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Movies about Evil Children

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at movies about evil children. Here is a look at some of the films discussed on the show as well as a few additional titles:

The Bad Seed (1956)
One of the earliest and best evil child movies was 1956’s The Bad Seed. In this film a housewife begins to suspect that her apparently angelic eight-year old daughter might be a murderous psychopath. The Bad Seed was adapted from the stage play by Maxwell Anderson and was significantly changed for the silver screen. The ending of the play was a shocker but the Production Code Administration wouldn’t allow it. The solution that the moviemakers settled on was rather stupid and an unfortunate misstep in what is otherwise a great movie.

Village of the Damned (1960)/Children of the Damned (1964)
Village of the Damned takes place in a small English town were all the women mysteriously become pregnant and give birth to blond haired children with psychic powers. Released in 1960, the film reflected fears of communism. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1964 and was actually better than the original. A remake of Village of the Damned, directed by John Carpenter, was released in 1995.

Lord of the Flies (1963/1990)
William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies tells the story of schoolboys who are stranded on a deserted island and gradually turn savage. The book has been adapted twice. The first instance was released in 1963. Directed by Peter Brook, this version of Lord of the Flies was filmed in black and white and shot in a cinema verite style. It’s a rough film with some technical flaws but it also has some startling images. The second version of Lord of the Flies came in 1990 and was directed by Harry Hook. This version was in color, more polished, and generally featured better acting, although the slicker look diminishes the impact.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
1968’s Rosemary’s Baby was the initial title in a wave of satanic themed movies, many of which dealt with evil or possessed children. Directed by Roman Polanski and based on the book by Ira Levin (who also wrote The Stepford Wives), Rosemary’s Baby is a paranoia story of a young woman who suspects her apartment building is home to a satanic cult that plans to sacrifice her unborn child. The climax of the movie has a shocking reversal that is one of the best twist endings in horror movie history.

The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is the story of a Catholic priest struggling with a crisis of faith who is called upon to save a little girl possessed by the devil. In 1973 the movie was one of the most grotesque mainstream horror films ever made but it is all the more horrifying because it involves a child. In Mark Kermode’s excellent monograph on The Exorcist, he writes that the film captured the essence of the cultural shocks that American culture experienced in the late 1960s and early 70s—especially the generational conflict—and distilled it into the exorcism ritual.

The Omen (1976)
The Omen is the story of a political couple who adopt a boy after losing their own baby during childbirth. Strange phenomena begin to occur around the child leading the father to suspect that his son might be the Antichrist described in the biblical Book of Revelation.  The Omen inspired three sequels, a remake, and a short-lived television series. The music of the first three Omen films was provided by Jerry Goldsmith and the original film features one of his most memorable scores.

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
Who Can Kill a Child? is a Spanish film about a married couple who travel to an island and discover that the children have murdered all of the adults. Children of the Corn is remarkably similar to this film. Who Can Kill a Child? was remade as Come Out and Play in 2013.

Children of the Corn (1984)
Stephen King has used evil children in several of his stories. 1984’s Children of Corn was based on one of King’s short works. In this film, a young couple on a road trip arrives in a small Nebraska town and finds that the children have given themselves over to a cult and murdered all of the adults. Eight sequels have followed with a ninth anticipated for release in 2017. A made for television remake of Children of the Corn aired on SyFy in 2009.

Firestarter (1984)
Also adapted from the work of Stephen King and released the same year as Children of the Corn, 1984’s Firestarter tells the story of a young girl (Drew Barrymore) who has pyrotechnic powers. She’s not technically an evil character but when the government tries to control the little girl and threatens her parents she lashes out. Firestarter is an interesting precursor to some of today’s superhero movies like Chronicle and the X-Men series.

The Good Son (1993)
With the success of 1990’s Home Alone, child actor Macaulay Culkin became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Three years later he radically veered from his family friendly image by playing a psychotic twelve-year-old in The Good Son. The movie was somewhat controversial at the time. Some feared that children would want to see the R-rated film because of Culkin’s role in the Home Alone films and The Good Son was criticized for portraying children as violent and evil. Roger Ebert called the movie “a creepy, unpleasant experience” and gave it one-half a star. Nevertheless, The Good Son was a moderate success at the box office.

The Ring (2002)
One of the popular trends in American movies of the last decade was remakes of Asian horror titles. The fad was kicked off by the success of 2002’s The Ring. A remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, the movie concerns a journalist (Naomi Watts) inquiring into mysterious deaths that are tied to an urban legend. Her investigation reveals that the ghost of a murderous little girl is embedded within copies of a VHS tape and she kills anyone who watches it.

Hard Candy (2006)
A year before she appeared in Juno, actress Ellen Page captured the attention of critics and moviegoers in David Slade’s 2006 thriller Hard Candy. She plays a young woman who rendezvous with an older man, played by Patrick Wilson, who may or may not be a pedophile. But the girl turns the tables on the might-be-predator and what follows is a harrowing and morally complex battle of wills that questions our assumptions about revenge and justice.

Let the Right One In (2008)
Let the Right One In is a Swedish film about a young boy who befriends a centuries-old vampire who inhabits the body of a pre-teen girl. The movie is quite different from other vampire movies and it is a complex story in which the friendship and bonding between young people takes a dark and murderous turn. Let The Right One In was one of the most critically acclaimed horror pictures of the 2000s and it was remade for the American film market in 2010 with the shortened title Let Me In.

Orphan (2009)
In the movie Orphan, Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga play a married couple who adopt a nine-year old Russian girl only to have their lives upended when tragic and mysterious things start to happen to their family. The picture has some bold choices and a few terrific plot twists. Isabelle Fuhrman is very frightening in the title role. At the time of its release, Orphan caused some controversy as adoption organizations complained about the movie.

The Boy (2015)
Not to be confused with the 2016 film about an evil doll, The Boy is about a nine-year-old who lives with his father in a rundown motel. The isolation and the boy’s declining home life send him down an increasingly violent path. This film is smart and disturbing in its portrayal of burgeoning psychopathy.