DEMON SEEDS: 13 Must-See Horror Movies with Evil Children{0}

Everyone’s heard the horror stories: the sleepless nights, weapons-grade nappy content and sweeping life changes that happen when you bring a child into the world. Yet despite all the calamities every child brings with it, most parents wholeheartedly agree that having a baby is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone. Parenthood is always going to be an arduous task… but can you even begin to imagine what it would be like if your seemingly innocent and harmless bundle of humanity turned out to be something much more evil and sadistic?

Films about malignant minors have been a staple of the horror genre for decades now as the idea of evil possessing innocent cherubs is far more ominous than most monsters found on film. I guess what really makes killer kids so downright disturbing is the fact their innocence and insouciance turns them into the most apathetic of psychopaths.

Parents-to-be might want to continue reading through their fingers now as we dissect thirteen of the most malevolent pint-sized monsters at the movies.

The Bad Seed (1956)


This tightly-focused melodrama was decades ahead of its time. It was so defiant for the ‘50s that a message can be found in the credits urging viewers to “refrain from divulging the unusual climax of the story.”

Based on William March’s novel and directed by Mervyn LeRoy (after none other than Hitchcock turned down directorial duties), The Bad Seed is a deep introspective on the idea that devilish desires are genetically inherited. The film tells the tale of little Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), whose inner demons drive her to get everything her own way. When one of her classmates drowns, Rhoda’s mother starts to cotton on that there may be more to her seemingly innocent daughter than she’d like to believe. The idea that Rhoda’s Colgate-bright smile and blonde pig-tails could be harbouring such evil is just plain creepy and will get under your skin, despite the film’s stagy feel.

LeRoy’s taut and affecting direction combined with a superlative cast (most having played their characters in a previous Broadway adaptation) and such a daringly unexampled script for its era make this film (available in the UK as a DVD import) just as delectable viewing now as it was when first released.

Village of the Damned (1960)


Based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by “cosy catastrophe” specialist John Wyndham, Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned is one of the most startling science fiction films of the 1960s, and certainly creepy and unsettling enough to qualify as a sci-fi/horror hybrid. The whole story takes place in a quaint English village where, for some weird reason, everyone loses consciousness for exactly one day. On waking, all women and girls of childbearing age find themselves pregnant, and it isn’t long before strikingly similar-looking babies are conceived, all sharing some kind of telepathic connection. Outlandish premise aside, the film is superbly acted, particularly by the malignant, extrasensory offspring, and the village setting provides oodles more creepiness. Shrewdly eschewing special effects, Rilla created a smart and eerie tale (packaged on DVD in the UK with its follow-up, Children of the Damned) that shows no signs of losing its patina even now, more than fifty years (and one duff remake) later.

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)


When Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright cite it as one of the most disturbing films they have seen, little explanation needs adding as to why I’ve included it in this list. Who Can Kill a Child? (also known as ¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño? aka Trapped, Death is Child’s Play, Island of Death, Would You Kill A Child? and Island of the Damnedfollows a British couple, Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Far from the Madding Crowd‘s Prunella Ransome), as they head off on their hols on an island just off the coast of Spain. On arriving, the adult-free holiday resort feels a little bit odd, as it should, right? The only ‘logical’ explanation they can come up with is that the kids must have gone crazy and murdered all the grown-ups…

Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s film works particularly well thanks to such a secluded setting and the seemingly innocent children come across as incredibly menacing, particularly in scenes that clearly pay tribute to Hitchcock’s The Birds as hordes of children take to the streets. Despite the hard to chew subject matter, the film takes itself dead serious and sets a very credible tone.

If you fancy finding out what it takes to disturb Tarantino and Wright you should certainly hunt this one down: it’s available to stream or download in the UK here.

The Omen (1976)



If your parents bought you a Rottweiler for Christmas back in 1976 then you can bet your bottom dollar Damien Thorn was to blame. The Omen is a particularly rare breed in the fact that, rather than just having the parents deal with a sinister son, it showed how an innocent child can cause chaos even in the highest social and political circles. The film follows an American diplomat and his wife, living in London, who adopt a young boy going by the name of Damien. It soon becomes apparent that he could very well be the Devil incarnate and possesses the evil powers to stop anyone who stands in his way.

Director Richard Donner (later of Superman and Lethal Weapon fame) established just the right tone for the film by keeping everything finely spun and serious and the performances are impeccable; Lee Remick’s Kathy Thorn provides the most extreme form of post-partum depression in film history, whilst Gregory Peck naively believes adopting a child would serve as a Band-Aid for her desolation. Harvey Stephens’ daunting delivery of Damien as the angelic little boy serving as the Devil’s vessel makes for one of the creepiest kids on celluloid – allegedly aided by the fact that his reactions were mostly genuine as Donner purposely provoked him by shouting things like “What are you looking at you little bugger? I’ll clobber you.” just before a take.

The story of the Devil’s spawn subsequently spawned two decent sequels, Damien: Omen II and Omen III: The Final Conflict (available in the UK on a bargain Blu-ray box set) as well as a spin-off TV series and, in 2006, the obligatory duff remake.

The Brood (1979)

the brood carousel

Despite dealing with evil ‘kids’, The Brood was writer-director David Cronenberg’s most mature and intensely personal film. Inspired by his own marital problems, the film (available on UK Blu-ray) follows a somewhat neurotic Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) who agrees to take part in a series of unconventional “psychoplasmic” trials at the hands of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Pent up with anxiety and resentment, following a troubled childhood of her own, she reaches breaking point and spawns a litter of macabre mutant minions. Serving as vessels to Nola’s emotions, the diabolical brood act out Nola’s secret desires to harm anyone to whom she harbours resentment.

The Pit (1981)


On the verge of hitting puberty, autistic Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) is quite the loner with no one to chat to except his favourite plaything, Teddy. With his hormones working overtime, he develops an overripe obsession with a rather attractive student Sandy O’Reilly (Jeannie Elias) who is left to watch over him whilst his parents go away. Despite the film containing its fair share of nudity, director Lew Lehman’s wife strictly prohibited him from shooting any of the naked scenes except for one that featured his own daughter skinny dipping.

Getting back to the plot, Jamie finds a pit full of mysterious raw meat craving creatures he calls Trogs but he soon runs out of cash trying to keep them nourished and decides to tighten his belt by feeding them his worst enemies. The madcap plot alone makes the film worth its weight in gold and, although The Pit (not currently available in the UK) is a bit rough around the edges at times due to budget constraints, but as long as you are willing to chuck logic out of the window there is some great fun to be had with this one.

Children of the Corn (1984)


Stephen King’s short story Children of the Corn was, coincidentally, published just one year after the release of Who Can Kill a Child? (part of the short story collection Night Shift) and first adapted into the 1983 short film Disciples of the Crow before the bigger-budget film helmed by Fritz Kiersch.

The film tells the story of a malevolent entity known as “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” which cajoles the town of Gatlin’s children into slaughtering the adult population to ensure a successful corn harvest. As happy couple, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton (also seen in the same year’s The Terminator), pass through Gatlin they get caught up in all the ritualistic murder and mayhem.

Little needs to be said about this one other than who isn’t scared of blonde kids wandering around with sickles in their hands? Apart from the creepy kid factor, Children of the Corn also examines religious cults whilst refraining from overburdening us with its preaching. Despite a boatload of shoddy sequels and quasi-remakes, the original movie (available on UK DVD) makes for an unnerving ride.

Wicked Little Things (2006) 


This J.S. Cardone-directed zombie film, originally released as part of the After Dark 8 Films to Die For series, and now available in the UK as Zombies: Wicked Little Things, tells the tale of Karen Tunny (Lori Heuring) and her two daughters, Sarah (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Emma (Chloë Grace Moretz), as they move into a remote mountain estate Karen inherits as a result of the passing of her husband. As fate would have it, a tragic mining accident back in 1913 claimed the lives of many children whose restless spirits are out to kill the family members of those responsible for their deaths.

The Pennsylvanian mountain setting definitely creates an additional underlying tension as you know the murderous pint-sized zombies, all armed with pick axes and spades, are lingering in them there woods. All the leads are superb, particularly Heuring who amazingly keeps her cool despite having just lost her husband and now having to deal with killer zombie kids.

Them, aka Ils (2007)


Here’s one that’s particularly hard to describe without giving too much away. Even just including it in this list reveals far too much but it couldn’t go amiss, so here it is. What is particularly special with Them (aka Ils) is how directors David Moreau and Xavier Palaud keep the film so remarkably ambiguous, making the audience continually question just who or what is menacing the film’s protagonists.

The story follows a French couple, Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen), whose plans for a relaxing weekend together is shattered by a group of faceless thugs. Whilst Them (available on UK DVD) doesn’t have a particularly complex story to tell, you’ll find yourself rooting for the poor couple as they endure a crescendo of taunts at the hands of the aggressors. Couple this with more than a few well-executed cattle-prod scares and you’ve got yourself a relentlessly disquieting movie.

The Children (2008)


I was sure this one was going to prove first-rate based on my love for Tom Shankland’s previous outing, WZ (aka The Killing Gene). In The Children (available on UK DVD) a relaxing Christmas holiday turns into a terrifying fight for survival when some sort of evil virus is in the snow which converts children into devious little adult killers.

Shankland does such a great job of gradually cranking up the tension as the kids mischievousness goes from bad to worse as the ‘freak’ accidents get more and more gruesome. What’s particularly special about this film is that all the children here are frighteningly brilliant and we never really get to see them ‘doing the dreadful deeds’ which makes them so much more fearsome. Caught slap bang in the middle of all the goings on is teenager Casey (Hannah Tointon) and thankfully she is everything but a typical annoying teen and as a result we end up firmly rooting for her.

Some parents will certainly be disconcerted by the idea of kids running around killing their parents at Christmastime but it is only a movie and one you certainly shouldn’t miss. I can’t wait to see what Shankland brings to the table with his next project, Its Walls Were Blood, starring Belinda Stewart Wilson and Pollyanna McIntosh.

Eden Lake (2008)


Having penned an absolute gem of a film called My Little Eye, James Watkins’ directorial debut, Eden Lake (available on UK DVD) is another film that certainly knows how to slowly ratchet up the intensity before swooping in with a killer climax. The film finds a couple’s romantic weekend in the woods evolve into a bloody struggle for survival when they find themselves taunted by a gang of obnoxious teenagers. When Steve (Michael Fassbender) confronts them there are too many to take on and nursery school teacher, Jenny (Kelly Reilly) is left fighting for her life. Whilst we all know how brilliant Fassbender and co-star, Jack O’Connell are, the real scene stealer is Reilly as she goes to Hell and back to deal with these savage striplings and that’s even before we get hit with a killer twist – which I’m of course not going to reveal.

Although Watkins’ screenplay for The Descent: Part 2 didn’t fare too well, he went on to direct the far superior The Woman in Black and his upcoming Bastille Day starring Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden and Luther’s Idris Elba certainly looks like one worth watching out for.

Home Movie (2008)


Documenting the evil growing inside two ten-year old twins, writer-director Christopher Denham’s Home Movie creates a completely believable film in the much-maligned found footage genre, using mostly faux-Camcorder footage shot during holidays or special celebrations – those times when people do actually film things they want to keep as memories. This believability is bolstered by the fact that various disturbing moments are actually cut off when it would otherwise be just stupid to keep the camera rolling for the sake of some good footage. Denham also goes out of his way to humanise the parents David (a pastor) and Clare (a child psychologist) played so convincingly by Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain. Giving the parents jobs on opposite poles of the spectrum also makes for an intriguing exegisis on the origins of evil from a religious and psychosocial perspective. The film’s ten-year old twins absolutely ooze creepiness and their silent treatment for most of the film works wonders in creating their sinister demeanour.

In the UK, Home Movie is available to stream or download here.

Orphan (2009)


Despite the whole evil child/bad seed/spawn of Satan concept dating back well over fifty years, Orphan is probably the most original film on the list. This was by and large thanks to actress Isabelle Fuhrman’s scene-stealing portrayal of the malicious Esther and a staggering final reel curveball that is sure to knock you for six.

After the still birth of their third child Kate (The Conjuring‘s Vera Farmiga, aka Bates Motel‘s Norma Bates) and John (Peter Sarsgaard, currently in TV’s The Slap) decide to adopt Russian orphan Esther in an attempt to get their lives back on track. Unluckily for them, Esther conceals a dark and manipulative personality that adds bags of salt to the family’s deep wounds until Kate discovers just what secret the new member of the family is hiding.

After the awful House of Wax, The Orphan (available on UK DVD) finds Jaume Collet-Serra at the top of his game, employing goofproof horror techniques to ratchet up the tension. Collet-Serra’s solid direction and Fuhrman’s delightfully mordant turn make this the most unconventional demon seed film of recent years.

Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)