Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and found your doll-faced daughter staring at you from a dark corner of your room? Have you ever had a nephew say something deeply cryptic and deeply unsettling to one of his toys? Or heard them ramble on and on about the imaginary friend who gets them in trouble and visits at night? Kids are creepy. Horror movies know it, and let us squeal at these cute little creatures whose blank stares, strange remarks, and abrupt outburst give us the chills without traumatizing our real-life little monsters.
With The Exorcist: Believer joining the ranks of creepy kid horror, we took a look back to highlight the spooky sisters, sinister sons, devilish daughters, and terrifying twins. Here’s our list of the creepiest kids in horror.
10. The Grady Sisters – ‘The Shining’
They are icons of horror. Even people who’ve never seen Stanley Kubrick’s mind-bending adaptation of Stephen King’s novel recognize the Grady Sisters and tremble. The Overlook Hotel was supposed to be empty. But when little Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) rode his tricycle through its halls, he found these inexplicable twins (Lisa and Louise Burns) in a dead end. Their dresses are bright blue, with a pale pink ribbon around their waists. Dainty barrettes sit in their perfectly combed hair. Holding hands, they speak in eerie unison, “Come play with us, Danny.” Then a flash of horror, the girls’ mangled bodies are strewn along the hall as carelessly as the blood splashed on the walls or the ax abandoned beside their corpses. And then it comes–a threat or premonition?–“Forever, and ever, and ever.” Just like that, we, like Danny, are haunted forever, and ever, and ever.
9. Charlie Graham – ‘Hereditary’
There’s just something off about this adolescent girl (Milly Shapiro). Maybe it’s the way Charlie sits silently and stares vacantly. Maybe it’s the cryptic drawings scribbled in her notebook. Maybe it’s the dolls she makes from dismembered toys and decapitated birds. Maybe it’s those unnerving tongue clicks that explode from her lips without warning and echo through her home even when she’s not there. Following the death of their eccentric grandmother, the Graham family is on a slippery slope to disaster. Charlie’s unsettling behavior and unspoken drives are just the first warning signs of their doom.
8. The Boy in the Sack Mask – ‘The Orphanage’
In this 2007 Spanish horror film, an orphanage is haunted by a mysterious boy who wears a handmade and horrifying mask. When searching for her missing son, Laura (Belén Rueda) comes across the strange little figure and begins to uncover a horrible secret that’s been long buried in the titular location. She’ll learn the things that go bump in the night are not to be ignored. To find her son Simón (Roger Príncep), this loving mother must not only face her fears but also a troop of child ghosts whose idea of fun can be spine-tingling. But that mask, with its wonky eyes, crookedly stitched smile, ratty mop of yarn hair and crusty coat of grime, makes the silent boy who lurks through the halls and walls this movie’s creepiest kid.
7. Anthony – ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’
Based on the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” this segment of the horror anthology features a little boy with an incredible power. Anthony (Jeremy Licht) can make real anything he imagines. He can manifest nightly dinners of ice cream, candy, and hamburgers. He can make television play anything he dreams. And he can bend an entire household to his tyrannical will, threatening terror over the slightest rebellion. We see his lust for violence and vengeance acted out in a twisted magic trick, a silenced sister, then the creation of a real-life monster. And all that stands between his childish wickedness and the world is one well-meaning schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan).
6. Cid – ‘Looper’
Imagine a kid whose temper tantrums can kill. That’s the alarming antagonist at the center of Rian Johnson’s inventive time-travel thriller. Cid (Pierce Gagnon) is a young boy who has a natural gift for telekinesis. He can lift immense objects with his thoughts. But when scared or angry, his fight or flight instinct kicks in, rattling his humble home or ripping apart a vicious intruder in a burst of blood. It’s up to the boy’s mother (Emily Blunt) and an unlikely ally (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to show Cid a path for his powers that won’t lead to mass murder and blood rain. When this furious kiddo screams, the whole theater quakes with fear.
5. Kevin Khatchadourian – ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
You want to talk creepy kid movies that make you consider getting your tubes tied? Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel centers on a mother-and-son relationship that is downright bone-chilling. Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) has never felt close to her first-born. Even in the womb, he worries her. As a tempestuous toddler, he unnerves her. As a sneering teen, he absolutely terrifies her. But the world sees Kevin (Ezra Miller) as a normal boy who only seeks the love of his mother. Still, we share in Eva’s horror as she watches this strange, seemingly soulless child grow into a merciless monster she cannot control in the movie that arguably put Ezra Miller’s talents on the map.
4. Lukas and Elias – ‘Goodnight, Mommy’
What’s even creepier than one little boy who doesn’t trust his mom? How about two! Twins, even! In this deeply chilling Austrian thriller, young Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) live in a seemingly idyllic home on the edge of a lovely lake and deep forest, far from the hectic hubbub of society. But horror grows in this isolation when the boys’ mother returns home from cosmetic surgery, her face unrecognizable behind the bandages. Playtime and paranoia twist into something heinous and stomach-churning as the whispering twins begin to suspect this cold, unfamiliar woman is not their real mother, but a nefarious imposter. As they seek to unearth a traumatizing truth, there will be creepy-crawly cockroaches, surreal scares, and jaw-dropping body horror. Don’t view before bedtime.
3. Sadako – ‘Ringu’
Samara might have creeped us out in The Ring, but it was sadistic Sadako who first rattled us with that long white dress and curtain of pitch black, face-obscuring hair. In this classic Japanese horror film, this vengeful spirit possesses a videotape that curses anyone who watches it to die within seven days. Throughout the film she’s scary. But it’s a broken contract that makes her absolutely terrifying. When we watch horror movies, we feel safe in that the killer is on the other side of the screen. Sadako (Rie Inō) sneers at our feeble sense of safety when she claws her way out of a TV screen to get one last kill. Be honest. Have you ever looked at your TV the same way since?
2. Regan MacNeil – ‘The Exorcist’
Linda Blair was just 13 years old when she made the 1973 film that would make her a horror legend and an Academy Award nominee. Based on the William Peter Blatty novel said to be inspired by true events, The Exorcist tells the harrowing tale of a mother (Ellen Burstyn) who must reclaim her 12-year-old daughter from the grips of the devil. Regan went from a happy-go-lucky little girl to a hissing, pissing hellion who spouted atrocious blasphemies and did unspeakable things with a crucifix. Through a mix of gruesome practical effects, Blair’s chilling performance, and some devilish voice work from Mercedes McCambridge, Regan became a demon so real that audiences across the country went wild with terror.
1. Rhoda Penmark – ‘The Bad Seed’
At first glance, this pigtailed little darling seems like the perfect little girl. She’s polite, tidy, bright, and pretty. But this beguiling blonde’s sunny disposition hides a dark heart and murderous fits of rage. This disturbing dissonance riveted audiences on Broadway, where The Bad Seed originally debuted in 1954. But when child actor Patty McCormack reprised the role of Rhoda to the big screen, the studio feared she’d be too scary for movie audiences to bear. So, the 1956 film adaptation not only offers a happier ending than its source material but also includes a suspension of disbelief-breaking curtain call where Penmark is spanked by her onscreen mother, Nancy Kelly. That’s right. This kid was so terrifying that they added two ridiculous scenes so she wouldn’t give grown-ups nightmares. That’s why Rhoda is the creepy kid to which all others will forever be compared.