Horror Movie Children: A Guide to the Top 10 Killer Kids
When I’ve written guides here before, I’ve often explicitly said that I’m excluding children’s entertainment. In the future, I may tackle that sort of thing, especially since my nieces are getting older. I’ll do a guide to scary shows for kids or something. But until then, kids are figuring in this newest guide in a different way. This is a guide to horror movie children. By that, by the way, I mean kids who kill. If I simply listed kids in horror movies, then we’d be here until the heat death of the universe. So to avoid that, let’s just stick to the top 10 killer kids.
Please note: Although I try to avoid spoilers, the inclusion of one (or more) of these movies might be a spoiler in itself. I don’t think it ruins the experience of the movies, but if you think it will, then maybe read about 21st century horror anthologies, instead? In addition, my main criteria for this list was one, that the kids kill. And also, that they are human, either in presentation or in origin. I’m less concerned with being particular with genre; if kids are killing, then I think it’s a horror.
One Singular Sensation: The Solo Horror Movie Children
The Good Son, image via 20th Century Studios
Horror movie children are generally like horror movie animals to me–scarier in a group. Still, there’s no denying the unnerving effect of the lone killer. Just see, uh, basically any horror movie about an adult murderer. Regarding adults, concepts like mob mentality make it easy at first to rationalize the behavior of a group.
And when we’re talking about a grown-up killer, there’s often some (admittedly thin) reason behind their spree. The idea of a child, though, who’s already homicidal is more disconcerting. Like, you just got here–what are you so stabby about?
Many real-life serial killers experienced early violence and other factors that may have later contributed to their adult crimes. Traumatic head injuries are often a vital ingredient, for instance. But the horror movie children we’re going to discuss are the outliers. They don’t have the kind of childhood trauma that adult killers usually have. That’s because they are the childhood trauma. Now, here’s the first half of the top 10 killer kids.
1. The Bad Seed
There’s no possible way to make a list of the top 10 killer kids in horror without mentioning the ne plus ultra. This movie, adapted from a hit book by William March, is the blueprint, after all, for the killer kid. It’s so influential, in fact, that the title itself became shorthand for the phenomenon.
Among many other advancements, the 20th century saw the birth of the teenager. Yes, obviously, people had been teenage before. However, the notion of the teenage years as a distinct bridge between child and adult was thoroughly modern. And with the invention of the teenager came the recognition of juvenile delinquency.
What causes our youth to run wild? Is it nature or nurture? (It was probably that newfangled rock and/or roll music, plus those hideous picture books.) This debate (over nature v. nurture, not suspicious bachelor Bruce Wayne) is at the heart of this movie. As in, which one made little Rhoda, the titular Bad Seed? The movie certainly has its preferences, which you can debate. But for our purposes here, it’s just wicked fun to watch her be wicked.
The Bad Seed is available for rental through a variety of platforms, including Apple TV, Vudu, and YouTube.
2. The Good Son
If we talk about The Bad Seed, then it must follow that we also talk about The Good Son, the former’s closest descendant. Incidentally, while the former’s star, Patty McCormack, is still a successful working actress, by no measure was or is she as much of a household name as The Good Son‘s child star, Macaulay Culkin. His sweetest role was probably as My Girl‘s doomed Thomas J (who CAN’T SEE WITHOUT HIS GLASSES).
But his most famous roles, as Kevin McAllister in the Home Alone franchise or as Richie Rich himself, found him playing scamps. These boys were mischievous, they could be cheeky, but they were ultimately loveable. In fact, that was one of the reasons why contemporary critics gave this film poor reviews. They were unable to see Culkin in a villain role.
But for my money–a handful of Panama City Beach skeeball tokens–that’s one of the things that makes this movie work. Culkin takes his previous impish roles and subverts them, pushing them into the darkest timeline. It’s like one of those “If Home Alone Were a Horror Movie” videos, but played seriously. Like The Bad Seed‘s Rhoda, like any adult serial killer (or any horror movie children), Culkin’s Henry wants what he wants, and he’s willing to kill to get it. Meanwhile, Elijah Wood plays Isaac, Henry’s cousin and the canary in the murderous coalmine. Henry’s managed to get away with a lot, but Isaac’s presence will force at least one adult to realize what Henry is. And as Brad J. Armbruster used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”
The Good Son is available for rental on a number of platforms, like YouTube and Google Play.
And for an alternate universe version, there’s also Mikey. It covers similar themes and stars another 80s slash 90s child star: Brian Bonsall, whom you might recognize from Family Ties or Blank Check. It’s free on several platforms, including Tubi.
When I first read the summary for this one, it reminded me of a lot of No One Lives, one of my favorite movies. After all, both movies deal with a criminal group that bites off more than they can chew. In this one, a group (played by Josh Holloway, Sarah Wayne Callies, Joel Edgerton, and Michael Rooker) takes a job kidnapping a young boy, David (Blake Woodruff).
But unlike the gang in No One Lives, it isn’t greed or blood lust that motivates this trio. It’s something more like desperation. They just need the money. And after all, how hard can it be to hold an eight-year-old boy? Well, it becomes much harder when it’s a boy like David.
You might be wondering, given this cast, which also includes Dulé Hill, why you’ve never heard of this movie. The simple answer is that the story ends up not being as good as it could be. However, what saves this film is the performances, including Woodruff’s. He’s effectively creepy in a way that allows you to buy his confrontations with his adult captors. And there are wolves.
Whisper is available on rental on various services like Prime Video and Vudu.
4. Let the Right One In
In a flashback scene on True Blood, we see the turning of vampire Eric Northman. Death comes for him in the form of a vampire named Godric. But when Eric sees him, he says, “You’re just a little boy,” to which Godric replies, “I’m not.” That’s the same vibe little Eli (Lina Leandersson) has in this film.
Eli befriends an actual little boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). He’s sweet and sensitive, traits that make him a prime target for bullies. He would be happy just having one friend. So when he meets Eli, that yearning for connection and his age enable him to look past some of the more questionable aspects about Eli.
There’s the fact that Eli lives with an adult man who doesn’t seem to be a parent, for instance. Or when Eli tells Oskar, “I’m not a girl.” John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adaptation of his own book cuts the more disturbing elements of Eli’s relationship with the man, Håkan (Per Ragnar). However, it keeps the ambiguity regarding Eli’s identity. Eli may look like just a little girl. But Eli is not.
Let the Right One In is available for free on Vudu and Crackle, for rental on services like YouTube, and through subscription via Showtime, either on their app or on others.
It’s Alive!, image via Warner Bros Pictures
5. It’s Alive!
In some ways, this is a very strange film. And I’m not just talking about the subject matter, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Released in 1974, for much of its runtime, it doesn’t feel like your typical horror movie. It especially doesn’t feel like the typical output of the early 70s.
Larry Cohen, who wrote, directed, and produced it, plays it seriously, at least at first. That means that for a while, it comes off more like a family drama, centering on the Davis family. Frank (John P. Ryan) and Lenore (Sharon Farrell) Davis are about to have their second child. In fact, the movie begins with Lenore going into labor. To say that delivery doesn’t go well is an understatement. Lenore gives birth to a mutant baby, who begins his killing spree once he emerges from the womb.
Lenore is a perfectly capable woman, an adult, which makes it infuriating to watch the way doctors (and later police) treat her. Cohen uses this, though, as a way to inject social commentary into the film. The authorities don’t exactly blame Lenore (and to a lesser extent, Frank), but the implication is there. The Davises sought information about an abortion, hmmm.
Maybe it was that or maybe it was the birth control pills she was taking that caused this. Maybe it’s pesticides. Whatever the cause, the end result is the catalyst for a darkly humorous look at what it means to be a parent, and just how unconditional a parent’s love can be.
It’s Alive! is available for rental on a number of sites, including Vudu and Prime Video.
Kids Who Kill in Groups
Children of the Corn, image via New World Pictures
Let’s continue our list of the top 10 killer kids with those who don’t go at it alone. Like I said, I find a group of horror movie children way more threatening than a single kid. I feel like, if it’s a single child, then just avoid that kid. If you can’t avoid ’em, then dropkick ’em. A group, though, can swarm you.
Now we can talk about herd mentality. We could really dig down into why being in a group sometimes makes people feel empowered to act in ways they wouldn’t if they were alone. I could cite case studies and historical data. But while the kids who kill in this category usually have reasoning for their seasoning, it’s not really the point. To make it on to the list of top 10 killer kids, the point doesn’t have to be more complicated than “yikes.”
6. Children of the Corn
If you want to talk about motive, though, then let’s start with this one. A couple, Vicky (Linda Hamilton) and Burt (Peter Horton), are on a cross-country trip when they travel through rural Nebraska. When Burt accidentally runs over a boy who wanders into the road, they see that someone had already tried to kill him.
Instead of hightailing it to a populated city, the couple decides to look for a phone in the little burg of Gatlin. I’m sure the fact that it looks deserted and there seems to be only one adult in town isn’t a bad sign. Actually, scratch that. As Natalie Imbruglia once sang, nothing’s fine–it’s corn.
Gatlin’s children (of the corn) have become a cult. Specifically, one that centers its beliefs around corn and the corn harvest (and corn accessories). And not in a fun way, like me and the way I talk about the popped variety. Further, as I said “children,” and they made the list of top 10 killer kids, then you can draw some conclusions. Like that any adults who cross their path serve one bloody purpose. Safe travels!
Children of the Corn is available for free on Tubi and Roku, for rental on various sites, and through subscriptions to Shudder. The sequels are of lesser quality and I do not recommend the Syfy remake.
7. Who Can Kill a Child?
One of the problems a couple like Vicky and Burt run into in a Children of the Corn situation is the ick factor. It’s one thing to take on a teenager, but slaying an actual child? It feels wrong, man. And that’s the same issue this movie’s couple, Tom and Evelyn (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome), run into when they decide to vacation on a rando Spanish island.
Just as in the previous movie, there’s a suspicious lack of adults in the community. It doesn’t take long for Tom and Evelyn to figure out why. Well, the sudden gang of attacking children is a big clue. It’s hard, though, for the couple to wrap their minds around hurting kids, hence the title. However, they get over it because these are horror movie children.
As with It’s Alive!, this is a movie that bakes in its social commentary. After years of exposing our children to war and other kinds of violence, it asks, what exactly did we expect? Violence works as a kind of virus in this movie, a theme that isn’t unfamiliar to horror fans. Or anyone living in the real world.
Who Can Kill a Child? is available on Roku. You can also purchase it on Blu-ray or DVD.
8. Village of the Damned
There are certain creatures out there that we refer to as “brood parasites.” We call them this because they embed their offspring with other animals. This frees up the real parents to find food and have more offspring. Meanwhile, the host animal raises the interloper as its own, even sometimes at the expense of the host’s actual babies.
One of the most common culprits is the cuckoo. John Wyndham called his 1957 sci-fi book The Midwich Cuckoos for this reason. His book, which is the source material for this film, is about a small village that experiences a big problem. One day, everyone within falls unconscious. They return to normal the next day, but months later, they realize that something happened. Every resident capable of bearing a child is knocked up.
In the movie, as in the book, the residents eventually accept this spot of weirdness. However, it gets harder to cope once the children are born. They look like each other, but they don’t look like their purported parent(s). The villagers could accept that, too, except that the children are unsettling oddballs. And what’s worse, not only can they control minds, but they use their powers for bad.
The 1960 version of Village of the Damned is the better one. However, the 1995 take features Christopher Reeve’s last theatrical role before his accident. Both are available for rental on several sites, like YouTube and Apple TV.
9. Ils (Them)
The horror movie children in those damned villages are scary for a variety of reasons. The chief one for me, though, is that they hurt people just because they can. I’m pretty immune to scares, but there are some tropes that get me. One is the unavoidable killer. For instance, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho telling a victim that he would have found her, no matter what, is scarier to me than a thousand identical slashers.
Another is, again, the motiveless killer, the one who kills just because. You know, for example, in The Strangers when Kristen asks them why they’re doing this? The answer, of course, is “Because you were home,” which is just terrifying to me. And I bring this up because of this movie, which people often compare to The Strangers.
That’s because it has the same basic bones. A couple–these movies are full of couples–Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michaël Cohen) have just moved into a lovely bucolic home. They’re not there long before they start experiencing odd little bouts of harassment, like the car being moved or the TV being turned on. It seems like minor stuff at first, but it’s obviously disturbing that it’s happening inside their house. Then it turns violent and you’ll never guess who’s behind it all. Or what their “reason” is.
Ils is available for free on Prime Video and Vudu, and for rental on Apple TV.
Bloody Birthday, image via Rearguard Productions
10. Bloody Birthday
Finally, we come to the end of our list of the top 10 killer kids and the last one is a doozy. Our final film isn’t as famous as other movies on our list about kids who kill. However, I found it to be a trashy delight. Hey, horror can’t always be highbrow. As Stephen King, whom I’m told is a New England horror scribe, wrote, some horror movies are like “…lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.”
Enter this movie. In a detail that reminded me of The X-Files episode, “Syzygy,” three babies enter the world during a solar eclipse. Neat. And that would have been the end of it, had they not decided to start a killing spree to celebrate their collective tenth birthday.
Despite their tender age, they are surprisingly efficient killers. They’re also incredibly good at body disposal. And like several of the other top 10 killer kids, they’ve developed adult-like skills of manipulation and gaslighting. As such, it’s often quite funny. The nearest stand-in for a final girl is kind of a snooze, but the kids who kill–Curtis (Billy Jayne), Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), and Steven (Andy Freeman)–make it worth watching. It also features an early appearance by Julie Brown, who mostly contributes a topless scene. And whew, them thangs thangin, respectfully speaking.
Bloody Birthday is available for free on Tubi and for rental on other sites, like Prime Video and YouTube.
And that’s my list of the top 10 killer kids. I would love to hear your thoughts in these comments or on our social media. Tell me your favorite horror movie children and/or how you keep the gators fed.
featured image from The Bad Seed via Warner Bros Pictures
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at [email protected]