The cornerstone of so many horror films, especially those dabbling in the paranormal, is children. The wide-eyed optimism, the imagination, the curiosity, and the innocence that make up a child allows for so many creepy, haunting, and wildly scary scenarios to unfold in a story. It’s no surprise that so many films go back time and time again to use youngsters to create scares.
There seems to be so many possibilities too. With regards to stories about the devil, often it’s the case that a demonic spirit is trying to possess a child, seeking a corporeal body and using a kid’s vulnerability as its essence. In other cases, a child might possess a special ability, making it acutely aware of that which is evil or malicious. Still yet, a pre-adolescent might already be taken, and thus a story revolves about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
That’s not all of course. Horror films through the ages have used children in many different ways to creep and unnerve, making them killers (or their toys), harbingers of evil, or simply protagonists with unusual gifts that are useful yet still freaky. It’s strange sometimes to think that these movie children are in fact real life kids, and after starring in a scary movie, must return home to parents who may or may not be slightly unnerved themselves. That’s because these children do indeed terrify – and there are many examples. With that, we take a look here at some of the most memorably horrifying children on screen through the decades of horror films.
10 Dalton, Insidious
The first installment of what is now a trilogy, and will likely continue for at least another movie, was a right chilling film and a worthy entry in the recent surge of paranormal films. Insidious saw Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne tend to their comatose child, worried about his well-being, but unaware initially that something more sinister is at work. As mentioned in the intro, the child here is one of many being latched onto by demon spirits in an attempt to come to this world. So while the child is in a coma, he is still doing weird things; the creepiest may be when the mother takes out the trash, and looking back inside, sees her son dancing in the living room.
9 Aidan, The Ring
Here’s a case where the child in question is an innocent (one of the good guys). Aidan is the too-smart-for-his-own-good son of single mom Rachel; the two get involved in a curse when unknowingly watching a disturbing videotape. Aidan is plagued, having watched the horrors before them, the two set out to find a way to stop their inevitable doom. Aidan, played by David Dorfman, has wide eyes and a large vocabulary for someone his age, able to matter-of-factly relay thoughts and events that are troubling and should instill fear. That he draws terrifying images at school doesn’t help either. Oh, and of course, he can speak to her.
8 Gage, Pet Sematary
The late 80’s horror movie adapted from the Stephen King novel is creepy for a lot of reasons, perhaps most of all because of the scary child in it. Miko Hughes was Gage Creed, the son of a desperate father who dies tragically before regrettably being brought back to life. That’s because when he is miraculously resurrected, he’s not the same boy, opting to spend time killing people in blood fashion. His most famous scene features Gage with a malicious, maniacal grin wielding a scalpel. He doesn't just stand still, either.
7 Toshio, Ju-On
While the American remake and its subsequent questionable sequel utilize similar visual cues and terror tactics, it’s the original that is most frightening. The Grudge involves demonizing ghosts looking to get back to this life, and they tend to be completely white and possessive of dead, hollow eyes. They are often bloodied, too. The story revolves around Toshio, the dead son of a now cursed family, and every time he pops up, it’s terrifying. The remake is fine, but the original is truly scary, especially when Toshio wanders on screen and opens his mouth.
6 The Children, Children of the Corn
This may be sort of a cop-out, but pretty much every child in Children of the Corn is creepy. That’s because they are all part of a crazy religious cult that kills everyone over the age of 18, and sacrifices all their brothers and sisters on their 19th birthday. Cults in film for the most part are disturbing enough, but when they are made up of children, and when those children are given knives and weapons and shed the blood of those around them with such ease, it’s all the more scary. If we have to choose one, though, it's definitely the red-headed step child that's most especially unnerving.
5 Tomas, The Orphanage
One of the greatest Spanish horror films, this offering from 2007 is riddled with scary images and creepy sounds. This suspenseful film follows a mother, father, and son as they return to the matriarch’s childhood orphanage, which happens to not be filled with ghosts and apparitions of the past. Of course, the most terrifying scene involves a child in a distorted mask (really, a potato sack) and the ominous phrase, ‘Do you want to come to my house and play?’ Simon is the adopted son of the family asking the question, but it’s his imaginary friend Tomas that he is inviting – or maybe not so imaginary.
4 Damien, The Omen
In one of the most terrifying movies of the time, Harvey Stephens played Damien, a child whose life was surrounded by evil. In The Omen, Damien is the evil incarnate, brought into a family under duplicitous circumstance. Calm, dead-eyed and distant, Damien finds havoc and death all around, and only seems to give the slightest smile when smirking about something sinister he’s done. The film may not have been as great as its horror predecessor, The Exorcist, but Damien still ranks as one of the most disturbing children of all time.
3 Samara, The Ring
The fantastic American remake of the Japanese horror film gets two entries on this list because, after all, the plagued young girl at the center of this story is ultimately, incredibly horrifying. The suspenseful film builds to a finale where she reveals herself in horrifying fashion. Not that the rest of the film isn’t scary, but when Samara, water-soaked and lumbering from the well towards the foreground on the cursed video makes her way out of the TV, it’s downright unforgettably terrifying. She parts her hair and screams in one of the most iconic horror scenes ever made.
2 Regan, The Exorcist
It’s the classic horror film that is still the standard-bearer for all possession movies, and one that has yet to be topped. The Exorcist, from William Friedkin, remains terrifying to this day, and at the center of it is a most troubling performance by Linda Blair as the young Regan. We watch her startling, disturbing transformation from innocent girl to the devil in human fresh in one creepy, unforgettable scene after another. From her spider walk down the stairs to urinating on the floor at a dinner party, from her head spinning around in bed to all the curse words she yells, the child in The Exorcist is the scariest imaginable, setting a template for all to follow.
1 Grady Daughters, The Shining
One the most unsettling scenes in most of the scariest movies of all time belong to the children. Specifically, two children. They are the twin girls who appear so ominously at the end of the hallway in what has become an iconic movie scene. The young Danny Torrance is riding his big wheel through the lengthy hallways of the haunted house when turning the corner; he stops suddenly, as the camera reveals two twin girls standing at the far end. “Come play with us,” they say as we see them from far away, before getting closer and closer, as images of their dead bodies flash quickly. It’s a terrifying, unforgettable scene, and those girls, however brief their appearance, are indelible.