Children are supposed to be innocent, guileless and, well, childlike. But what happens when they are not? When they are, instead, threatening, malicious and evil. For years, moviemakers have explored and exploited the creepy underside of childhood, by returning again and again to the “evil child” sub-genre.
This fascination/revulsion with creepy kiddies has resulted in several of the scariest movies ever made. As a bonus, tots-gone-bad are certainly popular at the box office; of the six movies featured below, all but one has spawned at least one sequel or remake. It appears the public’s fascination with prepubescent killers will never die.
Orphan, a new horror film hitting theaters July 24th, will be the latest entry in the ever-creepy evil child sub-genre. The movie stars Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga as a forlorn couple who adopt a nine-year-old girl who proves to be (surprise, surprise) not nearly as innocent as she first seems. In honor of its release, join MM as we take a look back at six of the best evil kiddie movies ever made.
The Bad Seed (1956)
directed by Mervyn LeRoy
This evil kiddie classic stars Patty McCormack (Frost/Nixon) as Rhoda, an eight-year-old girl whose wholesome, Cindy Brady-esque demeanor masks a dark, malicious streak. After Rhoda’s father, a colonel, is transferred to Washington D.C., her mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly) is left to care for her on her own. Tragedy strikes when one of Rhoda’s classmates, Claude, drowns in a lake while at a school picnic. Rhoda. who harbored jealous feelings toward Claude, shows no emotion about the tragedy. Christine increasingly believes Rhoda knows more about Claude’s death than she is willing to divulge… and soon discovers she may have been responsible for other tragic deaths. Could little miss sunshine indeed be a lean, mean killing machine? Based both on the book by William March and the subsequent play by Maxwell Anderson, The Bad Seed was hugely influential—spawning dozens of “evil children” imitations and showing the world evil could lurk under even the most wholesome of exteriors. The movie led to two unofficial sequels in the mid-’90s (called Mommy and Mommy’s Day), in which 50-year-old McCormack upgrades from psychotic kiddie to psychotic mommy.
Village of the Damned (1960)
directed by Wolf Rilla
In the small English village of Midwich, all the townspeople fall into a deep, mysterious sleep during a blackout. Afterwards, every woman of childbearing age is found to be pregnant, even those who aren’t married. All the women soon give birth to blonde-haired children who are extremely intelligent, completely devoid of emotion and have icy, penetrating eyes. Oh, and they also possess dangerous telekinetic powers and aren’t afraid to use them against anyone (including their “parents”) who dare threaten them. Based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, Village of the Damned remains an eerie classic that, along with The Bad Seed, proved a long-standing rumor that blonde kids are indeed evil. The movie led to a not-bad sequel in 1963 (Children of the Damned) and a vastly inferior 1995 remake helmed by John Carpenter.
The Exorcist (1973)
directed by William Friedkin
Based on William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel (he also wrote the screenplay), The Exorcist broke many cinema taboos when initially released in theaters. It marked a new era in horror movies—one that proved that disturbing, challenging, visceral horror movies could indeed attract a wide audience. The film made headlines during its initial release, when reports emerged of people fainting in the theater as a result of watching the movie. It didn’t take long for The Exorcist to become a bona fide blockbuster; a movie that still possesses the power to frighten audiences more than 35 years later. The movie’s success lies is its deadly serious approach to material that could have, in lesser hands, been unintentionally funny: A 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) who, after becoming possessed by the devil, spews green bile, curses like a sailor and sounds like a 60-year-old chain-smoker. What makes the movie truly disturbing is Friedkin’s realistic, documentary-like directing style, as well as no-nonsense performances from Ellen Burstyn (as the girl’s mother) and Max Von Sydow (as the priest who saves her), who succeed in making the viewer believe in such preposterous material. For the rest of her life, Blair would forever be known as one of the scariest (and arguably most disgusting—thanks to Dick Smith’s killer make-up effects) evil movie kiddies of all time.
The Omen (1976)
directed by Richard Donner
Everyone’s favorite devil-spawn, Damien, makes his first appearance in this highly successful thriller, partly inspired by the success of The Exorcist, which was released three years prior. Helmed by action veteran Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon), The Omen revolves around an American ambassador (Gregory Peck) who learns, after a series of grisly murders involving people close to him, that his five-year-old adopted son is quite literally the Anti-Christ. Featuring a number of tense, well-executed set-pieces (including the infamous David Warner decapitation) as well as quite possibly the scariest nanny in movie history (Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock), The Omen remains a stone cold classic, with an unnerving performance from Harvey Stephens as a seemingly normal child who just so happens to have the numbers “666” carved into the back of his head. The popularity of The Omen lead to three sequels as well as an uninspired 2006 remake written by David Seltzer, the original film’s scribe.
Children of the Corn (1984)
directed by Fritz Kiersch
Based on a chilling Stephen King short story, this creepy horror flick stars Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as a young couple traveling cross-country. The pair, in a move they’ll soon regret, take a pit stop in a desolate Nebraska town, where there’s no sign of any adults. Unfortunately, the kiddies in the town are alive and well and all belong to a cult dedicated to sacrificing new visitors to their “god,” a malevolent force that lives in the corn fields. A twisted take on Village of the Damned (which featured a cavalcade of similarly zombie-like kids with murderous intentions), Children of the Corn proves that it’s probably best not to explore overgrown corn fields (or, for that matter, empty towns without an adult in sight.)
directed by George Ratliff
Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga (who, after this movie and Orphan, can probably be named “Queen of the Evil Kiddie Genre”) play the proud parents of nine-year-old Joshua and a newborn little girl. With the arrival of his baby sister, however, Joshua becomes increasingly jealous and the odd, eccentric boy’s behavior soon turns sinister. This subtle, effective thriller didn’t make much of a splash at the box office, but is well worth seeing for its ambiguous approach to the material (Is Joshua really crazy or are his parents, already tense for a variety of reasons, looking too much into things?)
What’s your own pick for cinema’s creepiest kids? Add your choices to the COMMENTS section below!