Sure, children are our future. But what if they turn out to be our demise? Whether kids are compelled to murder through the extremity of a situation or because they are seemingly rotten to the core, the idea that precious innocence can be twisted into something hideously unrecognizable continues to be a terrifying trope of the horror genre. Here is a list of movies where creepy little hands commit unspeakable deeds.
Written by John Lee Mahin, Maxwell Anderson, and William March
Written by Mervyn LeRoy
The Bad Seed’s Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is a pig-tailed little girl who threatens, hurts, and murders anyone who hinders her from getting every whim. Although the film skirts around this truth for too long, it is clear from the beginning that she is the culprit of any pain being inflicted. The movie contains lengthy intervals where almost nothing happens, but is interspersed with such flourishes of campy mugging that it stands as an invaluable if ridiculous footnote to horror history. Rhoda is a vindictive and vicious child whose fake smiles are as frustrating to endure as her egomaniacal tantrums are priceless to briefly behold . While impeded by an overly detailed account of why Rhoda is prone to kill, the climax contains a sudden and magnificently fulfilling scene of cosmic karma. Rhoda ranks alongside Ann Blyth’s appalling Veda of Mildred Pierce as one the most memorably entitled brats.
4. The Good Son
Written by Ian McEwan
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Like Rhonda in The Bad Seed, Henry (Macaulay Culkin) of The Good Son effortlessly manipulates to get what he wants and operates under the assumption that no one will suspect him of anything. Beneath his calmly smirking exterior lies a deep resentment of anyone who takes the spotlight off of him or steals away the attention of his mother. When a lonely, bereaved cousin (a tiny Elijah Wood) comes to stay with his family, Henry engages him in dangerous games that quickly escalate out of control. Made just after the Home Alone movies and My Girl, The Good Son plays with Culkin’s mischievous charms to great effect. The score by Elmer Bernstein sways awkwardly between the light, joyous tinkling of notes while the boys become friends and ominous overtures whenever we get a hint that Henry may be a monster. The movie is far too simplistic when explaining of his motives and the dire choice his mother faces at the end, but it’s a cheesy ride that is just the right amount of unsettling. Culkin’s sinister threats and devious, beady-eyed looks are more than enough to recommend a watch.
3. It’s Alive
Written and directed by Larry Cohen
A bloodthirsty mini-mutant is inadvertently brought into existence by an ordinary woman who has taken an experimental medication in this frightfully under-seen cult movie. The baby kills with such frenzied gusto that it elicits laughs, but the action still retains an eerie air. This film is fittingly compassionate for the little murdering machine who is just afraid and trying to survive a world not built to accommodate him. Blood and milk combine into a disgusting waterfall of pink in a wonderfully silly scene where the infant kills a milkman in his truck. The baby acts instinctively, so the victimization of everyone feels unavoidable. The inevitable conclusion thankfully gives the viewer a thoughtful and sorrowful pause instead of resorting to a last minute jump scare.
Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Director David Cronenberg gives us The Brood, a raw look into how anger can take on a life of its own. While Nola (Samantha Eggar) is living with her psychiatrist (Oliver Reed) on a cult-like compound, she undergoes his therapy called “Psychoplasmics,” which promises to rid her of inner pain through an innovative form of hypnosis. The story concentrates on her estranged husband, who is desperately trying to make sense of separating from his wife and holding onto the custody of his young daughter. His character is underwritten but serves the plot well as the investigative force of the movie. The film picks up steam when people from Nola’s life start getting offed by bizarre children who appear to be in tune with the depressed mother’s rageful fits during hypnosis. The nearly silent appearances of the lowly grunting, blond, and bundled-up for winter weather children create an awful sense of dread that’s further built up by Nola’s unconscious animosity. This enormous uneasiness paired with pockets of furious violence by the children make the film engagingly satisfying as it hurtles toward a deliriously off-the-wall finale. Mysterious, startling, and grotesque, The Brood is one of Cronenberg’s best that demonstrates his prowess for visualizing some of the finest disquieting sequences in cinema.
1. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Written by Laird Koenig
Directed by Nicolas Gessner
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a striking story of empowerment through intellect and wit that is somewhat tempered by the necessity of murder. Jodie Foster plays Rynn, a resourceful and brilliant young girl who is curiously living on her own as the story begins. With no sign of her mother or father, Rynn’s landlady and her smug pedophile of a son (Martin Sheen) snoop about her house trying to pry what they want from her. Rynn only wishes to peacefully live alone, but a harrowing power play between old and young commences that can’t be stopped. Like many of her early roles, Foster’s performance is remarkably sophisticated and nuanced as she dances around the subject of her missing parents while trying to dodge the nefarious Sheen. That Rynn is in danger is never in doubt. She must summon all of her acumens to stop others from taking advantage of her and taking away her autonomy. Adults dismiss Rynn’s abilities because of her age, but this film undoubtedly respects that she would be her best caretaker and is owed privacy from a society that does not understand her. This film pulses with vulnerability but pulls you in with the strength that Rynn musters as she faces growing up and overwhelming responsibility. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane takes controversial twists and pays off with intensely heated confrontations that keep one hooked till the very end.
— Lane Scarberry