggle at the end, amused by the fact that Burt and Vicki kiss. Oh, and Sarah has the unexplained ability to predict the future through her drawings. Sure, why not? When He Who Walks Behind the Rows manifests, he is killed by a comparatively small explosion caused by a Molotov cocktail. One would also think that a demon from the fiery depths of Hell would be made of sterner stuff but apparently not.
Overall, this is a great "so bad, it's good" film. It may not be down there with "Plan 9 from Outer Space", "Troll 2" or "The Room" but it's still pretty far down there.