Rule number one of the horror film universe is to never, and I mean NEVER, let your child have an imaginary friend. Chances are they’re talking to Satan or the dead taxidermist serial killer that’s haunting the house.
As soon as there’s a little kid in a scary movie, you know something paranormal is about to go down. Some of the most famous horror films include a creepy little kid: Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Child’s Play, The Sixth Sense, Village of The Damned, The Shining, The Omen, The Ring, and the list goes on. If a kid is fixated on a certain spot in the house? There’s a ghost there. If they find a doll or some kind of toy in the house? It’s possessed. If they have any imaginary friend? Get a priest ASAP. If they’re comfortable with sitting in the dark alone? Demon baby, be afraid.
Deny it if you will, but I think we might be a little bit scared of children. Or perhaps we like the chilling contrast of the idea of an innocent child actually hatching a plot of evil. It makes me wonder whether we enjoy ideas of innocence tainted.
Little kids are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. They have insights that are not over-complicated by adult-like anxieties and greediness. Kids are the people who can sometimes point out what should be obvious to us, and in a way it can be unsettling. If we’re the grown-ups, the wiser more intelligent ones, how come kids, in some ways, seem to have the answers to the simplest of questions that constantly elude us?
I think that’s why there’s an element of fear involved. It’s frightening to see a child know things that we don’t know. And that juxtaposition of the small bright-eyed, chubby-cheeked child actually being the Antichrist is a sure way to scare people. Why else would we, time and again, incorporate children into horror?
As I’ve mentioned in previous Oh, The Horror posts, the viewing of horror films has an element of sadism. And part of that sadism is to see the perfect wholesome image of a child tarnished by influences of pure evil via ghosts and demons. It’s such a contrast to the carefree, giggling innocence of actual children that we can’t help but secretly enjoy it, as strange and awful as that sounds. Horror is all about seeing good things go bad, so seeing a toddler follow the commands of a possessed doll is probably the ultimate embodiment of that concept.
Both the very young and very old, the latter of whim I talked about in last week’s Oh, The Horror, are a source of fascination in horror. We are drawn in by the extreme ends of age and twisting the norms of it. The truth is, adults are way more of a danger to children than children are to adults. Yet in horror, that idea is completely turned on its head, the adults are the victimized ones and the children are abusive. Perhaps that’s what makes a movie like Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs so refreshing, because the antagonists are the strict, mean parents, and the hero is a young boy.
Horror for young kids, such as books like Goosebumps, will often show the other side of it just like The People Under the Stairs. The parents will not believe the cries of the child that there’s a monster in the closet, and it’s up to kids to take matters into their own hands. For young people reading and viewing horror, these are positive ideas. Often, adults fail young children. The kid always points out there’s a ghost, a presence, something rattling under the bed and are ignored until it’s too late. Suddenly you have the forces of the underworld taking over your house and chainsaws buzzing outside your window. All in all, the creepy kid trope has both its downfalls and benefits; it’s an interesting contrast that is very reliable for scares, but also worth experimenting with and changing up since it’s been so overused.
Next week I look at The Purge franchise, and the ways in which its message has been twisted.