Horror fans enjoy the adrenaline rush they get from watching spine-chilling movies. Many filmmakers are exploring the world of horror to create masterpieces that will offer the audience unique storylines and frightening elements they’re rooting for. Over the years, many franchises like Evil Dead, The Conjuring, The Ring, The Exorcist, and others have developed some great movies that, to date, are re-watched by fans. But there is one thing that successful horror films have in common, and that is kids.
Many horror movies like to put kids in their eerie narratives to elicit a fearful reaction from the audience. Kids have long been a symbol of innocence and often dread the unknown. When children appear in films, the anxieties and unease of adult viewers are certain to rise. Such tales have a positive side too, as the viewers get to witness children taking a stand for themselves, saving lives, and fighting evil fiercely. In many contemporary films, kids are not only portrayed as good, but also as antagonistic or demonic. Let’s just quickly dive into the reasons why young characters are focused on in modern horror movies.
Innocent Characters Are Terrifying
Children are an easy target for evil energy to hunt and haunt since they are vulnerable and can be scared off easily. Seeing a child’s life at stake on-screen puts the viewers in an empathetic position and leaves an emotional impact on their minds. Kids are shrouded in parent love and protection, so when such movies put them in perilous situations, it brings out an unexplored side of them. The child protagonist standing up for good in a battle against evil is common in many modern films like Doctor Sleep, Black Phone, Evil Dead Rise, and others.
Annabelle Creation serves as a good example of a disabled kid named Janice having the curiosity to delve deeper into the unknown. The story follows the Mullins, who allow the orphan girls and a nun to live in their haunted house, where their daughter’s spirit dwells in Annabelle. Janice tries to find out the truth behind a locked room, which results in freeing powerful demonic energy. The audience is left in shock and nervousness when scenes like throwing a disabled kid downstairs and attacking her show up.
Janice also becomes possessed by evil, illustrating how the innocence of a child vanishes when they transform into something dark and twisted. Another kid in the film, Linda, becomes a beacon of bravery, as at one point she takes away the doll and tosses it away in a well. A child protagonist fighting evil energy keeps the viewers guessing about their next moves while teaching them to never underestimate a kid.
Breaking the Stereotypes
Children’s personas reflect a kind of innocence, purity, and light, but some films have already broken these stereotypes by featuring kids in antagonistic or evil roles. Many filmmakers have also faced criticism for starring little children in such gruesome movies. Contrarily, many child actors have been highly praised for their portrayal of creepy characters, like Daveigh Chase in The Ring, Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan, Harvey Spencer Stephen in The Omen, and many more. Many people have also raised concerns about casting real-life kids in such a dark genre and the effect it will have on them. The Exorcist (1973), one of the scariest films ever made, came under fire for its disturbing content that caused viewers to feel scared, shock and gave heart attacks (via NY Times).
The fact that The Exorcist starred a 13-year-old as the main lead tapped into deep-seated fears in viewers’ minds, making it all more horrifying. The story follows a young girl named Regan who becomes possessed by evil after playing with an Ouija board. The film highlights the horrific side of a child with gross graphic content and unpleasant scenes, which might not sit well with many.
The filmmakers stated that it was hard to find a child actor who could be ready to deal with such a terrific plot. Up until Linda Blair stepped in, who had read the Exorcist book, even the directors felt she was a perfect choice for the role. Such horror films have a way of challenging societal norms and presenting an intriguing storyline to the audience.
More Impact and Good Success Rate
In general, horror movies are made to give the viewers thrills and entertainment, as well as, obviously, commercial profits. But it’s undeniable that the inclusion of a child in such films, whether in a negative or positive role, does leave a lasting impact on our minds. However, this doesn’t imply that films starring adults in horror movies don’t have any effect. In fact, there are some popular movies with adults as main characters, like The Shining, Scream, The Scream, Dracula, Halloween, and so on, which did outstandingly at the box office.
Adults tend to be more mature and logical, which gives filmmakers the right opportunity to delve deeper into psychological aspects and real-life themes and to write characters that resonate with adults. Whereas, when kids are exposed to risk, it raises concerns regarding child safety and amplifies the degree of shock. In terms of monetary aspects, such films generate good revenues and are successful. Orphan ($77M), M3gan ($176.8M+), Prey for the Devil ($44M), Annabelle Creation ($306M), Doctor Sleep ($72M), and others are some good films that shattered box office records worldwide.
For decades, the horror genre has been a beloved one, given its massive and loyal fanbase worldwide. The genre has evolved its storytelling techniques and touched on unexplored themes like never before. Famous horror directors like Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, George A. Romero, Guillermo Del Toro, and others have paved the way for modern filmmakers to bring out fresh, horrifying narratives and contribute to the world of horror films.
Speaking of kids, they have been a part of horror films since the initial days of the genre, and it isn’t a new thing. Many ghost stories often depict kids being sensitive to paranormal activities, which has been a very common theme for years. Some modern filmmakers also focus on these innocent characters to incorporate them into compelling and new narratives while keeping in mind the well-being and safety of child actors.
To include child characters is a personal choice of a filmmaker; it varies depending on the creator’s vision and the story of the film. But it’s worth noting that modern horror filmmakers are redefining the genre by blending it with other genres and catering to the audience’s preferences.