Attack of the Evil Scary Children!

image of child courtesy of cx1uk

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!




14 thoughts on “Attack of the Evil Scary Children!”

  1. Among shorter fiction, there Robert Bloch’s “Sweets to the Sweet” (first collected in his PLEASANT DREAMS, iinm), Ray Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin,” and David Campton’s “At the Bottom of the Garden” (albeit the human child is hardly the more eerie one here). Along with such other classics as John Collier’s “Thus I Refute Beelzy” and Saki’s “Gabriel-Earnest” and “Shredni Vashtar.”

    And if evil telepathic fetuses count, there’s Damon Knight’s “Special Delivery.”

  2. Matthew Gant’s “The Uses of Intelligence” is another, albeit a bit gimmicky. I first read it in Robert Arthur’s ghost-edited anthology, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: A MONTH OF MYSTERY. That might’ve been Arthur’s last volume, since he died young in the year it was published.

  3. Thomas Tryon’s “The Other” is pretty good (I’ve been reading a few other books, like “Gone” that seem to take their cue from it).

  4. Why off the top of my head:
    Uhm Mother’s Boys – can’t remember who wrote it.

    Banks, Iain Wasp Factory
    Blatty, William Peter Exorcist
    Block, Lawrence Ariel
    Clegg, Douglas Neverland
    Cook, Robin Mutation
    Courtney, Vincent Goblins
    Craig, Kit Twice Burned
    Defelitta, Frank Audrey Rose
    Defelitta, Frank For Love of Audrey Rose
    Due, Tananarive Living Blood
    Ewers, Hanns Heinz Alraune
    Geary, Patricia Strange Toys
    Golding, William Lord of the Flies
    Grant, Charles L. Pet
    Herbert, James Shrine
    Jeter, K. W. Soul Eater
    Johnstone, William W. Jack-In-The-Box
    King, Stephen Carrie
    King, Stephen Pet Sematary
    King, Stephen Regulators
    Koenig, Laird Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane
    Lessing, Doris Fifth Child
    Marsh, William Bad Seed
    Mcewan, Ian Cement Garden
    McKenney, Kenneth Moonchild
    Neiderman, Andrew Brainchild
    Saul, John Darkness
    Saul, John Suffer the Children
    Taylor, Bernard Godsend
    Thompson, Gene Lupe
    Tremayne, Peter Angelus!
    Tryon, Thomas Other
    Wright, T. M. Children of the Island
    Wright, T. M. Nursery Tale
    Wright, T. M. Strange Seed
    Wyndham, John Midwich Cuckoos

  5. WOW! – that is enough scary evil children to fill a whole scary schoolbus, to drive on some treacherous scary road, toward a scary scary cliff.

  6. However, the kids in JACK IN THE BOX, the only Kotzwinkle book I’m unlikely to reread, remind me of those in Robert Cormier’s THE CHOCOLATE WAR…

  7. That was a really cool post! I am not into horror at all, but I placed some holds anyway. You seem to have lived through reading…

  8. At this Monday’s Thrilling Tales (May 4, 2009) I’ll be reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin,” a simply HORRIFYING tale in which the baddie is a NEWBORN BABE!!!

  9. I don’t think Charlie McGee in King’s Firestarter qualifies for an “evil” child. “Scary,” yes, but not evil. What about the kids in John Farris’ similar The Fury? Or the Spanish film, Who Could Kill a Child?, which plays on the disbelief of adults that children could possibly be evil.

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