I’ve been mulling over one of those nature vs. nurture conundrums: are children in horror films born innocent and made evil or are they born evil and we suppress their natural tendencies. So often, children in horror films serve as cautionary tales where parental missteps lead to baby Beelzebubs. Freudian analysis would suggest that humans are born naughty and dominated by their self-serving, Id driven psyche. Freud also argued that in order to maintain a civilized world we must repress our instinctual drives such as Thanatos. If Freud is correct that children are impulsive imps who must be tamed, then horror scholar Robin Wood speaks in tandem when he suggests that children are the “most oppressed section of the population.”* Interestingly enough, much horror scholarship assumes a psychoanalytic tone, yet often minimizes the inherent and uncanny nature of the child.
I am arguing here that the evil child in horror film is not always an innocent babe perverted by the reckless decisions of adults. Children are born uninhibited, selfish, and matter of fact. However, these traits are not the ones that disrupt normality in the horror film nor do these traits make the child monstrous. Since the millennium, I believe it is when children use these traits to usurp established power structures that they become monstrous.
There are moments in time that change the way we think about things. I recently had one of those moments when re-watching the film Case 39 (2009), directed by Christian Alvart. Here, Detective Mike Barron (Ian McShane) makes a spontaneous statement that presents the viewer with an astute juxtaposition between man’s best friend and the innocent child. His one sentence exposes the way we tend to lump all children together as innocent.