Monday, October 14, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Creepy/Killer Kid Movies

Nothing delivers good scares like a creepy or a killer kid movie. The reason is simple: there is a persistent mythology of childhood that is part of the American gestalt. The reasons are legion, and the culprits are many, but chief among them is the notion that kids are supposed to grow up in this Mark Twain-esque, Norman Rockwell-like setting where the colors are all saturated and there’s good fishing at the pond, and teachers still get apples on their desks, and children are completely innocent and devoid of negative images, feelings and emotions until they magically turn eighteen and then are eligible to be killed in foreign wars.

This is all crap, of course. All kids are born feral and require constant vigilance to ensure they don’t turn out to be creepy or killer kids. They all play with bugs, poop, and dead things, and they see and hear all manner of stuff that they shouldn’t, often without context or explanation, and so they form their own weird associations with things like death and violence.

And that’s why Killer Kid movies are so scary. They show us the thing that we don’t ever want to acknowledge or admit to ourselves, and it’s this: the myth of childhood is actually a lie. We can’t protect our children from death, from dying, from craziness, from monsters, from any of it. That’s extremely frightening to most people, and it’s largely the reason for the myth in the first place.

The best movies in this category exploit that underbelly to a tremendously successful degree. Again, my yardstick for quality here is pure scare: does the movie stay with you after you stop watching it? Also: there are a number of movies not on this list, that have creepy kids in them, but for one reason or another would also fit on another list. Ginger Snaps is a good example in that the sisters are pretty screwed up and creepy, but let’s face it: Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie, not a creepy kid movie. Let the Right One In, same thing, only it’s vampires. So, if you don’t see what you’re looking for on this list, let me know and I’ll tell you why.

5. Pet Semetary (1989)
Remember when I said earlier about the 1980s Stephen King movies sucking? Here’s Exhibit A, right here. Flat script, flat acting, and flat pacing really suck most of the life out of this movie. That is, until Gage comes back. After that, it’s great. But frankly, it’s almost not worth slogging through the first half of the movie to get there. 

Fred Gwynne is wasted in this movie. Denise Crosby should have stayed on Star Trek: the Next Generation. This was not the leap into movies she thought it would be. (See Also: the career choices of David Caruso.) And yet...Gage’s “No Fair!” will stick with you and almost overshadow the rest of this terrible movie. The movie gets bonus points for the Ramones’ song, “Pet Semetary.”

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4. Children of the Corn (1984)
The 1980s may well be remembered as the decade of crappy Stephan King movies, for they were legion at this time. They ran the gamut from, “That wasn’t really a Stephen King movie,” to “this was freaking terrible and I want a time machine to keep me from ever having seen it.” There were, of course, a couple of exceptions, and Children of the Corn is one of them.

The film tends to deviate sharply (as they all did in those days) from the really effective Stephen King short story of the same name (which is part of the problem, right there; it’s a short story that they had to pad out into a ninety-minute movie). The combination of creepy kids and backwater religion are a good mix, even if the ending is a bit of a mess. I’ve not seen the sequels, but really, has anyone? And would you admit it if you had?

3. Village of the Damned (1960)
This movie may well be the origin of why blondes scare me sometimes. This British based movie is an effective sci-fi/horror combination that was remade somewhat successfully by John Carpenter decades later.

There’s an event in a small village that knocks everyone out at once. When they all wake up, a number of women are suddenly pregnant. They all give birth on the same day to a crop of blonde freaks. And the rest of the movie is the town dealing with the kids, and vice versa. This movie does a lot with very little, and the story is interesting and tense.

2. Orphan (2009)
A young couple dealing with the loss of their child decide to adopt a very sweet young girl. Simple enough, right? And then the crazy stuff happens and it’s pretty upsetting and bleak.

One of the most recent entries in the genre, and whoa baby, what a weird-ass movie! Some people have criticized the film for its “anti-adoption” bias, but I really don’t see that as being an issue, since the creepy kid in question is something I’ve never seen in a movie before. That’s right—a unique take on the creepy kid film, but be warned: if you don’t buy the premise, you won’t like the ending. If you do buy the premise, then hang on to your hat, because this is a corker.

1. Spider Baby (1968)
Subtitled “The Maddest Story Ever Told!” and featuring an elderly Lon Chaney, Jr. and an opening song called “Cannibal Feast” that would seem at first blush to be a novelty song, but then it really isn’t. That same dynamic could well apply to Spider Baby.

It seems, at first glance, to be a low budget mish-mash of other stories, but it’s actually the performances in Spider Baby that make this movie so good. The kids, Elizabeth and Virginia, are perfectly played as not being quite right from the get-go, and brother Ralph, played by a young Sid Haig, almost seems as if he’s a hold over from Todd Browning’s Freaks. Lon Chaney, Jr. is the caretaker of the Merrye house and its children, and when other interested parties swoop in to divvy up the spoils, things get a little dicey, to be sure. Spider Baby  is a classic, certainly informed by earlier movies like The Bad Seed, but never quite duplicated for being a lot more disturbing than the filmmakers were probably intending.

1 comment:

Taranaich said...

I am not good with these sorts of films. Never watched any of them after a first viewing. Nonetheless, Rhoda from The Bad Seed is probably the most frightening child in cinema for my money (even if it's more psychological thriller than horror per se).