Left to right: 'The Exorcist' (1973), 'The Omen' (1976), 'Village of the Damned' (1960)

Everybody loves evil children! Judging from its trailer, the wide release of The Unborn this weekend promises to unleash a new terrifying tot upon a nation of unsuspecting teens. But the idea of scary juveniles extends far beyond the expected audience for David Goyer's jolt-fest.

One writer suggested that the idea of evil children originated "in the biblical tale of Elisha's mockery," in which 42 small boys disrespected a prophet of God -- and were promptly torn to pieces by two bears. The silver screen featured dozens of bratty kids in the 30s and 40s (e.g. the Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys) but none as murderously terrifying as 10-year-old Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) in Mervyn LeRoy's The Bad Seed (1956), a rebel yell against a conformist generation of "perfect" suburban families.

The 50s also produced Jerome Bixby's short story "It's a Good Life," featuring a three-year-old with more super powers than anyone at Marvel or DC could dream up. First adopted as an episode of The Twilight Zone (with Billy Mummy), Joe Dante added layers of suburban subversion when he used it as the basis for his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (with Jeremy Licht as the kid).

Which tots, tykes, and teens have terrified you? Here's my personal countdown of evil children that have inspired nightmares or, at least, made me shiver.

7. Darby O'Gill and the Little People

I was five or six years old and had never seen little people before -- I freaked out because I couldn't understand why kids my age had wrinkles and beards, and were dancing and drinking liquids my Dad said never to touch. The wailing banshee gave me nightmares, but those little people made my hair stand up.

6. It's Alive

Born to be bad, as imagined by the great Larry Cohen. A married couple is ready to welcome their second child into the world, but were definitely not ready for said infant to bite off its own umbilical cord and began killing everyone in sight. In my mind, this movie begins where Rosemary's Baby ends.

5. [REC]

Recently remade as Quarantine, the Spanish original pokes around in a dark apartment building that eventually fills with blood and screaming. Something is happening to the people. Young and old alike, they are changing into something ... else, and one of them is a child ...

4. Ringu

Dead children are scarier than (most) live ones, and modern Asian horror flicks are filled with departed youngsters who are not resting in peace. You can pick from among The Grudge or Dark Water or (fill in the blank), but the one that left the deepest impression on me is Hideo Nakata's Ringu (remade as The Ring), which still gives me goosepimples just from thinking about it. The child here is both scary and haunting, a rare combination.

3. Village of the Damned

Terrifying or empowering? When I first saw Wolf Rilla's 1960 original, in which a rash of unexpected pregnancies in a picturesque British village results in premature births to rapidly maturing children who aren't quite normal, I loved the idea of kids who ignore what adults tell them to do. A more recent viewing as an adult helped me better appreciate the skillful filmmaking, the creepy atmosphere, and the truly unsettling implications.

2. The Omen

OK, so if Rosemary's Baby wasn't a "monster child" (a la It's Alive), what if he was adopted by Gregory Peck (as the US Ambassador to Italy) and never learned how to play nice with others? Richard Donner's original speaks for itself, and explains why I shy away from anyone named Damien.

1. The Exorcist

The one movie on this list that I've never been able to sit through. Who could keep from jumping out of their seat when the precious Regan (Linda Blair) starts spewing obscenities, green pea soup, and furniture through the air? Not to mention what she does with the cross. Sheesh!!

Other candidates I found in my research (starting at IMDb), with credit to the original writers: The Paperboy, Let the Right One In, Who Can Kill a Child?, The Shining, a certain French home invasion film (which I may have already spoiled by including mention here), The Orphanage, A Tale of Two Sisters (S. P. Miskowski's excellent Terrifying Tots blog); Children of the Corn, Pet Sematary, The Good Son (twoarticles at MTV); A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Grudge (Anthony Enticknap for Den of Geek); Halloween, Firestarter, Hide and Seek (Scary Kids); Night of the Living Dead (Blogue Macabre, which has a great, extended, multi-writer discussion on the subject); The Sixth Sense (Associated Content); not to forget Joshua and Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. Anything else?

categories Cinematical