Quick: what is more frightening than circus clowns? Okay, sure – scary dolls with eyes that follow you across the room are even worse – but what can strike fear into the hearts of even creepy clowns and disconcerting dolls?
Children – that’s what! Don’t think children are scary? Here are some books and movies that might just have you thinking otherwise.
- The Bad Seed, by William March. Long before The Exorcist‘s possessed darling Regan MacNeil shocked her first priest or The Omen‘s Damien Thorn rode his first devilish tricycle, there was sweet little Rhoda Penmark, full of hugs and kisses and happy thoughts, and every parent’s picture of the perfect child, if only she’d stop killing people. The 1956 film featured actors from the successful Broadway adaptation of the book.
- Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain. Although Mildred’s daughter Veda is no psycho killer, you may find yourself ready to strangle her after witnessing her devour her hard-working mother’s soul to feed her cold, petty vanity. Mommy Dearest in reverse, and a great noir with a rare heroine.
- A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes. Although not nearly so well known as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the sweet little savages in this deceptively swashbuckling adventure of children kidnapped by pirates are far more chilling, if you ask me. Hughes pulls the rug out from under the reader with humor and charm, lulling us into a Peter Pan fantasy that gradually turns out to be something else entirely. One of my very favorite books.
- The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, kindergarten style.
- The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing. Some books should come with a warning label for expectant mothers. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is one. This unnerving novella from the nobel-prize-winning author is another. Harriet and David Lovatt have worked hard to assemble a picture perfect life for themselves: a large house filled with family and good things. Then comes their fifth offspring, Ben, a strange throwback to some more brutish time, or is he? You’ll want to read the sequel, Ben in the World, to find out.
- Crooked House, by Agatha Christie. Well this is a classic whodunnit, and so I’m not going to say one more word about what it is doing on this list. Must’ve just been left lying here by mistake. Yes, that’s it. The butler left it.
- The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. I’m not saying that young Miles and Flora are evil. I’m not saying they drove their governess mad. I’m not even saying I fully understand what happened here, and who is to blame. I just know that something is really very wrong with these kids. Maybe we’d all better go back and read the book again, or see the movie, or hear the opera. Maybe then we’ll know.
- The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe. The story of a little boy who becomes a monster, and how he gets that way. To put it simply, this book is utterly horrifying.
- Firestarter, by Stephen King. Charlie McGee is sort of like Carrie‘s little sister. She’s a little girl. Who starts fires. With her mind. ’nuff said.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. One can hardly blame young Merricat for wanting to protect her little sister Constance, and preserve their way of life in Blackwood Manor. What with pesky relatives peering round and pushing their ‘normal’ lives and habits, it is enough to drive one round the bend. Many of Jackson’s unsettling short stories also feature children you might think twice about turning your back on, as does Ray Bradbury with the siblings Peter and Wendy in The Veldt, a chilling tale of parental authority thwarted from The Illustrated Man.
Are there other scary children out there in books and movies that we need to be aware of? Please let us know!