Ask most people to picture a typical horror movie killer, and guys with knives are likely the first thing that jumps to mind. Big, scary dudes with sharp implements, plus attacks when the audiences' on-screen stand-ins are at their most comfortable and vulnerable (cozy at home, hanging with friends, sexy times), offer us the thrill of realizing our own mortality from a safe vantage point. But there's another type of killer trope that plays on a different set of fears: The Last One You'd Expect, that totally normal person whose radiating innocence lets them get all the closer before they decimate their victims. And who could be more innocent than our hopes for the future? The 18 scariest horror movie kids show that behind some of those angelic faces lie some devious schemes.
The majority of films with kids as the villains harp on the dissonance and unbelievability that children, burdened with symbolic innocence and purity, could possibly do anything as brutal as murder. Who Can Kill A Child offers the political angle that they learned it from watching you, dad, and now it's a matter of self-preservation against an adult world ignoring their brutalization. Many other films, like Spider Baby, The Pit, and Twilight Zone: The Movie, add the twist of keeping innocence in: kids are still learning empathy and restraint, so giving them physical or mental power far beyond their years is a recipe for disaster.
However they're utilized, creepy kids are a surefire way of freaking out your audience.
1. Samara/Sadako ('The Ring'/'Ringu')
If you didn't glance askew at any TV in the room after seeing this gif, you probably didn't see either version of this movie about a lethal VHS tape carrying the revenge of one ticked-off little girl.
2. The Entire 'Village Of The Damned'
The only thing that could make preternaturally intelligent, hyper-blonde identical children creepier? Impeccable British accents! With increasing telepathic and psychokinetic powers, it's up to one of their parents to put an end to their tiny reign of terror.
3. Damien ('The Omen')
If you think it's hard accepting your kid's a killer, imagine adding that he's the Antichrist to boot. Young Damien raises hell as his father slowly recognizes the danger signs around him.
4. Debbie, Curtis & Steven ('Bloody Birthday')
Three children born during a solar eclipse go on a murder spree around their 10th birthday. This time, astrology explains why the kids were literally born bad, but that doesn't get in the way of the usual difficulty adults have accepting that darling innocents could be stone cold killers.
5. Rhoda ('The Bad Seed')
The face of an angel, the mind of a sociopath — Rhoda knows how to play adults like a fiddle and always gets what she wants. The film put the studio in an odd bind regarding the Hays Code. You can't show cruelty to children, BUT you also couldn't show sympathy to criminals; they had to be punished. So what to do with Rhoda? Watch The Bad Seed and find out!
6. Gage ('Pet Sematary')
To be fair, Gage was a totally normal and adorable toddler before the ancient evil lurking in the woods set him up for evil resurrection.
7. Esther ('The Orphan')
This movie about a grieving family adopting Russian orphan Esther was so effectively terrifying the Arkansas Democrat reports that adoption groups registered their protest with Warner Bros., who added a pro-adoption tag to the end of the film's DVD release.
8. Charlie ('Hereditary')
Charlie's morbidity and frequent tics, including tongue-clicking and doodling creepy images, are standard weird-kid material bordering on creepy...until the film's fateful party, after which every echoing element of her presence takes on sinister tones.
9. Issac Chroner ('Children Of The Corn')
Leader of a murderous child-cult worshipping a bloodthirsty corn god is a pretty big achievement for someone who just turned 12, but Issac pulls it off with Mennonite fashion sense and no mercy given.
10. Henry Evans ('The Good Son')
No adult will believe Mark (baby Elijah Wood!) that behind his angelic demeanor, his cousin Henry (equally baby Macaulay Culkin!) is a threatening psychopath.
11. Jaimie ('The Pit')
Equal parts pervy and naïve, Jaimie's only real friend is his teddy bear Teddy. Too bad Teddy's encouraging him to shove his enemies into a pit filled with prehistoric monsters in the woods.
12. The Grady Twins ('The Shining')
No one ever really leaves the Overlook hotel. Victims of the previous caretaker, these eerie young ladies entice Danny to play with them... forever.... and ever....
13. Virginia & Elizabeth ('Spider Baby')
The Merrye family carries a degenerative disease that makes minds regress as bodies age. Childlike sisters Virginia and Elizabeth love games, and when relatives from out of town show up, they break out the knives to play Spider Baby with them.
14. Anthony ('Twilight Zone: The Movie')
Surrounded by desperate adults, this kid with god-like powers who can wish whatever he wants and have it happen is an unholy terror, especially when he wants to watch cartoons.
15. Eli ('Let The Right One In')
Let The Right One In is the charming love story of a bullied young boy and the friend who helps him gain confidence to stand up for himself. Of course, if that friend is a centuries-old androgynous vampire, things get a little more complicated.
16. Toshio Saeki ('The Grudge')
The clip above should do the trick nicely, also showing that in the extremely haunted house of The Grudge, Toshio comes in second scariest to his vengeful mom.
17. The Entire Island of 'Who Can Kill A Child?'
Though it was filmed in 1976, this Spanish ur-Evil Children movie wasn't available until 2007; with even unborn kids turning against adults, it's easy to guess why. Implying the children turned murderous as self-protection, their brief years filled with adult-caused violence and war they both learned from and wanted to end, the film's as much commentary on the full effects of war as it is questioning ideas of innocence.
Now that you know small doesn't always mean helpless, hopefully you won't get a chill next time you pass a playground.