Why do so many horror stories involve children? Children aren’t supposed to be scary.
Aren’t supposed to be…
I think the thing that scares me more than animals with problem-solving capabilities are children, or if truth be told, children scare me more…why? Because children aren’t supposed to be scary. I am currently working on my 2nd anthology, and like And They All Lived Happily Ever After! this collection is also inspired by fairy tales, not exactly by the moral of the story but more so of the children who star in them.
There is something so unsettling about children committing vile acts of violence, or witnessing them as victims of such yet from the Brothers Grim to mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, from The Bad Seed to Cooties it seems we can’t get enough of creepy little kids doing creepy cunning stuff. Why is that? Is there something wrong with us?
**An anonymous user on Stack Exchange made a really interesting point, in a mini think piece he says:
This is a topic of which there is a huge body of work, circulating different theories of why children are such a prevalent theme of horror, so its unlikely you will find a single comprehensive answer/theory, but there is one unifying reason that all parties are in agreement upon:
Kids are scary, yo.
Children are able to operate as Microcosm for social anxieties. They are largely denied ‘a voice’ (particularly if they are infants), or when they do have a ‘voice’ it is distorted by the ‘inexperience of youth’, and so something that should sound innocent can come across as sinister. Think of “They’re here” from Poltergeist, “1 – 2 – Freddy’s coming for you, 3 – 4 – better lock your door..” from Elm Street and “I see Dead People” from The 6th Sense…. but there are plenty more.
As a personal aside (but a good example!) a friend of mine once told me that when he was tucking his son into bed, his 3 yr old son said “Goodbye”. He said, “No, its Bedtime now, so we say “Goodnight”. His son replied, “I know Dad, but this time it’s Goodbye”… He slept with the light on that night.
Children are something that are familiar, but still refracted through their own experiences; under-developed and ‘alien’. There is no equivalent word in the English language for this apparent dichotomy, but the German word is ‘Unheimlich’, meaning un-homely (the opposite of what is familiar – or not right within the home, as a place of safety). This is to say the fear doesn’t come from something being obviously sinister grotesque, but just slightly not right, but without being able to fully explain why.
German culture actually has a legacy of being slightly obsessed with the “Unheimlich”, and Freud wrote a great deal about it (claiming it is where our fear originates). The idea of a Doppelganger originates from the “Unheimlich”, and as such there are sinister connotations associated with twins. Twin children, as in the Grady Twins of “The Shining”, are perhaps the ultimate representation of “Unheimlich”.
Children are not governed by the norms of society, as they are not yet participants of it. As our general notions of safety are governed by our shared assumptions to ‘play by these rules’, and children are outside of this, they are considered ‘unpredictable’, which can create anxiety, often turning them into ‘folk devils’.
As an opposing theory to this (which is particularly pertinent to Horror) children who have a supernatural or sociopathic understanding of the rules of normality but elect to disregard them are a classic origin of horror.
Damien from ‘The Omen’ is an example of this type of fear, as he is considered the ultimate ‘The Possessed’ child who demonstrates and awareness and is complicit of his own evils. The book “You’re only Young Twice” by Theorist Tim Morris features a chapter ‘Panic Attacks: Children as Adults, Adults as Children in the Movies’ which explores the origin of Horror within these parameters, and will be able to provide you with a long history of terror being extracted from children in this way.
Film Theorist, Mary Jackson identifies this films with their own nomenclature as a sub-genre ‘Children as Horror’, and identifies our fear of these ‘Evil Children’ as the representation of our societal fear of failing the younger, emergent generations:
‘Not surprisingly, in the run of child-as-monster films, frequently the real point is not the evil of children, often the victims of demonic possession themselves, but rather the ineffectiveness of the family, church, and state – America’s most highly valued institutions – to guard themselves against deception and impending destruction.’
Regan from ‘The Exorcist’ is a similar case, although her’s is a story of the corruption of innocence as penance for her mother’s implied heresy/blasphemy/impiousness. Her’s is a meta-religious allegory to the Angel of Death taking the children of the impious, but much more sinister: The devil ‘takes them’, but the terror is not through removal but through defilement.
The most obvious (perhaps) reason for children being so numerous in Horror needs little explanation:
Children aren’t supposed to be scary.
By subverting our expectations of children as non-threatening entities, Horror is able to force doubt into our natural assumptions, which is a staple of effective horror.
Of course, it’s become so common place for Children to be ‘Evil’ in Horror movies, and this genre tradition has become so entrenched, that its hard not to automatically consider children as the de-facto evil in a horror movie. Such is the way of postmodernism.**
I couldn’t have said it better, which is why I posted it here. It’s a really interesting thread, a deep pool of information if you have some extra time you should check out the conversation: Kids are scary, yo.
Kids are hella scary and not only in fiction but have the potential to become extremely dangerous … in real life. So why do we keep having them? Why won’t we just leave them alone? We are through songs, images, and rhyme and reason we are warned of the hazards. So, armed with this knowledge why do we dare to thread were angels won’t?
Again, I have to ask Is there something wrong with us?
No. Like the true HorrorAddicts that we are, we just keep coming back for more, drinking from the fountain of youth despite the evidence that the water is tainted.
See what I just did there, ‘fountain of youth?’ lol