Children: they're small and often have jammy hands. Able to fit in places adults cannot, they can be adept at both hiding and seeking. Their screechy, high-pitched laughter can be heard for miles. And sometimes children sit there quietly and stare as though waiting for us adults to solve all the world's problems, silently accusing us for the sorry mess that is the reality they must grow up in. As adults, we're expected to protect and sympathize with children, because they are wee proto-people whose brains are still developing and who have no rights. Violence against children is as unthinkable and horrific as a child capable of actual devastating violence. The fact that both do occur in real life sometimes is a large part of what makes a horror story starring a child frightening. Films have been cashing in on this creepiness since the old days of black and white movies. As a genre, horror loves the distorted, warped vision of innocence that is the wicked child.
In honor of the Halloween season, let's take a look at 10 fun-sized manifestations of pure evil. These children are all characters in their own right, so characters such as the twin girls from The Shining, while definitely creepy, are only there in the background as part of the atmosphere, so there isn't much to say about them.
10) Claudia, Interview with a Vampire
Claudia looks like a little girl with perfect curls, but she is in fact 700 years old. In Louis's own words: "A little child she was, but also a fierce killer, now capable of the ruthless pursuit of blood with all a child's demanding." She is bitter about the fact that she was turned as a child and stuck in her tiny body, and takes out her anger on whoever she pleases. Attempted vampire patricide is only one of her crimes. What makes Claudia so creepy is Kirsten Dunst's phenomenal performance. She is totally believable as an ancient soul trapped within the body of a child, and Claudia's presence is as mesmerizing as it is unsettling.
9) Samara, The Ring
Samara, based on Sadako in the original Ringu, gave the West a taste of Japanese-style horror, and since then it's hard to go a month without seeing the "creepy girl with long black hair" pop up, trying to scare us still. But both Ringu and The Ring did it the best. Admit it, the very first time you saw Samara crawling out of the television you were unable to think of it later without feeling the heebie-jeebies. She will kill you, but not before giving you seven days to freak out and futilely try to prevent it first. Her weird, distorted appearance, complete with limbs that seem to stretch and grow, provides plenty of good old fashioned nightmare fuel.
8) Gage, Pet Sematary
Oh sweet Cthulhu, this little zombie child is hard to forget. Part of what makes Gage so utterly terrifying is that we see him before he dies and comes back wrong. He's an adorable little boy who unfortunately crawls out into the road at the wrong time. It's heartbreaking to see that one tiny shoe sitting there after the accident. Of course, Louis Creed, desperate with grief, decides to bury his child in the Pet Sematary (because that worked out so well for Church the cat). Gage comes back to life with some disturbing things to say: "First I play with Judd, then Mommy came, and I play with Mommy. We play Daddy! We had a awfully good time! Now, I want to play with YOU!" Brrr. One of the most chilling scenes in the film is when Gage hides under the bed and slices right through poor Judd's Achilles tendon, sealing the fate of the best character in the film.
Lessons learned from Pet Sematary: scalpels are knives in the hands of children. Also, listen to the wise old guy who lives next door, because sometimes dead really is better.
7) Alessa Gillespie, Silent Hill
Like Samara, Alessa is vengeful, super powered and deadly. But far from pure evil, Alessa was the innocent victim of Silent Hill's crazy cult worshipping ways. She was raised to die in order to resurrect the town's own elder god. In the film, once the spirit of Alessa possesses little Sharon, bloody barbed wire shenanigans are in store for villainous cult leader Christabella (fun fact: in the special features on the Silent Hill DVD, director Christophe Gans recounts actress Jodelle Ferland's reaction after being offered the role: "She smiled and said, 'I always wanted to play the devil.'" Sean Bean, stuck in an alternate version of reality at the time, was unavailable for comment).
But what about Alessa from the Silent Hill game that started it all? Well, the worst part of Silent Hill, the hellish Otherworld with its rusty grates, blood-stained tiles, decorative corpses, and demonic monsters, only exists because of the fear and pain that the cultists and Alessa's mother Dahlia put her through. Without Alessa's powers and traumatic past, there would be no Silent Hill as we know it.
6) Damien, The Omen
When it comes to pure evil, it's tough to beat the antichrist. Because of Damien, little boys on tricycles always seem like they're up to something sinister. Also, if you wish to find work as a babysitter, make sure never to bring your giant black Doberman/hellhound hybrid with you to the interview (and if you're Doctor Who alum Patrick Troughton, stay the hell away from lightening rods). Damien can generate misfortune and woe anywhere at any time. Being born with the blood of a jackal will do that for you. His evil manifests through acts of tragedy that no one can trace directly to the little dark-haired boy with chubby cheeks. It's just that everyone connected with him or who gets in his way ends up beheaded, hanged, or kabobed, that's all.
5) Every Child in Village of the Damned
If one child with supernatural powers is creepy, then an entire group is mortally terrifying. Alien hybrid children with psychic powers and a hive mind are even worse. This film masterfully plays upon fears of children being born different, as none of the expectant mothers in the town of Midwich quite understand how they became pregnant all at once, during a time when the entire town was cut off from the outside world. In the original film, the adults are well meaning and genuinely try to help, so we feel bad when they fall victim to the power of the children. Also frightening is the fact that these omnipotent telekinetic munchkins were spread across the globe, causing so much trouble some countries resorted to dropping bombs. There is no solution, salvation or cure for these children; your best bet is total annihilation through explosive means.
4) Anthony Fremont, The Twilight Zone
Ah, The Twilight Zone, so enduring in its creepiness and ingenious storytelling. The episode "It's a Good Life" features Anthony Fremont, a precociously evil child who can send shivers down our collective spines even in black and white. A little terrorist who wishes people he doesn't like "into the cornfield," he has mental powers that are both omnipotent and of unknown origin, adding mystery to creepiness. He could be any kid you know, and he lives not in a school for gifted youngsters but on a farm. Without a doubt the suspense in this story grows to its highest pitch when Dan stands up to little Anthony, who turns the man into a giant Jack in the box for thinking "bad thoughts". Picture a child you know and imagine her or him with similar powers. It may go something like this: Socks for Christmas? You're sent into the cornfield. Math homework? Cornfield. Chores? Better start packing butter, salt and toothpicks. Thinking mean thoughts? Bam! You're a giant Jack in the box that freaks everyone out. And then you're dead. In the cornfield.
3) Isaac, Children of the Corn
Are we seeing a theme here? What is it about creepy children and cornfields? This film is a bit like The Wicker Man but with less nudity and sadly lacking in Christopher Lee. The premise is similar: newcomers wander into a pseudo-pagan society that operates on an ancient religion. Shadowy references to a power deity are made ("He who walks behind the rows"). The catch is they are all children led by the pint-sized, charismatic and creepifying Isaac. Most of the children in the town are creepy, but Isaac is definitely the ringleader here. The fact that he looks like a tiny 40-year-old man in a suit helps considerably. The children in the town are so very brainwashed by the idea of human sacrifice that not even a pre-Terminator Sarah Connor can stop them.
2) Lilith, Supernatural
Like Fremont, Lilith is a tiny terrorist who delights in keeping adults under her thrall, requiring her victims to put on a happy face as she gleefully and bloodily murders anyone who doesn't bow to her every whim. There is something fundamentally chilling about watching a little girl in a bloody dress threaten her family with "Don't you love me? Don't be mean to me!" while forcing them to bake cakes, throw parties, and look like they are enjoying themselves. Discomfort culminates with terror when she out and out snaps her grandfather's neck at the dinner table. Unlike the boy from Twilight Zone, however, Lilith has an established reason for being this way: there is an ancient evil demon residing within her body (also, check out the family's name on the mailbox).
1) Regan, The Exorcist
The late '60s and '70s certainly loved this whole "demonic child" theme. The sheer horror of evil forces using a child as an instrument of terror and distress is perfected in this film. Once you hear that voice coming out of little Regan, you know things are going to get much, much worse (actress Mercedes McCambridge provided that infamous voice, described it the hardest work she had ever done, and we don't blame her). Possessed Regan levitates furniture, spins her head 180 degrees, spits up pea soup and does unmentionable acts with a crucifix. The fact that Regan is an innocent child whose only crime is fiddling around with an Ouija board adds a real feeling of tragedy to these horrific and disgusting ordeals. Then there is also the fact that the director of this film was a colossal dick who put both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn in harnesses that gave them permanent damage to the spine. So now you can feel even more uncomfortable when watching this film. You're welcome!