A Pazuzu-possessed preteen whirls her bloodied head backward as if on a swivel. A screechy blonde lets us know “They’re here.” A pair of hollow-eyed twins in matching robin’s egg blue dresses stand ominously in a hotel lobby. These are the iconic creepy children that have since become an enduring staple of the horror genre. The character of Charlie in Hereditary, an odd girl with a proclivity for chopping off pigeon heads, seems to fit right in with the chilling class of sinister kids from horror films such as Children of the Corn, The Omen, Pet Semetary, The Bad Seed, The Exorcist, and The Village of the Damned. Whether they are possessed, a ghost, or just born evil, these wicked ankle-biters are a parent’s worst nightmare—and the reason some might have for not having children in the first place. These kiddos no longer need protection; instead, adults need protection from them. Chris Alexander from Fangoria says that when something innocent turns into something lethal, “it’s frightening on a base, primordial level.” Rather than rehash the classic ones we all know and love, here is a look at little evildoers from recent horror films.
Esther in Orphan
Orphan delights in the wickedness of its main character Esther, magnificently played by Isabelle Furman. Furman manages to convey the deep-seated rage and Machiavellian desires that lurk beneath Esther’s angelic and docile exterior. She may appear soft-spoken and content to sit quietly and paint all day, but Esther is cunning and easily manipulates her adopted family. She injures a bratty schoolmate, murders a nun with a hammer, and breaks her own arm to frame her adopted mother for physical abuse, before skillfully covering up her misdeeds. Orphan culminates in a shocking revelation that turns the creepy child trope on its head.
Samuel in The Babadook
One of the most iconic pictures from Jennifer Kent’s haunting The Babadook is of Samuel in the car with his eyes wide and mouth contorted like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The troubled Samuel’s erratic, ear-shattering tantrums, whiny clinginess, and fervid obsession with the ghoulish monochrome children’s book take a severe toll on his grieving mother. Samuel crystallizes the fear that all parents have that their children will push them to the brink of sanity.
Samara in The Ring
Although Samara is a soft-spoken little girl with dainty Mary Janes, she is capable of fearsome power. She drives her adopted mother and prized thoroughbreds mad with physic powers, leading her mom to throw her down a well. Samara becomes a vengeful ghost that kills all those who watch her haunted videotape, leaving the corpses with terrifying water-logged and gnarled faces. With her slow, creeping crawl out of the television and long, stringy black hair that covers her face and body, Samara is one of the most visually terrifying children in horror ever.
Lukas & Elias in Goodnight Mommy
The frights are doubled in Goodnight Mommy with a pair of sadistic, maniacal twins. After their mother gets facial surgery, the bandages morphing her into some kind of alien-like creature, Lukas and Elias begin to suspect that she is an imposter. Since their supposed mother showers one twin with affection and is an ice queen to another, they prefer to go on odd outdoor odysseys alone, bringing in stray cats and collecting huge beetles in a giant tank. Eventually, the twins hatch a disturbing plan that climaxes in one of the most disturbing horror sequences of all time.
The Children in The Children
“You brought them into this world, now they’ll take you out” is a genius tagline for the creepy child trope. In The Children, a tranquil Christmas vacation in the snowy mountain countryside turns deadly when a group of children becomes infected with a zombie-like disease that makes them go on a murderous rampage. This film is particularly chilling because Christmas is supposed to be a time of pure childhood wonder.