Creepy kids make any horror movie setting creepier. A haunted English estate set deep in the countryside? Add children. A small town free from the wicked influence of the big city? Add children. A hotel built on an indigenous burial ground? There are little girl ghosts for that.
Some cultures think that children are born tabula rasa, as a blank slate free from evil thoughts or ideas until they absorb those already present in the world around them. Others think that babies are born with something called “original sin” and though they are small and fragile, they have the same propensity for evil that lives in all of us adults. Whether we are innately capable of evil or it is a learned response to survival, it’s frightening to think that someone so young could already be a cold-hearted killer. It makes us worry about the nature of reality. Is it really as soft as we have let ourselves believe? Or should we have been hardening ourselves all along? Looking around at the danger we should have seen, it’s hard not to feel unprepared and vulnerable. What else have we missed?
Additionally, in movies such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Halloween (1978), our maternal and paternal instincts are played upon when we think about being in mortal danger while also being responsible for the care of a child. Suddenly there’s another layer to our fear. We know what we would do if we were faced with Michael Myers (run, fast), but what if we also needed to protect an innocent child? The plot thickens.
In this horror classic that set the bar for Evil Little Girls in cinema, 11-year-old Patty McCormack stars as eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark, a prim schoolgirl with blonde pigtails who seems to be the picture of normality…that is, until the day a boy who beat her in a penmanship contest winds up drowned in a lake. After one horrific event after the next occurs at Rhoda’s hands, her mother learns that her own mother and grandmother were also killers—and that Rhoda’s evil behavior may be genetic in nature.
After a mysterious and inexplicable mass impregnation one night in a remote British village called Midwich, nine months later a dozen precocious children are born on the same day. As they age, the children—whose hair is snow-blonde and whose eyes have an odd tendency to suddenly start glowing—exhibit troubling characteristics such as telepathy and mind control. They also have the ability to make anyone do whatever they want them to do, which proves to be fatal for their victims.
In this early offering by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava, the villagers of a mountain town in Eastern Europe during the early 1900s are haunted by the ghost of a young girl who starts murdering townsfolk. It turns out that the girl was the seven-year-old daughter of a baroness and had been killed about a dozen years prior. Kill, Baby…Kill! was originally released in Italian as Operazione paura, AKA Operation Fear.
A dark and moody black-and-white film about three orphaned siblings who live in a crumbling mansion and are all afflicted with “Merrye Syndrome,” a genetically transmitted disease that starts in early puberty and causes its victims to revert into childlike behavior. The film’s title is based on one of the three siblings, Virginia, who is infatuated with spiders to the point where she moves like a spider and eats spiders for dinner. She also traps people in a rope “web” and stabs them to death.
In the first of several Satan-themed blockbusters featuring evil little children (the other notable entries are The Exorcist and The Omen, both covered below), Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary Woodhouse, a young Roman Catholic Manhattanite who moves along with her husband into a Gothic apartment building in spite of warnings that the building houses a secret coven of Satanists. One night she dreams that she was raped by Satan and wakes up covered in scratches. Strangely, she loses weight throughout her pregnancy. When she finally sees her baby, she is horrified by its appearance and is informed that the male infant is the son of Satan.
In the first of several evil-child horror films to feature a kid with Capgras syndrome—a delusion that one’s self has split off into an identical impostor—we see “identical twins” Holland and Niles Perry enjoying life on the family farm in the summer of 1935, only months after their father died in the farmhouse cellar. For most of the film it seems as if Holland is the bad seed—he probably killed his own dad, he terrorizes a woman into having a heart attack, and he leaves his mother paralyzed after a brutal assault. Then we learn that “Holland” is merely a tool of Niles, who is able to astrally project his thoughts into the bodies of others in order to do his bidding.
In one of the most famous horror films of all time, 12-year-old Linda Blair stars as Regan MacNeil, daughter of a single mom who begins playing with her Ouija board and starts conversing with someone she calls “Captain Howdy.” Over the ensuing weeks and a series of medical tests that reveal nothing, it becomes obvious that Regan is demon-possessed and can only be cured by the intervention of professional Catholic exorcists.
After taking contraceptives, Lenore Davis is horrified to learn that she has become pregnant with her second child. She is further horrified when the child, who is born with fangs and claws, kills the doctor and nurse who delivered him and escapes through a skylight, only to kill more people. Her husband Frank loses his own life in a fatal struggle with the demon baby, who is also killed in the gunfire. Lenore then learns that the infant’s mutation was caused by the contraceptives—she also learns that another mutant baby has been born in Seattle.
In her first film appearance, Brooke Shields stars as a 9-year-old girl named Karen in New Jersey who is murdered at her first Holy Communion. Her 12-year-old sister, Alice, becomes the prime suspect in this as well as in a subsequent string of stabbings.
Released originally in Spanish as ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? and also in English as Island of the Damned, this Spanish horror film features an English couple who take an island vacation before the birth of their third child—only to realize that the island is solely populated by emotionless, murderous children. The couple then face the ethical dilemma as to whether they should start killing children in order to spare themselves. Even more terrifyingly, the island’s children can turn any other child into a murderous zombie simply by making eye contact with them—and the final scene shows some of the children heading on a boat toward Spain, aiming to spread their sickness among all the world’s children.
An American diplomat in Rome replaces his deceased infant with an orphaned boy, only for him to grow up to be evil incarnate. As the infant Damien Thorn grows into childhood, strange things start happening—animals are terrified to go near him, his nanny kills herself, and he resists going anywhere near churches. The Thorn family finds out to their horror that little Damien is the Antichrist as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
The original Halloween gives us Michael Myers’s origin story: He killed his older sister after trick-or-treating when he was six years old and was sent away to a mental institute under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis. Fifteen years later, he escapes the asylum and returns to his town to start stalking and killing a babysitter and her friends.
A psychiatric patient named Nola is entangled with her former husband over custody of their five-year-old daughter Candice, who appears to show signs of physical abuse. Then, suddenly, people start being attacked by a strange breed of small, dwarflike child creatures who have no sexual characteristics, no teeth, and are born without navels. It is revealed that Nola, herself a victim of extreme abuse, created the dwarf-children through parthogenesis and sent them on killing missions to avenge her rage.
As the Torrance family slowly goes mad while trapped one winter in the snowbound mountain lodge known as the Overlook Hotel, two little girl ghosts known as the “Grady Twins”—who were previously murdered by their demon-possessed father in the motel—keep appearing to little Danny Torrance. At first they ask Danny to play with them. His final vision of the “Grady Twins”—who were actually sisters aged 10 and 8—is of their blood-splattered corpses lying in the hallway near an axe.
This film about a house infested with dark spirits has a standout scene involving little Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) who awakens one night and begins to have a conversation with the static on the family TV set. The next night, as she’s again speaking to the static, a white hand emerges from the television, followed by an earthquake. Carol Anne turns to her parents and utters the chilling line, “They’re here…”
A Stephen King short story from 1977 is turned into a terrifying movie franchise filled with creepy kids stalking their prey among the corn rows. A twelve-year-old named Isaac Chroner takes his orders from a malevolent spirit who is known only as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” a bloodthirsty deity who commands children to murder the adult townsfolk in order to ensure a successful corn harvest.
College students Andy (Keith Carradine) and Vicky (Heather Locklear) volunteer for an experiment where they receive low doses of a hallucinogen known as LOT-6. Years later, their nine-year-old daughter Charlene, AKA “Charlie” (Drew Barrymore) reveals the ability to start fires with her mind as well as see into the future—abilities which government agents seek to exploit.
Gage Creed (Miko Hughes) is pretty much the platonic form of a creepy kid in this horror movie about parental grief and being careful what you wish for. After the little boy is killed by a truck on a lonely highway, his family has a funeral that ends in fisticuffs between family members quarreling over the cause of his death. But then Gage emerges from the dead and goes on a killing spree, murdering his own mother in the process.
Beware! Children at Play is focused on a small rural New Jersey village where children keep disappearing into the woods and are ritualistically murdered—or so it seems. Instead, they are being inducted into a cannibal cult that stages its attacks from the woods. Released by infamous low-budged shlockmeisters Troma Entertainment, the film faced harsh criticism for showing graphic depictions of violence toward children—something that even most horror films carefully avoid.
Based on a novel of the same name, the story centers around a coven of malevolent witches who pose as normal women and either kill children or turn them into mice. A twelve-year-old boy named Luke teams up with his grandmother to fight the witches—but will he be able to beat them before they turn him into a mouse?
Brooke Adams stars as Virginia, an infertile woman who, in a last-ditch effort to conceive, tries in-vitro fertilization. But immediately after conceiving, odd things start happening to the fetus. Virginia soon learns to her horror that the “baby” inside her is merely part of a malicious experiment conducted by an evil doctor.
Evil children aren’t quite the focus of this supernatural black comedy film based on the legendarily creepy family created by cartoonist Charles Addams, but the Addams kids Wednesday and Pugsley do creepy things such as selling poisoned lemonade and digging open graves for their eventual victims.
When parents adopt a nine-year-old boy, they don’t expect him to be a pyromaniac who sets fire to newspapers in their basement. They don’t expect him to drown one woman in a swimming pool and murder another by tossing a plugged-in blow dryer into her bathtub. They don’t expect him to bludgeon someone to death with a baseball bat. They don’t expect him to film all of his murders. Then again, they didn’t expect Mikey.
A very creepy sort of underage version of Fatal Attraction, the plot involves a 14-year-old girl named Adrian who starts making sexual advances on an adult man named Nick, only for him to rebuff him. She vandalizes his car, erases his computer disks, and tortures a female paramour of his by locking her in a room and filling it with wasps—the woman’s greatest fear. Although Nick is convinced all of this evidence will lead to either Adrian’s arrest or her commitment to a mental hospital, he didn’t expect her to falsely accuse him of sexual assault.
Macaulay Culkin stars as every parent’s worst nightmare. A boy named Mark is sent to live with his aunt and uncle after his mother’s death. There he meets Henry (Culkin), a violent psychopath who attempts to kill another kid by throwing them through a sheet of thin lake ice during an ice-skating excursion.
This is yet another film where the evil kid is not the focus but still plays an intricate role in the plot. In this horror film where Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt vie to be the prettiest male vampire in film history, they turn a dying 10-year-old girl named Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire as well, saving her life and raising her as their daughter.
Cole Sear is a young boy who is troubled by continuous visions of dead spirits, so he seeks the counsel of a psychiatrist named Malcolm (Bruce Willis), only to find out near the film’s end that Malcolm is dead as well. In fact, Cole might be the only living human left on Earth.
Amidst all the blood and carnage of the Spanish Civil War, a boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) whose parents fought for the republican side arrives at an orphanage in a remote part of Spain far away from the fighting. After hearing strange stories about a mysterious boy named Santi who went missing one day before a bomb was found near the orphanage, Carlos has a strange dream about Santi. In the middle of the night outside the orphange, he finds Santi: a pale ghost with blood flowing upwards from a wound in his head. Santi chases a terrified Carlos back into the orphanage, where he hides in a closet.
In 1945, living in a remote country mansion in the English town of Jersey at the tail end of World War II, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) awakens with her two young children to realize that the house is haunted with “others.” Both of her children suffer from extreme photosensitivity, which means the house must be kept dark at all times. But as the plot moves on, Grace realizes to her horror that the “others” are actually living human beings who’ve moved into the house, while she and her children are ghosts. The film was released in Spain as Los otros.
In this, the first English-language version of the Japanese horror series about a cursed videotape that kills everyone who watches it a week after they first view it, it turns out that little Samara Morgan is a vengeful ghost who has the ability to etch mental images onto surfaces and into people’s minds. Samara had originally been adopted by a woman named Anna due to Anna’s inability to conceive.
This forgotten Nicole Kidman movie is so creepy and disturbing it is almost unwatchable. Kidman stars as Anna, a woman whose husband died 10 years ago and has just gotten engaged to a new man after a lengthy grieving process. Right after the engagement a young boy shows up at their Manhattan apartment claiming that he is Anna’s deceased husband Sean, reincarnated. The boy knows things about Sean and Anna’s relationship that only Sean would know and slowly Anna begins to believe he actually is Sean.
Elliot Page plays a precocious 14-year-old girl who traps a pedophile in his own home and tells him she plans to castrate him so that he won’t victimize any more children. Her victim denies wrong doing and there is a psychological drama/mystery aspect to the film as the girl questions whether she is really doing what is right. By the end of the film, her questions are answered.
Dakota Fanning stars as Emily, a little girl who moves to upstate New York with her father after her mother’s suicide. Soon after she meets a new imaginary friend named “Charlie” and starts terrorizing her father (Robert De Niro). It isn’t until the film’s twist ending that it’s revealed Emily isn’t the creepy one, her father is experiencing dissociative identity disorder and is actually Charlie, her “imaginary” friend.
Joshua (Jacob Kogan) is a very neatly dressed and highly mentally disturbed nine-year-old firstborn son of a young affluent Manhattan family. He is a prodigy on the piano, showing a marked preference for “dissonant” musical pieces. But as the movie progresses, they can no longer overlook the fact that their little boy is a sadistic sociopath whose behavior grows increasingly violent by the day.
A lonely boy named Oskar is being relentlessly bullied by other children at his school. One day another boy named Eli arrives. Oskar and Eli become best friends, although Oskar remains ignorant to the fact that Eli is a vampire. The film was originally released in Sweden as Låt den rätte komma in.
Laura (Belen Rueda) is a young married woman who was raised in an orphanage. She returns to the orphanage with her husband to adopt a young boy named Simón. The boy is a bit strange, as he is prone to drawing pictures of an imaginary friend named Tomás, whom Simón depicts in various drawings as always wearing a sack mask. Laura eventually learns to her horror that not only is Simón HIV-positive; one day he will shove her inside her bathroom and lock her inside while he’s wearing a sack mask. The film was originally released in Spain as El orfanato.
Around the New Year’s celebration, a group of friends gather at a countryside cabin to celebrate the holidays with their children. Unfortunately, the kids start offing the parents one by one. It turns out that the children have been exposed to a strange bacteria that is affecting all the kids in the vicinity—including those who keep emerging from the woods to murder adults.
Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) is a young Jewish woman who finds herself being tormented by a dybbuk—a demon of Jewish folklore who possesses the body of live humans in order to interact with the world of the living. Casey begins having horrific visions of odd-looking dogs in the neighborhood and an evil child who stalks her. Casey’s father reveals that Casey had a twin brother who died in the womb after being strangled with his mother’s umbilical cord. She begins to fear that the dybbuk is actually the ghost of her deceased twin brother.
After her third child emerges stillborn, Kate Coleman’s marriage to her husband John experiences a tremendous strain, made worse by the fact that Kate is a recovering alcoholic. The couple decides to adopt a nine-year-old Estonian girl named Esther from a local orphanage. Although their five-year-old daughter takes an immediate liking to Esther, their 12-year-old son Daniel suspects something is wrong. And there is definitely something wrong with Esther, as Kate realizes to her horror that Esther is actually a demonic and murderous 33-year-old woman named Leena who has a pituitary disorder that makes her appear to be a small child.
In this stop-motion animated fantasy film, Coraline is a happy and well-adjusted 11-year-old girl who discovers to her delight that a secret door in the family’s new home provides a portal into a parallel fantasy world that seems slightly happier than her own family life. Even her alternate-universe parents, who resemble her parents to a “T,” seem more loving and caring. But Coraline soon realizes to her dismay that this alternate world is anything but happier and more caring than the real world.
Renée Zellweger stars as Emily Jenkins, an Oregon social worker who responds to reports that the parents of a 10-year-old girl named Lillith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland) are trying to kill their child. As people start dropping like flies around Lillith, though, Emily realizes to her horror that Lilllith is a succubus, a demon who feeds on the fears of others and is able to induce deadly hallucinations based on those fears. Emily learns that the only way to kill a succubus is while she’s sleeping—but Lillith rarely sleeps.
A married couple moves into a new house with their two sons and infant daughter—in these movies, it always seems like a bad idea for a married couple to move into a new house with their children. One night, their son Dalton wanders into the attic and gets frightened by some shadowy figure. The next day, he enters what appears to be a comatose state. It is later revealed to the parents’ horror that Dalton is not in a coma—he has entered a purgatorial state known as “The Further,” and his body is being used by various demons as a portal into the world of flesh and blood.
As a baby, Kevin Khatchadourian would cry nonstop, but only around his mother Eva. He also resisted toilet training, spurned all his mother’s attempts to show him love, and showed absolutely no interest in anything but himself. When he starts killing animals, his mother Eva becomes concerned. Then, three days before he turns 16, Kevin locked students in the school gym and began killing them one-by-one with his bow and arrow. Much of the movie features Eva, once a prominent travel writer, looking back at Kevin’s past and wondering why she didn’t see the warning signs earlier.
The plot of the first Sinister involves a true-crime writer named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who chances upon a cache of Super 8 home movies in the attic of his new house. The films he finds depict families being murdered through different methods such as drowning, hanging, throat-slitting, and immolation. Under further investigation, he learns that symbols found in some of the murder footage point to a pagan demon known as Bughuul, or “Mr. Boogie” for short. In the sequel, a new boy named Dylan is visited by the spirits of dead children, who force him to watch their home movies in which they were murdered.
In yet another movie recreation of the real-life work of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren—who also investigated the haunted house in The Amityville Horror—the Warrens are invited to assist the Perron family, whose Rhode Island farmhouse was the subject of several inexplicably creepy events in 1971. Their investigations reveal that the house once belonged to a witch who sacrificed her young daughter to appease demons—which is why it’s especially troubling that the Perrons’ young daughter is being lured by a demon in the wardrobe closet.
Two little girls are rescued after five years of feral survival in the wilderness. Their father, a disgraced stockbroker who lost his fortune in the 2008 stock crash, murdered the mother of the girls—who were then three and one years old—before spiriting them away to a cabin in the woods, where they lived alone for the next five years. After the girls are rescued, they are placed under the care of a psychiatrist, who witnesses them as they keep referring to “Mama,” a strange maternal protector of theirs out in the cabin. One of the girls integrates back into society with ease, while the other seems to prefer remaining wild…
A distraught and beleaguered widow named Amelia lives alone in the Australian city of Adelaide with her six-year-old son Sam. Her little boy becomes obsessed with a pop-up storybook called Mister Babadook, which involves a monster who is a pale-faced humanoid with long claws who wears a top hat. Mister Babadook has a habit of torturing anyone who becomes aware that he exists—and Sam, who is next on his list, begins building weapons to fight the Babadook. Amelia dismisses it all as Sam’s delusions until the Babadook becomes too real to deny.
German language film with subtitles. Two twin boys wonder if their mother has been replaced by a doppelgänger after she returns home from a plastic-surgery operation. But it turns out that there are no twins—there is only Elias, who is dealing with the death of his brother Lukas by imagining that he exists and that his real-life mother is the impostor.
If any young woman is a fan of horror movies, she should realize that it’s never a good idea to take a nanny’s job in a big old house. But the character Greta accepts a job from a couple who treat a porcelain doll they name “Brahms” as if he was their son. Greta grows troubled after a series of inexplicable events such as the sounds of a sobbing child, phone calls that get cut off at crucial moments, and the fact that the doll seems able to move on his own. It turns out that the real Brahms died in a fire 20 years earlier on his birthday but now lives behind the house’s walls and operates the doll by proxy.
Around Christmas, a 17-year-old pretty babysitter named Ashley finds herself sitting a precocious 12-year-old boy named Luke, who makes it obvious that he has romantic designs on her. Then, out of nowhere, an armed and masked intruder breaks into the house and threatens Ashley’s life, only for Luke to heroically “save” her. Growing suspicious, Ashley rips off the intruder’s mask to reveal that it’s only Luke’s friend Garrett, who plotted with him to scare Ashley into falling in love with Luke.
Completely unique on this list (and in the horror universe), Prevenge was written and directed by a pregnant woman, Alice Lowe, who also stars. The “creepy kid” in question is actually her unborn baby who, as those around her sweetly remind the mom-to-be, is the one in control of her body during pregnancy. Prevenge is an enjoyable horror comedy and a must see for any parent.
Samuel Mullins is a dollmaker who, along with his wife Esther, are grieving for the loss of their seven-year-old daughter named Annabelle, who was killed after accidentally stepping in front of a car. Shortly after Annabelle’s death, a creepy porcelain doll is discovered in her closet; the discovery unleashes evil spirits who murder Esther and stalk the other children. One of Annabelle’s sisters adopts Annabelle’s identity and joins a Satanic cult in her late teens.
A family is distraught by the recent death of their 13-year-old daughter Charlie, who was decapitated in a car accident. A woman teaches Charlie’s mother Annie to contact her in a séance. Against their plans, Charlie’s tortured spirit begins to possess Annie’s body.
In August of 2010, police fatally shoot a serial killer during a raid of his Ohio farmhouse. Around the time of the killer’s death, a young married Pennsylvania couple gives birth to a son named Miles, who shows rare degrees of maturity and intelligence for a young boy. Miles begins doing strange things such as pranking his babysitter and attacking a classmate with a wrench. It soon becomes obvious that at the moment of death, the serial killer’s ghost inhabited the body of young Miles.
On Halloween, 1968, three teens who are escaping the predations of a bully find themselves holed up in a local haunted house, where they chance upon a book of stories written by Sarah Bellows, a girl who was thought to have killed herself in the house. After the bully, named Tommy, is inexplicably turned into a scarecrow, the teens realize there may be more to Sarah’s stories than meet the eye. One of the teens, Stella, is transformed back in time to relive the torments that Sarah suffered at her family’s hands that led her to kill herself. With the promise that she will tell Sarah’s true story to the world, Sarah and her creepy friend the “Jangly Man” promise to stop tormenting the three teens.