Movies traffic in clichés, many of them so improbable that it's only due to endless repetition that we now accept them as a plausible plot device rather than a ridiculous MacGuffin. (It's a Hitchcock term, kids; give it a good Googling.) The erudite millionaire will marry the beautiful but poor pretzel-cart vendor; the angry, tough teenager from the wrong side of the tracks will turn out to be the noblest and wisest of the stranded plane crash survivors; and as the recent boffo opening of "The Ring Two" suggests, there's nothing more frightening in a horror movie than a creepy kid.
The roster of scary tykes in films is as full as Colin Farrell's little black book. There's the white-haired, yellow-eyed tots in "Village of the Damned," Regan in "The Exorcist," Damien in "The Omen" films, Rhoda in "The Bad Seed" (from almost 50 years ago), Malachai in "Children of the Corn" and "Curly Sue."
(Okay, so Curly Sue wasn't killing anyone. But she was still a nightmare-inducing little weirdo.)
When you stop to think about it, though, the idea of being paralyzed with fear by someone clad in OshKosh B'Gosh is really kinda ludicrous. I don't care how evil Macaulay Culkin is in 1993's "The Good Son." He's 12! Toss him over your knee, take away his Game Boy and tell him to stop killing people! If that doesn't work, threaten him with a contractual obligation to make another "Home Alone" film. Besides, it's impossible nowadays to imagine the average ADD-addled kid having enough patience to not only plan but to actually carry out complicated schemes to maim and destroy.
Editor's Picks: Terrifying Tykes
And it gets worse. At least Macaulay was old enough to dress himself in "The Good Son." Gage Creed (Miko Hughes) was a zombie at the end of the 1989 Stephen King adaptation "Pet Sematary" — but he was 3 years old! Seeing a literal toddler literally toddling through the house with a scalpel and intent to kill is ... well, it's funny. A squeaky baby voice warning, "Now I wanna play with YEEEWWWWW" just wouldn't raise the neck hairs in real life. It would probably be adorable.
Of course, once the devil comes into play, it ratchets things up a bit. Nobody would ever accuse Regan MacNeil of being overly cute once she's possessed by the demon Pazuzu in "The Exorcist" (1973). But even that's an extreme case. Odds are that most real life parents would use the 666 tattoo on little Damien Thorn's scalp as an excuse to pull out the camera rather than the sacrificial knives.
No doubt filmic evil children resonate so much because it's so against the nature of our culture, where kids are sainted and cutesified to the point of nausea (especially if you don't have any of your own). News commentators routinely pontificate that every tragedy is "especially hard on the children," even if Dick and Jane can't relate to the adult bad news at all. Cherubic faces are used to sell products as shamelessly as sex is. And woe to the person who has no interest in seeing someone's new baby photos. It's almost criminal in this country to express anything other than unadulterated love for the mewling and puking wee ones.
Imagine if someone were to walk up to a new parent and point at the pudgy, smelly red infant bunched up in its stroller and say, "Is that your baby? Man, he looks like a jerk!" You just can't get away with that kind of snap judgment on someone who still poops their pants. Alas.
So the notion of tainted purity is freighted with fear. While we've all been scared, at one time or another, by the mysterious lone adult following us down that dark, deserted street, have any of us ever quickened our pace to get away from the baby in the stroller? Well, not out of fear we haven't. But in the movies, a Bugaboo Frog with three recline positions and a reversible handle can be as menacing as a black sedan with tinted windows inching along rain-slicked streets.
Hey, I admit it, I'm not immune. For my money, the scariest single scene in motion picture history involves not one, but three creepy kids. In 1980's "The Shining," when Danny (Danny Lloyd) rounds one of the Overlook Hotel's many corners in his Big Wheel and comes face to face with the dead twin girls imploring him in unison to "come and play with us ... forever ... and ever ... and ever!" — I still get goose bumps just thinking about it.
But in real life? Hell, I'd probably go play.
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