Bad Seeds: Our Obsession with Evil Children in the Movies
Why do we love evil children in movies? Is it the innocence turned on its head? Is it our deep-seated fears surrounding Nature vs. Nurture?
When it comes to Halloween costumes, perhaps one of the creepiest looks is that of the killer kid. See the movie selections below for some inspiration for your next “bad seed” costume. Whether it’s a cracked porcelain doll, a scary clown, a deranged Easter bunny, or a parasitic twin you’re looking for, we’ve got professional-caliber Halloween masks and costumes that will linger in onlookers’ memories for years to come.
Five of the Best Horror Movies About Evil Children & Why We Love Them
The Bad Seed (1956)
The first of its ilk, The Bad Seed gives us Rhoda, a blond-braided, blue-eyed, pressed-dress portrait of Aryan perfection. Behind the sweetest smile, there is a dark evil driving her to beat and drown a classmate who beats her at penmanship. The film follows the mother Christine’s sickening realization that her girl is tied to the family dog’s “accidental fall” from the apartment window, the elderly neighbor’s fatal tumble down the stairs, and the maintenance man’s fiery death.
The allure of this film is the idea that some people are simply born rotten. While investigating true crime stories, Christine unearths the fact that she was, in fact, adopted and finds that her own mother was a notorious serial killer who died in the electric chair. She is racked with guilt believing she passed on “the bad seed” gene to her child. The father’s lengthy absence plays into 1950s fears of disturbing the ideal family life.
The Omen (1976)
The Omen goes one step further than The Bad Seed by not only suggesting that a child can be born with murderous intent, but that the child is actually the Hellspawn of Satan. Arriving into the Thorn family under dubious circumstances, baby Damien despises church, frightens zoo animals, and has a “666” birthmark. After their nanny publicly hangs herself at Damien’s fifth birthday party, a Catholic priest tries to warn the family about Damien’s mysterious origins before a lightning rod strikes him dead during a storm. The film ends in a dark place with the pregnant mother thrown from a window and the father shot by police before he can dispatch with the evil child.
We love The Omen because it preys on the human fear of the world’s end. Damien’s destiny unfolds in a way that scatters all the powerless pawns in his life with ease to allow his ascension. It’s no surprise he was placed into the family of a soon-to-be-promoted diplomat who took audience with the president.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
In Rosemary’s Baby, a woman gets mixed up with the wrong crowd of friendly neighborhood Satanists. Unbeknownst to her, they drug her drink, get her knocked up by a demonic presence, and feed her “pregnancy health drinks” that makes her gaunt and crave raw meat. She suspects her neighbors, doctor, and husband are in on a cult that wants to take her baby away from her for ritual sacrifice – but comes to learn her child is the son of the Devil.
Rosemary’s Baby preys upon our conspiracy fears that no one can be trusted. These days, pregnant women are bombarded with mixed messages about vaccines, reports of “toxic” baby products, and so many news stories fueling stranger danger that it’s no wonder the film still resonates with us. More importantly, it explores the question: What choice does a mother have upon learning her child is pure evil? Can she really kill her own child? Can she give up her rights as a parent to allow the child to be raised by a cult of Satanists? Rosemary’s decision is a hard one that mirrors Dr. Frankenstein’s dilemma. In the end, she chooses to love her child and care for him, despite what he is. In the future, if genetic testing allows us to know for certain whether a child will grow up to be a monster, would any of us make the same call?
The Exorcist (1973)
Twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil wasn’t born evil, but rather, became possessed by evil spirits after a run-in with the Ouija Board. Her parents begin noticing a slew of strange behaviors – an imaginary friend, stealing, using obscene language, displaying abnormal strength, and urinating on the floor. She undergoes a barrage of diagnostic tests, but everything comes back normal. The full nature of her possession is revealed during an exorcism, culminating with a chilling backwards crab walk, unholy acts with a crucifix, and split pea soup vomiting that will continue to haunt audiences for the rest of their lives.
At the time the movie came out, Pope John Paul VI expressed fears that “Evil is not merely a lack of something, but an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting.” The movie was written by a devout Catholic who ran with a real-life documented story of alleged demon possession. You can also view The Exorcist as a film about the corruptibility of teenagers going through puberty. Parents can’t help but feel their innocent child has been hijacked by a malevolent spirit as their spawn begin to hang out with troublemakers, behave more secretively, and start to experiment with vulgarity and sex for the first time. These particular parents assume some liability for what happens to their daughter, as they fail to keep a close eye on her activities and dabbling in the occult.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
The story starts out with teenage Kevin jailed after committing mass murder at his high school. His mother, Eva, goes back through her memories of him growing up while trying to cope with judgment from the neighbors. From the start, Eva had trouble bonding with her incessantly crying newborn. Early on, he was a demanding toddler who resisted toilet training and showed no affection or interest in anything. Later, he grows to become a blackmailing pre-teen who plays his parents off one another. She buries her suspicions even after he begins to exhibit sadistic tendencies in a freak incident involving the family pet guinea pig and his younger sister.
Actress Tilda Swinton, who played Eva, summarized our fascination with the film best: “It’s everybody’s nightmare that, when they’re pregnant, they’re going to give birth to the devil. That when they bring up children, especially a boy, they’re going to give birth to this violence.” The child, in a way, becomes the personification of the mother’s own misanthropy. We Need To Talk About Kevin centers on the very real fears that parents have: What if our child doesn’t turn out as planned? Mothers, in particular, suffer guilt when they yearn for alone time or when they angrily snap at their kids. They may harbor internal doubts or even regrets, especially if their experience doesn’t jive with the picture-perfect family portraits posted on Facebook.
In the end, bad seed films give us the same type of catharsis that horrific news stories provide: “I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.”
Are You A Bad Seed?
If you’d like to dress up as an evil child for Halloween, there’s no better place to start than at the Horror Dome’s extensive collection of costume ideas. We can make your nightmares come true!
Read more about demonic kids in the movies!
- Uproxx – Evil Kids in Movies
- AZ Central – Horror Movies with Evil Children
- Thought Co – Best Killer Kid Movies
- The Line Up – 11 Evil Children Movies
- Slate – Bad Seeds Films: History of the Genre
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