This month’s theme on HorrorAddicts.net is demented children. Creepy kids. Scary small ones. Terrifying tots.
How did this enduring horror trope come about? From Henry James to Shirley Jackson, Ramsey Campbell to Stephen King and beyond, hundreds of 80s midlist paperbacks–and that’s just the literary end of the seesaw–kids have been frightening us, haunting our imagination. Carrie. The Omen. The Exorcist. The Bad Seed. The Brood. Let the Right One In. Children of the Corn…the list goes on and on. And that’s not even touching the plethora of powder-faced ghosts with eyes like piss-holes in the snow, courtesy of J-Horror.
Who will ever be able to forget, to scratch out the brain cells permanently burned with images of Linda Blair as 12-year-old Regan McNeil in The Exorcist, welts scrawling out the words “Help Me” on her skin, tumbling backwards down the stairs, her head twisting 180 degrees, as she suffers the agony of demonic possession? Never mind the scene with the crucifix. How about little Damien Thorne in The Omen, whose idea of good fun at a birthday party is watching his nanny hang herself from a window? And Michael Myers, standing in front of his house in a clown outfit, fresh from slaughtering his older sister in Halloween?
Childhood is supposed to be a golden time in our lives. A time of innocence and play. Exactly how did it become corrupted? What is the resonance in actual life of these abominations?
The real horror, I suspect, lies in the way the evil of the adult world seeps into that golden realm. Try as we might to protect them from harm, children are victimized psychologically, sexually, physically and in other ways. The fallout from this trauma becomes compressed in narratives that detail our deepest fears. These children are aspects of ourselves, writ large. Because nobody escapes childhood unscathed. Even if we’re popular, well-liked, we see how bullies mistreat the weaker kids (Carrie, Christine, Evilspeak), and the subconscious projects means of, if not righting these wrongs, at least a good, satisfying round of havoc, blood, fire and the creative use of cutlery.
As with many aspects of life, denial of the problem is no solution. Children are our most vulnerable citizens, and it’s little wonder that they serve so often as the source of fear. As of 2015, statistics indicate that at least 1,500 children die of abuse yearly in the United States alone–a collective wound that festers and burns.
This assumes that all children come into this world a blank slate, and it is purely environment that shapes them. And that is much too simplistic. Part of the fun of child-themed horror–for after all, we are talking about entertainment, however dark its roots–comes from the recognition that kids aren’t innocent in a metaphysical sense. Rumors of demon broods are more factual than they appear.
Children arrive smeared with blood and mucus, chaotic blocks of potential awareness, maturity, intelligence and empathy. Playful mischief can and does register as cruelty. Witness your normal baby, the ultimate megalomaniac, demanding all to serve him, worse than any tyrant.
So, as Facebook relationship status has it, “it’s complicated.” Horror gives us a means to deal with our helplessness in the face of core human evils, gain some kind of catharsis and challenge the fears that might otherwise overwhelm us. We were all children once, and the choice is perennial: giving in to the dark side of adulthood or finding some means to free ourselves from the contagion.
April is the start of Spring; new life flourishes where the old dies. So let’s enjoy a month of enfants terribles, sanguinary small fry, knee high nemeses, miniature malefactors. The stories we tell about the younger versions of ourselves can be a source of healing and pleasure.
And now, without further ado: HorrorAddicts.net presents April’s Demented Children.