Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Evil Children

What is it about evil children in movies and television? Done right, they can be so chilling.
The first episode of The Walking Dead begins with a flash forward. The first live zombie we see is a little girl. From the back you can see that she was a beautiful girl, long and lean with long blonde hair. You can see the softness on the main character's face, as he calls to her, "Little girl?" He wants her to be okay, but, even before she turns around he (and we in the audience) know that she won't be.  Sure enough, when she turns, she is revealed as a zombie and Rick has to shoot her. Heartbreaking. There are others in the series, too. Carol's daughter, Sophia, and the Governor's daughter, Penny.

Hmmmm. . .just noticed they are all girls, too, all somewhere between eight and twelve years old. That probably means something, too.

It's not just zombie children that are creepy though. Think about The Bad Seed's Rhoda Penmark played by Patty McCormack in the 1956 movie. She's so cold, dispassionately admitting to the violence she has wreaked on others. McCauley Culkin played the boy version in The Good Son.

Or possessed kids like Regan in The Exorcist or Carole Ann in Poltergeist.

Or ghost children like the Grady twins in The Shining or Samara from The Ring.

Or vampire children like Claudia in Interview with The Vampire or Eli in Let the Right One In.

I think what makes them all so effective is that they so not-child-like. Children are full of life and movement. Sure, they can be mean, but they are not cold or calculating. They are not still. Not unless something is very very wrong. There's something visceral and soul-chilling about the evil child that no number of evil adults can match.

Maybe it speaks to the fears in us all about children--about failing them, all the bad things that can come about if adults don't protect the young the way they should.

I can't define it well, but it gets me every time. (Shiver).

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