The Lure Of Demon Spawn: Do We Love To Hate Kids?

Devil children are a horror-movie staple that never gets old. Why?

The Bad Seed, The Good Son, The Omen, The Ring, The Exorcist, the Children of the Corn, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. Possessed, bewitched, or merely evil, these sinister, vacant-eyed tots are a horror-movie stock villain. And that's to say nothing of the creepy specters: The Innocents, The Others, anyone under 12 in The Shining.

This week, The Orphan joins the ranks, prompting Slate's Jonah Weiner to examine our fascination. As he points out, they are often used as a critique of the breakdown of traditional family structures. "In these movies, the eruption of evil often comes hand in hand with the disruption of traditional family order. Single moms don't have it easy in the evil-kiddie universe." There's the old chestnut of innocence corrupted, of course, and the fact that this corruption is doubtless the result of some adult original sin, be it societal (nuclear war) or personal (broken families!) All horror movies, if they are really scary, take on something fundamental, after all.

But the scary child genre is especially disturbing because of what it does to us as an audience, and perhaps especially as women. When a character is as unambiguously evil as Damien, or the Good Son, plain and simple it's the director's goal to make us want to hurt children, even kill them, reversing our natural protective instincts in a way that's deeply unsettling. Sometimes there's a sort of Blakeian faceoff between demon child and normal, innocent child (see: The Ring, The Good Son, The Orphanage) as if to show how delicate the balance is between normal and deranged. Usually in these movies the adults start out wanting to protect and care for the demon child, who takes advantage of their naivete. And to me, at least, this is probably what makes them scary: the idea of love and instinct and care unwanted, rejected, scorned - that's a lot darker than the standard issue virgin-hungry axe-wielder.

Minor Threat [Slate]