There’s something exquisitely dreadful about scary little kids. Children aren’t supposed to be vicious killers — but they’re also not supposed to die young and lurch back from the grave with a vengeance. Horror movies, of course, can’t get enough of ’em. Here are 50 terrifying tykes that make us grateful that we didn’t spawn.
50) Jump-Rope Girls, A Nightmare on Elm Street
The jump-roping girls who sing the world’s scariest nursery rhyme (“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…”) are presumably victims of the Elm Street maniac. They never do much of anything other than appear in ghostly slo-mo. But they’re like an early Freddy warning system: anytime they show up, ol’ razor-fingers is never far behind.
49) Dennis, Cabin Fever
“PANCAKES!!!” The best weird scene in this movie. Maybe the best weird scene in any movie.
48) Jumby, The Unborn
David S. Goyer took a break from Batman and Blade to direct this tale of a woman (Odette Annable) who is haunted by an evil spirit that takes the form of her long-dead twin brother. Ergo, a glaring, corpse-like tyke appears at regular intervals — including on the movie poster, which is conveniently set in a bathroom so Annable has an excuse to be underwear-clad.
47) Lilith, Case 39
Renée Zellweger plays a Child Protective Services social worker who rescues a 10-year-old girl from what appears to be abusive parents… or so she thinks. In fact, the kid is a demonic Succubus whose talents include making Bradley Cooper vomit up swarms of hornets.
46) Brahms, The Boy
It’s a doll! It’s a possessed doll! It’s a doll that comes alive? You might guess the twist in The Boy long before it’s revealed, but this movie, which takes place in a cavernous old house for good measure, offers a one-two punch that preys on fears of lifelike dolls and evil children.
45) Youth Gang, Eden Lake
Vacation tip: if you decide to go camping in an isolated wilderness, make sure there’s not a torture-crazed gang of teenage baddies lurking about, poised to prevent you from making it home in one piece.
44) Samantha, Stir of Echoes
Kevin Bacon’s character, a regular workin’ man named Tom, is blessed with an unusually intuitive young son — but the real spooky kid is a tormented teenage girl who suddenly begins popping up in Tom’s nightmares. The whole “ghost looking for justice so it can rest in peace” storyline has been done dozens of times, but Bacon makes everything better.
43) Dark Alessa, Silent Hill
Everything in the town of Silent Hill is spooky. But the little girls are extra-spooky.
42) Esther, Orphan
Well, we couldn’t very well make this list without this little lady, despite that incredible last-act reveal.
41) Laddie, The Lost Boys
Granted, most of the vampires in this movie are rad dudes with mullets, but who could forget half-vampire Laddie, the junior member of the crew?
“It’s the attack of Eddie Munster!”
40) Virginia, Spider Baby
Jack Hill’s morbid comedy imparts the strange story of a family with some very particular eating habits, as well as an odd disease that makes them act much younger than their apparent ages.
Jill Banner was 18 when she played the title character, arachnid-obsessed Virginia. An essential cult movie.
39) The Children, The Children
Just look at that movie title. (And its tagline: “You brought them into this world… now, they will take you out.”) This is a film that’s deeply committed to the theme we’ve got going on here. It’s also a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t pack a bunch of kids into a house in the middle of nowhere over the snowy holidays, because one of ’em is liable to start spreading an illness around that turns shorties into bloodthirsty maniacs.
38) Kevin, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Tilda Swinton gives an agonizingly great performance as the guilt-ridden mother of a kid who’s born bad and grows up to commit mass murder at his high school. Ezra Miller is chilling as the teenage psychopath, but the actors who play Kevin’s younger incarnations are also scary as hell. Even jaded horror fans might find it hard to sleep after watching this disturbing film.
37) Victoria and Lilly, Mama
When a pair of long-missing sisters is found living in the woods, their uncle and his girlfriend take them in, not realising the feral girls will be bringing their supernatural protector with them. “Mama” is the main scare-giver here, but the kids (particularly the younger girl) serve up plenty of unease, too.
36) Alice, Alice Sweet Alice
This early entry into the slasher genre features the film debut of Brooke Shields — but don’t get too attached to her character, because she dies early after being attacked by an unseen assailant. Did her 12-year-old sister Alice do it?
Or is there some other killer running about, clad in that horrific raincoat ‘n’ mask combo?
35) Dalton, Insidious
The foreboding poster says a lot… though, technically, this poor kid spends most of the movie in a coma-like state as his mind roams the spirit world.
34) Bughuul’s Little Helpers, Sinister
It takes Ethan Hawke the entire movie to figure out exactly who’s acting on behalf of that pagan demon that keeps popping up in everyone’s home movies, but we’ll just ask you this: have you checked the children?
33) Eli, Let the Right One In
Maybe the most sympathetic child vampire in all of cinema, but a vampire nonetheless.
32) The Brood, The Brood
This is one of David Cronenberg’s most shocking, disturbing films — which is really saying something. It might be a stretch to call the creatures in this movie “children,” but whatever they are, they emerge out of Samantha Eggar’s body, and they are absolute missiles of rage.
31) Mutant Baby, It’s Alive
From the mind of B-movie master Larry Cohen came this sordid tale of a mutant baby — thanks, shady pharmaceutical company — that’s born ready to kill anything that gets in its way. Followed by two progressively sillier sequels, It Lives Again and It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive.
30) Joshua, Joshua
Something’s amiss with Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga’s child-prodigy son. Very amiss. Like, taunting-your-dad-into-abusing-you-in-public-so-he-goes-to-jail amiss, or killing-your-grandma-by-shoving-her-down-the-stairs amiss. Diagnosis: the pint-sized genius is a stone-cold psycho.
29) Charlie, Firestarter
She’s not evil, per se, but she’s extremely spooky. And you definitely don’t want to make her angry.
28) Sam, The Babadook
The child in this movie isn’t technically the monster — he’s a different kind of menace entirely.
Though his brattiness (and how it affects his struggling mother) is an intentional, integral part of what The Babadook is all about, it’s still very, very, very difficult to watch.
27) Ghost Girl, Kill Baby… Kill!
Even Italian horror master Mario Bava made a movie with a spooky kid in it.
26) Tiny Terrors, Them
No, not the Them! with the giant ants in it. This Them, a stripped-down suspense thriller, hails from France but is set in a remote part of Romania where a young couple comes under attack one night. Who could possibly be skulking around, making prank calls, messing with their cars, and generally causing bumps in the night? HINT: think small.
25) Su-mi and Su-yeon, A Tale of Two Sisters
A teenage girl is discharged from a mental hospital and into the care of her deliriously dysfunctional family, which includes her beloved younger sister and her hated stepmother. It’s not always obvious what’s really real and what’s actually happening in the main character’s imagination, which makes Kim Jee-woon’s lush, gory film a gleefully mind-warping treat.
24) Emily and Jack, Home Movie
As the title suggests, this is a “found footage” exercise about a rural New York state family with 10-year-old twins who start acting out in violent, distressing ways. Naturally, the camera never stops rolling.
23) Santi, The Devil’s Backbone
Made before Guillermo del Toro became a household name with Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, this Pedro Almodóvar-produced indie is set at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War.
A haunted orphanage, naturally, that’s chock-full of dark secrets.
22) Baby Sadists, Devil Times Five
Before he found fame as a teen dream, Leif Garrett starred in this nutty movie about a gang of crazy kids who survive a van accident and promptly begin terrorizing the inhabitants of a nearby ski lodge. One of them is Sorrell Booke, before he found fame as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard.
“If you take them in, YOU’LL be taken in!” …by little ragamuffins who’re likely to pull some nasty pranks, like dumping your piranha collection into the bathtub while someone’s using it.
21) Jason, Friday the 13th
You thought the movie was over.
You thought wrong.
20) Karen, Night of the Living Dead
A group of strangers gathers in a farmhouse during a zombie outbreak, not realising that there’s already an almost-zombie in their midst: 11-year-old Karen, hiding in the basement with her parents. Of course, once she goes full zombie, she makes short work of Mum and Dad. Fun fact: child actor Kyra Schon was the real daughter of Karl Hardman, who played her father onscreen.
19) Carol Anne, Poltergeist
Carol Anne Freeling’s innocently chipper delivery of “They’re heeeere!” — heralding the arrival of angry supernatural beings eager to kidnap her into their midst — is almost as spooky as her big brother’s clown doll.
18) Tomás, The Orphanage
As with many films on this list, a grown-up character is the true villain in The Orphanage. That said, this pint-sized lost soul is completely terrifying every time he appears.
17) High-Rise Hooligans, Citadel
A gang of hoodie-wearing kids terrorizes the few remaining residents of a broken-down apartment complex, including a pregnant woman and her husband. When the wife dies as a result of a horrific attack, her grieving widower does his best to protect their infant daughter from a menace that might not be entirely human. Irish director Ciaran Foy made such an impression with his skin-crawlingly effective debut that he was hired to direct Sinister 2.
16) Michael, Halloween
“I met this 6-year-old child with his blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes — the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realised that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
15) Mercy and Jonas, The Witch
There’s an evil, baby-stealing witch lurking in the woods. A pity she didn’t also snatch up the main character’s screechy, manipulative twin siblings.
Image: NY Times
What seems like annoying kid stuff gets deadly serious once it’s established that the family farm is home to a most unusual goat. What has Black Phillip been whispering to the children? Nothing good.
14) Alpine Assassin, Phenomena
Dario Argento’s cult horror film is noted for casting a Labyrinth-era Jennifer Connelly as its lead, as well as for using Iron Maiden and Motorhead on the soundtrack (in addition to Argento’s usual synth-music suspects Goblin). It also features memorable turns by Halloween‘s Donald Pleasence and “Tanga” as “Inga,” his character’s chimpanzee assistant. Oh, and also a hideously disfigured serial killer. Can you guess what age group he’s in?
13) Henry, The Good Son
It’s Elijah Wood versus Macauley Culkin in a battle of the early-1990s kid stars! When the movie came out in 1993, it was just one year post-Home Alone 2, and audiences were startled to see loveable scamp Kevin McCallister cast as a psychopath so beyond redemption that his own mother drops him off a cliff at the end. (As it happens, Culkin’s famously overbearing stage dad was the reason he was cast; it was a condition of his agreeing to allow his son to do the Home Alone sequel in the first place.)
12) Gage, Pet Sematary
And thaaaaat’s why you don’t bury your dead toddler in a cursed cemetery.
11) The Baby, Rosemary’s Baby
Satan’s son is so scary we don’t even get a look at him. We just get Rosemary’s reaction to seeing the infant she gave birth to for the first time. The sudden musical cue, combined with Mia Farrow’s palpable horror, is just perfect.
“GOD IS DEAD, SATAN LIVES!”
10) Platinum Mafia, Village of the Damned
There have been multiple cinematic versions of this tale, but — apologies to John Carpenter — the classic take is the 1960 version.
It’s set in a British town that experiences a baby boom after a mysterious incident in which the entire population loses consciousness. The freaky-eyed offspring are, of course, not of natural origin, and it’s soon apparent they can read minds and control them, too. Diabolically.
9) Kiddie Cultists, Children of the Corn
Multiple Stephen King-derived films are on this list; the dude just loves to write about scary kids. But Nebraska’s sacrifice-happy, youthful cult of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” is a particularly chilling creation.
Fun fact: diminutive actor John Franklin, who also played Cousin Itt in The Addams Family movies, was actually in his mid-20s when he played preacher Isaac. He later retired from show biz and is now a high-school teacher.
8) Damien, The Omen
The toddler Antichrist barely has any dialogue in the movie, but oooooh that stare is heavy.
“It’s all for you, Damien!”
7) Cole, The Sixth Sense
“I see dead people!”
Child actor Haley Joel Osment and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan both got Oscar nominations — but only one of the two formed an unbreakable addition to twist endings. Like a few tots on this list, Haley’s character isn’t evil, but you still would not want to babysit him.
6) Toshio, Ju-On/The Grudge
Takashi Shimizu directed both the Japanese original and the American remake (as well as each film’s first sequel), and both take place in Japan. So there’s some continuity with the series’ vengeful supernatural entities, including ghostly little Toshio, who died young and is mad as hell about it. Here he is with A+ crazy eyes in the 2002 original:
5) Sadako and Samara, Ringu/The Ring
Another J-horror film that enjoyed a successful do-over aimed at American audiences (I can’t wait for the crossover film that will pit The Grudge against The Ring; check out the trailer here). But while Toshi has back-up from his equally spooky mother, The Ring‘s nightmares spiral from one little inky-haired girl, who victimizes anyone who watches a certain cursed videotape. Sadako was re-named Samara for the stateside remake…
…but let’s face it, she’s terrifying in any language.
4) Wee Mob, Who Can Kill a Child?
In this gleefully nasty Spanish oddity, a man and his pregnant wife are on vacation, sailing around, when they encounter an island filled with children. Malevolent children, who can pass their bloodthirsty urges to any other child simply by looking at them. This includes looking at babies that haven’t been born yet, which ends up being just as awful as it sounds. Bonus points for having one of the most shamelessly provocative movie titles of all time.
3) The Grady Twins, The Shining
Forever and ever and ever.
2) Regan, The Exorcist
Yes, Pazuzu is freaky, with the pea soup and the crucifix misappropriation and whatnot. But one of the scariest scenes in the whole movie takes place when Regan is just beginning to transform into something… not herself. It’s during her mother’s dinner party, when the nightgown-clad girl wanders into the room and delivers a very dark message to the astronaut in the group.
And then she pees on the carpet, which makes it a thousand times more intense.
1) Rhoda, The Bad Seed
Rhoda Penmark looks just like a little angel, and she always gets what she wants. When she doesn’t, she makes short work of anyone who gets in her way.
Patty McCormack originated the role of Rhonda on Broadway, and was Oscar-nominated for her performance in the film. The movie is six decades old, but Rhoda — without benefit of any supernatural powers, and never seen with a hair out of place — is just as scary today as she was in 1956.