Okay, so I've never been much for the company of kids. which may make me extra-susceptible when it comes to the evil deeds and manipulations of a perfectly precious child on-screen. It's an easy button to push, though -- after all, who would ever suspect, let alone harm a vengeful little moppet?
None of that appeal escapes tomorrow's release, Orphan, and it certainly isn't the first time that horror and horseplay have mixed on film. While I'm tempted to include that little girl from [REC] (and also Quarantine, I suppose) for giving me the willies, I won't because she wasn't the chief antagonist, and the only reason I'm leaving Children of the Corn off the list is, well, I haven't actually seen that yet. And although it doesn't hit Stateside shelves until this October, keep an eye out for the very tense import, The Children.
But worry not: even with the exceptions, there's certainly no shortage of other brats to choose from.
1. The Bad Seed (1956) -- I'm not beholden to the belief that first is in fact the worst (and that second is thusly the best), but Patty McCormack set the bar pretty high pretty early by earning an Oscar nomination as the pig-tailed and proper Rhoda, the young girl who'd kill for a penmanship medal (give her some credit for setting her sights towards the scholastic). But is her serial-killer lineage to blame, or does poor parenting trump genetics? Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm sure serial killers can make great parents...
2. The Omen (1976 / 2006) -- Okay, so we all knew this was coming. The wife of an American diplomat has a stillbirth, so with his permission (and not hers), the dead baby is swapped out for Damien, who just so happens to have a promising future as the Anti-Christ coming up. In all fairness, Damien himself doesn't quite kill anybody -- though he does put Mommy in the hospital -- but those around him just happen to end up all sorts of impaled and decapitated and shot to death by police. Points to central casting for giving the super-sinister Harvey Stephens and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick each a role worth living in the shadow of.
3. Village of the Damned (1960 / 1995) -- In the hamlet of Midwich, everyone in the town limits passes out simultaneously, and they all eventually wake up pregnant (well, the women do anyway). Out of the wombs come unblinking tots with a knack for telepathy, telekinesis and growing up far faster than they should. Similar incidents have cropped up elsewhere, with mostly murderous results, and though a kindly professor (George Sanders in the original, and Christopher Reeve in his last role before that tragic horse accident) tries to interact with compassion, they both decide that the best thing to do is wield a psychic defense against them long enough to blow 'em to smithereens. I thought a simple time-out would suffice.
4. The Ring (2002) -- Truth be told, that last line from #3 was lifted from a guilty pleasure of mine, Scary Movie 3, and although George Carlin's lines right before it are intended to spoof film #4, I find that they pretty accurately sum up the troubles that the psychically tormented Samara puts everyone through: "We loved our daughter very much, but she was evil. Made the horses crazy. Killed our puppies. Hid the remote. Really sick shit. My wife took her to the old family farm and drowned her in the well. I felt a simple time-out would have been sufficient." Okay, so she doesn't hide the remote; if anything, she makes the most of it by spreading her curse via VHS while that was still a viable form of media. Well, that, and popping out of TVs and jolting around all static-like (man, did that ever give me the creeps -- a feat that I'm afraid the original, Ringu, never really managed with me).
5. Joshua (2007) -- Some parents never learn, namely Vera Farmiga. You'd think that after putting up with the sociopathic torments of young Jacob Kogan after bringing his new baby sister home, she wouldn't be so primed to take on Orphan and all the menace that Esther has to offer. Actually, Esther and Joshua would probably get along famously: causing accidents and covering them up, pushing parents away and then having them taken away, juice boxes and such. Oh, the follies of youth...
6. The Good Son (1993) -- What better way for Macaulay Culkin to have distanced himself from the squeaky-clean success of Home Alone than by taunting the newly mommy-less Elijah Wood with insinuations of previous misdeeds and implications of worse to come? If anything, that happy-go-lucky persona made for the ideal facade behind which a kid who causes highway pile-ups for fun could hide, and by the end of the film, you don't want to see him take a paint can to the face so much as fall off a cliff.
7. Home Movie (2008) -- This one didn't seem to get much festival play and was relegated to a Blockbuster Exclusive release, but more often than not, Christopher Denham's directorial debut is an effectively creepy handheld look at two parents (Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain) growing steadily aware of their children's increasingly psychotic antics. Are they possessed by Something Else or merely sociopaths in the making? At any rate, they sure have a nasty knack for biting themselves and others when given half a chance...
Honorable mention: the teenagers -- specifically, the hoodie-wearing trouble-makers of 2007's Ils (Them) and 2008's Eden Lake.
Most valuable player: Cameron Bright, who scored a banner year in 2004 by playing unusually wise children in the drama Birth and the thriller Godsend.
MORE: Check out Moviefone's list of the 15 creepiest kids in movies.