At some point, somebody realized that children are creepy. So they put them in horror movies, killing adults, playing host to horrifying demons and betraying the trust of their parents. Really, that last part is where the horror lies. Children can be mean little S.O.B.'s, but the idea that your own children might harbor a monstrous nature is the scariest thing in the world. The conflicting emotions, the overwhelming anxiety, and the fear that you are somehow responsible make creepy kid movies some of the most enduring shockers in horror movie history. Here are our picks for the Top Ten Creepy Kid Movies, excluding babies (It's Alive, Eraserhead) and ageless demons stuck in human form (Let the Right One In, Near Dark).
10. The Exorcist (dir. William Friedkin, 1973)
Regan MacNeil may be the most famous creepy child in movie history, but we’re putting her at the bottom of the list because, really, it’s not her fault. She’s been possessed by the devil, and that causes her to do some terrifying things (especially from her mother’s perspective, since the poor woman can’t figure out what’s wrong with her child), but she’s not doing any of them of her own accord. The demon’s the really creepy one, and it just happens to have taken a child’s body as its host. If the movie wasn’t as good, and as iconic, as The Exorcist, she’d have been an honorable mention at most.
9. Ringu (dir. Hideo Nakata, 1998); The Ring (dir. Gore Verbinski, 2002)
Whether you prefer the original Japanese Ringu or Gore Verbinski’s American version, which is really unusually good for a horror remake, there’s no denying that the little girls who made the creepy ass video tape in these horror tales are messed up beyond all recognition. The TV scene is now famous, but the sadism and the power behind this little psychic wunderkind made her one of the ultimate creepy children in horror cinema. Only her lack of screen time bumps her this far down the list.
8. The Omen (dir. Richard Donner, 1976)
Richard Donner’s antichrist tale The Omen was a big hit in its day, which is kind of amazing considering how thoroughly messed up it is. Gregory Peck plays the father of a child who may just be the son of Satan, and as the body count piles up finds himself acting accordingly, trying to murder his child to save humanity. There’s a biblical story enacted here (it’s certainly not difficult to find parallels to the Abraham and Isaac tale), and the lengths to which Peck would go to murder his own kid, adopted or otherwise, would be difficult to justify if young actor Harvey Spencer Stephens wasn’t creepy as hell itself.
7. Village of the Damned (dir. Wolf Rilla, 1960)
Sure, the kids in Village of the Damned (the good one, not the John Carpenter version) are spooky albino moppets with psychic powers, but the scariest part of the whole film is the very adult paranoia that your kids are not your own. Biologically, yes, but also the possibility of looking in your child’s eyes and seeing absolutely nothing about yourself. When those eyes can also see directly into your mind and judge you, and sentence you to death, all the worse.
6. Bloody Birthday (dir. Ed Hunt, 1981)
Though seldom seen, the terrifying killer kid movie Bloody Birthday features three of the most homicidal kids ever filmed. Curtis, Debbie and Stephen were all born on the same day, under a solar eclipse (supposedly robbing them of their conscience, but don’t think about that plot point too hard), and by the time they’ve reached elementary school they’re all serial killers who hide behind the typical youthful shenanigans. Scariest of all, they really do act like real kids, scheming in playhouses and sneaking peaks at naked teenagers out of juvenile curiosity. But don’t let that fool you, they’re some of the most evil little bastards ever filmed.
5. Pet Sematary (dir. Mary Lambert, 1989)
Pet Sematary may be one of the most underrated Stephen King adaptations out there. The film has a tendency to slip inexplicably into the realm of psychic powers, but it has an incredible way of tapping into the kind of despair necessary to explain why a parent would risk their child’s soul just to bring them back to life. And when that happens it produces one of the scariest children ever, Gage, played eerily by Miko Hughes. The things Gage does warrants far more than a spanking, but despite the price paid for playing God his dad seems to learn nothing whatsoever.
4. The Brood (dir. David Cronenberg, 1979)
One of David Cronenberg’s earlier, more outlandish films features a scene where, in the middle of a crowded classroom, a large part of the student body murders their teacher. What we discover about these demonic youths is the sort of body horror insanity you could only find in a Cronenberg movie, and revealing the truth would be unfair. If you’ve seen The Brood – and you really must – you know exactly why these hellspawn are so high on our list.
3. The Innocents (dir. Jack Clayton, 1961)
The Innocents is an old school, classy haunted house story, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, about a governess (Deborah Kerr) who suspects that her new charges are… wrong. Her investigation into the childrens’ unsettling behavior reveals a history of disturbing abuse and a potentially supernatural explanation for their secretive, mysterious lifestyle. One of the most unsettling horror movies from the good old days, The Innocents will haunt you.
2. Who Can Kill a Child? (dir. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1976)
This Italian gorefest, recently remade, takes the idea of “creepy children” and runs away with it screaming like a maniac. The premise is basically Children of the Corn, with all the children of an isolated community suddenly turning on their parents with homicidal aplomb, but Who Can Kill a Child? goes so unbelievably far with the notion, and the violence, that you’ll be amazed that anyone could possibly have made it. Screw Children of the Corn. We're not going to ruin a single scare. See this for yourself.
1. The Bad Seed (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1956)
The Bad Seed was shocking when it was first produced, but despite the troubling subject matter walked away with four Academy Award nominations, including one for young Patty McCormack, who plays the most memorable child murderer in movie history. She doesn’t have the excuse most of the other children on our list can boast – she’s not possessed, psychic or born under a bad sign – she just realized, at some point, that she can get away with murder. So she does, because it’s fun. The horror of her actions are matched only by the slowly building dread that her mother, Nancy Kelly (also Oscar-nominated), has about her daughter’s true nature. Still terrifying, still the creepiest kid ever.