Most of our most terrifying horror movie villains are adults, for obvious reasons. Adults are physically larger and stronger than regular human children. They tend to be smarter, though we admit there’s a variance there. Maybe it’s because of the proliferation of adult, mostly male horror movie villains that the child-villains we encounter are so memorable. Everybody has at least one memory of a creepy child from a horror movie—one that has haunted them since the first time they encountered it.
We’re looking at what we think are the creepiest, most disturbing and memorably sinister children from horror films. To make it to this list, a kid has to be under 13 (Sorry, Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin) while they’re committing their treacherous acts. These are all kids from movies rather than TV shows—though you’ll find a made-for-TV movie or two on this list. Without further ado…
Here are the 15 Creepiest Horror Movie Kids Ever.
15. The Children of the Damned
The sequel to 1960’s Village of the Damned is considered the superior film by many horror buffs. Whether you love the original, the 1964 sequel, or the 1995 remake—we can all agree that these children are damn spooky. The children come to be after a mysterious incident in a small village turns out to be one of many mysterious incidents in small villages all over the world. But are the children as evil as they look? Are they killing people maliciously, or merely defending themselves?
The plot follows certain kids, but none of them particularly stand out. They’re equally emotionless, mature beyond their years, and walk around in packs. Even if they’re benevolent, that’s off-putting. These children of the damned also have freaky powers like telekinesis and the ability to read minds. Again, even if someone is totally good and kind, it’s scary to be around anyone who has that much power. Good or bad, human or alien, we’re all a little unnerved by The Children of the Damned.
14. Grady Twins: The Shining
“Come play with us, Danny…for ever, and ever and ever.” Haunting, right? The twins from The Shining are some of the most enduring and recognizable children in all of film. That makes sense, since this movie was dubbed into several languages and, despite considerable shade thrown by the author, remains a beloved classic horror film. We never see the twins hurt anyone, nor do we see their own axe-murder by their father. We do see the bloody aftermath, which the twins go out of their way to show young Danny Torrance as the hotel torments him.
If you’ve read Stephen King’s The Shining, you already know that the unnamed twin daughters of Delbert Grady weren’t written as twins. They’re eight and ten, in fact. But when real-life twins Louise and Lisa Burns arrived to audition, Kubrick loved them. He also decided on the spot that twins were creepier than the alternative. We agree. They’re still eerie as hell.
13. Rhoda Penmark: The Bad Seed
Fans have encountered Rhoda Penmark in book form, live theatre, and in two different films. By far the superior version is the 1956 film starring Nancy Kelley, Patty McCormack, Evelyn Varden, and Eileen Heckart. Of the four starring women, three were nominated for Oscars for their roles in The Bad Seed. The stand out performance, obviously, is Patty McCormack as Rhoda. This sweet looking little girl has already killed people before the open, and she can fly into a rage without warning.
Overly polite and mature children are already annoying and may be uncomfortable to be around. But when they also lack empathy and lie as effortlessly as we breathe…that’s another level entirely. Rhoda is unafraid to murder people to get what they have, to shut them up, or just because she can. Almost as disturbing as Rhoda herself is how easily most otherwise smart adults—even her own father and grandfather– are duped by her.
12. Anne Stewart: The Others
Compelling and frightening ghost movies are few and far between. Usually, they revolve around the same tired revenge trope that bores audiences to death before the first apparition appears. The Others is a delightful exception to this. It revolves around a British mother and her two light-sensitive children living in a sprawling estate just after WWII. The kids have a disease that forces them to live in darkness.
Anne is the daughter, and the one who sees “intruders” in the house. To everyone’s horror, she won’t shut up about them. She’s particularly sensitive to a boy called Victor, who thinks their house is his. We’ll stop there, as to avoid spoiling anything for you. The writing in The Others is so good and the performances so intense that it’s well worth your time to sit and watch this one if you haven’t already. It’s available on Netflix!
Nicole Kidman and Chris Eccelston give exceptional performances—but it’s the tormented and otherworldly Anne that you need to keep an eye on.
11. Jack & Emily Poe: Home Movie
The cultish following of this 2008 found-footage horror film should be far larger than it is. This film is a bombshell, despite a few declarations of shenanigans. Minsters should probably drink less, and any psychologist should know not to treat her own children. But the parents aren’t the vital component of this film. The stars here are twins Jack and Emily Poe. Jack and Emily say they don’t know why the cat is missing, or how the fish “got dead,” or how all those things got strung up in their private clubhouse.
Jack and Emily don’t like their parents. But they do like to bite things. You’ll cringe to see that these ghoulish twins bite each other, a friend from school, and…well, other things too. The angelic faces on these kids makes their sadism and lack of empathy even more chilling. And how did they learn to make poison? Home Movie is a very scary movie with a smooth slow burn. And those kids? You’ll never forget them.
10. Red Queen: Resident Evil
“You’re all going to die down here.” Everyone remembers that classically unnerving line from Resident Evil. There have been a handful of films in this series, and every time the Red Queen shows up, she manages to freak us out anew. We’ve discussed how super-smart or unusually mature children are already creepy. The adorable little Red Queen predicting deaths is even worse. But in time, we slowly have to watch characters realize that a hologram of a tiny girl is the enemy!
We eventually learn that the Red Queen was designed in the image of the lead programmer for Umbrella Corp. (This will start to feel weird when she’s recast three times over the course of the series.) Despite that, she’s no less menacing. After all, Umbrella Corp is as far-reaching as Sony, and as evil as a cigarette company. The Red Queen is believed to be Paul WS Anderson’s homage to HAL9000, by the way, which makes perfect sense to us!
9. Adrian Woodhouse: Rosemary’s Baby
This may seem like an odd choice for this list, since this baby gets almost no screen time. In fact, there is never even a moment when this kid takes visual center in the movie Rosemary’s Baby. Of course, we refer here to the 1968 film starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon and directed by Roman Polanski. Adrian is the title character, though he doesn’t show up until nearly the end of the film. That’s okay, because after such a big build up, any glimpse of him was bound to send audiences into a frenzy.
What’s Adrian’s deal? He’s the literal son of the devil. Unlike another kid appearing later on our list—we see Adrian’s conception, gestation period, and we’re with his mother for the birth. In both Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, terrible things happen when husbands deceive their wives. Judging by his mother’s face the first time she sees him—Adrian Woodhouse is the stuff of nightmares. Clawed hands and feet, eyes like an animal, furry and scaly all at once. He doesn’t cry much, though, which probably makes him less annoying than some babies you know.
8. Miles: The Innocents
Sometimes, a person’s reaction to a child says much more about the adult than it does about the child. That’s tragically true in the film The Innocents, based on the classic Henry James novella Turn of the Screw. Much of the script is said to have been penned by Truman Capote, but he’s not credited as such. This film is terrifying due to eerie ghosts, a terrified governess, and a pair of weirdly sinister children. The most weird and sinister is definitely the recently-expelled Miles.
Miles is a cute kid, but he has an odd adultness about him. This is most evident in a squicky scene depicting Miles kissing the governess goodnight. She is understandably freaked. Is Miles just creepy, or is he under the control of a lustful ghost? The Innocents is first-rate horror with a slow build and a gut-wrenching conclusion, in no small part thanks to Martin Stephens’ (who you’ll also see in Village of the Damned) performance as Miles.
7. Isaac: Children of the Corn
At first glance, the under-eighteen population of Gatlin, Nebraska seems as bland and average as the adults. But we only get a few minutes into Children of the Corn before poisoned coffee and random farm blades lays every adult to waste. What we’re left with is a thuggish cadre of children who follow a supernatural monster (that they believe to be the God of Abraham) who lives in the cornfields. They beat and murder each other to keep people in line, and everyone is sacrificed old-school on their eighteenth birthday. Some gift!
Isaac is the leader, and is believed to be in direct content with “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” This maize-based pontiff is just plain disturbing with his hellfire preaching and furious devotion to a god that loathes adults. Age-wise, we think he’s just barely young enough to make our list, (sorry, Malachi) and that his overall creep factor is crazy high. Isaac loves to use grown-up words like “pestilence, heretic,” and “blasphemers.” That would be creepy even if he wasn’t ordering other kids to crucify interlopers.
6. Danny & Ralphie Glick: Salem’s Lot
The two-part made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot is outstanding horror television. Directed by genre legend Tobe Hooper and starring a positively surreal cast, Salem’s Lot is one of the most beloved and enduring made-for-TV movies of all time. These are not sexy vampires, and no one wants to be bitten by one. And yet…these zombie-like vampires have an alluring quality, a sort of unnatural gift used to mesmerize and attract their victims.
If you’re a recently dead child who now needs human blood to survive, your first stop will no doubt be your family and friends. Danny and Ralphie Glick, two brothers of about nine and eleven, do just that. Images of these nightmarish children floating up to scratch at a second-story window have haunted viewers for decades, and scarred a generation of ’70s kids. Not even James Mason (who is REALLY creepy in the movie) can out-scare these spooky children. If you watch the movie, you’ll know where the Glick boys get it from. Their mom is a creepy vampire too.
5. Damien Thorn: The Omen
Let’s talk about the name “Damien,” shall we? These days, the overwhelming connection to the name “Damien” is in this character: Mr. 666 himself—devil’s spawn Damien Thorn. He’s the star of three horror movies, the first of which came out in 1976. Three years earlier, a character named Damien Karras (originally cast as Jack Nicholson) was part of a team that saved a girl named Regan MacNeil from demonic possession in The Exorcist. Both The Omen and The Exorcist were hugely successful, and considered classics today. So why is the name “Damien” associated with evil rather than those who fight it?
The answer has to be in the performance and visual appeal of cherub Harvey Stephens and his understated turn as young Damien. That kid is usually smiling, is terrified of churches, and didn’t seem to know what he was doing when he almost killed his pregnant mom with a tricycle. Some of Stephens’ most iconic performance elements are mistakes (the final smile, his reaction to the baboons) left in because director Richard Donner preferred them.
4. Niles & Holland Perry: The Other
It always seems weird when a child actor pulls off one exceptional performance, and then never (or almost never) acts again. This is true of Harvey Stephens from our previous entry, and it’s also true of Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, who played ill-fated twins Niles and Holland Perry in the 1972 film adaptation of Tom Tryon’s novel The Other.
Already creepy thanks to their status as identical twins, Holland is a scrappy kid who gets into a lot of trouble, while his brother Niles is less mean-spirited and more afraid of getting into trouble. When a series of accidents befall some locals, Niles insists that Holland is to blame. But is he? What else could be going on? Beautifully understated performances by the boys (plus stunning turns from a young Diana Muldaur, and even younger John Ritter, Uta Hagen) make this movie a must for horror fans. The Perry twins are some of the most disturbing kids you’ll ever see on film.
3. Samara/Akiko: The Ring/Ringu
It doesn’t matter if your preference is for the Japanese film Ringu, or its American counterpart, The Ring. We’re here today to talk about scary kids, so calling her Akiko versus Samara is a moot point. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll talk mostly about Samara from The Ring–an American adaptation of a Japanese film adaptation of a Japanese novel based on a folk tale from a disputed source. Samara is such a compelling child villain that the main character thinks, for much of the film, that Samara is merely an unhappy soul in need of help…
…and then she crawls out of the TV in the one of the most visually disturbing moments of horror film history. Samara isn’t just terrifying to look at. She’s got wicked scary powers, and had them even when she was alive. Samara is angry and tormented. We can’t see her face. She’s also malicious and omnipresent whenever she wants to be. It’s not surprising that Samara is chillingly evil; actress Daveigh Chase is an evil-looking girl, even in other things.
2. Karen Cooper: Night of the Living Dead
Ever wonder why every zombie movie seeks to show you an adorable child perverted by zombism? It’s because of this kid right here—Karen Cooper, as played by Kyra Schon. She was the very first kid-zombie in the very first movie about cannibalistic zombies. That alone is a big freakin’ deal. Karen only says two words in this film, “I hurt.” But later, she gives us one of the most impressive child-on-parent deaths we’ve ever seen. Zombies don’t normally kill people with trowels, but we’re willing to let that go because it’s such a scary scene, and Karen is a truly iconic and frightening zombie.
Playing Karen Cooper gave actress Kyra Schon a lifelong relationship with zombies—something she still enjoys today. When asked why in a 2011 interview, she responded, “Zombies persevere. They exist solely in the present. They don’t let obstacles or failure, or past disappointments divert them from their goals. I think we can learn a lot from them. Plus, they’re cute.” We concur.
1. Gage Creed: Pet Sematary
The top pick on our list was determined by an informal poll. Gage Creed, resurrected toddler from the book and movie Pet Sematary, seems to have freaked out and disturbed the most modern movie fans. That makes sense to us. Gage is an adorable kid who becomes nightmarish when that cuteness is marred not just by death and usurped revival. Once Gage is returned from the grave, he’s evil. Seeing the afterlife is bad for you. That’s one thing if you’re a cat. If you’re a human child, you have an obligation to a baseline of humanity and say, not murdering people with medical scalpels.
The horror of Pet Sematary erupts from the tragedy of a child’s death by Orinco truck. Louis, the father, feels culpable (his dickish father-in-law encourages this) for Gage’s death. This is one of many things that leads him to exhume and replant his kid in a magical patch of resurrection dirt formerly known as the MicMac indian burial ground. The results were tragic. But Gage’s chillingly cute delivery of “First I played with mommy…and now I want to play with yooouuu,” will stay with us forever.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Chuckesmee
You don’t find many people who are lukewarm about the Twilight Saga. For fans, Twilight might be their greatest love. For others, it’s pro-pedophile propaganda that doesn’t deserve to be in the same sentence as horror, let alone on the same list. Whichever side you fall on, we can probably agree that the animatronic baby that was meant to be in the film is the stuff of nightmares. This “child” is Renesmee, the sire of a 1oo+ year old vampire and a bland high school student. Dubbed “Chuckesmee” for its similarity to the iconic horror character “Chucky,” (voiced by Brad Dourif in the Child’s Play series). The doll went unused in favor of a CGI child that was, let’s face it, still pretty creepy.
Robot babies are always going to be a little unnerving. We just don’t have the tech yet to make them appear truly human. But Chuckesmee takes us to a new level of horror, even if its origin isn’t anything like horror. Ever ask yourself if you can be terrified of something that isn’t actually scary? Chuckesmee is your answer.
We hope we included your favorite creepy horror movie kid in our list. If not, you should totally tell us who we missed in the comments.