‘Kid Power, Kid Sour’: Top 10 Misguided Youngsters in Film

Terrorizing tykes. Corruptible kids. Menacing mop-tops. Problematic pubescent. However one might want to use their alliterative labeling when it comes to troubled young people and the trauma they cause (or the trauma that gravitates to them) in the world of cinema it is always fascinating to see the suspense, aggravation and psychological ramifications behind such happenings.

Kid Power, Kid Sour: Top 10 Misguided Youngsters in Film looks to examine some of the young people involved in such disturbing dilemmas within various facets in cinema.  So let us check out a selection of these impressionable violators (in some cases victims) and contemplate their predicaments at hand, shall we?

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1.) Rhonda Penmark from The Bad Seed (1956)

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In playing the little pig-tailed sociopath Rhonda Penmark in Mervyn LeRoy’s Oscar-nominated film The Bad Seed, child actress Patty McCormack received an Academy Award nomination as the kid killer without a conscious. Spoiled and devious to a fault, Rhonda  was indeed a mystery to her mother Christine in terms of her daughter’s erratic and impulsive behavior. All the tragic incidents add up gradually in Christine’s mind that she reluctantly connects to her little darling devil–the drowning death of Rhonda’s classmate, the butchered pet dog that was generously given to a bored Rhonda and the doomed elderly babysitting dying while watching her demented daughter. Not everybody is fooled by Rhonda’s “peaches and cream” routine as cranky maintenance man Leroy Jessup has her pegged as a terrorizing tart from the start. Rhonda gets rid of her nagging “problem” and burns the sleeping Jessup to death. Christine, finally realizing what a “bad seed” Rhonda is at heart blames herself for her child’s demonic DNA (it is revealed that the adopted Christine’s biological mother had serial killing tendencies). The Bad Seed’s Rhonda Penmark will go down in history as one of cinema’s most deceptive baby-faced beasts.

2.) The Florida-based teenager killers from Bully (2001)

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Teenage angst and rebellion seems to know no boundaries when it comes to the colossal consequences of sex, drugs, boredom, alienation and yes…murder. Interestingly, the common belief is that kids from bad homes and poor environments are the ones to routinely engage in their self-destructive vices. Well, director Larry Clark’s Bully shoots down that notion. You see, the Floridian bunch in Bully have it made–they’re all attractive, live in nice big homes, have fancy cars…no problem. Still, that does not necessarily mean they cannot be aimless or reckless despite their lap of luxury in scenic Florida, right?

A group of close friends in couple Marty and Lisa (Brad Renfro and Rachel Miner) along with hangers-on Ali and Donny (Bijou Phillips and Michael Pitt) and Lisa’s oafish cousin all hang out and engage in the the casual behavior of promiscuity, cruising along in the rides and getting high. Surfer Marty strikes up a friendship with one Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl). As time passes by Marty brings Bobby into the fold of his crew and even hooks him up on a tryst with the sexually willing Ali. But Bobby proves to be rather abrasive, crude, bossy and dismissive. Plus, he has the knack for controlling a passive-minded Marty. Lisa is not too thrilled with Bobby’s pushiness and hostility especially the way he walks over her boyfriend in the sheepish Marty. When the brutish Bobby forces himself  on Ali and rapes her all bets are off…Bobby must be eliminated as he is causing havoc to their group.

With the aid of a so-called “hitman” the kids decide to lure Bobby out into a dark swampy area where they stab and butcher him to death. The pain-in-the-neck Bobby Kent is dead but the panic, fear, paranoia and worries of getting caught for claiming a life is very much alive. Bully is amazingly startling, weirdly comical and alarmingly caustic because it is another reminder how wasteful and worrisome the plight of our young people are heading towards as they continue to nurse the deadly seeds of malaise and mistrust.

3.) Carrie White from Carrie (1976)

th (2)If Steven King’s literary and Brian DePalma’s cinematic telekinetic teen Carrie White was misguided and menacing then it was by virtue of the fact that the cruel world surrounding this inhibited young woman drove her to the brink of insanity. Poor Carrie…she just could not get an even break at home or in her horrific existence at high school. Domestically, Carrie has to tangle with an overbearing and fanatical religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) that was so unstable that she had not properly prepared her daughter for the basic things she is clueless about as she enters womanhood. This lack of preparation and guidance instantly sets up Carrie as a targeted outcast with the majority of her calculating classmates.

In particular, self-appointed tormentor Chris Hargensen decides to push the timid and ostracized Carrie over the edge with a humiliating prank at the school prom that would ultimately turn the meek and maligned 17-year old harassed punchline into a one-woman wrecking ball when her powers are unleashed in absolute fury. So who is laughing now, huh?

Rightfully so, Sissy Spacek received an Oscar nomination for portraying an abused and used gifted “freak”…the perfect prototype for the alienated and voiceless pawns in society that are impaired but empowered when given the opportunity. Carrie was a character study of fear and frustration and continued to fuel our desire for more of King’s eerie imagination.

4.) The Gaitlin children from Children of the Corn (1984)

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Children of the Corn is the chilling product of famed horror writer Stephen King whose skillful piece of literary lunacy turned into a supernatural horror film directed by Fritz Kiersch. Hypnotic, haunting, and hallucinating Children of the Corn told the treacherous tale of Gaitlin, Nebraska’s possessed kiddie community and its endless rows colorful yet creepy cornfields that figure into the murderous manipulation of the Midwestern town’s youngsters.

As the backstory unfolds we are informed of a sinister force known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” that encourages the children to eradicate all the adults in Gaitlin for the sake of a prosperous corn harvest. Stars Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton play a loving couple that stumbles upon one of the cultish kids in the aftermath of a sacred ritual.

The whole frightening scenario involving slaughtering youngsters, paganistic practices, cornfield creepiness, wickedness and worshiping–it is all very bizarre and bombastic. Children of the Corn and its band of blood-thirsty brooding rug rats need to experience some hardcore discipline. The problem is are you the brave adult to take these mini corn killers over your knee to spank them?

5.) Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist

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Talking about one trying to exorcise one’s demons! William Peter Blatty’s horrifying novel comes to life in the penetrating and pulsating The Exorcist which made the then unknown child performer Linda Blair a household name with her petrifying portrayal of 12-year old Regan, a teenage girl possessed by some savage spirit.

It would take concerned mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) to reach out to a couple of priests in Father Merrin and Father Karris (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) to save her precious Regan from the satanic entity that is embedded in her battered, bloody body.  And the process in trying to purify the scarred-faced shell that is the vacant Regan in her frazzled nightgown is beyond tense and scary. From throwing up rivers of pea soup on the priests to levitating several feet in the air from her bed to displaying bulging blank eyeballs Regan was a hedonistic hot mess.

Blair would earn an Oscar nomination for her unsettling, nightmarish performance that would elevate her juvenile scream queen as one of the cinema’s most memorable on-screen devil-bearing hostesses. Blair’s Regan (and the entire movie for that matter) has been parodied and copied countless times over. The iconic Regan MacNeil is indeed the reigning she-devil of 70’s shock cinema.

6.) Henry Evans from The Good Son (1993)

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Henry Evans (Macauley Culkin) was indeed a perverse piece of work. He was an X-rated 90’s version of Dennis the Menace with the deceiving yet angelic face of The Bad Seed’s Rhonda Penwick. Henry was the little disturbed dude that embraced his deviant deeds without losing any noticeable sleep. A true psychopath-in-the-making.

Henry lives in Maine with his parents (David Hugh-Kelly and Wendy Crewson) and little sister Connie (Quin Kay Culkin). However, he receives word that his cousin Mark (Elijah Wood) is coming to live with the family after the passing of his mother. So Henry and Mark–both the same age–get along fabulously at first. Suddenly, Henry starts to show signs of psychotic behavior and risk-taking curiosity for which Mark takes notice. The preoccupation with death seems to intrigue the unfazed Henry. Finally Mark realizes that his crazy cousin is a danger to him and the others at the house.

Mark is powerless to try and convince his aunt Susan that her son Henry is whacked in the head and is capable of doing the unimaginable.  However, Henry finds it amusing that no one will believe Mark’s warnings. But if Mark steps out of line too much then Henry will just have to respond with harming his family. Among Henry’s threats include possibly killing his own sister Connie or poisoning the entire family. Mark is stuck because Henry holds all the corrosive cards in his favor. To say that Henry Evans was a sick puppy would be putting it mildly.

7.) Dolores “Lolita” Haze from Lolita (1962)

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Vladimir Nobokov’s novel Lolita sparked considerable controversy when it was published courtesy of its provocative theme that told the sensational story of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a strikingly pretty teenage girl. Of course when the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1962 movie arrived based upon Nobokov’s titillating accounts of taboo-inspired attraction this caused some major concern. It was the early 1960’s after all. Still, Kubrick’s big screen presentation–still weary in the eyes of some observers in how the content was going to be handled–proved to be quite a unique character study in desire and devotion.

British Humbert Humbert (James Mason), a professor of French Literature, arrives on the scene in pursuit of a teaching position. Divorced and looking fora new start in town, Humbert reluctantly marries his landlady Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters) who has swooned over the dashing educator from the time he stepped foot in her home. But there is a catch to Humbert hitching up with the widowed Charlotte–it is his excuse to be near her 14-year old nymphet daughter Lolita (Sue Lyon). Humbert is enamored by the young curvaceous cutie and takes every available opportunity to spend time with the flirty Lolita while trying to hide his on-going attraction from her mother Charlotte…as the rest of the world for that matter.

Lolita, in both the book and movie, tread a fine line between exploitation and psycho-sexual infatuation. Sue Lyon, a 15-year old at the time of filming, filled the toned-down tawdry shoes of Kubrick’s provocative pixie with puppy dog-style sexuality. Somewhat disturbing and daring, Lyons’s Lolita remains a cautionary tale of misguided inappropriateness and forbidden affection.

8.) The unborn Woodhouse baby from Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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Maybe it is kind of a stretch to include the unborn Woodhouse baby as a possible misguided tyke but given the dire circumstances surrounding this kid’s jeopardized mother only time will tell, right? The unborn baby’s parents Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) move into a New York City apartment building where she suffers from a painful pregnancy and he is licking his wounds as a struggling actor looking for steady work.

Rosemary does not feel particularly comfortable with the strange mature neighbors that engage in occult-style worshiping. These eccentric elderly satanists are intrusive and manipulating in subtle ways. Rosemary feels that Guy’s desperation to jump start his acting career is tangled up in his involvement with these sinister seniors. Could Guy be making some ritualistic pact with these folks where he is willing to sell his soul (and sacrifice his unborn baby as well) to these dastardly oldsters for future success? Rosemary is paranoid and panicky for her child’s arrival into the hands of these aged snake-charmers. The road ahead looks dim for Rosemary and her baby. Indeed it does.

9.) Tracy Freeland from Thirteen (2003)

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If there was any doubt about the effects of peer pressure and fitting in then Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen fits the bill entirely. The story tell the account of a mother-daughter breakdown concerning Melanie and Tracy Freeland (Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood). Melanie, a recovering alcoholic who works a low-wage job is forced to witness her one-time well-adjusted kid Tracy spiral out of control after she meets and starts hanging out with a popular bad girl in school named Evie Zambora (Nikki Reed).

Tracy, only 13-years old, is gradually sucked into the so-called good times that is not befitting for an underage girl. Clearly, Evie is not the best influence for Tracy but hey…Evie “rescued” her from an uneventful and colorless existence. The inhibited Tracy now can drown her sorrows and untapped anxieties into the exciting world of drugs, sex and illegal activities. The recklessness is liberating and exhilarating for the once reserved and sad Tracy. Both girls can run away from hurt feelings and escape through the numbness of their dangerous encounters with destructive behavior.

Wood received an Academy Award nomination for her shocking and upsetting portrayal of a toxic little girl lost. Thirteen is not always easy to look at and digest but it should be a reference manual to parents and impressionable offspring from all walks of life.

10.) Dawn Weiner from Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996)

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Hands down filmmaker Todd Solondz’s mid-90’s coming-of-age indie comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse was one of the most harrowing, heart-breaking and intensely off-kilter growing pains vehicles to endure with impacting wit and wonderment. Smartly written and sharply observational, Dollhouse’s geeky gal Dawn Weiner became an instant sympathetic klutzy cupcake submerged in a sea of continual discomfort, detachment and denial.

New Jersey-based Dawn Weiner is a 12-year old dorky girl who pretty much is an invisible entity to her family and a targeted outsider to the kids at school that methodically ridicule her to no end. She is not pretty and graceful and her only retreat for some semblance of acceptance is inside her backyard clubhouse where she and her only friend in the equally teased Ralphie commiserate.

Whether getting harassed and blamed on by her spoiled younger sister Missy or being told by a schoolmate bully that he wants to rape her nonchalantly, Dawn’s revolving turmoil and the quirky run-ins with frustrating situations and broken people that contribute to her constant humiliation makes Welcome to the Dollhouse an outlandish gem delving into the realm of prepubescent purgatory.

–Frank Ochieng

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