Every so often the forces of fate and destiny combine to push a person to examine what is truly important in life. The universe has provided me with very clear signs that you, beloved Screen Rant readers, are in need of a reminder of one of the greatest character archetypes in our shared cinematic history…
Yes, I am of course referring to the “Creepy Little White Girl”.
Last week, one of my best friends decided to “lovingly” refer to me as the “creepy little white girl” from the George Lopez show (more on how I pick my friends later). In addition, one dark and stormy evening this week, another dear friend moanfully lamented that, “it seems like every year around fall some movie comes out with a creepy little girl.” Of course, upcoming films like The Last Exorcism, Case 39 and Let Me In only further this assertion.
Eureka! Or, “Huh…that’s weird,” as the case may be. The light bulb went off. I decided to investigate this supposed trend, and while it is not always in the Fall, there does seem to be a predilection for releases of “creepy little white girl” movies. The tendency began with the September 1956 release of the film about the child that is now the most iconic “creepy little white girl” of all, The Bad Seed.
[This Article Contains MAJOR SPOILERS About Some Of The Older Movies Being Discussed]
This film may feel just a tad dated now, but at the time it offered a startling vision of what might lay beneath the appearance of innocence. In fact, little Patty McCormack’s portrayal of Rhoda Penmark created so much of a stir that it earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Horror movies often speak to deeper cultural issues or subconscious fears. They are at times highly moralizing tales, as with the slasher films of the seventies and eighties, all of which followed a now-familiar pattern:
- 1) Relentless, often silent, and odd male stalker uses phallic weaponry to punish sexualized youth.
- 2) Virgin girl prevails in the end to defeat the beast-like male sexuality.
- 3) Said virgin is subsequently murdered (or sought again) in the sequel; after she has likely made the mistake of giving it up.
“Creepy little white girls” (or boy as the case may be) represent a different subconscious fear – the fear that all is not as it appears. America in the fifties presented itself as clean-cut, sanitized, and well-mannered. Yet, a feeling of misalignment existed beneath that image, a sense of harsher realities that did not mesh with the status quo. The Bad Seed presented the idea that even what appears to be perfect could in fact be the harbinger of darkness and ill-will. It spoke to a very human fear that you cannot trust what you see and that the devil is, indeed, in a Sunday hat.
The trope is now so standard that, as mentioned, it inspired a character on comedian George Lopez’ Show (my new namesake) “Creepy Little White Girl” herself.
This week brings us some looks at the latest illustrations of the “creepy little white girl” character in cinema.
Case 39 has gone through a series of fits and starts in terms of a release date over the past few years, but is now set for October the 1st; the very cusp of the Halloween horror season. The film stars Renée Zellweger, Bradley Cooper, and Jodelle Ferland (as the requisite creepy little white girl), and tells the story of an overworked social worker (Zellweger) who comes across a frightened young girl (Ferland a.k.a. case #39) whose parents are plotting to kill her. As the social worker fights to save the girl, she becomes more and more personally involved, only to discover that a relentless evil is at work.
Take a look at the trailer below:
“The Devil Is After Your Daughter”
The merits of Case 39 are somewhat called into question by the repeated delays. Ferland is now a creepy little white teenager as seen in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. That aside, Case 39 is “the devil is after your daughter” variety of the CLWG (creepy little white girl) lore. For our purposes, the devil will stand for all manner of evil. She can’t help it, but wherever that CLWG is, death is right by her side.
Often a strong parent/mother figure must come in to save the CLWG from said evil. This aspect of the “creepy little white girl” trope hits on a couple of subconscious fears and desires. It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have an unseen and seemingly insurmountable danger after their child. It is therefore deeply cathartic to see the parent vanquish said evil, thus ensuring the continuation of life.
It often becomes the standard to have a mother or surrogate mother come into these scenarios. The woman stands in for the animal-like mother lion. These movies often follow a familiar narrative trajectory: Order, the destruction of order, order restored OR new order. That “new order” can mean the sacrifice of the parental figure, thereby establishing a new set of parameters for the child. Alternatively some films will leave the success of the parent as a question mark – creating an opening for a sequel.
Case 39’s Jodelle Ferland can be seen as another version of “the devil is after your CLWG” in 2006’s Silent Hill.
Kim Basinger fights to save her niece from the forces of evil in 2000’s Bless The Child. Little Cody is another version of the “creepy little girl” – the creepy little savior girl.
In 2005’s Dark Water Jennifer Connelly is given a double-whammy of mamma bear saving baby cub duty. She is forced to protect her daughter Ceci from a malevolent entity by giving the aforementioned entity the one thing it so desperately craves – a mommy. She sacrifices her own life in order to save the life of her daughter, and as a result saves the poor “creepy little white ghost girl,” Natasha, from an eternity of longing after what life denied her, a mother’s loving embrace.
Often a “little ghost girl’s” death is due to a failure on the part of the parents or the adults in charge. She is in need of saving (even in her life after death) and a release from her apparitional coil. Nicole Kidman was under the impression that she was protecting her creepy little white girl and boy in The Others. She was later shocked to discover that she was the failed/devouring mother who had created two “creepy little ghost kids” of her own. The twist, of course, is that it became her task to protect her children from the living.
We can even see this trend in the Sci-Fi classic Aliens – in the relationship between Ripley and Newt.
“The Devil Is IN Your Daughter”
This is perhaps the most straightforward, as well as one of the scariest, versions of the CLWG narrative. The most famous example is Linda Blair in The Exorcist, the movie that, to many, still hails as the scariest of all time.
2005 brought us a new vision of this tale with the terrifying film based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. These stories reach us on a deep level because they represent pure innocence obliterated by pure evil, leaving the adults helpless to do anything but destroy what they love, or be destroyed by it. The latest incarnation of “the devil is in your daughter” story (brought to us by producer Eli Roth) is The Last Exorcism. New clips from the film were released recently which illustrate the films implementation of the new favorite storytelling technique for horror — faux documentary. It is a documentary-style look at an evangelical minister’s “last exorcism” of a troubled young woman.
Take a look at these clips from the film:
“Your Daughter IS The Devil”
Another familiar creepy little white girl conceit is “your daughter (or son) is the devil/evil.” Evil, as in either sociopathic, as in The Bad Seed (or the boy version, The Good Son) – or that your child is the literal embodiment of evil.
Of course the image of a dangerously evil child is just inherently creepy. How can you fight what you cannot control, what you don’t understand and worst of all, what is yours to protect?
Sometimes the little girl is evil due to circumstances outside of her control – like being turned into one of the undead at an impressionable age. Such is the case for poor doll-like Claudia in Interview With The Vampire. The bloodthirsty little wench is easily the film’s most compelling character and arguably Kirstin Dunst’s best performance to date.
The latest little blood sucker brought to celluloid is of course Abby from the soon to be released Let Me In, the remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, which featured one creepy little white boy and one sexually ambiguous creepy little white… Eli. Now Abby may not be evil in the strictest sense of the word, but I won’t be running out to grab her a “#1 PLAYDATE” mug any time soon.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the weirdest (and most nonsensical) “creepy little white girl” of recent years – Ester from Orphan.
Ester was actually a 33 year-old lunatic trapped in the body of a little girl, who as a result of her impairment, finds it necessary to dress as if it’s 1933… and kill folks. Of course the actress who played Ester (Isabelle Fuhrman) was actually a creepy little white girl playing a sociopathic dwarf… which actually makes the whole thing even creepier when you think about it. She almost did too good of a job in that role.
Creepy Little White Kid Gangs:
From time to time, the children of rural or suburban America find it necessary to gather together to terrorize and/or slaughter all of the adults in the surrounding area. It’s just one of those things.
Perhaps the two most quintessential examples of this phenomenon are Children of the Corn and Village Of The Damned (see above). If you thought the Hitler Youth weren’t scary enough – just add active parental mind control. As a nation obsessed with youth, where the toddlers so often rule the roost, this trend speaks to an understandable fear of the amount of power we give to the young.
Creepy Little Girl Meets Boy:
This combination offers a bit of creepy little romance. There is no overt mention, but some may infer that puppy love is coming Pet Cemetery-style for these boys. The “redrum” ragamuffin himself, Danny from The Shining, scored with twins his first time up to plate! That is if the “plate” is an old, rickety, vacation lodge that houses a gateway to hell.
The Mischa Barton character in The Sixth Sense is set nicely against Haley Joel Osment’s broody little white boy. She is of course the “little ghost girl” in need of retribution, reaching out to the living boy for help. Another “little ghost girl” haunting of an angsty little boy can be seen in Lady In White, which makes amazingly eerie use of the song “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking.”
The romantic element is far more overt in Lady In White.
Though she may not be evil herself, the creepy little girl often displays some feeling of malevolence against the creepy little boy’s preternatural sense… ah, women. Can’t live with em’, can’t kill em’ as they are previously murdered ghosts with a bone to pick.
Creepiest Little White Girl EVER:
There are plenty of qualified candidates for this honor listed here and still more that could be included. Yet the one big eyed, sweet dress wearing child that this girl considers the creepiest little white girl of all has to be Samara from The Ring.
The Ring performed a quasi bait and switch with the character of Samara. She embodies several aspects of the CLWG archetype. She (seemingly) steps out of the grave as a “creepy little ghost girl” in need of saving – and retribution against the parents who failed her. Naomi Watts plays the lioness mother saving her (seriously creepy) son, Aidan. She believes she is also meant to save little Samara from the clutches of a nefarious past – only to discover that sweet, lost Samara is in fact the embodiment of the monster in the closet that the boogeyman runs screaming from.
Samara personifies all the underlying fears that fuel the “Your Daughter IS The Devil” version of the CLWG archetype. In addition she represents one of the darkest notions the human mind can grapple with. She is inexorable, meaningless evil. She is relentless, she is without cause or reason, and the only way to stop her is to commit an act of evil yourself. This tale does not follow the traditional rules of other more moralizing horror films, and as a result it taps into what is perhaps the deepest human fear: that the world is without order or causality, that you are not protected, and that beneath the layers of self-created meaning there is only a void that cares nothing for you or your life. Alrighty then!
Such an abundance of creepy white kids begs the question, why is the devil always and forever after whitey? As a creepy little white girl myself, I am just killing to know.
The Last Exorcism hits theaters August 27th
Case 39 and Let Me In follow a month later on October 1st