If there were a daycare centre for juvenile cinematic horrors, which movie leads would top the class? With The Prodigy creeping into theatres tomorrow, there’s going to be another contender for “most evil child spawned in a horror movie”.

Tapping into our innermost fears and exploiting them in perverse ways, horror movies use children to show how innocence can be corrupted. The arrival of children into a family is meant to be a joyous occasion and parents are meant to love their kids unconditionally, but what if something isn’t quite right? Horror movies have long presented audiences with children who are anything but innocent; their sinister inclinations often the result of supernatural intervention.

The Prodigy is the latest film in the “bad seed” horror sub-genre. In the movie, Sarah Blume (Taylor Schilling) and her husband John (Peter Mooney) notice an unsettling change in the behaviour of their young son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott and David Kohlsmith at different ages). Sarah takes Miles to see a psychologist, who refers Sarah to Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore), a hypnotist and expert on the theory of past lives. Arthur tells Sarah that she must face a fantastical and frightening possibility: Miles has been possessed by the spirit of a serial killer.

Miles in The Prodigy. Photo credit: IMDB

Miles follows in the tiny footsteps of children in horror movies who have terrified their parents, tormented their peers and orchestrated an “accident” or two for their caretakers. Here are five other sinister children who might be Miles’s playmates in the cinematic daycare of horrors. Let’s meet them – if you dare.

#1: Damien from The Omen (1976)

Damien from The Omen. Photo credit: IMDB

When it comes to evil children, it’s hard to outdo the spawn of Satan himself. This classic supernatural horror film stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as diplomat Robert Thorn and his wife Katherine respectively. While the couple is stationed in Rome, Katherine gives birth to a boy, who dies. The hospital chaplain asks Robert to adopt an orphaned infant – Robert agrees and does not tell Katherine that this baby is not their biological son. The couple names the boy Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens). When Damien reaches the age of five, eerie occurrences plague the Thorn family. Catholic priest Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) warns Robert and Katherine that their son is the antichrist, whose arrival on earth is a harbinger of the apocalypse.

Damien is an enduring figure and the template for many creepy children from later horror movies. Child actor Stephens was reportedly cast because he did something that would cost most other actors the role: he attacked director Richard Donner during the audition (after being invited by Donner to do so). The film was followed by multiple sequels, including Omen III: The Final Conflict, in which an adult Damien was played by Sam Neill. A remake was released on June 6, 2006 – deliberately invoking the number 666, the mark of the beast. The Omen also spawned a TV series called Damien, which depicts a 30-year-old Damien who is unaware that he is the antichrist.

#2: Sadako/Samara from Ringu (1998) and The Ring (2002)

Ringu is one of Japan’s most iconic horror movies. The film is based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki and centres on a mysterious cursed videotape – anyone who watches the videotape will die in seven days. The tape is haunted by the vengeful ghost of Sadako Yamamura (Rie Inō), a young girl with psychic powers who was killed and whose body was thrown into a well.

Samara in The Ring. Photo credit: IMDB

The film was hugely popular in Japan, followed by multiple sequels, TV series and video games. Ringu was remade as The Ring Virus in Korea, but the remake that most audiences are familiar with is the American version, released in 2002. In that film, Sadako was renamed “Samara” and was played by Daveigh Chase. Samara psychically tortures her adoptive parents and their horses, leading to her adoptive mother Anna (Shannon Cochran) killing Samara and dumping her body in a well.

The image of Sadako/Samara crawling out of a television screen, arms outstretched, and face completely covered by a curtain of long, dark hair, is seared into the minds of many moviegoers. The latest entry in the franchise is called Sadako, set for release in May 2019. The Japanese film will centre on an aspiring YouTuber who attempts to awaken Sadako’s spirit.

#3: Henry from The Good Son (1993)

Henry in The Good Son. Photo credit: IMDB

Macaulay Culkin may be best known as the mischievous but lovable Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone series, but in 1993, he attempted to prove his acting range by playing a downright evil child in the psychological thriller The Good Son. Culkin plays Henry, whose cousin Mark (Elijah Wood) comes to visit. Mark is still recovering from his mother’s death and Henry’s morbid tendencies begin to make Mark feel uneasy. Henry causes a massive accident by throwing a dummy off a bridge and onto a highway, and later attempts to kill his younger sister Connie (Quinn Culkin, his actual younger sister in real life) when the children go ice-skating. Mark’s aunt and Henry’s mother Susan (Wendy Crewson) initially refuse to believe Mark’s accounts of Henry’s disturbing behaviour, but soon finds herself in danger from her own son.

The Good Son is remembered not only for pitting two of the biggest child stars of the 1990s against each other, but also for its troubled production process. Celebrated English novelist Ian McEwan was hired by 20th Century Fox to pen a screenplay about evil children. The film’s development was interrupted when Kit Culkin, Macaulay’s father and manager, learned about the project and insisted that his son star in the film. After the success of Home Alone, Kit had gained considerable power and influence in Hollywood, and was eager to prove his son could play a dark, dramatic role. Kit also insisted that his daughter and Macaulay’s sister Quinn be cast in the film. McEwan was eventually dismayed with how Kit had hijacked the project, leading to a film that was completely different from what McEwan had conceptualised. The Good Son exists as a cautionary tale about just how far a controlling stage parent can go to further their child’s career.

#4: Esther from Orphan (2009)

Esther from Orphan. Photo credit: IMDB

The tagline for this film puts it best: “There’s something wrong with Esther”. In this psychological thriller, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) are a married couple whose relationship was severely affected after their third child was stillborn. Kate and John decide to adopt a Russian orphan named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Kate feels an affinity with Esther, teaching her to play the piano, but it’s not long before troubling signs emerge. Esther exhibits violent behaviour such as killing a pigeon, wounding a classmate and attacking the nun who heads the orphanage. Kate and John soon discover Esther’s horrifying secret.

Orphan puts a shocking twist on the “evil child” formula, a twist which many viewers did not see coming because of how they’ve been conditioned by earlier films of the same genre. Fuhrman’s disturbing, fascinating performance is the anchor of Orphan. “If America hates me, then I’ve done my job,” Fuhrman said in an interview promoting the film. “That’s the point of the movie – I’m supposed to make everyone hate me, and then at the same time, go, like, ‘Wow, I feel sorry for her,’ but ‘Whoa! She’s so mean!'”

#5: Regan from The Exorcist (1973)

Regan, Father Merrin and Dr Karras in The Exorcist. Photo credit: IMDB

This legendary movie about demonic possession was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and has left an indelible mark on popular culture at large. The film is about Regan (Linda Blair), the 12-year-old daughter of actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). After playing with an Ouija Board, Regan is inadvertently possessed by the ancient demon Pazuzu. The girl begins acting bizarrely and obscenely, cursing, displaying superhuman strength and emitting strange noises. After doctors declare that nothing is physiologically wrong with Regan, psychiatrist and priest Dr Damien Karras (Jason Miller) calls on Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an expert on demonic possession, to perform an exorcism.

Child actress Linda Blair held her own opposite established actors Burstyn and Von Sydow, creating one of the most iconic characters in horror movie history. Blair beat out 500 actresses for the role and did such a startling job playing Regan that she received death threats. Blair had to have a bodyguard with her for six months after the film was released. “when the movie came out, the amount of pressure that came down on me wasn’t anything I was prepared for,” Blair said in an interview in 2013, the 40th anniversary of the film. Reflecting on the enduring legacy of The Exorcist, Blair said “It’s an extremely intelligent film and it’s challenging, whether or not you get anything out of it spiritually,” adding that she thinks “everyone gets something different out of The Exorcist, which is what makes it so great”. The Exorcist spawned two sequels, two prequels and a TV series.

Miles and his mother Sarah in The Prodigy. Photo credit: IMDB

Just how evil is Miles when stacked up against his predecessors, and will the forces of good be able to contain the mayhem he wreaks? Find out when you watch The Prodigy, in theatres now.

Sources: IMDBEntertainment WeeklyCrunchyrollThe IndependentSyfy WireScreenrantDread Central

 

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