The Kids Aren’t Alright – a collection of pint-sized killers.
THE OMEN (1976)
Richard Donner’s The Omen would redefine the image of the devil on screen while creating its own religious mythology. By taking its inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen would twist our notions of childhood innocence as the mark of the devil sat beneath the thick black locks of a five-year-old boy. However, The Omen’s journey to the screen wasn’t without its challenges, with nearly every major studio turning down what was initially titled ‘Antichrist’. But when 20th Century Fox honcho Alan Ladd Junior saw the David Seltzer script, he enthusiastically worked with Seltzer and Donner to flesh it out. Ladd would suggest a title change and changes to the final scenes, ultimately ensuring Damien’s first outing gave birth to a whole trilogy.
The Omen would joyously play with every parent’s worst nightmare: the life of your child versus the lives of others. At the same time, rumours of a deadly curse during the production would only strengthen its advertising and box office pull. However, in the end, it is the audience’s reaction to the devil in kid’s clothing that makes The Omen a game-changer. Often copied but never equalled, Donner’s movie is one of the finest horrors ever made.
Everyone from here to Krypton knows the origin story of Superman, an alien baby boy sent to Earth from a home planet facing imminent destruction. The baby’s spacecraft crashes into a cornfield, where a childless couple adopts and raises him. In Superman, the child’s superhuman skills and abilities become a force for good as he grows into an adult. But what if this journey had a different ending? What if the child was full of fear and anger, their destiny pre-planned by an alien race hell-bent on invasion? Brightburn may have the answers.
By merging the story of Superman with The Omen, David Yarovesky, James Gunn, Brian Gunn, and Mark Gunn have the utmost fun placing Superman’s abilities in the hands of a confused and hormonal teenager. As in The Omen, the child’s loving parents are forced to face the horrific realisation that they have harboured a killer as Brandon (the brilliant Jackson A. Dunn) murders everyone in his path.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
On its release in 1984, few would have predicted that Fritz Kiersch’s low-budget adaptation of a short 1977 Stephen King story, later published in King’s 1978 collection Night Shift would spawn a franchise of killer kids movies. Gatlin is your typical mid-western American corn town until its kids mysteriously decide to rid the place of all adults. But what could have caused this pint-sized rebellion of knives, scythes and ropes? When a young couple, Vicky and Burt, stumble upon the seemingly deserted town, they soon find a circus of dungaree-wearing killer kids led by the stony-faced Isaac, a charismatic child preacher who feeds a sinister force lurking in the cornfields.
King’s short story explores the destructive power of religious fanaticism on children and the ease with which they can be manipulated while lacing this with the supernatural influence of a beast or entity hiding in plain sight. While Kiersch’s film would veer from King’s story in several key areas, the most notable of which is the conclusion, the film retains the themes of ritual, cult control and religious fundamentalism held in the short story. Like Who Can Kill a Child, Children of the Corn never seeks to answer all the questions it raises as it explores the interface between innocence and evil. Whether that evil is supernatural or religious is ultimately up to you.
THE KIDS AREN’T ALRIGHT
THE GOOD SON (1993)
Released in 1993, The Good Son had a turbulent journey to cinema screens, beset with rewrites, production changes, and Hollywood politics. The Good Son began its cinematic journey within the imagination of novelist Ian McEwan. Initially conceived as a medium-budget psychological thriller, The Good Son would be placed in the hands of director Michael Lehmann (Heathers). Lehmann’s first act was to cast Jesse Bradford (Presumed Innocent) to play the psychologically damaged Henry. However, at 20th Century Fox, Kit Culkin was negotiating Macaulay’s contract for Home Alone 2 – Lost in New York, a negotiation that would include the part of Henry in The Good Son. Jesse Bradford was out, and Fox eyed Elijah Wood for the role of Mark, bringing together two of the 90s biggest young stars. Meanwhile, McEwan walked away from the project alongside Lehmann, with Fox bringing in Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy).
The Good Son wasn’t afraid to subvert the wholesome images of Hollywood’s highest-paid child stars, but as a result, it ultimately sacrificed McEwan’s psychological thriller for something far more mainstream. But for all its faults, The Good Son does prove one thing: no matter how angelic the face, you never know what horrors lie beneath the hood.
BENNY’S VIDEO (1992)
Michael Haneke is well known for films that reflect and challenge our notions of social development, taking audiences on uncomfortable journeys into some of the darkest corners of human behaviour. Haneke’s ‘glaciation trilogy’ provides us with some of his most provocative work. Starting with The Seventh Continent, a cutting dissection of social progress, wealth and unhappiness, he followed this in 1992 with Benny’s Video before 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance in 1994. Within each film in his ‘glaciation trilogy,’ Haneke held a mirror to modern society’s most uncomfortable truths, his camera challenging our views on progress, humanity, place, media and belonging.
Benny’s Video would offer us a warning from the VHS era that feels even more potent in our social media-driven world. At the heart of Benny’s Video lies a teenage boy’s obsession with Video and a parental need to use media and technology as a babysitter. On meeting a girl at the local video store, Benny invites her home to view his videos, but his disconnected sense of reality soon leads to an event that he cannot rewind or pause. Benny’s Video remains a profoundly uncomfortable viewing experience, as Benny realises that life cannot be edited while his parents cover his tracks. Here, Haneke asks us to ponder a series of pertinent questions about parenting, the nature of guilt, tech and the effect of media on adolescent behaviour.
THE KIDS AREN’T ALRIGHT
THE CHILDREN (2008)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and snotty-nosed kids are full of turkey and chocolate, their hyperactivity mixed with tiredness and tantrums. Sound familiar? This 2008 festive horror is far more than just another Christmas in the trenches as director Tom Shankland takes Invasion of the Body Snatchers and adds a flurry of The Village of the Damned.
Elaine (Eva Birthistle), Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore), and their kids arrive at a snow-covered country house. The reason for their trip is a joyous celebration of the New Year with their close family, Elaine’s sister Chloe (Rachel Shelley), brother-in-law Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield), and their kids. Awaiting them is a freshly prepared meal and plenty of wine and whiskey as the festivities begin. However, it’s not long before Elaine and Jonah’s youngest child suffers a vomiting episode, his behaviour changing from a little cherub to an erratic and reclusive munchkin. But, as this mysterious fever spreads to the other children, the festivities become ominous and deadly.
The Children plays to every parent’s worst nightmare, as an unseen force invades the security of their home, turning family members against one another as their kids become killers. It may not chart new ground, but it does offer a genuinely creepy and assured horror as the festive celebrations become a nightmare of no escape.
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD (1976)
British couple Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) have just arrived in Spain for a relaxing holiday before their new baby enters the world. However, when their arrival in a small coastal town coincides with Mardi Gras celebrations, they quickly leave the heaving streets for the remote island of Almanzora, a small, quaint and secluded community Tom has visited once before. As they arrive in their small rented boat, they are welcomed by a group of pre-teen boys playing in the water. But as they venture into town, the narrow streets are as quiet as the grave, and the adults appear to be missing. Thinking they must have arrived during a holiday or religious event, Tom and Evelyn head to the local hotel, but all they find is an eerie and uncomfortable silence as the distant patter of children’s feet echoes outside.
Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s sun-drenched horror never feels the need to explain why corrupt and violent children stalk the streets of Almanzora, hunting the last remaining adults. For Tom and Evelyn, their only escape will defy their shared morals; after all, Who Can Kill a Child? Serrador leaves us with this question as he places Tom and Evelyn in a nightmare maze of morals vs survival.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014)
Once seen, never forgotten, the Austrian masterpiece Goodnight Mommy sees directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franzyou take us on a deep, dark journey into a pit of pure psychological and physical horror. This terrifying descent involves Elias and Lukas, two nine-year-old twins living in a sprawling and secluded house in the Austrian countryside. When their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home following extensive plastic surgery, both boys find their sense of security turned upside down, as their mother’s face is wrapped in bandages, with only her eyes and mouth visible. But even more unnerving is the change in her behaviour. The boys escape their fears by playing in the surrounding Austrian countryside. But soon, Elias and Lukas begin to discuss whether the woman who now lives in their home is really their mother at all.
Martin Gschlacht’s stunning cinematography creates a sterile and haunting atmosphere as Severin Fiala and Veronika Franzyou slowly rachet up the tension, making you wriggle more and more in your seat as the horror unfolds. Goodnight Mommy thrives on a devilishly complex web of emotions and feelings as it challenges the foundations of our empathy and compassion.
The story of a boy and his first car is as American as apple pie and cream, with many movies exploring the car as an extension of a boy’s emerging manhood. In most cases, the vehicle merely represents a boy’s need to belong in a confusing world of masculine stereotypes. But in Christine, Stephen King twists this rite of passage into something far more horrific as a killer car and a damaged boy come together in the headlights of an unbreakable and deadly bond. The film rights to Christine were snapped up before the novel had even hit bookshop shelves. John Carpenter understood Christine was the star of the film, her headlights beaming as she revved up for murder. But while Christine may steer each death, it’s the confused and isolated Arnie (Keith Gordon) who sits at the wheel. Here, Christine and her twisted mechanical love consume Arnie’s life and turn him into the ultimate killer kid.
Often copied but never bettered, Carpenter’s Christine is nothing short of an absolute blast, its polished physical effects still gleaming nearly forty years after its release. So buckle up for one hell of a ride because Christine is one film that doesn’t run out of gas halfway through.
THE KIDS AREN’T ALRIGHT
CLASS OF 1984 (1982)
Mark L. Lester’s cult classic may have bombed on release, but it has garnered far more attention since then. However, is Class of 1984 a thriller? Teensploitation? Horror? Or a dystopian drama? It’s all of these which may be why Lester’s film struggled to find an audience on release. Class of 1984 highlights and exploits the social fears of its time with such pin-sharp precision that it transcends the labels of any one genre. Here, crime, rebellion, gang violence, drugs and inequality are thrown into a blender in a movie that attempts to play in the same yard as Over the Edge (1979), The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Kubrick’s dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange (1971).
The result is a strange punk horror brew that scrambles your brain. It could be argued that Class of 1984 predicted the more polarised and violent society we now inhabit, one where adults and police often feel powerless to challenge young people. A society where teachers are guarded by security officers, metal detectors protect school entrances and the fear of false allegations haunts careers. However, while many aspects of Class of 1984 feel close to home, the film’s overarching dystopian atmosphere has not come to pass. But while this punk classic may seem like a remnant of a bygone era, it still has a sharp edge, one that would inspire a range of movies from Repo Man (1984) to Dangerous Minds (1995).
HOME MOVIE (2008)
Christopher Denham’s found footage horror carries an unsettling and frankly disturbing atmosphere from the first scene to the last as we watch a series of home movies filmed by Pastor David Poe (Adrian Pasdar) and his psychologist wife, Clare (Cady McClain). Having recently relocated to Upstate New York with their children Jack (Austin Williams) and Emily (Amber Joy Williams), the family’s daily life appears full of love, fun and creativity. However, as they celebrate Halloween together in their new home, it quickly becomes apparent that the kid’s behaviour is becoming unnerving, and as this worsens, from killing family pets to throwing rocks at their father, David and Clare clash over the best way to deal with the terrifying twosome who have replaced their once happy kids.
Clare is determined to find a psychological answer to the sudden change in Jack and Emily. At the same time, David begins to think the house may be evil, its spirits possessing his munchkins and steering their increasingly violent behaviour. Within these discussions of science versus religion and denial versus action, Home Movie finds a unique and unsettling voice in the landscape of found footage horrors as a family slowly unravels through the lens of a camcorder.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)
Based on John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos,” themes of fear, community invasion, isolation, and change surround Wolf Rilla’s stunning 1960 slice of British science fiction horror Village of the Damned. Set in the English village of Midwich, Village of the Damned quickly introduces us to an unnerving mystery as the entire town falls into a strange deep sleep for several hours on a warm summer afternoon. After they wake, the women of childbearing age soon discover they are pregnant and duly give birth to a host of children who all look similar. Each kid has piercing eyes, super intelligence, platinum-blonde hair, and telepathic and telekinetic powers that manipulate and control the villagers around them through a hive mind. Rilla never delves into what or who these children are; instead, Village of the Damned is a science fiction-based exploration of social change following the Second World War. From its twisted portrait of the perfect Aryan race to a reflection of late 50s and early 60s social paranoia, Village of the Damned is a masterclass in socially reflective horror.
THE PIT (1981)
Lew Lehman’s strange cult Canadian movie The Pit is long forgotten in the celluloid mists of time, its story a peculiar mix of horror, fantasy and obsession. Released in 1981, The Pit centres on a disturbed, isolated and obsessive young boy named Jamie, a pit home to some strange creatures called Trogs, a babysitter whom Jamie would like to ‘get to know’ and a demon teddy bear. To say Jamie’s a screwed-up kid would be an understatement. But he is also frequently bullied and misunderstood, meaning there’s a good dose of empathy for this psychotic munchkin even when he starts feeding the Trogs, the humans who have upset him. Meanwhile, away from the deep dark hole in the woods, Jamie has the hots for his babysitter and does everything he can to orchestrate some form of romance, even if it means the odd murder. In one scene, Jamie asks his babysitter to scrub his back while he is in the bath, which plays out as one of the most bizarre scenes in any 80s horror. At the same time, Jamie’s strange bear with glowing red eyes is never explained in just one of a series of narrative mysteries.
The Pit is a bizarre, darkly humourous and utterly ridiculous movie exploring themes of teenage isolation, anxiety, and revenge. Yet, for all its weirdness, The Pit is delightfully eccentric and fun as the mysterious Trogs gobble up those who have taunted and ridiculed young Jamie before turning their attention to the hand that feeds them.
First published in 1973, one could argue that Carrie White was the character who made Stephen King. Coming just three years after the book achieved massive sales, Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie is not only faithful to King’s material but one of the greatest horrors ever made. However, like much of King’s work, supernatural terror is not the core of the horror; puberty, bullying, abuse and religious extremism are.
King’s story and De Palma’s movie are a journey into isolation, family trauma and teenage anxiety, a coming-of-age story with a horrific conclusion. De Palma focuses his camera on Carrie White throughout, allowing the audience to build empathy and understanding before the bloodshed of the final act. Even as the bodies pile up at the Prom from hell, Carrie remains the victim of the piece. Often copied but never bettered, Carrie is a journey into the pain and torment of a girl simply seeking understanding and kindness in a cold, cold world.