13 Scariest Children In Horror Movies, Ranked
Vampires, zombies, ghosts, and masked psychos are all terrifying staples of horror, but there's something familiar and almost comforting about these old-fashioned villains. And there's one scary protagonist that remains consistently terrifying, and that's children. The innocence of children, and the fact that adults are supposed to protect them, rather than run away screaming, has ensured a wide variety of creepy kids over the years.
Of course, horror movie kids can be scary for a variety of reasons. Some are just plain evil and are driven to carry out terrible and murderous acts. What marks these children out is that they are often working insidiously within the family unit, using the fact that no one would believe that their angelic offspring could in fact be a deranged psychopath.
There are also those children under the control of some malevolent force. The Exorcist's Regan is the most famous example of this, but there are other plenty of others too, innocent kids who are possessed by a demon, ghost, or evil spirit. These children often evoke audience sympathy as much as fear and skilled horror directors know how to manipulate the emotions of their audience for maximum effect.
The third distinctive group of scary kid are ghosts. Japanese horror in the '90s and '00s in particular featured ghost children prominently, often with tragic backstories that caused them to die tragically young. But in all cases, there's no doubt that the creepy kid is a popular trope that filmmakers will return to again and again. So with Halloween upon us, here's our look at the scariest children in horror....
13. Marco (Shock)
The 1980 Italian chiller Shock was the final release from Mario Bava, the godfather of Spaghetti horror. It's a creepy tale of madness and possession, in which the spirit of a dead man has enters the body of his young son Marco; when his widow starts living with a new man, the possessed Marco sets about trying to stop the relationship. There is something deeply weird about Marco from the very start--aided by the typically stilted dubbing in the international versions of this movie--and it's easy to see why actor David Colin Jr's two-film filmography was spent playing possessed kids.
12. Tomas (The Orphanage)
The sack-headed ghost boy in J.A. Bayona's outstanding chiller The Orphanage comes with a terrible past--deformed at birth and tormented by other kids in the orphanage he grew up in, he drowned and now haunts the building many years later. Tomas is a tragic victim and doesn't mean scare to anyone, but it doesn't stop him from taking part in some really terrifying sequences.
11. Henry (The Good Son)
Although we're used to seeing adult actors play against type, it's rare for a child star to do the same thing. But in 1993, the most famous young actor in Hollywood--Home Alone's Macaulay Culkin--took on the role of Henry Evans, the psychopathic cousin of pre-Hobbit Elijah Wood. At the time, Culkin's casting came in for criticism, as his close association with Home Alone and Uncle Buck made the movie seem more comedic than scary. But viewed many years later, it's an impressively creepy performance that works because Culkin looks so angelic as he's pushing people off cliffs and causing car pile-ups.
10. Esther (Orphan)
This one is a slight cheat because, as anyone who has seen this ridiculous movie knows, Esther is not in fact a child. Orphan's insane twist reveals that the the evil killer kid we've been watching for two hours is in fact a psychopathic 33-year-old former sex worker born with a rare hormonal disorder that gives her the appearance of a nine-year-old girl. Nevertheless, Esther is so weird and creepy that we have to include her.
9. Michael (Halloween)
The creepy kid with the least amount of screentime on this list, young Michael Myers nevertheless casts a small but scary shadow across the horror genre. The opening sequence of John Carpenter's classic Halloween opens from the POV of eight-year-old Michael, as he creeps around his house and ends up butchering his sister with a knife. There's only one actual shot of Michael, as he stands outside his house in his Halloween costume and still holding the weapon, but the dead look in eyes tells us everything we need to know about this force of evil.
8. Rhoda (The Bad Seed)
Released in 1956, The Bad Seed is the earliest movie on this list, but it's still one of the most effective slices of creepy kid chills ever made. 11-year-old Patty McCormack was Oscar-nominated for her role as the evil pigtailed Rhoda Penmark, a psychopathic girl who tap-dances her way through a series of chilling murders. McCormack's unnerving skill in the role came from having previously played it hundreds of times on Broadway in the stage adaptation of the same source novel. The movie's ending might have been softened (in the play and the book, Rhoda gets away with her crimes), but it was still a deeply shocking experience for audiences to see small girl behaving this way in 1956.
7. Toshio (Ju-On/The Grudge)
Scary children are a big part of Japanese horror, and Toshio from the Grudge (aka Ju-On) series is one of the most notable. Toshio Saeki is the one of the ghostly "enactors" of the franchise's central curse--basically if you see this freaky, dead-eyed boy then there's a good chance a violent death awaits. A variety of actors have played Toshio, but throughout the series, the filmmakers have chosen the most innocent-looking actors possible, making Toshio's purpose all the more terrifying.
6. Isaac (Children of the Corn)
This adaptation of the Stephen King story doesn't feature just one scary child, but a whole town of 'em. The kids of the Nebraska community of Gatlin kill all the adults and worship the mysterious corn-loving demon known as He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Their leader is young Isaac Chroner, through whom the demon speaks. He's a chillingly authoritative figure who dresses like a 19th century preacher and uses his weirdly intense charisma to command his young flock to commit terrible acts.
5. Mercy and Jonas (The Witch)
The creepiest movie twins since the Grady sisters in The Shining, Mercy and Jonas are two of the five children being raised in the harsh world of 19th century New England in Robert Eggar's breakout hit The Witch. This pair start the movie's cascade of madness and horror by declaring that their older sister Thomasin is a witch, and then form a weird attachment to Black Philiip, the film's possibly demonic goat. It's actually a relief when this shrill, unpleasant pair are taken from their family, presumably snatched by the evil coven that lurks in the woods.
4. Sadako/Samara (Ringu/The Ring
The moment that cemented the ghostly Sadako in her place as the scariest child in J-Horror was when she emerged from the TV in the original Japanese movie Ringu. She was renamed Samara in the Hollywood remake The Ring, but in either movie, this long-haired, floor-crawling girl, who brings death to anyone who watches the movie's videotape, is one of the scariest characters in modern horror.
3. Grady Twins (The Shining)
Who'd have thought simply standing still could be so damn scary? The Grady Twins are the ghostly apparition of two girls who were hacked to death decades earlier in the The Shining's Overlook Hotel. Only gifted Danny Torrance can see them, and the sight of them standing motionless at the end of the Overlook's long, ominous corridors provided some of the movie's most unnerving moments. "Hello Danny. Come and play with us. Forever, and ever, and ever," they intone as director Stanley Kubrick intercuts images of their mutilated bodies.
2. Regan (The Exorcist)
There had been scary children before 1973, but no one had ever seen one quite like Regan O'Neill in The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin's adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel was a box office phenomenon, and at the center was the Linda Blair's portrayal of a demonically possessed 12-year-old girl. Regan's head-spinning, vomit spewing, foul-mouthed, crucifix-desecrating behaviour is so over-the-top it could have become laughable, but the combination of Blatty's writing, Friedkin's masterful direction, and Blair's committed performance ensured that a new standard was set for scary kids in horror. Special mention too for Mercedes McCambridge, the unsung hero of The Exorcist, who provided the unforgettable voice of the demon.
1. Damien (The Omen)
While Regan is undoubtedly terrifying, the fact that she is possessed by a demon means that she can't be blamed for her terrible acts. The same can't be said for The Omen's Damien Thorne. Perhaps the best known scary kid in horror, Damien is the son of Satan, who was born from a jackal on the sixth day of June at 6am, and ends up being adopted by wealthy ambassador Robert Thorne. What makes Damien so scary is not so much what he does, it's the effect he has on those who get too close to discovering the truth about him. This leads to some of the most iconic horror set-pieces of the '70s, from the priest who is impaled on a falling lightning rod to the legendary slow-motion decapitation by a pane of glass.