Tuesday, April 20, 2010
"Return to Gatlin" 25 Years Later - A Four-Part Anniversary Series
October, 2009. The year of the 25th silver anniversary. I was on my second trip to the Iowa towns used for filming the original 1984 classic, Children of the Corn when the idea came to me. As I looked at the streets, buildings and unmistakable landmarks, I was thinking, "Twenty-five years ago, these towns were made famous and undoubtedly added to the success of the finished film! What could I do to help make this milestone a special one?" I decided then that since four different towns were used to create a certain Nebraskan community, each one should be featured in a four-part article series, re-visiting the scenes and places that has made this film unforgettable over the years. So, are you ready? Map in the car? Night Shift book on the dashboard? Good. Then, come with us as we make our first stop as we "Return to Gatlin"....
At first glance, Hornick Iowa may not look familiar. But through the years, it has been viewed and accepted by horror fans as a part of the fictional Stephen King town of Gatlin, Nebraska. While this is just one of the selected towns used in the filming, this just happens to be home to two of the most distinguisable locations used in the movie. Now, travel with us just up the road a ways as we visit the childhood house of Sarah and Job.
It has come to be known to horror fans as recognizable as the Tall Man's mausoleum from "Phantasm", Michael Myers home from the original boogeyman classic "John Carpenter's Halloween" and Nancy Thompson's scary abode from "A Nightmare on Elm Street". Although 25 years have passed, there really isn't a whole lot that has changed to the outside structure other than a slightly different color and some changes to the porch area. From my understanding, there was a barn behind the house years ago, but was destroyed not long after the movie was filmed. A cornfield still resides out by the back of the house which one will remember is where Burt is drawn to when looking for Vicky and he hears the church bell ring.
Around the side of the house is where the fake cellar doors were placed to give the illusion of a complete basement. In actuality, a garage at another location was used for that interior scene made up with fake walls to resemble the underground labrynth we see in the finished film. The actual house itself had no outside cellar entry that were essential to the scene, so the doors and frame were constructed in which, the actors crouched inside and came out on cue. Although no one lived in the house in Hornick during the time of filming, it has since been occupied and was even used as a bed & breakfast called the Iva Belle Bed and Breakfast (imagine being able to stay all night there!). Now a private residence (remember location seekers, it IS somebody's home), the people that own it were very friendly and told me that they get about 5 to 10 visitors a year stopping by and asking if it is "THE" house. But "THE" house was actually, "TWO" houses! As the house in Hornick had what they were looking for structure-wise, all of the interior scenes were filmed at another location in another town which we will touch on later in the series. As we say goodbye to Sarah and Job, our next stop is the site of the Gatlin school.
As Burt walked around the town of Gatlin looking for life, one of the places he stopped at was the Gatlin school to have a peek inside. Not too far from Job and Sarah's house is a park that was built on the site of where the Hornick Elementary Schoolhouse once stood. The school was closed in 1988 and then torn down in 1994 after which, a new park was formed. From what I was told, this was the spot where they filmed that scene. Unfortunately without it still standing, I of course cannot be 100 percent sure on this. If I am wrong and this is not the correct area, then I am not aware at the present time of the actual location.
Now, right up the road is another location made famous on the screen. Come with us now as we visit the site of Hansen's Cafe, where the "Adult Nightmare" began.
Located right down the street from the park and Job and Sarah's house, this is where Malachai and his fellow followers turned on the adults and seized control of the town. When I first visited Hornick in 2007, the cafe was then known as the MainStreet Grill.
Walking in, I was very surprised to find the place virtually the same as it was when filming took place back in 1983. The booths to the side had been replaced by tables and the wallpaper had been changed over the years, but the overall feel and look of the cafe was right out of the movie! The counter, front booth and barstools (possibly re-covered) seemed to all be the same with little to no change at all.
The back portion of the cafe, which I was told had in years past had been the bowling alley area, had been opened for more dining space and alas, the famous pinball machine had disappeared with the passage of time. Having the Sunday buffet (I almost ordered a strawberry shake, for film continuity purposes only of course), my eyes were very busy going from my food (which was excellent) to looking about the place.
It was a very surreal experience sitting where this movie was made and I felt for myself, that some inner puzzle had been completed. All of the people that I talked to while I was there were extremely friendly, workers and customers alike, and when I asked about the filming of Children of the Corn, it seemed they had embraced and accepted that time in the towns history and they also had lots of stories to tell! One can only imagine what it would've been like for this Iowa community to have Hollywood arriving on your doorstep wanting to use your town for a major motion picture! As you can see by the picture below, the cafe has two front main windows but it is the one all the way to the left that has produced one of the creepiest scenes in horror history. As I sat eating my Sunday lunch, I found myself glancing at it every once in a while, almost expecting to see the blackened hat visage of Isaac to be peering in.
Now you may be asking why am I talking and showing pictures of my first trip way back in 2007 when I just recently visited in 2009. Sadly, on Christmas Eve 2008 - just three short months from the films original theatrical premiere back in 1984, a cooking fire spread throughout the cafe which in the end, made it a total loss. It's an unfitting ending to not only a big screen horror icon, but a wonderful restaurant and building with a lot of history as well.
The following pictures are of the empty lot that now occupies the space in which the story, or "Nightmare", of Gatlin began. As you can see, not even the foundation remains as it was cleared away completely. It was sad to think that future "Outlanders" would not be able to see the place that started it all and would forever make the names of Isaac and Malachai feared within the world of horror. Although it was very disheartening to view the location, I will always be very
grateful that I had the chance to visit and eat there at least one time before the tragedy. Running on a schedule, it was finally time to leave Hornick and make my way to the next town and shooting locations. Although I still didn't find the exact spot used for the cornfield scenes, I left with a sense of fullfillment (I'm sure Sarah's drawings will predict my return in the near future). I think 'He Who Walks Behind The Rows' would've been well pleased!
As we stop to stretch our legs for a bit, be sure to continue with us soon on our trip through the cornfields with part 2 of our 25th anniversary journey, "Return to Gatlin" - 25 Years Later. And be looking for our "Return to Gatlin" 25 Years Later video series coming soon from ChildrenoftheCornMovie.com! Until then Outlanders, remember -
"It Happened Everywhere In Gatlin That Day..."