Children are meant to evoke innocence. In films, they often serve as a touchstone for the idealistic and precocious lives the adults have left behind. The struggles and difficulties grown-ups face do not burden children in their day-to-day existence. Audiences root for the child character, wanting them to reach the end of the film unscathed and unharmed. However, there is another type of child in movies: the horror child. These are not the sunny and sweet kids we are used to seeing. These children are the things of nightmares. They are often surrounded by death and mayhem, most of which they probably caused themselves. They kill indiscriminately; they are without mercy or pity. At times, the horror child can have some sort of psychical mark that sets them apart as being “other.” And most importantly, the horror child gives you the heebie-jeebies. These are the little kids that make you shudder and squirm and eye children that pass you by with suspicion —any one of them could be a paranoid, schizophrenic, possessed son of Satan who will gladly murder you in your sleep! These ten are the ones who truly gave us nightmares.
Spoilers lie ahead, so beware!
10 The Grady Twins (The Shining)
Here is a list of things that are creepy: abandoned hotels, ghosts, visions of bloody and brutal murder, identical twin girls who hold hands with one another and ask you to come play with them. Forever. And ever. And ever. One of the most iconic scenes from the 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, the Grady twins are still terrifying 34 years later. Little Danny Torrance has free reign of the hotel while his father Jack (Jack Nicholson) writes his book. While cruising the halls one afternoon, he comes across two girls. Dressed identical, their voices are haunting and obviously otherworldly. As they try to entice Danny to come and play, visions pass before his eyes of the two girls lying bloody and broken in the hallway, the walls decorated with gore. The dramatic music and sense of dread makes the ghosts of the girls seems even more terrifying.
9 The Brood (The Brood)
This 1979 horror film focuses on a traumatized mother and the dangers of experimental psychology. The children of the brood are dwarf like creatures who seek out and heinously murder their victims seemingly without provocation. When one of the brood is killed during an attack, it is discovered to be a freak of nature and not something that could be born into this world naturally. It is learned over the course of the film that the brood are the offspring of a deeply troubled woman who birthed the children through her own psychic rage and that their mission is to seek retribution for their mother’s trauma. The brood are without mercy, going so far as to go after their mother’s natural born child, in a scene that is perfectly terrifying.
8 Esther (Orphan)
This 2009 American horror film focuses on a family who, after the loss of one child, decides to adopt a little girl named Esther. Normally a happy time in a family’s life, there is something not quite right about Esther. Esther is too sexually advanced for a nine-year old, she gets into fights regularly at school, and even the nuns say that bad things happen when Esther is around. Suspicious that the little girl she adopted is something more sinister, her mother, Kate, begins to investigate, while the audience sees Esther killing adults and hiding the evidence. It is discovered that Esther is not really a little girl but a thirty-three year old woman who has been posing as a little girl for most of her life. Esther is incredibly violent and kills those who spurn her advances. While she might not actually be a little girl, her depiction of one is truly scary. Her eyes are dark and haunting and her rage is something to behold.
7 Henry Evans (The Good Son)
Sometimes, children are just evil. Such is the case in the 1993 horror film staring Macaulay Caulkin and Elijah Wood. When Wood’s character, Mark, is taken to stay with relatives, he hits it off with Henry, played by Caulkin. But not long after, Mark grows deeply suspicious of Henry who seems to have an abnormal obsession with death. Over the course of the film, Henry threatens to kill Mark’s sister, his own mother, and confesses that he killed his own baby brother by drowning him. There is neither rhyme nor reason to his killings other than that he likes doing it. There is no possession or otherworldly explanation. Henry is simply deranged and sadistic. Perhaps what makes Henry most creepy is that he reminds audiences that often times, evil isn’t made, it’s born.
6 The Children of Midwich (Village of the Damned)
An entire village full of creepy children. How delightful. This 1960 British film is a staple of the horror genre. The inhabitants of the sleepy village of Midwich have an interesting problem: everyone and everything falls unconscious and two months after they wake up, the women of childbearing age are discovered to be pregnant. When the babies are born, they all have ice-cold blue eyes and white blonde hair. Even more disturbing, they appear to have a deep telepathic connection to each other and grow rapidly. Despite being only three years of age, they dress impeccably and have no concept of love and repulse the inhabitants around them. As the film progresses, the children’s eyes begin to glow and they can force anyone to do their bidding—including killing themselves. The film ends with the destruction of the children, but no explanation to their powers. The final shot of the glowing eyes peering out from smoke and ash and fire is as creepy as the living children themselves.
5 Rhoda Penmark (Bad Seed)
Appearances can be deceiving. Young Rhoda Penmark looks like your average child, one who has no evil thoughts toward others. Rhoda is blonde, her hair in perfect pigtails, and well dressed and mannered. She even plays the piano. But she shows signs of being jealous and angry when reminded that she lost a competition. As the film unravels, Rhoada’s homicidal tendencies begin to surface, killing a boy with her tap shoes in order to have a medal. Her psychopathic ways cause her to turn on others, like her mother and a janitor at school. Rhoda’s own mother begins to worry that Rhoda is too far gone to be brought back from these dark desires. In the end, Rhoda is taken down but not before everyone realizes that the little girl with the sunny smile and angelic face is really a monster waiting to be unleashed.
4 Isaac Chroner (Children of the Corn)
Isaac is a child cultist and preacher who thinks sacrificing adults is a good way to appease the God, He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Well, if that doesn’t scream creepy we don’t know what will. Based on the story by Stephen King, Issac Chorner even has the look of an evil horror child sent to cut you down with a scythe—dark, brooding eyes, pale skin, and a high pitched voice that speaks of killing any adult who passes by the small town of Gatlin. Isaac doesn’t just revel in death, he rules the other children with an iron fist. He is wholly and completely consumed by his devotion to He Who Walks Behind the Rows (who is probably the Devil). And if all that wasn’t enough, when Isaac is betrayed by his lieutenant and given in sacrifice to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, he rises up from death, possessed by his God, and proceeds to kill even more people!
3 Samara Morgan (The Ring)
The Ring has a terrifying premise to all movie-lovers: if you watch a videotape, you will die in seven days. Like so many of the children on this list, Samara has the appearance of a child you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. With her lank black hair and dead eyes, she is quite creepy in just looks alone. But then, over the course of the 2002 remake of the popular Japanese film, you learn that Samara has thoughtography, which allows her to burn images on to objects and into the minds of others. With these abilities, Samara makes the videotape that leads to your death. She has other powers as well such as possession, water manipulation, and, in one of the memorable scenes of the film, climbing out of the TV to terrorize you.
2 Damien Thorn (The Omen)
Son of Satan and the Antichrist; that’s about as creepy as you can get for an eight-year-old little boy. There are a lot of red flags about Damien in this 1976 horror film: he was born at the 6th hour of the 6th day of the 6th month (666), his nanny hangs herself, animals flee before him and priests warn Damien’s parents that there is something wrong with him. But evil this extreme is rarely conquered and squashed. Damien goes through the film, with his pale skin and dark eyes, gleefully hurting others and murdering without thought. And in the end, he’s the one who is standing victorious.
1 Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist)
Probably the most famous child of horror there is, Regan simply terrifies us in this 1973 film. Linda Blair gives quite the performance as a possessed little girl. Regan’s possession by a demon causes her to do all sorts of creepy things: swearing violently, floating, vomiting pea soup, and turning her entire head around. Regan is every parents worst nightmare come to life. She is creepier than all the other kids on our list because of the drastic change in her personality from start to finish. She used to be sweet and loving and then she became a possessed demon with a face that would make anyone run in terror. Regan may survive the possession but the little girl who became so evil forever shook the audience members.