Horror has always had a way of turning the most innocuous into the most terrifying, and the innocence of children is no exception. Creepy kids in horror has been a long-running archetype, turning out iconic characters like Antichrist Damien Thorn in The Omen, the Grady twins in The Shining, and possessed Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. Yet that only barely scratches the surface of the terrifying children that have terrorized both their victims and audiences over the decades. These 12 kids in horror are the epitome of creepy.
Mercy and Jonas – The Witch
Twins Mercy and Jonas are obnoxious children in their own right, taunting protagonist Thomasin with glee at nearly every turn despite the family’s hardships. But their taunting becomes downright dangerous when older brother Caleb is delirious and at death’s door. They accuse their eldest sibling of witchcraft, sealing Thomasin’s fate. The callous way in which they doom their sister is made even more chilling with the realization that their favorite plaything, Black Phillip, is more than just a family goat.
Charlie – Hereditary
There’s something off about 13-year old Charlie from the moment we meet her. She’s far more aloof than is usual for her age, and the only family member she seems attached to at all is her recently deceased grandmother. Then there’s that weird clicking sound that she makes. Her affinity for found art figurine making reaches disturbing levels when she snips the head off of a bird that crashed into her classroom’s window. The reveal that Charlie was never truly a normal child isn’t surprising, but the devil’s in the details and just what exactly Charlie is, well, it’s horrifying.
Ralphie Glick – Salem’s Lot
Sometimes a kid doesn’t even have to be a main antagonist or character to elicit chills in horror. Sometimes they just have to have an iconic moment of horror. Such is the case of Ralphie Glick, a child kidnapped and offered up to vampire Kurt Barlow. Little Ralphie in turn lures his older brother Danny to his own vampiric demise, and it’s how he does it that’s so memorable. Ralphie taps at Danny’s bedroom window, an unnatural grin on his face as he hovers in the air. It’s so creepy.
Santi – The Devil’s Backbone
With Guillermo del Toro’s works it’s the humans that are the true monsters, but you don’t immediately know that. Especially not with one of his earliest films, The Devil’s Backbone. For protagonist Carlos, arriving at a remote orphanage amidst a war-ravaged Spain is intimidating enough, but he’s then visited by the ghastly apparition of Santi. Santi spooks Carlos, and us, over and over again before we finally learn he’s an ally. That still doesn’t make his appearance any less nightmarish.
Lilly – Mama
Being raised in the woods for five years by a monstrous entity will do a number on anyone’s mental state, and for young Lilly, it makes her feral. Though Mama is the actual thing to be afraid of, that doesn’t make Lilly’s behavior any less creepy. Her slow animalistic crawl in the dark hallways in the middle of the night is pure nightmare fuel.
Sadako – Ringu
This vengeful ghost kickstarted the cinematic trend of the long-haired ghosts in Japanese horror, and with good reason; Sadako is freaking scary. Born with psychic powers, Sadako’s own father murdered her and shoved her down a well. Not before she imprinted her wrath on a cursed VHS tape, though, dooming any that watch within 7 days. Her slow, inhuman crawl from the well with her face almost always obscured by unruly black hair is an unsettling reminder that though she’s technically just a child, she’s actually wrathful vengeance incarnate.
School Kids – Them
Also known as Ils, this intense entry in French horror begins with a title card that states the film is based on real events. What transpires is one of the most suspenseful, harrowing home invasion thrillers for couple Clementine and Lucas. Their hooded intruders eventually are revealed to be a group of kids, ages 10-15. And, based on the opening sequence, this wasn’t their first time to toy with people’s lives. As for why? They chillingly explained, “They wouldn’t play with us.” It’s easily one of horror’s most frightening motives.
Frau Brückner’s son – Phenomena
Though lead character Jennifer Corvino has an unusual ability bond with insects, she’s not the creepy kid at the center of this Dario Argento film. Sent to a remote Swiss boarding school, Corvino’s communication with bugs proves to be key in solving a series of murders in the area, eventually discovered to be connected to Frau Brückner. It’s the reveal of Brückner’s son, though, that’s the creepiest of all, catching both Corvino and us completely off guard. Leave it to Argento to create such a monstrous, murderous boy.
Michael – Burial Ground
This Italian zombie film, also known as Zombie 3 and Nights of Terror, is bonkers for many reasons. The biggest reason, though, is that of young child Michael. As part of the group of people stuck inside a mansion while zombies are closing in, Michael inexplicably becomes sexually attracted to his own mother. Yes. While people are getting devoured, Michael really wants to get up close and personal with his mother, who’s just as appalled as we are. It doesn’t help that Michael was played by 25-year old actor Peter Bark, which only further exacerbates Michael’s creep factor.
Offspring- The Brood
One of David Cronenberg’s most personal films also happens to be one of the most terrifying, thanks in large part to the eponymous mutant children. They’re strange-looking and very homicidal, which alone would mean they’re utterly creepy, but the reveal of exactly what they are and where they come from further shoves them into the spotlight of the creepiest kids ever to grace the big screen. Patient Nola Carveth unwittingly and psychically bore a brood of children who act as murderous weapons of her rage, and how she births them is pure Cronenberg madness.
Michael – Halloween
The first-person perspective opening in John Carpenter’s seminal slasher puts the viewer in the driver seat as the masked killer who grabs a knife from the kitchen and calmly walks upstairs to stab a teen girl to death. It’s a shocking scene and one of the most overt moments of violence in the entire film, which makes the unmasking of that killer even more alarming; the killer is the 6-year-old younger brother of stab victim Judith. Sam Loomis put it best, “I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes – the devil’s eyes.”
Kevin – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Told from the perspective of Kevin’s mother, Eva, We Need to Talk About Kevin plays with the concept of nurture versus nature as Eva struggles to bond with her son throughout his life. The film toggles between the harrowing present and the disturbing past, and no matter the age, the creepiness of Kevin remains a constant. Both Eva and the viewer watch, helplessly, as Kevin grows from defiant to stone-cold sociopath, exploding into a terrifying climax made even scarier by the realism in its possibilities. Kevin isn’t just a creepy kid in horror, he’s someone that could be your next-door neighbor.