Children in Horror

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With the release of Orphan upon us, it seems as good a time as any to consider the role that kids have played in the horror genre. Other groups have fairly consistent, even ritualized roles in films. Men as antagonists are usually the threat of aggressive male sexuality, wielding phallic weaponry and chasing down hapless female victims. Women are either the sexualized teenaged victim, the virginal survivor, or in some classic horror, the threat of female social and sexual empowerment to male hegemony. But children in horror movies have not had such a stable role. There are, however, three major trends in the way children fit into horror plots. We’ll call them “the silent witness,” “the creepy little kid,” and “the un-victim.” The silent witness is used most commonly in ghost films like The Messengers and Mirrors. These characters often don’t speak at all (perhaps due to some earlier trauma or developmental shortfall) or they only speak in short, cryptic messages. The driving notion behind these characters is that in their innocence they don’t know to be scared of the ghosts and ghoulies, or in other cases, they retain some knowledge of trust or secret about life that we as adults have forgotten. Either way, these characters represent an almost covetous reverence for the ideal of childhood innocence. The sound of the child’s laughter is usually central to at least one scene, reminding us again of the child’s innocence, but also implying that the child is not alone. One of the most elegant, though not central, uses of this character type is in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the scene when the child, Barry, goes missing. Of course everyone’s favorite use of children in horror movies is the creepy little kid. This is the category that Orphan falls under and also incorporates a lot of ghost films like The Grudge and The Unborn, but it can also include demon-child movies like The Omen. The protagonists of these films are often the parents, or adopted parents, of...
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