Child’s play: horror cinema’s greatest creepy kids

With recent Nordic supernatural thriller The Innocents bringing creepy kids back to the big screen, Flicks writer (and author of The Book of Horror) Matt Glasby looks back through cinema history for more instances of children who should not be trusted.

Whether talking to their imaginary friends, doing the evil bidding of their ever-bubbling ids, or just being terrifyingly precocious, movie kids can be creepy as hell. And while most of them are harmless, there’s a handful who should be approached with caution, if at all. From white-faced wardrobe-hiders to carpet-ruining trash-talkers, here are a few of our favourites…

Uncanny Kids

The Innocents (1961)

Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw has been adapted many times—most recently as The Haunting of Bly Manor—but this is the one to beat.

When lonely governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is sent to a remote country estate to look after sweet little Flora (Pamela Franklin) and troubled Miles (Martin Stephens from Village of the Damned), she thinks they’re just adorable. Trouble is, they seem to be in thrall to former governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and her lover Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), who haven’t the decency to leave them alone, despite being dead.

With his odd, otherworldly manner, Miles is particularly chilling because we’re never sure whether he’s going to make polite enquires about Miss Giddens’ health, kiss her, or kill her. Perhaps all three.

See also: Village of the Damned (1960)

Killer Kids

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

As a shocking prologue hints, the pint-sized residents of Almanzora, a small Spanish island, have had enough of being killed in wars, so they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. In this case, that means offing all the adults.

Enter clueless British tourists Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), who arrive hoping to have a relaxing holiday before Evelyn gives birth. Although writer-director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador takes about nine months to cut to the chase—and Tom is an absolute dick—the slow-burn pace creates a real atmosphere of dread. This explodes into violence when Tom finds a bunch of local children playing piñata with an old man’s body.

What’s so scary about this particular bunch of ankle-biters is that, imaginative violence aside, they’re all completely, kid-next-door normal.

See also: The Children (2008)

Possessed Kids

The Exorcist (1973)

When the demon Pazuzu takes over her body, sweet little Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) becomes a repository for all things foul, swearing like a trooper, peeing on the carpet and making the bed rock as she violently pleasures herself. Kids, eh? Although many of us spent our youths doing at least some of those things, this is clearly the work of the devil and requires interventions both medical and divine. No prizes for guessing which one works best.

Author William Peter Blatty based his book on the real-life case of a 14-year-old Maryland boy who spoke in tongues before being saved by heroic priests. Whether he ever shouted “your mother cooks socks in hell!” as Regan does in the edited-for-TV-version is lost to the mists of time.

See also: The Omen (1976)

Dead Kids

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

You have to feel sorry for poor Toshio Saeki (Yuya Ozeki and others). After all, it’s not his fault that his father killed him, his mother and the cat in a fit of jealousy. Nor that this caused them to haunt, well, just about everyone in Japan and beyond, over the course of approximately 700 Ju-On: The Grudge sequels, remakes and reboots.

Still, if you ever find yourself alone in an empty house in the Nerima District, and this guy appears, pale-faced and meowing like an outraged moggie, be very afraid indeed. The chances are his mum Kayako (Takako Fuji) is not far behind, clicking her way down the stairs like a stepped-on Slinky, and you really don’t want to meet her.

See also: Pet Sematary (1988)

Criminal Kids

Eden Lake (2008)

Bored teen Brett (Jack O’Connell) and his pals are older than the rest of this list, but that just means they have greater access to weapons, including but not limited to, Stanley knives and barbed wire.

To begin with, they’re just a bunch of Broken Britain’s finest, hanging out by the lake because there’s nothing to do. But once they fall out with holidaying couple Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), all bets are off. Why is Brett so scary? One, O’Connell gives off a powerfully strong I-will-fuck-you-up-for-fun aura. And two, you don’t have to do anything other than be in the wrong place (his place) at the wrong time (any time).

The last we see of Brett, combing his hair in the mirror as screams flood the soundtrack, is the banality of evil personified.

See also: Them (2006)