I have spoken before at length of the role of the child vampire and its presence or lack of presence both in traditional vampire lore, and the ever changing image of the vampire in our movies and literature, but now I wish to speak of the place of children in general in our works of modern horror. Being myself a horror fanatic, and I like many other people seem to take a most particular pleasure in movies that feature the proverbial bad seed, evil, homicidal, sinister children. There is something about these underage malcontents that is particularly chilling, more so than some of are other more common villain types. Of course in exploring this subject I will have to bring to the surface some of the ideas and concepts which have already been discussed and touched upon in previous posts, but they are ideas that are most significant in exploring the terror that children can inspire within us.
In contemplating this idea, of course I cannot help but to bring to mind some of the old classics that I am sure most all of us remember well. There are different types of children villain that appear. Now, naturally I have to start off with perhaps one of the oldest and most classics out there, and that is The Omen, and our dearly beloved Damien. The anti-christ reborn as a child, is of course an ever present theme in our horror. Along this same line we also have gold old Rosemary’s Baby. In these stories we have children who are unnaturally processed by some evil force, no less chilling for it, but they are given an “excuse” if you will for their terrible deeds, as they simply are not truly human. The everyday person does not expect to pop out the second-coming of evil incarnate, yet these movies hint at the suggestion of it, displaying seemingly perfectly average families who find themselves gripped in a horror that cannot be imagined. Of course what such stories suggest is that chilling prospect of infanticide, the parents being put in the position of having to slay their own flesh blood, what is in all physical appearance but a child, even as they know the beast which lurks within.
There are also cases of possession, in which a child find themselves suddenly taken over by some evil force which begins to take control of them. The Exorcist naturally must come first and foremost into this category, a brilliant movie of horror, and followed closely behind by The Children of the Corn, now that is a film that embodies the fear that children can install when they step out of their natural roles, and rise to the occasion of unspeakable evil. Who can forget that brutal scene at the beginning of the movie?
But perhaps the most chilling of all, is the truly bad seed, those children that have no supernatural excuses but are simply born evil through and through. I will never forget the movie The Good Son, and a newer movie along the same line, Joshua, of course I also think it fitting to bring to mind the book Lord of the Flies, a tale of what happens when children are left to their own devices without supervision.
Now the question is jut what it is that makes the things so particularly chilling? First and foremost the obvious answer to this question must be addressed. The simple fact that there is an idea that some have developed in the innocence and purity of children, the fact that it has come to be accepted that children are indeed born “good” if you will, and that they cannot be seen as inherently evil or bad, but it is their environment around them which may begin to shape such notions around children and that they are shaped by their situation. Of course it is understandable why some people might not want to consider the idea that evil may be formed in the womb and there is nothing that can be done to reverse or change it. If a child is indeed evil, people like to fathom that it must have been constructed as evil in someway by external forces.
The wicked child of our horror stories is then the complete perversion and abstraction from everything that a child should be. To think of such youth so tainted by such a vile need for violence goes against what we think of the natural laws of child, thus it becomes grotesque, and the grotesque always has the ability to make is stir in unease.
Let us consider other factors that seem to play in these concepts and what they might suggest. Often in the cast of such stories of villainous children there is lurking in the background some Freudian concepts. The age old Oedipal Complex is one that is often played upon and taken to perverse literal and twisted levels in these stories of evil children, as it often the case that the impish child will tend to favor one parent over the other and thus play the two against each other, intrusting the one while inspiring fear in the other. Though often enough, in a way to twist the knife of fear even further it is the mother with him becomes the first primary object of terror of the devious designs of their offspring, while the child then turns to the father in an act of innocence, thus driving the mother mad. There are potent physiological reasons for just why this might be a scene so commonly played out. The first and foremost and basic objective is of course the turning of the bond between mother and child into the grotesque, after all what greater terror could there be but for a child to turn against its own mother, this goes against our perception of the laws of nature, while for a child to be pitted against the father, is something that can be more readily accepted as part of the child’s growing process, but the mother of course is the figure of nourishment, and secretly, something to be held sacred. Other reasons behind this, is playing upon more stereotypical concepts, it can be more readily accepted that the woman’s nerves might be fragile, women are commonly portrayed as more emotional, thus it is easier to accept the man disbelieving his wife, and finding here outlandish accusations as being driven from emotion and stress. It would be a harder case to sell, to place the woman in the role as the rational one, and the man in the role of being susceptible to superstition.
One most also contend with the idea that in truth in such episodes the mother would be seen as inherently posing a greater threat to the child. As already touched upon, it is accepted that the mother has a particularly sacred bond with the child, of course it was the mother who actually cared the child within her, and often, though once again playing upon stereotypes, mothers can be more readily seen as possessing certain intuition regarding the child, while the father figure is seen as having a bit more of a distant relationship with the child, so should there indeed be something amiss, or wrong with the child, it could be seen the mother might be the first to pick up upon the signs and sense the perversion. So the child must then make the first movie to start to discredit the mother before she can bring the father into her confidence against the child.
Another factor which makes these wicked minors so particularly terrifying is the role in which moral conflictions play within the story, and just what is suggested. It naturally goes without saying, that to say the least any given adult could indeed “take” a child, in physical stature a child indeed does not pose much of a threat and could be easily defeated if it were to come down to an act of physical conflict between the two, but the child possesses a weapon of psychology over the adult which adds to the mounting terror. The fact, that most average adults would be hesitant to bring about the death and murder of a child, even if they know the darkness which lies within the soul and the true intent of the child, most people, would indeed find it difficult to separate from their mind what they physically see in the child’s appearance, and all of the things they have been led to believe about child innocence, and the general physically helplessness of a child against an adult, from what they know in their soul will happen if they do not snuff out the life. And if the ones who must be responsible for brining about the end are indeed the child’s very parents, all the more wrenching and vile. For there are few crimes that most would consider greater than that of infanticide.