Killer Kids!

One of the odder little sub-genres of horror concerns killer kids. Real world tragedies involving dead kids generally make movies like this a difficult sell (both from a “making” and “watching” standpoint). I don’t have any kids, but it’s almost universally acknowledged that once you do, watching movies where kids are dying become more difficult to watch as well. On the other hand, that’s what horror movies are all about (at least, some of the time). A couple of these are older classics that I’ve somehow not seen (and tame by modern standards), but one is relatively batshit (though when the point of comparison is something like Cathy’s Curse, you’ve got an uphill battle). We’ve tackled a few of these movies in previous 6WH posts, but always on a weird generic-themed sorta week. So let’s watch some sneaky little shits engage in murderous shenanigans:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 5 – Killer Kids!

Village of the Damned – Everyone in a small English village suddenly falls unconscious, and when they awaken, they find that every woman of childbearing age is pregnant. The resulting children have similar traits like blond hair and strange eyes, and after a few years, they begin to manifest odd psychic powers.

Village of the Damned

This is one of those classic movies that has seeped into the collective consciousness, such that you’ve probably seen many images or scenes laying around that you have an idea of the plot just from cultural osmosis. I’d definitely seen parts of this flicking around cable back in the day, but I never sat down and watched it from start to finish until this weekend. And it’s great!

This brand of British science fiction/horror hybrid was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. We’ve already covered a couple of the Quatermass movies this year, but this film represents a significant step up from those. Perhaps it’s the source material (John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos) or just the overall production values, but this hangs together much better.

Clocking in at just 77 minutes, this moves quickly and packs in a fair amount of interesting ideas. Indeed, the creepy kids don’t even show up for quite a while. Much time is spent on the British authorities trying to figure out what’s happening in the town where everyone has fallen unconscious, plotting the boundaries and experimenting as best they can. As that event ends and the mysterious pregnancies arrive, we get lots of speculation. Is this some sort of extraterrestrial plot or just the next stage in human evolution? Other similar events have apparently been happening in other towns throughout the world, sometimes with tragic consequences. Ultimately, no explanation arises for any of this, which is exactly the right approach.

The children themselves certainly present as otherworldly. They’re not necessarily saying spooky things, but they are so calm and collected that they take on an uncanny affect. Once it becomes clear that they can read people’s thoughts, it does start to get creepy, and while they’re clearly intelligent beyond their years, they do retain the child’s almost sociopathic attitude as they start to force their will on others. Their appearance as little blond kids, while probably chosen for contrast in the excellent black and white cinematography, also calls to mind the Hitler youth. The way they move in unison, with scientists hypothesizing some sort of hive mind, again adds to their eerie nature.

This was remade by John Carpenter in the 1990s and for whatever reason, I actually saw that in the theater and while it was fine, I wasn’t much moved by it. This is perhaps part of the reason I never made an effort to revisit this original, which was clearly a bad instinct, as I really enjoyed this. Well worth checking out. ***1/2

The Bad Seed – Young Rhoda seems like your average, sweet little girl, but she has a bit of a temper and a selfish streak. When a schoolmate rival of hers dies in mysterious circumstances, her mother begins to suspect she’s responsible.

The Bad Seed

Based on a novel and subsequent stage play, this movie is clearly modeled on the play, with limited locations and melodramatic dialogue delivered in a distinctly theatrical manner. The stagebound nature of the film is a bit hokey and old-fashioned, but it does lull you into a certain mindset that is cleverly subverted as the film proceeds. It also provides an ample opportunity for the actors to give their performances a little extra push. Patty McCormack was nominated for an Oscar for her sociopathic performance as young Rhoda. Other performances are perhaps less successful, but everyone is absolutely going for it, and even the more overwrought takes fit with the overall tone.

At 129 minutes, it certainly takes its time establishing its premises and themes, but it’s not exactly slow. It moves along at a decent pace, even if some things feel repetitive or perhaps too baldly stated. The whole nature vs nurture debate was probably more intriguing at the time, but it’s well established and obviously represents a common parental fear.

I won’t get into spoilers here, but I will say that there were a couple of genuinely shocking moments later in the picture (this is one reason I’m willing to forgive the length of the movie). The closing shot does feel a bit rushed and I have to believe there were some Hayes Code shenanigans at play here. On the other hand, the whole walk-on roll call bit at the very end is an inspired bit of lunacy. If that closing shot strikes you as odd, this playful curtain call will take the bad taste out of your mouth, and we need to bring this tradition back. ***

The Pit – Twelve year-old Jamie is a solitary pervert and budding sociopath who has discovered a pit populated by man-eating troglodytes (he calls them trollogs) in the forest behind his home. Bullied and shunned at school, Jamie decides to hit two birds with one stone by feeding his enemies to his new pit dwelling friends.

The Bad Seed

After the staid, mannered approach the previous two films took, it was nice to descend into batshit 80s cheese to finish out the week. I’ve used words like “odd” and “uncanny” and “otherworldly” above, but The Pit is the sort of movie that really embodies those words in a way that will have you exclaiming “What the fuck?” rather frequently throughout the more standard 97 minute runtime.

Tonally all over the place, this movie rockets from standard horror movie contrivances to “so bad it’s good” laughter to genuinely discomfiting weirdness (there’s a bathroom scene that’s just… oof). It feels like we’ve got bits and pieces from several different movies just thrown into a blender. The perverted loner kid in love with his babysitter is one, the pit where a bullied kid gets revenge on his enemies feels like a different movie altogether, and I haven’t even mentioned the teddy bear that talks to our budding sociopath and gives him creepy advice.

This movie toys with the idea that maybe the bullies had it coming. I man, sure, Jamie’s a weirdo, but the level of vitriol and hate he experiences for basically no reason is almost funny. He says hello to a kid on the playground and literally gets a fist to the face. A neighbor girl is incredibly mean to him (though the bicycle gag is A+ material). Even random old ladies on the street call him a freak out of nowhere. On the other hand, almost everything this kid does is uncomfortable and cringeworthy in the extreme.

The ironic, mean-spirited ending is laughably perfect though, and while this movie has a warped sense of humor and strange idea of what constitutes entertainment, it scratches a very specific, cult-movie type of itch. It’s a hard movie to recommend to normal people, but for seekers of strange cinema, it’s worthwhile. **1/2 (but this is the sort of movie that defies ratings)

How on earth is it already week 5? Well, we’ve still got a few things to look forward to, including next week’s theme of Horror Franchises in Space, and the subsequent Speed Round where I catch up with all the other stuff I’ve been watching but haven’t written about… so don’t touch that dial! Or, like, whatever you use to navigate the interwebs. Uh, don’t close this tab! Or whatever. Still plenty to come…

2 thoughts on “Killer Kids!”

  1. Killer kids is a really hard one to pull off, because it immediately becomes hilarious if you get the balance off right. I’d also recommend The Children (2008) and Who Can Kill a Child?, if you haven’t seen those. And I like The Good Son.

    Village of the Damned is fantastic and the sequel – a very different affair in many ways – is also worth checking out. I’ll admit to not being a fan of The Bad Seed. I just couldn’t get over the theatrical dialogue and the deus ex machina. I know it’s been remade a few times, so maybe I should check those out.

    Added The PIt to my staggeringly long horror watchlist. Sounds like the kind of nuttiness I need in my life.

  2. When I was 16, I went to see The Good Son with my brother and some of our friends. We went in, got our seats, then I went out to get some popcorn or whatever… but the dork manning the theater door wouldn’t let me back in because I was 16 and The Good Son was rated R. It didn’t matter that my brother was in the theater or that I just came out of it or that someone took my ticket. I ended up having to exchange my ticket for Cool Runnings (which had already started), then waiting in the lobby until my brother and friends got out. Ahhh, the 90s movie theater experience! I’ve still not seen The Good Son, perhaps out of spite, but also probably because everyone said they didn’t like it (and they were not trying to make me feel better either). I might have to do another Killer Kid week next year (it’s a shame that M3gan is coming out so early in the year, as I”m going to watch the hell out of that)…

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