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By Mo Moshaty 
January 18, 2024

When we think of the Creepy Kid sub-genre, there’s a lot at play. Take Carol-Ann from Poltergeist, she’s cherubic, well-loved, easygoing, and a sitting duck for evil spirits. On the other hand, someone like Samara of The Ring is a harbinger of evil permeating all that lay eyes on that cursed videotape. But what is it about kids that creates this disquieting species of film? Why are they so damn believable, so damn haunting and so damn heinous? And why do the adults surrounding them play along, and get played with?

Well, Ethologist Konrad Lorenz thinks we can chalk it up to something they refer to as Kindchenschema or a set of facial and body features that make a creature appear "cute" and activate others’ motivation to care for it and protect it as the most precious thing in the world.


But is that easily explained away? We’ll find out…

Because it’s within that bait and switch, that hook line, and sinker, that we’re going to wade through today, as we get into The Anatomy of the Bad Seed.


I’ve focused on three major buckets, three strong qualifications I’ve seen as through lines out of the myriad films I’ve seen in this genre, and I’ll refer to them here as

The Terrifying Trifecta

We’ll start with The Beast: homicidal, hell-bent on destruction, lack of self control, laying the groundwork for 

demonic legacy, The Bearer: children sent to do the bidding by inhuman or human sources, inherently creating their own source of evil or triumph over it, and finally, The Bewitched: possession of self, soul and body of the child, causing irreparable damage. So let’s jump into the kids that are fully nestled in Beast Mode….

Rhoda Penmaker - The Bad Seed  (Kills: 2)

Rhoda lost the best penmanship award medal to classmate Claude Daigle, believing it was an extreme miscarriage of justice, Rhoda is slighted and takes extreme measures to obtain the medal – murder. She murder Claude and the apartment groundskeeper, Leroy, who knows what she’s done.

What’s interesting is that the more that her mother, Christine, finds out about Rhoda’s behavior, her tendencies, and her murderous ways, all she can do is blame herself and try to protect Rhoda as much as possible.


In shifting the blame to herself she works desperately to exonerate Rhoda from any wrongdoing, using the adage “if I hadn’t blank, you wouldn’t have blank. Is this a case of Kindchenschema? Hardly. At the close, it’s a painful look at a parent wanting desperately for their child not to pay for their choices.


Henry Evans - The Good Son  (Kills: 1)

Henry yearns to be the absolute center of attention no matter what the cost. And he’s paid it, with his baby brother’s life. And continues to, with his attempted murder of his sister, Connie, and the perpetual psychotic torture of his cousin, Mark, who’s recently lost his mother.
When Henry’s parents, Mark’s aunt and uncle take him in while his father is away on business, Henry bonds quickly to Mark, creating a quiet camaraderie. But things turn cold quickly as he watches his mother dote on Mark. He puts Mark in precarious positions where Mark is viewed as the behavioral problem, leaving Henry to look like the victim of Mark’s unsorted pain. 

Henry’s parents are steadfastly behind him. He’s believed, and championed for being a good cousin to Mark, until the seams burst open, and they see Henry for who he really is and what he’s done. In criminal cases of fratricide, the signs are glaringly in full view but are brushed aside due to the guardian’s preoccupation with something life-altering, like death, divorce, health issues, or otherwise. While his parents are grieving the loss of their infant son, Henry gets to plot getting rid of his sister until Mark becomes a new target. What’s left a bit unexplained is what was the distraction that caused them not to see Henry’s ill feelings toward his baby brother Richard.

Kevin Khatchadourian - We Need to Talk About Kevin   (Kills: 2+)

Kevin maims his sister and kills her, his father, and several classmates at age 16. Not exactly the boy next door. 
Kevin Khatchadourian is such an interesting subject within this study here because he’s blatant with his disdain. The kid is just plain evil. And his lack of bonding with his mother is something we’ll touch on in a moment but what’s very textbook in our categorization of The Beast is his willingness to play each parent against the other. His father is a staunch supporter of Kevin, he can do no wrong, his mother Eva just isn’t attentive enough, loving enough, or lenient enough. 


So it’s interesting that he murders his father and lets Eva live. And in return, Eva visits Kevin in his jail cell, one year after the massacre at the high school, and embraces him with all the love she can muster. What’s fascinating is that these evil deeds he’s done, which are heinous and abominable, Eva looks past them. All she’s ever wanted was her child’s love, his attention, and his need for her. And she’s there at the very end when he has no one. Eva accepts him as a murderer of her daughter and husband, as love as he finally loves her. 


Mikey Holt - Mikey  (Kills: 9)

This film was such an interesting find for me. 1992’s Mikey is cataloged as a Video Nasty after it was panned by critics for being too violent and too impressionable on young viewers. The film was pulled by the British Board of Film Classification, although the trailer was approved earlier that year. The cause for the pull of the film was due to the murder of James Bulger. Bulger was savagely murdered by two young boys who shared that they got the idea for such acts from Child’s Play 3. Under pressure from police psychologists, then acting head censor, James Ferman decided to not let the film pass in 1996. 

The film opens with Mikey starting a fire in the basement of his home, as his foster mother scolds him for starting the fire, he blames his foster sister Beth. His response to catching the blame is to drown Beth in a pool, electrocute his foster mother, and murder his foster father with a baseball bat. Mikey racks up six other murders throughout the film. But there’s one through line as he bounces from family to family…..He’s just too cute to be a killer. Kindchenschema at its finest! The only two people that suspect him as something sinister are the teacher and principal and they bite it as soon as they suspect….which is very Rhoda Penmark of him. You can catch this on Tubi as we speak. And I wanna approach our last Beast with care and caution as we all know…..


Esther - Orphan  (Kills: 9)

Not a child! But here’s where that Kinderschema trait rears its head even further – mix that cuteness, that helplessness, that cherubic nature and dowse it with a horrific back story and a heap of pity and that’s what we get here with Orphan, and we can see how this film, based on a true story, came to be. 

Not only has she weaseled her way into families (very Mikey and brain wonders if there’s a connection there), she’s thought to have killed her last adoptive family, she’s bludgeoned the head nun of her last habitat, the local orphanage, and is hell-bent on destroying The Coleman’s as well.

Esther is a bit of a quandary because, with all the trapping of the pigtails, the dress, and the mannerisms, she still can’t quiet the very adult nature of herself. Her knowledge of sex, and her quick temper, all red flags yet still The Colemans believe they can “Make it work” and to Kate, she must because she’s already positioned as damaged goods at the end of the film. With the miscarriage, and the alcoholism, Kate needs this to work, so she’s the first one to spot the cracks in the foundation. Just bad news for The Colemans.


Let's take a look at the Bearers of Bad News….


Gage Creed - Pet Semetary  (Encounters that ended in Death: 2)

Gage is a tragic case a hit and run. The Creeds were told of the dangers of the road in front of their home and the degradation of the soil in Pet Semetary but we chose to buy the house and rebury the child. When Gage is reanimated, dressed in his funeral garb, his mother Rachel loses it and rushes to embrace him.

I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child and the overwhelming willingness to see their face again, to hold them again, which is all Gage needs to turn the tables. He murders his mother, and his neighbor and attempts to kill his father, Louis, but is thwarted by the lethal needle, putting him down for good. Why he tries to “get it right” with Rachel, we’ll never know.


Ashley Oswalt - Sinister  (Encounters that ended in Death: 3)

Unlike the Lutzs of Amityville, the Oswalt family had zero inkling that their new home once belonged to The Stephenson family, killed one year earlier. After learning this, the patriarch, Ellison, short on material for a new book, decides to use this awful tragedy as fodder and to get to the bottom of the whereabouts of the missing fifth Stephenson child, Stephanie. 
Ashley is haunted by Stephanie, now a ghost, and shares the tale with her mother. Ellison is haunted by the house demon Bughuul and pushes the family to move back to their old home immediately except the curse is tied to Ashley who falls under Bughuul’s influence. 


Ashley films herself murdering her family and after a bit of tidying up and “repainting”, she heads off into the 8mm netherworld in the arms of Bughuul.Ashley is the bearer of this curse, and her family pays with their lives. This brings me back to the child as a vessel. They are malleable and defenseless at times, making a warm place for a demon to set up shop.


Toshio Saeki - Ju-On (Encounters that ended in Death: 18, franchise-wide)

The film franchise has several different ways Toshio could have died and the US version, “The Grudge” shows a jealous rage into a murder-suicide. But Toshio or Toshio’s ghost weaves in and out of benevolence and violence. He is entwined with the house, part of the curse from his murder and the murder of his mother. Throughout the reboots and being reborn, Toshio is a tragic secondary antagonist to his mother. Always tied to her or others in childbirth, with child, or hoping for a child. Forcing his way into their love to act out what he’s not gotten to experience.

He represents the needs and wants of belonging, being loved, and the devastation of abuse, child murder, and bullying.


Cole Sear - The Sixth Sense  (Encounters that ended in Death: 0)

On the complete flipside here, we have a bearer of the purest sense. Cole Sear is the mouthpiece of the dead. Burdened with this incredible gift, Cole is terrified of it and unable to control it or make it stop. Until his chance encounter with Dr. Malcolm Crowe. Cole understands what’s happening, even though Crowe does not. And it’s not until Cole can “do right by the dead” or give retribution, does he discloses the bad news to Crowe. 
Cole has a similar innocence here that we see in Ashley Oswalt, but he’s beholden to this awful job of the dead sharing their unsolicited stories and it’s a bad deal of being sweet, innocent, and adorable that bites him. They hope he can help, he looks kind enough to.


To wrap, we simply cannot forget the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the drivers of our demons, The Bewitched….


Reagan MacNeil - The Exorcist  (Kills: 1)

I’ve given a few talks regarding my feelings of Regan being used solely to tell Father Karras’s story but what I really wanna capture here is the underlying issues Regan is going through in the beginning of the film. She’s positioned as a child of divorce, a lonely child to a seemingly absentee mother who is really just a working mother, but the picture it paints is a child left to her own devices spells trouble – a devil’s workshop, and here enters Captain Howdy. 
Regan is used by Pazuzu to chide and test the priests, to rip the soul of this sweet girl, and to save the girl inside, the round-faced, happy child at the top of the film is a motivating factor. 

That and proving we’re a good priest. She’s brought to draw both priests and Chris MacNeil to their limit and face-to-face with their demons. 

Melissa Graps - Kill, Baby, Kill  (Kills: 4)

We don’t see Melissa until about halfway through Kill, Baby, Kill, Mario Bava’s Romania-set Whodunnit. What we know about her is that she’s treacherous and those that see her ghost are doomed to die. She has a whole village held hostage as a reckoning for their being oblivious and callous about her death of being trampled during a village parade. 
She strikes fear in everyone, except the new coroner, Dr. Eswai – who is a case of a Westerner calling foreign villagers backward, disrespecting their culture, traditions, and religious beliefs, until he sees Melissa, then all bets are off.



Melissa is bewitched and bewitching of the cleanest kind, she’s avenging her death, and the death of others who did nothing to stop it will pay. 


Isaac Chroner - The Children of the Corn  (Kills: 75)

After manipulating and gaslighting Gatlin’s child citizens into murdering all the adults in town to satisfy “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, Isaac Chroner has managed to have very little blood on his hands. He’s supported yet not possessed by an evil spirit that hides within the cornfield below the ground that he worships mercilessly, spreading its word perpetually to the young citizens.
Isaac is prepared to torture Burt and Vicky, outside “interlopers” that threaten his rule. In comes his right-hand man, Malachai, to reinforce the value of a “holy state” where no one enters, and no one leaves. 


What we haven’t seen on this list yet is cult leader mentality. Children are hungry to belong, and to be taken care of. We indoctrinate very young. And I think seeing Isaac as a child, or child-like, it’s easier to buy in. They want his power, and his influence and they welcome a rule where they are also seen as king. 

Damian Thorn - The Omen  (Kills: 6)

Damian Thorn is a product of a great church-backed bait and switch. His own mother dying in childbirth leaves him to enter a life of privilege with Katherine (who is unaware that this is not her baby) and Robert Thorn. Things are copasetic for the first five years but once they hit London, all hell, and truly I mean it breaks loose. His nanny commits suicide after encountering a HellHound, his second nanny is his great protector, very handy that she is a servant of Satan. 
As the antichrist, Damian is living a charmed life, with horrible things happening to those around him. 


And the only act that he handles himself is crippling his mother by bumping into her and sending her crashing over a balcony. He’s a very hands-off antichrist which I suppose is the worst kind because you don’t know who’s going to get it. 

Holly the Nanny – is hanged, Father Brennan – is impaled, Katherine – is tossed out a window, Keith Jennings – is decapitated, Mrs. Baylock – is stabbed in the neck, and Robert himself, is shot before giving Damian the seven daggers. So Damian travels onto a US President to wreak more havoc. 

So again, beware the Kindchenschema, believe people that have had terrible encounters with particular children, don’t let your children get possessed, you know the basics.

The hardest thing to swallow in horror when it comes to the creepy kid genre is that I’ve only spoken about those who have a reason. There are so many murderous children in film and reality. What makes a killer plain and simple we don’t know. Is it born bad, is it nurture over nature? There’s not one thing that makes someone evil – we could all be building the evil in someone as we speak – even within a young one.

It’s all there. The sadistic nature, the complete disregard, the lack of empathy, the cruel indifference, the homicidal tendency to overtake and it’s all floating, every day, somewhere in the world, behind the eyes of a child.


Mo Moshaty (she/her) is a horror writer, lecturer, and producer. Flexing her horror acumen, coupled with her additional vocation as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M in Texas as a keynote speaker for Nightmares of Monkeypaw: A Jordan Peele Symposium, with Horror Studies BAFSS Sig for No Return: A Yellowjackets Symposium, with Centre for the History of the Gothic at the University of Sheffield and the University of California for The Whole Damn Swarm: Celebrating 30 Years of Candyman and Final Girls Berlin Film Festival's Brain Binge on Women's Trauma Within Horror Cinema and Cine-Excess: Raising Hell: Demons, Darkness and the Abject.


As a core member and producer with Nyx Horror Collective, creators of 13 Minutes of Horror Film Fest for Woman-Identifying and Non-Binary creatives, she has partnered with horror streaming giant, The Shudder Channel for 2021 and 2022, as well as Stowe Story Labs where the collective has created a fellowship to help support woman-identifying creatives over 40+ working in the horror genre. In November 2023, Mo began her work as Creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine, A Nyx Horror Collective Publication. In the summer of 2023, Mo was awarded a slot in the prestigious Black Women in Horror Class of 2023, and can be found in the collection, "160 Black Women in Horror" by Sumiko Saulson, Kenya Moss-Dyme, and Kai Leakes.


Still engaging with her first love, short horror literature, her work can be found in "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales", by Brigid's Gate Press, and "206 Word Stories" by Bag O' Bones Press. Her debut novella, "Love the Sinner" was released in July 2023 through Brigids Gate Press, and her following titles, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Volumes 1 & 2" will be released in 2024 through Spooky House Press.

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