Children Make for the Scariest Hollywood Monsters

My personal favorite movie monster is the traditional zombie – not these new Olympic athlete zombies that routinely finish Iron Man competitions. Zombies are scary because they are resilient, persistent and want to eat you alive. Moreover, they’re usually in overwhelming numbers and have the disquieting psychological feature of looking human. For pure terror, however, nothing beats children for horror films.

I screened Orphan the other night. It was an excellent film for its genre and I recommend it to fans of horror thrillers. There’s a lot about the film that I like and one of the aspects I enjoyed is how it touches on all the fears that are inherent with children. These fears are not the superficial kind that a person feels walking down a dark street in an unsavory neighborhood. These fears are more deep seated and relate to the wild unpredictability of children, their natural curiosity and their fathomless cruelty.

Zealotry + Children = Scary!
Zealotry + Children = Scary!

Children don’t understand moderation, so all of their actions are going to be extreme. Children are going to pile on the food instead of practicing portion control. They’ll scream for assistance instead of asking politely. That’s why park rangers will warn you to stay away from baby rattlesnakes since they inject all of their poison upon biting victims, because they don’t know any better. So when children are the villains in a horror movie it follows that they’ll cut you to ribbons instead of merely stab you once, giving you a chance to survive.

Children also have no moral compass and are free to explore their curiosities no matter how vile. They torment and torture animals, set things on fire and break fragile objects just to see something new. As such, children are a constant danger to everyone around them and themselves when parents aren’t around to slap idle hands away from electrical outlets, sharp objects or filthy things.  In a horror film, the “something new” children might want to see could be your brain and the demented children will have no qualms splitting your head open to accomplish that goal.

In real life, children aren’t typically feared on an external level because they’re physically weak, mentally stupid and usually have adults around that are responsible for them. On a fictive level, it’s easy enough to create plausible plots to circumvent these protections. Strength is rarely necessary to kill someone – perhaps in a standup fight, yes, but all a child has to do is create an “accident” situation or simply wait until you fall asleep. Mentally precocious children also aren’t that rare. Effective horror film monsters don’t have to be geniuses; they just have to be smart enough to take advantage of situations. Children learn how to manipulate people at an early age. As for parents or stewards, children are masters of detecting when authoritative eyes are on them and when they’re not. They can easily slip away to perform their dark deeds and be back before they’re missed.

Remember, even Satan was a child once.
Remember, even Satan was a child once.

On top of the natural dangers that children are, there’s also a feeling of helplessness that adults must necessarily feel when dealing with children – especially ones that aren’t their own.  All of the rules work to protect children and any adult violating those rules will find other adults quickly intervening. In an episode of King of the Hill, a new family moves into the neighborhood and the adolescent son is a holy terror. Hank, the main character of the show, wants to deal with the child, but can’t do anything directly as an adult. He tries reasoning with the parents, but they simply discount their son’s behavior as being “gifted.” Hank eventually solves the situation by having his own son terrorize the newly moved-in couple in the same manner, forcing them into the same helpless situation. Additionally, children are above suspicion when something truly horrific like murder is involved, allowing children to hide in plain sight, making them some of the best killers to grace the silver screen.

Lastly, children are freaky in and of themselves. Who knows what they’re going to do and why? It doesn’t help that horror movies tend to give children supernatural powers as ghosts or turn them into the spawn of Satan. In the film The Last King of Scotland as Nicholas is about to be hung by his skin on a pair of nasty hooks at the hands of Idi Amin, Nicholas says, “You’re a child. That’s what makes you so fucking scary.” I couldn’t agree more.

Big children are even scarier!
Big children are even scarier!
  1. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre because of the large amount of crap that Holly Wood produces. I do like a good scary movie but it seems that these are rare and the fact that so many American horror films are remakes or just straight up rip-off’s of Asian films speaks to the lack of creativity or new ideas in Holly Wood. But to speak directly to the question, why is it that so many movies in recent years rely on little pale Asian children who crawl and make cat noises? I know everyone is trying to jack movie ideas from the Asians but I gotta think that Holly Wood can find something scarier than little kids who can’t speak or produce pigment. I don’t find evil movie children scary, at all.

  2. Interesting to note the generational shifts in how children are viewed in movies.

    In the 1970’s, the “Satan/Demon spawn” child (Rosemary’s Baby) was popular. The seventies saw an economic decline and thus children were perhaps viewed as a drain on precious family income?

    Fast forward to the economic boom times of the late 1980’s — movies such as “She’s Having A Baby”, “Three Men and a Baby” were very popular and put children in a favorable light.

    The birth rate declined in the 1970’s but soared in the 1980’s, especially in the late 1980’s.

  3. hmm.. i’m going to have to go with children are a good selection for horror films.
    they are very vulnerable and impressionable..
    they are reckless and have no boundaries.
    they’ll go into stupid scary places for dares or out of random curiousity, let someone into their house thinking its safe, they can be preyed on by the supernatural, ect..
    you can’t avoid little kids.
    they are everywhere
    you cant judge them or hate thm cause they dont know better
    so your just basically forced to accept them
    and with that you can just randomly put them in a horror movie
    with their role in that movie, it will hardly be questioned
    with them being scary though,, its because again you cant avoid them
    they are rebellious, dont know right from wrong, and soo easily influenced.

    now the whole little asian kid with the cat noises,, freaky,, but getting overrated
    hollywood really needs to think of some new ideas..
    like umm.. damn.. cant think of the name.. but the movie where the guy has the perfect break in but then turns out the family he was trying to rob, he has to protect cause someone worse was inside.. now that sounds good… dont think ima see another asian kid meowing at mee.

  4. I think kids are creepy period the meowing isnt scary but a silenty creepy looking kid is the most freaky simply because you have no idea what there thinking. has anyone seen the unborn that was freaky. if a kid looked like that and came upto me id definatly be scared. and yes i would kick or punch him in the face just like the guy in the movie did and then run.

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