"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" is the unseen presence acting as the main antagonist of Stephen King's horror short story Children of the Corn and the film adaptation, its sequels and its remakes. He is a demonic spirit posing as a twisted fertility deity, who corrupted the children of the remote town of Gatlin into a murderous cult bent of sacrificing every adult around.
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" is never seen in the story, but his influence is felt throughout. No one really knows where he comes from or when he appeared, and he can be defined as an evil force rather than a corporeal entity, whose true nature, name and aspect remains unknown throughout the series. (Although other stories hint that he is yet another incarnation of Randall Flagg, the primary antagonist of Stephen King's works.) He influences the world through the corn-fields surrounding the towns, in which the ones sacrificed to him must venture never to return. It is stated that night time is when he is most active, though he can act at any other time.
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" is a shapeless evil spirit who controls the corn-fields and every crop in it as a sort of extension of himself. In the short story, he appears as a red-eyed monster that comes out of the field, though whether it is the real demon or a manifestation remains unclear. In the first movie, he manifests himself both as a menacing presence tunnelling his way underground and ominous reddish clouds that fill the sky, and in other films he appears as a giant, tentacled demon or manifests himself through a silo filled with supernatural fire.
In every movie, he is seemingly destroyed (or at least severely weakened) when the corn-fields or his other vessels are destroyed, but returns when his followers establish his cult somewhere else. The end of the short story implies that burning the corn-fields to the ground might destroy him, but whether it is or not remains open to interpretation.
He influences the place where his cult is set, being seemingly able to see and hear everywhere around them, even in people's mind. He can also corrupt children: turning normal, innocent youth into hateful and murderous fanatics who slaughter anyone with almost feral glee, in a twisted form of religious faith. However, the story and movies show that his influence can wane and that some of the children's personality remains, or can return upon dying.
In the movies, he can possess his followers and act through them, and his able to grant them demonic powers, such as agelessness and invulnerability, telekinesis, mind-control, superhuman strength, the ability to hurl fireballs, and some. He has many other powers, being able to command over wind, lightning and insects, to raise sentient undeads, to animate things, and to cause dreams and visions to people around.
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" seeks to create a community of worshippers who would follow his will. While in the short story he seems content in controlling Gatlin, likely due to the abundance of corns in which he thrives, the movie series show him trying to extend his cult over the entire country, if not the world. To that end, he took control of several gangs of children over the years, through a child-preacher under his complete control serving as his "high priest", who commands his followers and enforces his rules, the first and foremost being Isaac from the original short story. He has them slaughter every adult in their towns to take it over, and has all passers-by and cultist reaching twenty sacrificed to him. Whenever his followers fail him or displease him, the maximum age is lowered. When the story takes place, it has already been lowered to nineteen.
He first manifested in the fictional town of Gatlin in Nebraska in the United States, and remained there or in the nearby agglomerations. In the movies, he searched to produce an heir, by possessing one of his followers and having him impregnate a woman.
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" has his followers worship him as a twisted parody of Jesus Christ, through ugly crucifixes made of corn crops. His cult mixes aspects of Pagan Cults and the Old Testament, though hideously twisted. All his children followers relinquish their birth name to take biblical ones, and start dressing in Amish-fashion and living like farmers from the XVIII Century. He forbids any kind of modern technology and leisure activity, separates boys and girls with the boys doing the work and the girls doing the chores, and decides breeding time in which all his followers in age must publicly mate in hideous parodies of a bacchanalia.
Children of the Corn
In the original short story and the 2009 remake, set in 1975, Burt and his wife Vicky travel by car through the American country-field, hoping to save their crumbling marriage with a second honeymoon. They run over a boy who was carrying a case and an ugly crop-crucifix, and discover that the boy was already dying of a sliced throat. (It later turns out that the boy was wounded when trying to escape the cult.) They resolve to bring the boy's corpse to the nearest police station and venture in the seemingly abandoned town of Gatlin, arguing all along the way. Frightened, Vicky insists to leave at once, but Burt rudely ignores her.
While Vicky returns to the car (but cannot leave since Burt kept the keys), Burt starts investigating, not knowing that Isaac and his followers are watching his every move, and eventually discovers that twelve years ago, the children relinquished their former names and killed anyone over twenty years old. Alerted by the car horn, he rushes to Vicky, but the children take her away and sabotage the car.
Burt fights off the children and flees through the corn-fields, witnessing Vicky's dead body, crucified to a crop-cross with barbed wire with her eyes gouged out and her mouth stuffed with corn husks, as were the local priest and policemen (survivors of the massacre killed by "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" himself). He discovers that all exits of the corn-fields were closed-up, and feels a presence looming closer. He is then attacked by crops and haunted by the boys he killed, before being murdered by a monster just as the harvest moon rises in the night sky.
At the end, Isaac announces to his cult that "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", furious at having to kill Burt himself, lowered the maximum age to eighteen. All his eighteen-year-old followers, including Isaac's top enforcer Malachai Boardman, are lead to their death into the corn-fields, where Burt in turn was turned into a "scarecrow". Malachai's pregnant girlfriend Ruth, who secretly hates the cult, ponders on burning the corn-fields to the ground, but is too afraid to do so. (However, the remake implies that she eventually will.)
The 1984 movie adaptation
The movie begins with Isaac preaching to the children of Gatlin while the population is praying to God after a bad harvest. The children later murder every adult in Gatlin, while Isaac witnesses with a smug grin. Three years later, Burt and Vicky, who in this movie travel through the countryside towards the city where Burt is to start his new job.
Like in the story, their troubles begin when they run over a mortally wounded boy who was fleeing the cult, and start searching for a police station. They end up in Gatlin after the old gas-station attendant refuses to help them (the children keep him alive in exchange of gasoline and new victims). While Malachai punishes two children who were playing, Burt and Vicky explore the dilapidated town, whose buildings are smeared with Isaac’s sermons pained in blood. They are eventually attacked by the children, who capture Vicky and prepare to sacrifice her.
Burt discovers the cult and its gloomy rituals, but manages to fight away the murderous children and meets Job and Sara, two children who are not under the influence of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows". Later, a jealous Malachai kills the gas-station attendant and usurps Isaac, preparing to sacrifice him and take command, despite Isaac yelling at him for disobeying their foul deity. As a tempest rises, seemingly caused by "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", and becomes increasingly violent, Burt sneaks into the corn-fields and defeats Malachai in a fistfight.
He saves Vicky and tells the children to stop following the cult and shakes the demon's control over them, but the demon retaliates by attacking them underground, forcing them to seek shelter in the barn. "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" then possesses Isaac and kills Malachai through him, before rising under the shape of red clouds and attacking the barn with gusts of wind. Burt and the redeemed children manage to douse the entire corn-fields with the town's supplies of gasoline, and Burt throws a Molotov Cocktail in it, blasting the entire corn-field into oblivion and defeating the evil spirit, who seems to die in the explosion.
The morning after, Burt and Vicky depart towards the nearest town with Job and Sarah, whom they plan to adopt.
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice
This sequel to the 1984 adaptation features John, a reporter investigating on the Gatlin events, and his son Danny, who take residence in an inn of Hemingford, as the citizen are giving shelter to the surviving children of the cult. As John is getting romantically involved with Angela the innkeeper, Micah, one of the children, is still under the control of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" and corrupts the children again, restarting the cult.
As the children start a new killing spree in Hemingford, John and a college professor named Frank theorize that something in the corn harvest of Gatlin is turning the children insane. Micah brings Danny into the cult, but he cannot bring himself to sacrifice his newfound friend Lacey, and John and Frank intervene. They flee to the haunted corn-fields, that prevents them from escaping, and "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" possesses Micah, turning him into a monster. Frank gets mortally wounded, but manages to activate the Harvester and set it ablaze, killing Micah (who reverts to normal before horribly dying) and destroying the corn crops from Gatlin, freeing the children for good.
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest
The story begins when Joshua and Eli, two orphaned brothers from near Gatlin, are brought to Chicago to be adopted by William and Amanda Porter. However, Eli refuses to adapt to the city life and starts planting corn that he brought from Gatlin in the courtyard of an abandoned factory, for he is an agent of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows". It is soon revealed that Eli never aged since the Gatlin massacre and has killed his father himself.
After Eli kills the social worker, who discovered the truth, and Amanda is killed by the factory crops when trying to destroy them, William discovers Eli's crops, resisting disease and growing extremely fast no matter what, and plans to get rich by selling them. Eli feeds the students of his school with his corn and corrupts them into his cult, making them kill his parents and killing those who oppose him with insects. Joshua and his friend Malcolm and Maria drive back to Gatlin and fight back his undead father to find Eli's bible, at the cost of Malcolm's life.
Joshua confronts his brother, who just killed William with a sickle, and his cult, bouncing back his fireballs at him with his bible, and stabs both him and the bible with a sickle, killing him and dispelling his control over the students. Just as everything seems won, "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" manifests himself from within the earth as a giant demon, and starts slaughtering the students with tentacles erupting from the ground. Joshua and Maria manage to cut his central tentacle, causing the demon and his crops to vanish into dust.
Alas, Eli's corn crops are already being exported all over the world, meaning that the demon will return and spread his cult everywhere…
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" never appears in this movie and the only reference to him was cut. However, he raised a child preacher named Josiah, who died of mercury poisoning after being buried alive.
Josiah spreads a strange fever that affects the children of Grand Island in Nebraska, getting them possessed by long dead children and turning them into half-undeads. Josiah then takes control of the possessed children and starts a new killing spree. Grace, a medical student sets up to save her younger siblings, who have been infected by the fever, along with Donald, another distraught parent. They eventually discover that Josiah is weak to mercury, the very cause of his first demise. They confront the children in a barn and set the barn sprinklers, which they tampered with mercury, dousing Josiah and killing him for good, returning the children to normal.
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror
The story begins with a boy named Ezekiel coming across a mysterious fire in the middle of a corn-field; in fact a manifestation of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" who possesses him. Ezekiel restarts the demon's foul cult and starts yet another killing spree in the rural town of Divinity Falls, though hidding its activities this time. They sacrifice all cult members who reach eighteen by making jump into a silo, in which the demon manifests as supernatural fire.
Years later, a group of teenagers travel to the American countryside to scatter the ashes of their friend Kirk, who committed suicide. An accident leaves them stranded in the town, and they meet Ezekiel and his cult, who tells them to leave. It turns out that one of them, Allison, has heard of "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" from her drunkard father before running away, and that her estranged brother Jacob, who is about to become father, is part of Ezekiel's cult, led by a madman named Luke.
They discover that two of their friends who went ahead in their trip were killed by the cult, but upon reading their bible, Kirk’s grieving girlfriend joins the cult and throws herself in the fiery silo after Jacob refuses and leaves the farm. Jacob is then captured by the cult and Ezekiel stabs him, leaving him to bleed to death for insubordination.
Warned by Allisson and her friends, the sheriff and two firemen enter Luke's farm. The firemen attempt to extinguish the silo, but they get killed by the living fire, while the sheriff is killed by Luke, who is in fact an undead controlled by Ezekiel to serve as a front for the cult. Allison fights off the cultists and find her dying brother, who tells her how to defeat "He Who Walks Behind the Rows". A battle ensues during which Allison’s friends and policemen kill many cultists at the cost of their lives. Ezekiel attacks Allison with a hook, but she throws him in the fire, and throws fertilizer in the fire to destroy the silo, and the demon with it, in the resulting blast, freeing the remaining children from his foul influence.
The following day, Allison adopts her brother's new-born baby, not knowing that he is possessed by "He Who Walks Behind the Rows"…
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return
This movie features Hannah, the first born of the original cult in Gatlin, who travels to the town to learn about her origins. She learns of a prophecy stating that the fist girl and the born son in the cult will give birth to the son of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows". She also befriends a young man named Gabriel. At the same time, Isaac, the first child preacher who was thought dead but was in fact in a coma for nineteen years, awakes. It turns out that Isaac has a son, Matt, whom he wants to be the father of his demonic idol. (How could he father a child at barely 12 years old is never explained.) However, Matt grew up away from the cult's influence and rejects his legacy.
Hannah finds her mother, but the now adults cultists of Gatlin, still corrupted by the demon and following Isaac once again, capture her and Matt to force them in a creepy parody of a wedding. They escape thanks to Gabriel and Matt's girlfriend, but the cult recaptures the latter two and a livid Isaac renounces his son before killing his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Gabriel and Hannah end up having sex. Shortly after, a desperate Matt barges in, and after talking with Gabriel, he kills himself with a scythe.
Hannah goes to confront Isaac, who is holding her mother captive, while Gabriel kills one of the cultists and forces another to shoot herself. It is then revealed that Gabriel is the real first son, set aside by Isaac in favour for his own, and the physical vessel of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows". Gabriel kills Isaac and heals after Hannah's mother stabs him, before seemingly disappearing in a huge explosion, while Hannah departs, pregnant with his child.
Children of the Corn: Revelation
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" is only referenced in this movie. The story begins when a young woman named Jamie goes to Omaha in Nebraska, to search for her grandmother who has gone missing. She cannot find her but keeps having unnerving encounters with creepy children. As the children are killing many people around her, she eventually learns that her grandmother was the sole survivor of yet another cult of children worshipping "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", led by a child preacher named Abel. In stark contrast with the cult's usual precepts, the cult committed mass suicide in a fire, and were reborn as undeads. The children that she kept encountering were part of this cult.
Jamie confronts Abel's cult in her grandmother's basement, including her undead grandmother herself. Abel prevents them from fleeing and orders her to join them, but she causes an explosion, destroying the children and freeing their souls.
Children of the Corn: Genesis
"He Who Walks Behind the Rows" does not appear and is not even mentioned in this movie, so the ties with the previous stories is hard to define. It tells the story of a young couple, Allie and Tim, who after getting lost take shelter in a farm run by a strange preacher. (A preacher who returned from Vietnam to Gatlin and witnessed his family get killed by the cult.)
Allie eventually discovers that the preacher leads a gloomy cult, with an ominous young boy with dark powers serving as its main idol. (The boy is likely a remnant of sorts of "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", but his nature and origins are never explained.) They are kept captive by supernatural forces, and the cult "plants a seed" in Allie's womb. They try to escape but the child cause a car accident, killing Tim, and Allie is brought back to the farm, where she is put with the child and starts singing in a trance, likely staying this way for the rest of her life.