Last week, movie theaters were haunted by The Boy – yet another in a long line of films that plays on the notion that kids can be super creepy. The Boy focuses on a seemingly living doll made to look like a deceased child. There’s no doubt about it: in the right context, kids can be horrifying. And we’re not talking about dirty diapers. There’s something about that contrast between innocence and danger, the appearance of harmlessness from someone who’s actually capable of unspeakable acts.
This list counts down 12 of the creepiest kids, or groups of kids, in movie history. Some of the actors were unknowns that are still not known for much more than that one creepy character. Some were already famous. And some were unknowns who burst to fame at least in part from their horrifying turn among the cadre of the creepy kids of cinema. Our one rule: teenagers are no longer kids, so no characters over the age of 12 are allowed (sorry, Carrie.)
Here are the 12 Best Horror Movies with Creepy Kids.
***Warning! There may be some spoilers ahead!***
12. The Good Son
Macaulay Culkin was just coming off another stint as lovable thief sabotager Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 when he appeared in theaters as disturbed 12-year-old Henry Evans in 1993’s The Good Son. So it was quite a shock to filmgoers to watch the world’s biggest child star go from hero to villain. And the kid did a surprisingly great job of bringing the creep factor.
When we first meet him, his aunt and baby brother have just died. He briefly seems like a good kid, but there are hints of a truly disturbed mind. He wears a creepy white Michael-Myers-like mask. He builds a disturbing dummy. But then he throws that dummy into oncoming traffic, causing a horrible accident, grinning a satisfied smile as he watches the carnage. He tries to drown his sister in a frozen pond. And perhaps most famously, his cousin has fallen from a treehouse and Henry grabs him, dangling by one arm. Henry, smiling that evil, dead-eyed smile, asks his cousin, “If I let you go, do you think you could fly?”
11. The Bad Seed
In the 1956 film The Bad Seed, little Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) looks like a significantly less chipper pre-Cindy Brady (who wouldn’t hit the airwaves for another 13 years), with her prim and proper dress, severe blonde pigtails and bangs cropped just above the eyebrows. There’s an odd intensity in her eyes, and she displays some sociopathic tendencies pretty early on. A boy named Claude beats her in a penmanship competition and soon conveniently winds up dead, drowned in a lake. Rhoda shows no concern over the poor boy’s death. Then, somehow the penmanship medal shows up in her room.
Ultimately, Rhoda confesses to not just the murder of Claude, but the murder of an old woman, too. Later, she sets a man on fire who had uncovered her secret. At the end of the film, she unsettlingly speaks of her murders as though she had simply stolen a lollipop from the corner store. Her sociopathy is actually creepily explained by the fact that her mother learns she herself had been adopted – and her birth mother was a notorious serial killer. So killing was in the blood. Back in the day, Rhoda’s antics were considered so frightening that the film was advertised as “for adults only.”
10. Children of the Corn (1984)
In the original Children of the Corn, based on a Stephen King short story, we open on a small town called Gatlin. The townspeople leave church and arrive at the local diner. Soon, we catch a glimpse of one of the creepiest kids in the history of film: Isaac, played by John Franklin. He stops in the front window, clad in a wide-brimmed, Amish-style hat, and stares at a young boy. Then we get the close up: his eyes are droopy and cold. He sneers an evil sneer through kind of a baby face, which makes for a haunting contrast. He nods at his buddy Malachai in the diner. And their plan comes to life: the slaughter of all the adults in town.
The whole notion of the child uprising and murder of all the adults is creepy on its own, ut Isaac is the epitome of creepiness. He’s the ringleader. He preaches of a strange sort of god called “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Isaac is so evil that he’s even turned on by all the children he just convinced to murder their parents. His former followers sacrifice him to He Who Walks Behind the Rows. After that, depending on your horror movie tastes, he comes back to life and becomes either more or less creepy, with an affected, deep, growling voice, and zombified look. For our money, an evil human child is creepier than an evil monster – because you expect the monster to be evil; the unexpected is creepier. Fortunately, Monster Isaac doesn’t get much screen time.
9. Village of the Damned (1960)
So imagine you’re living in the quiet town of Midwich, England, when suddenly you’re unconscious, along with all your neighbors. Soon after you wake up, you discover that all the child-bearing women in the town are pregnant and eventually all give birth on the exact same day. With all that, it would be safe to assume that a bunch of creepy kids would emerge. And you’d be right. That’s how Village of the Damned begins.
How creepy are they? For starters, they have these wide, unblinking eyes that occasionally glow when they use their telepathic powers. The eyes were so creepy that British censors actually released a version of the film without the glowing eyes, for fear of freaking out the public. They’re seemingly unfeeling, like robots. They have oddly cropped platinum blonde hair and craniums that are just unusually large enough to be disturbing. Plus, there are the small matters of reading people’s minds and forcing them to do things against their will… including making them kill themselves.
8. The Grudge
An American remake of the 2002 Japanese film Ju-On: The Grudge, 2004’s The Grudge was a disturbing tale of a Japanese family murdered by the patriarch, the entire family then turning into vengeful ghosts who seek to murder anyone who enters their home. One of those ghosts is the family’s eight-year-old boy, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki), who had witnessed his father snapping his mother’s neck and was then drowned in the bathtub by his dear old dad.
The father hid Toshio’s body in a closet. And, wouldn’t you know it, years later he’s discovered by Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in that same closet, which had been taped shut – seemingly alive. Then he creepily stares at Karen from upstairs. Just stares. In this early scene, he just looks like a creepy-but-cute kid, but later we see him in his true, ghostly form, with pale skin and black-rimmed eyes, making strange meowing sounds and killing people.
If you ever watched The Omen (more on that later!), the inciting incident of 2009’s Orphan is familiar: a family loses their daughter and adopts a mysterious child. In this case, it’s a nine-year-old Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She dresses like someone from a much earlier time, she has almost black eyes and pale skin, all of which give her an unsettling presence. Fuhrman effuses a beautiful heartlessness and ferocious menace in the role.
So there’s plenty strange about Esther from the beginning. Then things start to happen. It begins when she hurts a girl at school, but quickly progresses when she viciously murders the head of the orphanage with a hammer. Soon after she creepily tries to seduce her adopted father, we learn that Esther is actually a mentally disturbed, murderous 33-year-old woman with a condition that makes her appear like a child. And she disturbingly reveals this to the camera when she unveils straightjacket scars, her “real” grotesque teeth and womanly body. (Yes, we know she’s not technically a child, but we spend most of the movie thinking that she is, so we put her on the list anyway.)
6. The Sixth Sense
Haley Joel Osment became a child star upon the release of The Sixth Sense at age 11, thanks to his portrayal of Cole Sear. Of course, his last name is a bit of a giveaway: he’s a “seer;” he can see the dead and even talk to them. That ability led to his utterance of what has become one of the most iconic lines in the history of film: “I see dead people.” He says it with such fear and anxiety, in a whisper. Sure, that’s the big line, but what he goes on to say makes it even creepier. When Bruce Willis’ character asks Cole how often he sees them, he chillingly, shakingly, says, “All the time. They’re everywhere.” Later, there’s the scene that creeps out his mom in the car, where he tells her with disturbing calm that his dead grandma says “Hi.”
But it’s not just the lines that make Osment’s performance creepy. It’s his look, his whole persona. He comes across as an old soul and looks oddly like a scrawny old man, only completely wrinkle-free. He seems perpetually sad, thanks to his squinty, large, dark eyes, long face and slightly downturned mouth. And Cole is one of the few kids on this list who are creepy without being the bad guy. He’s just a kid with a strange, reluctant power.
5. The Shining
There’s no doubt that the insanity that crept into and eventually drove Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, was the driving force of 1980’s The Shining. But there were a few totally creepy kids in the film as well. We’ll start with poor Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd), Jack’s young son. His creepiness stems from his psychic power (“the shining”), which rarely predicts anything shiny and happy. The first premonition he has is of blood pouring out of a hotel elevator. Once the family is in the hotel, things get worse. He’s always had an imaginary friend called Tony, who Danny impersonates with a gravelly voice. But at the hotel, Tony inhabits Danny, who groans in that voice, “Redrum! Redrum!” Which, of course, is “murder” backwards. Worse, he says this while creepily caressing a giant knife and finally writing the word in red lipstick in his mother’s bedroom while she sleeps. Creepy enough for ya?
Then, of course, there are the twins. Danny is riding his Big Wheel through the halls of the vacant hotel, when he turns a corner to see two little girls dressed exactly alike at the end of the hallway, holding hands and not moving. They creepily call to him, “Come and play with us. Forever. And ever. And ever.” And cut in between the girls are scenes that Danny sees of two dead and bloody children in the same hallway.
4. The Omen (1976)
The original The Omen is a horror classic for many reasons, with many memorable scenes. It’s altogether spooky, and one of the main reasons for that is that it all centers around this innocent looking boy whose mere presence often inspires unspeakable horrors. Even more than Harvey Stephens’ performance, it’s everybody’s reaction to him that’s scary. Animals run from him in fear. His nanny happily hangs herself during his birthday party, joyously shouting, “Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” before she leaps to her death. Vicious black dogs appear to do his evil bidding. Everyone who tries to warn his parents that he is, in fact, the Antichrist, dies a horrible death.
But little Mr. Stephens is not without his own creep factor. When a new nanny mysteriously shows up, she says, “Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.” His response is an innocently creepy, knowing smile, as he stares at her with his pale blue eyes. It seems to be the first time he’s acknowledged to anyone, in his way, who he really is. He screams in agony when he’s brought to a church. And, of course, there’s the final shot of the film. Little Damien is at his parents’ funeral, where any other five-year old would be grief-stricken. He’s now in the custody of the President of the United States. Knowing his horrible destiny, his rise to power, is secure, he turns to the camera and smiles an evil, ecstatic smile.
3. Let the Right One In/Let Me In
Let the Right One In is the 2008 Swedish film about a 12-year-old boy named Oskar, who is bullied. But he meets up with a strange, somewhat androgynous child named Eli, around the same age, who urges him to fight back – and turns out to a be a vampire. The very idea of a child vampire, outside of Eddie Munster, is creepy. It’s that combination of the innocent appearance and a rabid, murderous thirst for blood. But young Lina Leandersson brings so much to the role. Her face often completely lacks emotion, almost bored by her immortality, which cleverly disguises the monster within.
She unsettlingly climbs walls and walks barefoot in the snow. She lurks under a bridge, appearing to be a lost, innocent child. She allows a concerned stranger to help her, and when he picks her up, she pounces and drains him of every last drop of blood, then calmly twists his neck to finish the job. One of her creepiest moments is how she proves to Oskar that, as a vampire, she has to be invited into his home. Uninvited, she calmly walks in and locks eyes with him as she shakes and begins to bleed through her ears, eyes, everywhere – without ever changing the expression on her face. Just staring.
Let Me In is the 2010 American version of the same film, with Chloë Moretz in one of her breakout roles (Kick-Ass was released earlier the same year) as the young vampire. We’re giving her an honorable mention in this entry. Her performance was fantastic as well, but lacked some of the subtlety brought to it by Leandersson.
2. The Ring
In The Ring, the obvious creepy kid would be Samara, the raven-haired ghoul who climbs out of TVs to murder folks whose only crime is having watched a video. And, no doubt, she’s super creepy. Samara is a decades-dead girl with long black hair mysteriously covering her face, played by Daveigh Chase in this 2002 remake of the Japanese horror flick Ring. She’s the “star” of an unsettling VHS video that her spirit has seemingly possessed. Her slow, jittery walk at the end of the movie gives chills. Perhaps most scary is that she’s in no hurry. She knows her victim is done for no matter what. Slowly, she pulls herself out of the well and saunters forward in her tattered white dress. Her arms have an unnatural, jerky motion as she walks. Finally, when she seamlessly emerges from the TV she shocks her victim (and the audience) with a preternaturally fast move toward him. It’s actually almost a letdown when she reveals her water-wrinkled face and hazy blue eyes – the mystery was scarier.
But there’s another creepy kid in The Ring: protagonist Rachel’s son Aidan, played by David Dorfman. He’s not creepy in a threatening way, like Samara. He’s just troubled and odd. He draws strange black rings obsessively, he has unnervingly intense brown eyes and he calls his mother by her first name. He’s perhaps at his creepiest when he says, of Samara, seemingly unaware that his nose has begun to bleed, “Don’t you understand, Rachel. She never sleeps.”
1. The Exorcist
At age 12, poor old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is just young enough to qualify for this list – and by far creepy enough to land at No. 1. Regan didn’t ask to be creepy. It was the demon that possessed her body that made her creepy. She starts out as a normal pre-teen girl, but after she messes around with a Ouija board, things go bad. Really bad. Suddenly, she’s making strange noises, swearing like a trucker and exhibiting impossible strength. Her bed shakes, she makes objects fly and fall and she slams doors with her (or the demon’s) mind.
Before long, the Regan we knew at the beginning is all but gone, a rotting, yellow-eyed, grimacing, levitating, projectile-vomiting, screaming, swearing, blaspheming, head-spinning, unspeakably vulgar shell of herself. She’s almost all demon, but still has that shell of a 12-year-old girl. What’s left of her scratches “help me” on her stomach to convince the priest to perform an exorcism. She spine-tinglingly crawls down the stairs on her hands and feet, arched over backward, with her back to the ground. Regan is a bloody, putrid, preternatural mess and we love her for it, as easily the creepiest kid in film history.
Can you think of any other creepy kids that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!