I must begin with a disclaimer that I am quite possibly incapable of keeping this top ten list narrowed down to ten creepy kids. Since scary little children are one of my passions within the horror genre, I especially found it hard to narrow the field. In addition, I historically struggle with being concise if you haven’t noticed. On that note, I hope to distinguish my list from the many others on the web. I did not choose these children because they appear physically horrific or unnerving. Many will be disappointed that I left off such notable creepy kids as Reagan from the Exorcist, Carol Ann from Poltergeist, or Toshio from the Grudge. I tried to pick children who had leading roles, spent the whole movie outside of the womb, and who are uniquely evil kids. Historically the horror genre uses its creepy kids as an indicator of other societal ills. Often films justify the child’s horrific nature by making them possessed, adopted, abused etc. What makes a kid especially scary to me, is when they are utterly unpredictable, they appear normal, and there is little to no explanation for their horrific actions. My list argues that some of the best creepy kids are so scary because they challenge the way we see children. They take away our comfort by illuminating the fact that childhood and innocence are not synonymous. Furthermore, some people are really born bad and you can’t always tell.
The Bad Seed (1956)
Rhoda is one of the quintessential bad kids. There is little rhyme or reason for the origins of her ruthlessness. The pureness of her evil makes her such an interesting case for horror genre.
Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Spoiler alert! While we figure out that Alice doesn’t really commit the crimes that we thought she did, there is something so malevolent about her that made it so easy for us to really believe that she was the true bad guy. I am still not convinced that she doesn’t grow up to be a psychopath.
The Omen (1976)
It is believed that Damien is the Antichrist and thus potentially a spawn of Satan it is easy to see his evil lineage. However, if we are to believe in free will and individual identities then we cannot blame the son for the sins of his father. As he is not possessed, we must assume Damien was just born to be bad.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Malachi certainly gets honorable mention for being the creepiest ginger kid on the list. However, it’s really Isaac who steals the show. The audience never really understands why the children act the way they do and how they managed to dominate the adults. There is little to no explanation of the genesis of their cult or the boy priest. Isaac’s unknown motivations and ability to persuade others makes him an especially powerful threat.
Pet Semetary (1989)
Gage is one of the exceptions on this list. He was not born bad. Actually he was the poster boy for sweet and innocent. It was his parents’ irresponsibility, selfishness, and poor choices that created this monster. The fact that he maintains the façade of innocence while gliding a scalpel across Judd’s Achilles tendon, teaches us not to underestimate our opponents. By far the youngest member of this list, Gage reminds us that even the good ones go bad.
The Good Son (1993)
Henry Evans is a clear indicator that some children are inherently evil. Even his own mother accepts Henry’s unalterable nature as she must choose whether to save her son or her much more socially adjusted nephew.
The Ring (2002)
Samara reminds us that not all children are innocent and in the words of Dr. Gasnick, sometimes it “takes work to love kids”. Samara speaks volumes for the parents who endure violence at the hands of their children. Sometimes being a good mommy is just not enough.
Dark Water (2005)
Natasha is an interesting character. Born from the neglect of her parents, she also replicates certain primal traits in children namely jealousy and selfishness. She is not seeking vengeance, vindication, or seemingly even love. She acts without thought in order to get what she wants.
Joshua taunts his baby sister, “nobody will ever love you”. In reality, he is projecting others’ feelings about himself. Joshua makes himself terribly hard to love as he manipulates adults and exposes weakness. Joshua is the personification of the fears of every young parent.
David literally gets into the heads of the adults around him and makes his own mother want to kill him. The film opens with 2 Corinthians 11:14: And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light and David reminds us that even as a seemingly innocent, “What’s a demon but an angel who fell?” David takes the label of childhood innocent and turns it on its ear by reminding us that anyone can fall from grace. The movie poster alone states “The Devil’s Work is Child’s Play”.
The Children (2008)
The children is almost like a cloning experiment gone bad with Karen Cooper from Night of the Living Dead (1968). These kids spread their illness and murder from child to child while holding their parents hostage inside their home.
One Missed Call (2008)
Ellie is described as an abusive and disturbed child. There is no catalyst for her actions only that she tortures her sister. She also brings light to the ways parents are judged and misjudged by the actions of their children.
Case 39 (2009)
Lillith is yet another child described as a demon and one who feeds off of emotion. No set of parents could handle this succubus of a child. She learns your deepest fears and exposes them. Perhaps Lillith is a signifier that children both drain people of energy and reveal the shames of their parents. Edward Sullivan says of Lillith, They say when you’re born you’re given your eternal soul” thus suggesting that some people may truly be born bad.
Ok, I admit Esther is not really a child. But for most of the movie, we believe she is. If she were, I am sure it wouldn’t have been so politically correct for her adoptive mother to kick her in the head at the end of the movie. That being said, there is nothing more obsessed with childhood than psychoanalysis and Esther is stuck in a real life, constant Electra Complex.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Kevin is detached and difficult. He shows little emotion and is a perpetrator or unspeakable mass murder. Reminiscent of such tragic school shootings in the news, Kevin offers no insight into such actions. It leaves little sense of reassurance for the future and no sanctity for the parents. One of the last truly bad kids in horror, he leaves us uncertain about the future and certainly questioning the innate innocence of children.