Cinema has always been full of heinous acts being committed. Whether it’s a serial killer exacting their terrible will on their latest victim, or an alien monstrosity stalking and devouring its prey; whether it’s the everyday cruelty of one person being physically or mentally abusive to another, or the uncommon cruelty of a super-villain concocting a plan for world destruction.
The basic tenets of storytelling would include ‘conflict is drama’, and that is where most of these heinous acts originate: conflict. The world can be a very ugly, scary place, and we tend to reflect that in our media. Obviously, we often pit these heinous acts, committed by heinous people, against heroes, and that is how a fictional story is born.
But what happens when these heinous cinematic acts are committed by children? Or teenagers? We would love to believe that darkness doesn’t exist in those we want to perceive as innocent, but that is not always the case. Over the years, there have been plenty of children on our cinema screens who have been involved in some truly shocking and upsetting acts. Oftentimes, this is scarier than it would be to see an adult do the exact same thing.
This list will look at 15 of the most heinous acts committed by minors in cinematic history.
15. Damien Knocks His Mother Over The Bannister, Causing Her To Miscarry (The Omen, 1976)
We’re starting this list in probably the most obvious place: Damien Thorn. First appearing in 1976’s classic horror film The Omen, Damien quickly became the poster child for creepy cinematic kids. He was The Antichrist, after all. It’s no wonder he did some terrible things (and caused other terrible things to happen with his malign influence)!
For our money, though, the most egregious act Damien committed first hand in the original movie was when the little ragamuffin purposely cycled his tricycle full steam ahead, bumping into a chair that his mother was standing on to fix an overhanging plant. Poor Katherine then tumbled over the upstairs bannister, managing to hold on for a few moments, before falling to the floor below. Little Damien simply watched her struggle in fear too, and didn’t lift a finger to help her.
14. An Impostor Lies About His Identity And Poses As Christine Collins’ Missing Son Walter (Changeling, 2008)
Changeling was released in 2008, and was well-received by critics and audiences alike. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nod for star Angelina Jolie. The film is based on the true story of Christine Collins, a Los Angeles woman whose son Walter went missing in 1928. A boy claiming to be her son is eventually returned to her, but she knows he is an impostor and tells the authorities as much. The Captain of the LAPD’s Juvenile Division, JJ Jones, insists the boy is Walter and that Christine takes him home on a trial basis. When Christine persists and challenges the police departments authority, Jones has her committed to the psychiatric ward of the LA County Hospital.
The fact that this all really happened to Christine is harrowing enough. But when you consider that the impostor’s (later revealed to be Arthur Hitchins Jr., a runaway from Illinois) sole reason for the deception was to get to LA to meet his favourite actor, it gives you an insight into the reckless and damagingly naive psyche of the boy. It turned out that the real Walter had been abducted and murdered by Gordon Stewart Northcott, a serial child abuser who also killed three other boys he took.
13. Esther Kills Her Adoptive Father And Terrorizes The Whole Family (Orphan, 2009)
We’re back in horror territory for this entry. Orphan is an effectively creepy movie that was released in 2009. It starred Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as a couple who, after their third child is stillborn, decide to adopt a nine-year-old Russian girl named Esther from a local orphanage. Their deaf daughter, Max, embraces Esther immediately, but their young son, Jimmy, isn’t quite so welcoming. And he’s certainly right not to be, because it eventually transpires that Esther isn’t nine years old at all! In fact, she’s a 33-year-old named Leena Klammer who suffers from a hormone disorder that stunts her physical growth. She spent most of her life posing as a child in order to be adopted and seduce the father, but when her advances are rejected, she kills the whole family. Don’t you just hate when that happens?
In this case, she succeeds in killing Sarsgaard’s John after an intensely unsettling scene in which she attempts to seduce him. She then tries to kill the rest of the family, forcing Farmiga’s Kate to snap her neck to save her kids. We suppose this entry might seem like cheating, if Esther wasn’t a child after all. But actress Isabelle Fuhrman, so disturbingly good in the movie, was genuinely only 10 years old when she was cast. Which, to be honest, makes the attempted seduction scene all the more skin-crawling…
12. Ben Tries To Commit Suicide And Goes Into A Coma After Cyber-Bullying (Disconnect, 2012)
Disconnect is a little-known drama with a truly impressive cast: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard, to name a few. The movie is an ensemble piece about a group of disparate people who all experience the negative aspects of modern communication technology.
The story thread we’ve chosen for this entry is very topical and relevant in our modern social media obsessed society. Two teens, Jason and Frye, impersonate a girl they name ‘Jessica Rhony’ on Facebook Messenger. They convince lonely and awkward classmate Ben to send them a naked picture of himself, which they then circulate to everyone in their grade. Ben, so mortified at this cyber-bullying, attempts suicide and ends up in a coma. This story feels like it’s been plucked from the headlines in recent years, as so much of this cruel online bullying has been exposed to the world. It’s sad that such uncaring behavior can exist in young people, and the movie dramatizes it perfectly.
11. The Infected Children Attack Their Parents (The Children, 2008)
The tagline for this 2008 British horror movie is pretty amazing: ‘You brought them into this world. They’ll take you out.’ We can’t decide if it’s one of the best taglines we’ve ever heard, or one of the worst. It’s just so preposterous but awesome at the same time. And it should definitely give you some hint as to what type of movie this is.
The film centers on two families who are spending the New Year holiday together. There are four adults, one teenager… and four young kids, who gradually start to show signs of some sort of infection. Naturally, the infection makes them violent and murderous towards the adults, and all manner of hell breaks loose. The film is actually a pretty good example of the ‘evil kid’ subgenre, and some of the gruesome scenes are quite shocking. One of the mothers dies when her own children stab her through the eye with a crayon. Which, you’ll agree, is a novel way to go out on-screen!
10. A Group Of Teens Accidentally Cause Their School Bully To Drown And Cover It Up (Mean Creek, 2004)
Mean Creek is a deeply troubling film that tells its harrowing story in a refreshingly downbeat, naturalistic way. The film is about a group of teenagers who conspire to humiliate an overweight, troubled bully on a boating trip. Josh Peck, then mostly known as the funny chubby kid on Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh, showed real acting chops as George, the bully. He is presented as a confrontational and sometimes violent jerk, but it soon becomes clear that he is really unhappy, insecure and lonely, and so lashes out when his clumsy attempts to fit in are rebuffed.
The teens enact their plan to ridicule George, and when he reacts aggressively, he is pushed out of their boat into the water, where he drowns. The group is traumatized, but decide to cover up his death and they bury him in the woods. The film then deals with the various teens’ guilt over George’s death, and their differing reactions to the horrifying situation. This is a film that shows that sometimes things can get gravely out of hand, even among a group of young teens. The final scenes, with Rory Culkin’s Sam confessing to the police and then watching them exhume George’s body, all while audio narration from George explains his dream of becoming a filmmaker so that people will finally understand him, is utterly heartbreaking.
9. Ashley Oswalt Dismembers Her Father & Brother And Beheads Her Mother (Sinister, 2012)
One of the better horror movies of the last decade, Sinister starred Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime author who moves his family into a ‘murder house’ while he researches his latest book. He finds some Super 8 film reels in the attic, all of which contain horrifying footage of entire families being murdered in ever more gruesome ways. Over the course of the movie, Ellison finds out that he is dealing with the ancient Pagan deity Bughuul, whose modus operandi is to kill families before taking one of their children in order to consume their soul. And he enjoys capturing it all on Super 8 film. As you do.
One of the film’s twists is that it is actually the child, whose soul is to be consumed, that carries out the murders on their own family while under Bughuul’s influence. This leads to a remarkably dark and downbeat ending in which Ashley, Ellison’s seven-year-old daughter, dismembers her father and brother, and beheads her mother with an axe. She is then taken into the world of the 8mm film by Bughuul to become part of his spooky dead child army. It’s all very dark and twisted, and we kinda loved it!
8. Teen Jamie Helps Serial Killer John Bunting Carry Out Several Murders (The Snowtown Murders, 2011)
The Snowtown Murders is a bleak, disturbing movie about the real-life Australian serial killer John Bunting, who used his charisma and manipulative personality to convince a legion of followers to help him murder paedophiles and homosexuals, who he deemed as weak. The movie centres on 16-year-old Jamie, an abused youth who is drawn into John’s world and eventually is convinced to join him in the violence and killing.
The movie is not an easy watch, by any means. In fact, it’s downright brutal and hard-going at times, but is undoubtedly compelling and brilliantly crafted as well. Daniel Henshall is magnificent as Bunting, with a malevolent charm that dominates the screen. The story shows how an unhappy, distressed boy like Jamie, from an extremely poor community, can be drawn in by someone like Bunting. Jamie commits some heinous acts in the film, at Bunting’s behest, and it will stay with the viewer long after they watch the film.
7. Psychotic Henry Evans Kills His Neighbour’s Dog With A Crossbow (The Good Son, 1993)
This film will likely forever be known to most people as the ‘Evil Macauley Culkin‘ movie. The Good Son was released in 1993, at the height of Culkin’s post-Home Alone/My Girl fame, and the impulse behind it can be easily understood. Culkin was then seen as the ultimate cute, precocious cinematic child. So why not cast him in a role where he plays the complete opposite of this?
Culkin’s Henry Evans is polite and well-mannered on the surface, but displays an unnatural fascination with death which makes his cousin Mark (a very young, bowl-cut sporting Elijah Wood) nervous. Henry displays many psychopathic tendencies throughout the movie, including throwing a dummy off a bridge to cause a car pile-up. He also nearly causes his little sister Connie to drown, and kills his neighbour’s dog with a crossbow! In truth, the movie is kind of melodramatic and a bit silly at times, even if the underlying themes and plot are intriguing. But no one can deny Henry Evans was one evil cinematic kid. Yikes.
6. Alex And Eric Perpetrate A Shooting At Their High School (Elephant, 2003)
Director Gus Van Sant (To Die For, Good Will Hunting) attained a level of commercial success with these films in the 1990s. But after the failure of his Psycho remake, he returned to arthouse cinema in the early to mid 2000s with what he referred to as his ‘Death Trilogy’. Elephant, the middle part of this trilogy (bookended by Gerry in 2002 and Last Days in 2005) was released in 2003 and was a fictionalized version of 1999’s Columbine High School massacre.
Van Sant chose to film in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and populated the film with a cast of untrained teenage actors. The film follows the lives of several characters, both in and out of school, who are unaware that a shooting is about to occur, perpetrated by students Alex and Eric. They are both shown being bullied at school, and formulate a plan to blow up parts of the school with propane bombs. In the end, this plan doesn’t work out, and so they simply shoot anyone they come across indiscriminately. The movie was stark and harrowing and deeply affected viewers, leading to some controversy, but also much critical acclaim.
5. Evan Accidentally Kills A Mother And Her Infant Daughter While Playing With Dynamite (The Butterfly Effect, 2004)
The Butterfly Effect is a strange beast. It was critically savaged upon its release, but has a substantial fanbase who embraced it for all its idiosyncrasies and made it a commercial success. The film deals with some very dark, very disturbing material, which sometimes pushes it into melodrama territory, but more often than not is effective. The film deals with the idea of chaos theory; the idea that small acts or changes made in life can lead to unforeseen consequences over time.
Ashton Kutcher (in a rare dramatic role) plays Evan Treborn, a man who finds his mind can travel through time to inhabit his younger self. He therefore sets about changing important things in his tragic past in order to set things right for he and his friends. But, of course, every change he makes in the past leads to some kind of terrible outcome in the altered timeline. Perhaps the worst things shown in the film are when Evan accidentally kills a mother and infant daughter with dynamite, or when his childhood friend Tommy Miller burns Evan’s dog to death in front of him.
4. Eli Murders Oskar’s Bullies At The Swimming Pool (Let The Right One In, 2008)
Let The Right One In, the icy 2008 Swedish horror film about a 12-year-old boy named Oskar who befriends vampire child Eli, features many delights for the more romantically inclined horror fan. It’s actually a tale about friendship and a young boy’s burgeoning feelings for a girl he likes. She helps him overcome his insecurities and he grows in confidence. At one point they agree to go steady. Which is nice. But, of course, the film also features a man disfiguring his own face beyond recognition with hydrochloric acid, and the massacre of a group of bullies at the school swimming pool. Which isn’t so nice.
Here, Eli rescues Oskar from the bullies, who were threatening to stab his eye out if he didn’t hold his breath under the water for three minutes. When Oskar finally surfaces and sees the carnage Eli has wrought, it’s a starkly grim scene.
3. Regan Does… Upsetting Things… With A Crucifix (The Exorcist, 1973)
The Exorcist has become part of the cultural zeitgeist over the years. Pretty much every movie or TV show that has featured demonic possession and/or exorcism owes some sort of debt to William Friedkin’s superlative horror movie. It defined the cinematic interpretation of possession that still persists to this day, and that’s for good reason: it’s still completely terrifying.
The acting from Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller as the two Priests/exorcists brought in to rid 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair) of the demon inside her is amazing, and the special makeup effects and cinematic tricks used to portray the possession are timeless. Everyone remembers when Regan’s head turns 360 degrees, or the pea-soup she spews from her mouth, or the vulgar language and gruff voice she uses throughout. But the most heinous act, to us, is when the demon Pazuzu causes Regan to mutilate her own vagina with a crucifix, simulating masturbation. Even in 2016, that would be shocking, so we can hardly imagine how audiences reacted in 1973.
2. Kevin Murders His Father And Sister Before Committing A Massacre At His School (We Need To Talk About Kevin, 2011)
Based on the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a truly troubling story about a mother struggling to come to terms with some sort of horrific act her son Kevin is responsible for. Throughout the movie, we see Eva (Tilda Swinton) finding herself unable to connect with her son as he grows up. He is detached and cold, and at a young age blackmails Eva to get what he wants. Eva has a second child, Celia, whose guinea pig is killed at one point and she is then blinded in one eye by caustic cleaning fluid. Eva is convinced Kevin did it, but her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) insists that the incidents were accidents.
Eventually, we find out that Kevin committed a massacre at his school, locking schoolmates in the gym and murdering them with his bow and arrow (a hobby that his father introduced to him at a young age). Eva then finds the arrow-riddled bodies of her husband and Celia at home; Kevin killed them too before the massacre. Like many entries on this list, this movie is not an easy watch, but it is a powerful piece of storytelling. The acting is phenomenal from everyone, and Ezra Miller is particularly chilling as the blankly emotionless Kevin.
1. Michael Myers Murders His Sister Judith (Halloween, 1978)
And so we reach number one on our list of children committing heinous acts on film. What a morbid list, eh?
Our number one pick is the birth of, for our money, cinema’s number one horror movie boogeyman: Michael Myers. The opening scene of John Carpenter’s classic 1978 Halloween is a superlative piece of filmmaking, in which the audience goes on a POV journey from outside a suburban house, in through the kitchen (putting on some sort of mask and collecting a knife in the process) and up the stairs. We creep silently into a bedroom where a mostly naked teenage girl is brushing her hair. She turns, screams ‘Michael!’ as she covers herself up with her hands, before we see the knife stabbing her to death. We go back down the stairs and out the front door, before we are unmasked. The camera then shows the culprit: a 6-year-old boy in a clown costume, standing with a glazed-over look in his eye as his parents look on in confused horror at the bloody kitchen knife in his hand.
It’s an iconic horror opening, and sets us up to expect nothing less than pure evil from Michael Myers. He, of course, grows up to become a mask-wearing serial killer/incarnation of unkillable evil that routinely stalks and kills teen babysitters and unfortunate female family members. But this heinous act was where it all began!