“I believe the children of our future – teach them well and let them lead the way” – Whitney Houston
Historically in horror movies, some prey on your mind while others attack your fears with a Freddy Kruger like enjoyment. To delight the audiences that are laid out in front of them to frighteningly watch, horror movies are built on a well placed terrifying subjectivity that can leave others trembling from its viscera and intelligence while leaving others mortified by lack of creative thought falling into quotidian genre clichés. In society, when it comes to children in general, all people can relate on wanting to persevere the dogmatic idea of that child’s life and innocence, regardless of archetypical familial relations or not i.e. being a parent, older sibling, teacher or whatever. It's naturally healthy in wanting to care for a child not yours as long as you’re not Jackie Earle Haley from Little Children, creeping out the neighborhood. Symbolically, a child is something that inherently and empirically, doesn’t need convincing from the narrator to passionately want to guard, to protect. It’s in our damn DNA to look out for these little cute bastards, lovingly, no matter if there is an obligation or not. It’s what a child, especially in film, represents personally to the viewer that makes us want to emotionally care
Children or childhood take different representations cinematically depending on the director’s usage and intent pertaining to that genre. For example, the acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki uses children to be the “spirit guide” through of all his movies. He touches his movies with wonderment, softness, and a pre-existing innocence that is reflected in the adulthood of those films. He has a way in which the viewer knows what it’s like to feel protected (Howl’s Moving Castle) or want someone to protect like (Ponyo). And complimenting those sensibilities, Miyazaki has a way of making us feel innocent again: harking back to an easier, less strenuous time and place in our past. In comparison, less than serene styled movies have also cemented a foundation that is inescapable but of a different ilk - having children trapped in a purveying world of danger, torment, fright, but serving mostly as a fable or cautionary tale, in which it forces the child to either learn a lesson or walk away the hero. Historically, this thesis roughly began when the Brothers Grimm composed the sinister Hansel and Gretel, or regretful Rumpelstiltskin, which gave way to a thematic charge of children being used in a manner in which, unlike Miyazaki’s hopefulness, children are the prey, but not before an important lesson of "don’t grow up to be an ass" isn’t embedded first. Normatively, children are in danger, and they are representational lambs for the slaughter. Contemporary films, Like The Neverending Story, Labyrinth or even Del Toro’s brilliant films like the wrenching Chronos or vivid Pan’s Labyrinth use children in a myriad of ways to enrich a dark story.
The brilliant thing with children in horror movies is that since there is a development throughout adolescence, children as a character are not fully formed into who they are or what they will become. With that stasis brings narrative depth. From that depth a director can take that character and put them through a wealth of ideas because, back to my earlier assertion, we want to protect the child because we want to keep their innocence. When the innocence is threatened, we in some way feel threatened as well, thereby creating a tension - a differential resonance - an intemperance - towards that film. We develop feelings whether we like to or not.
The beautiful complexity of making a child or children the focal point in a horror movie is that they are little rays of light playdoh in the hands of the director, where he or she can do as she pleases in whatever twisted confounding way they can come up with to further push the genre’s line of what’s acceptable. Throughout the 20th century, in film, children were either the hunted (The Nighthunter, Halloween, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street) or the hunters (Village of the Damned, Children of the Corn); however, in the latter part of the 20th century, from the 70’s onward, children were no longer the family sidepiece or the callow youth to be preyed upon that you forgot was left in the car when the family moved to the new haunted estate. Now children, tweens and teens became a force onto themselves where there was a supernatural empowerment endowed onto children in a whole new form of storytelling. The best example of the good girl/scary kid paradigm was Heather O’Rourke as little sweet Carol Anne. O’Rouke best exemplifies the duality a director can use a child in supernatural/horror films, which, like in this case, if used correctly, can be both the hair-raising cause and also the effect to thrilling horrific intent in the most purest escapist pleasures. Throughout the duration of the film we are wanting to protect her little sweet self as she is clamping on the t.v. in her all white baby doll nightgown – saying “They’re here” in her best Kavinsky Nightcall impression, and therefore, little Carol Anne, you got to go by verdict of guilty by association.
In recent years children can be used all kinds of ways now to effectively visualize the director’s voice, like adults are only with more at stake as humanely possible. There is a certain maturity with kid actors these days that lends itself to the multifaceted iconography in horror films, where even though they grow up, the iconic character is trapped in a time capsule-corner time out. Case in point, as recently as in Gore Verbinki’s emerald nightfucker of a movie The Ring, with the little boy Aidan, who is terrified about something wicked this way comes; or how in the same movie Samara is played for both empathy and fear. She is a metaphorical cautionary tale of parenting gone wrong. How about the little boy from 2007’s Trick R’ Treat where he is a symbol of all the dead little kids that creepily terrorize the neighborhood with the same nickel and dime store costume that wasn’t even cute back then, but is still tragic for being a haunted hangover. All you see is his Jack-o-Lantern mask, and little round body and cute peppered feet, but you know he is fucking cray! He is representational o f how dichotomous the kid in horror film premise lies to where it’s no longer kids that are afraid of the boogie man, it’s the kids that have become the boogie man. Even if the kid in the movie isn’t the boogie man himself per se, they are still used as metaphysical representation through the film built around the boogie man. In the words of my best friend, and self proclaimed “horror-buff” William: “You don’t trust kids in films, and you especially don’t trust them in horror films.”
So here are the top 5 scariest kids according to a guy that wouldn’t hesitate to punch ‘em in the face if cornered by them.
This kid is creepy in a number of ways. First of all he looks like I did when I was that age which led to some serious questions lined up for my parents (which were never fully answered). NEVERTHELESS – this kid called by some “Cat Boy” never does anything harmful, but is a good example of how the director chooses to use him to amplify the atmosphere, while also serves the purpose of The Grudge’s narrative. This kid’s claim to fame came during a TV commercial in which he passes down twice in the same elevator while yelling like a cat! Buffy slain Vampires, but this is a whole new level of crazy. Also, what makes this kid bizarre is that he isn’t wearing any clothes except I guess a samurai diaper or something. Either way, this kid is number five. Deal with it!
Oh the little dead boy from Pet Cemetery. For those of you who don't remember this movie, the little kid dies, and his father learns that if he buries the little boy in the, you guessed it “Pet Cemetery” the little boy would come back to life. HOLD IT RIGHT THERE – what parent in their right mind would want to bring back a dead kid? A father who still needs to claim dependants on IRS tax returns - that’s who! I mean what other reason is there??. Anyway, the kid comes back to life and of course there is something “wrong with him” – yeah, he’s fucking dead, and probably confused, and it’s also nap time. No wonder he’s a little out of hand dealing with him. Well the little fucker grabs a scalpel and starts running amok through the house slicing people’s tendons along the way, while his hair is always nicely combed. This is why experts say you should put up gates when your child starts to learn how to walk, run or kill.
This little kid is scary but is still a walking magnificent pimp cup. Look at that suit, look at that hat – how could you not envy this kid’s Barney suits game? He has a face only the devil could love. The effectiveness about this kid is that, like the little girl in poltergeist – there is a complexity with this kid where looks can be deceiving. He looks so cute and innocent on one hand, but then he is a fucked up little lord fourtneroy of inferno daycare proportions. This kid has the swag of P. Diddy mixed with Snoop Dogg’s permed press, making groupies fall off rooftops, because they got caught up in his demonic hype beast shine.
Linda “MuthaFuckin” Blair: She is on this list not so much on her acting (which was misrepresented at the time by a best supporting actress nomination. It was actually Mercedes McCambridge that did all of the harrowing voice acting, that I can still hear to this day) as much as it was the physical performance and the special effects that came with it. Scenes from the movie are iconic, with most of them searing back to the bedroom where Blair’s Reagan was trapped. One can only imagine the great Max Von Sydow say “I’m out” and “I played chess with the devil." We get glimpses of her prior to the “obsession possession” (btw great song by Hall and Oates) but it’s the possessed Reagan that still intimidates. She didn’t sleep walk the role and it was her going through enormous physical stress to sell the lip synch, the possession and the realty itself overall. She was so good in this, that she was typecast; never having the talent to disassociate from the role ever again, something that our little buddy, Daniel Radcliffe, is combating with as we speak.
Come play with us Danny...we can be friends forever...and ever...and ever – I get it girls, settle down, and the answer is um...no. I’m good. I’m going to continue talking to my best friend, Mr. Finger. This goes down as number one for many reasons of the kid/horror movie trope that I laid out earlier, but I will reiterate. Here we have a kid with supernatural powers (Danny) against two kid girls (Grady twins) in which both are dealing with the same deck of age cards. Naturally we want to protect Danny, as he is innocent and sweet, fresh with the 70s standard issue mop top haircut that all little boys had. Danny has powers but we don’t know which kind. We first see the twins in the beginning in the rec room holding hands and facing Danny as if they want to be friends. Danny doesn’t feel so good about this encounter. Kids naturally have an immediate fascination with other children. Kubrick heightens the moment by telling us that Danny is the only child and will be cabin-fevered to death by boredom in the traitorous hotel his father signed the family up for. Additionally, the moment lends itself to the famous deathly encounter where Danny traverses on his little tri-cycle and runs smack dab into their little miss easy bake oven of a death party, which Danny crashes. The scene doesn’t need to be repeated as we have all seen it, but it does bear that similar theme of – what’s more scarier than one fucked up thing? Make a second and make sure it’s an identical copy. Two is not better than one in this circumstance. Long story short: The twins are thrilling, weird and unexplainable to even Danny, and shit! He has the shining and is still scared, so what are the chances for the rest of us surviving this duplicity death by horribly but intentionally made “meetcute.” Put a fork in it Kubrick, we’re fucking done.