10 Most Twisted Children in Movies

1. Damian (Harvey Stephens) in The Omen (1976)

Could it be… Satan?! Imagine a Very Special Jerry Springer Show episode called “My Son is the Antichrist but I Love Him Anyway,” and you get a fair idea of this (in)famous horror opus, directed by Richard Donner. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick play the not-so-proud parents of the little satanic spawn, who’s portrayed as a glowering, dark-haired tot whose mere presence radiates enough evil to affect the people around him. So other characters get hanged, impaled by spikes, or decapitated by runaway sheets of glass. The whole mess leads to Devil Jr. staring at us (or maybe at the sequels ahead) with not-quite-wholesome eyes. Hey, nobody said raising kids isn’t hell.

2. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) in Orphan (2009)

Well, this one should help bring down adoption rates. A couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) bring a nine-year-old Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) from the orphanage into their home, and some unusual things start to happen. Like nuns getting bludgeoned with hammers, or cars with deaf daughters in them careening out of control, treehouses bursting into flame… It gets to the point where Farmiga and her son are in the hospital while Sarsgaard tries to drown his depression at home with wine and the wicked orphan is in hoochie-mama, vamp dress, coming on to him. Since the movie was directed by the dude behind the House of Wax remake, at least some of the intention may have been comic. In any case, the skin crawls.

3. The kids in Battle Royale (2000)

It’s bad news when your teacher is Takeshi Kitano. In this no-holds-barred futuristic satire, the Japanese government (having apparently decided that Lord of the Flies is a sound basis for the educational system) sets an entire class of ninth-graders loose on a deserted island and orders them to kill each other. No rules, just only-the-strong-survive ethics, leading what began as a field trip into a harrowing bloodfest. Director Kinji Fukasaku takes his daring concept into some pretty oh-no-he-didn’t-go-there-did-he areas, with juvenile combat bringing out the inner beast out of these students. And I thought my high-school was harsh! Keep an eye out for Chiaki Kuriyama, “Go Go” from Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

4. Regan (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist (1973)

What is it with kids and demons? Blair plays Reagan, the young girl whose body becomes a playground for a particularly vile spirit with a penchant for soup-spewing and colorful profanities. Okay, so it isn’t really the girl’s fault that she’s evil, but damn, she’s horrifying all the same, especially with director William Friedkin gleefully hurling every shock effect in the book into the viewer’s face. Blair was reportedly chosen out of a huge list of hopefuls. I wonder if the interview went along the lines of the one in Bruno. “So, does your child have any problem with projective vomit, foul words, masturbating with crucifixes or covering her body with sores?” “Well, as long as she gets famous…”

5. Henry Evans (Macaulay Culkin) in The Good Son (1993)

Props to whoever saw Culkin in the Home Alone flicks and thought, “You know what, that boy isn’t cute, he’s scary” and decided to cast him as the smiling lil’ creep in this thriller. The tiny blond 12-year-old comes to stay with his uncle and aunt, but it’s not long before his cousin (Elijah Wood) starts to realize that his innocence is really just a mask worn by a budding psychopath. Animals are slaughtered (aren’t they always in these kinds of movies), traffic accidents are triggered, food is poisoned, F-bombs are dropped. Wood is by far the better actor of the two, but when it comes to just being a sinister, tow-headed runt, he just can’t compete with Culkin.

6. The kids in Village of the Damned (1960)

If this one still plays incredibly twisted today, I wonder how it must have seemed to 1960 audiences. Everybody in a small, quiet English village suddenly falls unconscious one day; nine months later, every woman is giving birth at the same time to children who aren’t very innocent. In fact, the kids all sport the same platinum hair, glowing eyes, and knack for reading minds and forcing people they don’t much care for to kill themselves. George Sanders tries to figure out the reason: Alien visitors? Atomic residue? In any case, if you thought one terrifying child actor was bad, imagine having to deal with a whole classroom full of them. My heart goes out to teachers everywhere.

7. Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) in The Bad Seed (1956)

Next to some of the hellions in this list, Rhoda the original problem child seems almost quaint by comparison. Quaint, that is, until she kills you for taking away her penmanship medal or for not appreciating her curtsies. This adaptation of the Broadway hit is not a very good movie; it’s stagy, high-pitched, and at times unintentionally amusing when it should have been scary. Still, the beaming, pigtailed terror carries a creepy edge, even if the movie changes the original ending to include both an act of divine punishment and a ridiculous end-of-credits spanking that must have had viewers even back in 1956 rolling their eyes at each other.

8. The baby in It’s Alive (1974)

Larry Cohen is one of the most underrated mavericks of 1970s horror, always spiking his low-budget projects with bold, subversive ideas. In this cult hit, he envisions the next generation of kids as a failed experiment that’s born with an alien head, huge fangs, claws, and an insatiable hunger for blood. Daddy (John P. Ryan) goes after Junior with a loaded revolver and plenty of paternal issues. While Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is the high-class monster-infant classic, Cohen’s project is cruder but just as powerful, ditching glossy production values and big stars for a straight-to-the-jugular force. Don’t miss the sequels, which get increasingly campy but never abandon the original’s familial subversion.

9. The brood in The Brood (1979)

Director David Cronenberg said he was inspired by his divorce during the making of this oh-that’s-just-wrong grossout classic. Would you trust a psychiatrist played by Oliver Reed? Unfortunately for them, the characters in the movie do and play into the not-so-good doctor’s experimental techniques about turning anger, frustration and assorted other bad vibes into bodily mutations. That’s bad news for sensitive but clueless Art Hindle, whose troubled wife (an unforgettable Samantha Eggar) has channeled her energies into a pack of deformed children who attack kindergarten teachers with hammers. If there’s a gorier demonstration of maternal love than Eggar’s “birth” scene, then I’d rather not see it.

10. Anthony Fremont (Bill Mumy) in the “It’s a Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone (1961)

Before becoming a regular in such TV shows as Disneyland and Lost in Space, Mumy played a kid who drives his family up the wall with his strange mental powers. Modern viewers probably know this Twilight Zone gem from the spoof The Simpsons did in one of their Halloween specials, but the original has an enduring creepiness that’s still worth tracking down.

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