Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Child's Play

I just came across this great article in and I just have to paste it here on my blog. It's all about scary kids in film. And when you think about it, isn't it completely creepy when a child is cast as a villain? I think so.

Top 10: Evil Children Movie Characters
By Ryan Murphy
Entertainment Correspondent

For the last four decades, Hollywood has been evangelizing a message that bachelors around the world have known for hundreds of years: Children are evil. They wake you up before 8 a.m. on weekends, they spill grape juice on the interior of your new car and, if movies are to be believed, they have the ability to level entire towns with their eerie demonic powers.
Granted, not all children are like that, but why bother discriminating when your life is on the line?

Lock your door, pull down your blinds and read our list of the 10 most evil children movie characters.

Number 10

Regan Teresa MacNeil - The Exorcist (1973)
Generally, we like films that feature women in nightgowns, but The Exorcist is a different beast altogether. Possessed by the Devil himself, Regan abuses priests, breaks out in boils, levitates, and spews pea soup across the room. Actually, aside from the levitation part, it sounds a lot like a typical Saturday night to us.
The film's special effects and intensity were considered so gripping that it garnered 10 Academy Award nominations. Take that, Bride of Chucky!
Most evil scene: Every moment is practically scarier than the last, but few are more evil than when Regan tells Father Karras, "I'm the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps." The movie was considered so disturbing that it was banned from video in Finland.

Number 9

Damien Thorn - The Omen (1976)
Some children are good at spelling, others excel at climbing trees. Damien Thorn, on the other hand, is good at scaring the bejesus out of everyone around him. The offspring of Satan, Damien was switched at birth with the murdered baby of a wealthy family.
Not surprisingly, things don't improve much from there, as the little red-eyed menace causes a spree of death and devastation. Perhaps his most brutally malicious act, however, was helping to foist Damien: Omen II and Omen III: The Final Conflict on the unsuspecting public.
Most evil scene: Damien's nanny pledges her loyalty to the little brat by hanging herself during his birthday celebrations. Talk about a party crasher.

Number 8

The Grady Daughters - The Shining (1980)
Like most Stephen King films, The Shining is full of horrifying images, not the least of which is Jack Nicholson chasing his family with an axe. However, none stand out more poignantly than that of the hotel's phantom twin girls. Adorned in blue dresses and white stockings, the girls hauntingly call out, "Come play with us, Danny. Forever and ever."
The scene was enough to make little Danny Torrance pass out and it nearly had the same effect on us. Were it not for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, The Shining might have turned us off twins forever.
Most evil scene: When Danny's mother suddenly understands the relevance of the word "redrum" upon seeing a reflection of it for the first time.

Number 7

Henry Evans - The Good Son (1993)
They say evil has many faces, but in our nightmares, it looks an awful lot like Macaulay Culkin. That's why we were so pleased when Hollywood producers played against type and got the Home Alone star to play the despicable Henry Evans.
Seemingly perfect on the outside, Henry is evil incarnate just beneath the surface. He threatens to throw his cousin off a 15-meter high tree house and causes a 10-car pileup on the highway. In other words, he's just your typical preteen boy.
Most evil scene: Henry maliciously kills the neighbor's dog with a crossbow.

Number 6

Charlie McGee - Firestarter (1984)
Played by the adorable Drew Barrymore, Charlie McGee has the unique ability to create fire with her mind. What could possibly go wrong with that? Since it's a Stephen King movie, the answer, of course, is absolutely everything. Charlie creates one out-of-control inferno after another as she and her father attempt to escape a government agency that experiments on humans with psychokinetic abilities. After being captured by a Native American assassin, Charlie must learn to harness her destructive powers in order help herself and her father escape.
We don't want to give away the ending, but suffice it to say the film didn't receive Smokey the Bear's two thumbs up.
Most evil scene: Charlie unleashes the full fury of her power after her father is shot... Drew Barrymore has since been sexier, but she's never been hotter than this.

Number 5

Those strange, mutated babies - The Brood (1979)
Leave it to David Cronenberg to come up with the ultimate experience of inner terror. The trouble begins when a psychiatrist creates a radical new technique for patients to physically manifest their internal turmoil. For some, the manifestations result in sores and welts, while for others, they result in (what else?) a small army of deadly, deformed babies.
Slightly scarier than a surprise audit, The Brood features the most bloodthirsty toddlers in the history of cinema. An interesting side note: Cronenberg wrote The Brood while he was going through a particularly acrimonious divorce.
Most evil scene: Nola's mutant children appear and viciously kill her parents. Only a mother could love a brood like this.

Number 4

The Children - Children of the Damned (1964)
Believe it or not, this movie has nothing to do with The Jackson Five. A sequel to Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned features six seemingly normal children with dangerous psychic powers. Think of it as Carrie meets The Brady Bunch. Unlike Marcia and Jan, however, these ber-creepy kids can paralyze innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders with their eyes. The trouble begins when the children escape from a high-tech lab in London and hole themselves up in a spooky, abandoned church where they must defend themselves against the government.
Most evil scene: The children prepare themselves for battle by creating a supersonic weapon out of a church organ.

Number 3

Rhoda Penmark - The Bad Seed (1956)
Lying, theft and murder are all in a day's work for Rhoda Penmark, the original wild child. The blonde-haired beauty kills a girl to steal a penmanship medal and offs another to prematurely inherit a decorative glass globe. Rhoda gets her evil disposition from her grandmother, a notorious cold-blooded killer who murdered 20 victims. I, on the other hand, get my evil disposition from my low sugar levels (at least that's what my doctor tells me). Like her grandmother before her, Rhoda is also a merciless murderer who can't stop her deadly compulsion.
Most evil scene: Rhoda ruthlessly kills a janitor who knows far too much.

Number 2

Samara Morgan - The Ring (2002)
It used to be that the worst thing that could happen to you when you watched a videotape is you'd return it two days late and be docked $4.99. And then along came Samara Morgan, the psychopathic little girl who would kill you for watching it in the first place.
Samara was kept locked away in the loft of a barn and was later murdered by her adoptive mother. Equipped with psychic powers (and a strange affinity for VCRs), she eventually comes back from the dead to wreak havoc on the innocent (kind of like a bad burrito, but with slightly more lasting consequences). As if her very presence isn't terrifying enough, Samara has long damp hair, a decayed face and generally smells like an old well. Among the film's most terrifying moments are when Aidan first watches the mesmerizing video, the pure look of shock on any of Samara's victims' faces and the few tense moments (teasingly seen from behind) before Noah is offed.
Most evil scene: Samara seemingly appears out of nowhere as Naomi Watts struggles at the bottom of the well. We always knew there was a reason we preferred tap water.

Number 1

Isaac Chroner - Children of the Corn (1984)
Stephen King pops up once again in what is arguably the eeriest movie of all time (excluding, of course, the video of your prom -- but that was just sad). Isaac Chroner is a savage preacher boy who orders the children of a small Nebraska town to kill every adult in the vicinity.
On the negative side, he causes unimaginable bloodshed, but on the positive side, it's just Nebraska, so it's no great loss. The children worship "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" and get up to their old tricks when a misguided couple makes the mistake of driving through the eerily quiet town. The film contains a harrowing amount of bloodshed, including, most notably, the grisly slashing of a child's throat.
Most evil scene: When Malachai and the other children kill the adults at the local diner.

honorable mention

Dakota Fanning
Is it just us, or is there something a little creepy about an 11-year-old actress who has all of Hollywood by the balls? Since 2001, the eerily mature Fanning has co-starred with Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Robert DeNiro, Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, and Julia Roberts in a series of well-received roles. Apparently, Pauley Shore wasn't the only celebrity who made a deal with the devil.

it's child's play

It's been over a century since little Lizzie Borden made beef tartar out of her parents, and children have been getting progressively scarier ever since. If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that birth control is highly underrated. In the words of humorist Robert Orben, "Do your kids a favor -- don't have any."


Lucas Pederson said...

All great choices. I might add the children in an old movie called Bloody Birthday. Probably nobody has seen it, not sure how good it was even when it came out, early eighties, maybe. My wife had it when we got together and I've only watched it a couple times. Both times though, the kids freaked me out. As the story goes, five children are born on the same night, at the same time under a lunar eclipse. Go figure, huh?

Fab said...

I'm not one for horror movies and when children play the villans it creeps me out even more.

I saw The Good Son and found it pretty disturbing how Culkin killed his brother.

But the most disturbing to me are dolls coming to life. Let's just say that one particular movie gave me nightmares for a year. I hate ventriloquists.

Alex said...

You forgot Dakota Fanning. That little shit is the devil incarnate!

Alex said...


I just remembered: you know the girl in "In the Mouth of Madness" who says, "You know what today is? Today's mummy's day!"?

Freaky shit, man!

SQT said...


You must read the whole list. Dakota got an honorable mention.

avery said...

When I was little, I caught part of The Shining on TV when I wasn't supposed to. Night after night I had dreams of those little girls (and of that old lady in the tub; I wouldn't go into the bathroom if the shower curtain was shut).

My additions:

Creed from Pet Sematary. Creepy both in the book and the movie.

The orginal Dune movie, with that little priestess kid with the glowing eyes. I'd have chucked her to a worm in the first five minutes.

Those clone kids on that one X-Files episode were pretty freaky. The Eves. I still remember them staring blankly at Mulder and saying, "We just know," in unison.

avery said...

And I do know how to spell 'original.' I just chose not to do it (apparently).

The Curmudgeon said...

I don't watch horror movies. The only one I saw on the entire list was the Omen. That was over 30 years ago and I'm still creeped out about it.

But, on the other hand, speaking as a father of five, I totally accept the premise that children are evil... just not generally homicidal maniacs....

Stewart Sternberg said...

As a writer, and I say that with a straight face, I love using children in horror. They are a brilliant way to highlight evil or to offset something else happening. In one novel I'm editing I have three children playing in a garden and something horrible is stalking them. In another part of the novel a child is kidnapped and the horror is grounded in reality and experience as opposed to the supernatural.

Kids as objects of horror? Some of the most memorable figures in literature are but tykes. Consider the boys in "Lord of the Flies", the two possessed children in "Turn of the Screw", the lad in Bixby's short story. "It's A Good Life" who has all the adults terrified because he is able to capriciously change reality.This was made into a terrifying Twilight Zone episode starring Billy Mumy.

I think at the core of the child as a figure as horror is the perversion of innocence. It is the breaking of a taboo. Consider the scene in "Night of the Living Dead". As horrible as all the zombies were, think about the suspense that was created as the audience waited for the little girl in the basement to turn.

regarding the list in the posting: I think there were several poor choices. Damien? I think the concept of evil is effective, but Damien himself wasn't as powerful a figure, if only because we never got to know him. We never saw any innocence there to be corrupted. He represented evil, and the audience knew and was prepared for it.

As for the other choices I'd disagree with? The girls from the Shining? Scary images, nothing more. Fire Starter? She was a victim, her power wasn't malevolent. Thank God the Bad Seed was represented.

What about "Salem's Lot" and the child vampire who visits his poor brother's window in the middle of the night? For that matter, what about the vampire child in "After Dark"? What about the little girl in the yellow slicker who is killing people with a very large butcher knife in "Alice Sweet Alice".

My concern with so many of these lists is that the people composing them goes for the easy picks. They choose those that come most quickly to memory.

SQT said...

My concern with so many of these lists is that the people composing them goes for the easy picks. They choose those that come most quickly to memory.

You have to admit, those that come to memory first are, well, the most memorable.

I can't possibly forget Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist, ever. And even though Damien was supposed to be evil incarnate from the get-go, he was still scary. I think Damien might appeal to the fear a parent has that they might not know their child as well as they think. Or that they might commit evil acts and they have no control over it.

As scary as a child vampire might be, that is pretty far removed from the everyday experience a parent has with their child. I find the idea of a normal seeming child doing the inexplicable far more frightening.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

My number 1 choice would have been that boy, Anthony, with psychic ability to do whatever he wants with people in an old Twilight Zone episode.

Stewart Sternberg said...

See? Angela agrees with me, and she and I never see eye to eye.

You ever ask yourself why one of these films is memorable? Some of them are only so because someone saw the film when they were a kid. Go back and look at something that scared you when you were a kid and you might have an extremely different take on it now.

I'll grant you Damien is creepy for all the reasons you maintain. What would have happened if a scene had been included where Damien says to his mother as she is tucking him in bed:

"I keep having dreams," said Damien. He looked toward the window, then back quickly toward his mother.

"What sort of dreams, hon?"

"Dreams where you aren't my mummy. But you are my mummy, aren't you?"

"Of course, I am. Lay back down, hon."

"Sometimes I see things in my dreams. I hurt people."

She stared at him, wanting to ask more, bur afraid to hear anything else. "Just dreams."

"What if..."

"Stop worrying yourself. Things seem scarier at night. Lay down, I'll leave the night light on and the door open. I'm just down the hall."

Damien lay back, his face still a mask of worry. She stood and walked across the room, glancing back once to give him a reassuring smile. As she moved down the hall, thinking about his words, she could have sworn she heard the sound of a child's soft laughter.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

What an evil assortment they are! Well chosen.

avery said...

I think the scarier take on Damien would be if instead of him just being the devil's son that there was something about the two parents that combined in just the right way to create supreme evil. A genetically engineered (so to speak) kid who knows he's not right but can't do much about it is a lot scarier than one running around saying, "Don't you know who my daddy is?"

And, Stewart, the girls from The Shining were innocent kids. They were chopped up by their crazed, hotel-possessed dad and then their souls became property of said nasty dwelling. They were ghosts, either trapped under the spell of the resort's resident evil, stuck doing its dirty work, or were changed into something more malevolent by the violence they were subjected to. Either way, it goes along with your perversion of innocence theory.

Lord of the Flies. That's definitely a tale of good kids gone bad.

SQT said...

I remember when I first read Lord of the Flies. That book does kind of freak me out. It's so easy to see adults degenerating to a certain level, but it's much more disturbing with kids.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Avery, the girls from The Shining were a quick peek. They didn't figure prominently enough in the story to be given credit. If they were creepy, it was because of the skill of Kubrick's camerawork. That's just my narrowminded opinion.

avery said...

Regardless of the time they spent on screen, Stewart, the girls do fall under your own definition of evil kids, right? Nudge. Huh?

Okay. I'll leave you alone, now.

Lee said...

I couldn't even read it, I am so scared of evil children...I saw that posessed Exorcist chick and I was done.

I'm gonna go curl up in a fetal now.

Stewart Sternberg said...

sigh,,,,,okay, Avery is right. I'll admit the girls from The Shining to the list.

Josie said...

You know, I have always thought there was something a little creepy about Dakota Fanning. She doesn't ring true when she plays "sweet" but when she plays "bad" there is something behind her eyes, ... I just don't know.

"The Bad Seed" was on the American Movie Channel just recently, and I happened to catch it. The little girl who played her, Patty McCormack, was perfect in the role.


avery said...

I win! Although I have a sneaking suspicion Stewart conceded just to shut me up. Oh, well. I win!

Kate S said...

Great stuff!

One of my favorite songs is from the South Park movie, "In the Eyes of a Child."

"That twinkle in their eyes doesn't disquise the ba$tards they really are..." :)

Helen said...

Hey, I was just wondering where you got that picture at the start of the blog from? Of the demented looking child? I'm doing an art project on evil children and I've been looking for artists who used the concept forever! Ooh and I might just use some of these films too :] Thanks if you can help!

SQT said...


I found the picture by doing a general google image search with the term "scary children" and it popped up. I tried to find out more about the picture but so far no luck. My in-laws do have some rather creepy oil paintings that feature children from colonial American times. They bought them back East (Virginia I think) and they're actual paintings from that period. The style at the time does seem a little morbid. Though if I had to guess, the image I have on here is more likely Renaissance period. I'll keep looking and see if I can find anything.