Kids See the Darndest Things: 10 Paranormally Perceptive Children in Horror Films
By Dan Berry
“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle was a lie like all the rest. The astronauts killed the man in the moon, growing up took care of the rest.”
Uttered by Al, a friend of Buddy’s on Night Court, this is the greatest line ever spoken by a schizophrenic on TV (how many are there?), as it sums up the harsh reality that childhood innocence and the active imagination associated with youth are inevitably replaced by the responsibilities and “truths” of adulthood.
A young mind is not just malleable; it is an incredibly powerful tool of perception. In KoldCast TV’s macabre new adventure series Malice, the Turner family moves to grandma’s old home in an attempt to reboot their troubled lives. But no sooner do they settle than dark, strange and disturbing events seemingly manifest from the very foundations of the old house. Tensions mount as family members, one at a time, start to disappear, and it falls to 16-year-old Alice, the youngest of two daughters with an active imagination, to solve the mysteries of her family’s plight and survive the dangers emanating from the old property.
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As we age, we lose the ability to grasp the unexplained and deal with the fantastic. Nowhere is this phenomenon expounded upon more than on film. Time and again, children are used as a bridge between adults and the unbelievable. They are the key to making contact and critical to any potential resolution of the situation.
Few kids in paranormal, horror and sci-fi films are as fascinating, resourceful and focal as Alice Turner in Malice. There do exist, however, a handful of movies forever ingrained in our collective pop culture subconscious featuring these disturbed tykes, due in no small part to children’s willingness to believe.
Click to enlarge the photo below. You never know what you might see.
Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens as ‘Flora and Miles’ in The Innocents (1960)
Their parents are dead and their rich uncle wants nothing to do with them. No wonder Flora and Miles demonstrate occasional odd behavior. Of course, it could also have something to do with the demented spirits of deceased lovers possessing their bodies. Either way, it’s up to their nanny to unravel the mystery. A rare compilation of the scariest scenes from the film proves that all the special effects in the world don’t hold a candle to airtight horror storyelling.
Danny Lloyd as ‘Danny Torrance’ in The Shining (1980)
Perpaps the most well-known haunted kid on the silver screen, Danny sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future, communicates telepathically with an old groundskeeper, and mimics Gregorian Monks with the morbid chant of “Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.” Toss in the fact that his old man wants to chop him up into little pieces and it’s safe to say Danny Torrance is more troubled than the economy of Greece. Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film famously featured two young would-be companions, a set of twins who just wanted to play…
Heather O’Rourke as ‘Carol Anne Freeling’ in Poltergeist (1982)
This adorable little blonde girl is famous for being sucked into a television and for uttering one of the most repeated pop-culture catchphrases in film history: “They’re here.” Tragically, Heather was stricken with cancer at a young age and passed away, depriving fans of a possible comeback and perpetuating the the Poltergeist curse. Although a sequel and threequel were made, like so many Hollywood follies they don’t hold a candle to the original.
Winona Ryder as ‘Lydia Deetz’ in Beetlejuice (1988)
Before she was shoving merchandise down her pants in a department store dressing room, Winona Ryder was talking to ghosts and teaching young Goth girls what to wear in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Few actresses are better at playing the withdrawn, creepy loner, and maybe that’s because she lives the method. Wynona ressurected a much more somber version of Lydia Deetz in 1999’s Girl Interrupted.
Haley Joel Osment as ‘Cole Sear’ in The Sixth Sense (1999)
He played the son of both Jeff Foxworthy and Forrest Gump, but we know him best as the creepy little kid who got an Oscar nod for seeing dead people in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. This film scored major points and six Acamedy Award nominations for having (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) the best twist in movie history, solidifying that element as a staple of Shyamalan’s later films.
Image at page top is of Haley Joel Osment as ‘Cole Sear’
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Alakina Mann & James Bentley as ‘Anne & Nicholas Stewart’ in The Others (2001)
Brits are a pasty bunch, but these kids are whiter than Charmin. Afflicted with xeroderma pigmentosa, which is characterized by photosensitivity, they are forced to live by a strict set of rules in a darkened old house to protect them from inadvertent exposure to sunlight. And to top it all off, the house is very, very haunted. These kids can’t catch a break.
Anna Paquin as ‘Regina’ in Darkness (2002)
A moody but perceptive teenage girl moves with her family into a remote countryside house, only to discover their eerie new home possesses a horrifying past that threatens to destroy the family. Sound familiar? It should. There is clearly a pattern – a strict guideline to the genre – designed to press the buttons that unlock our deepest fears like the gears of an acutely built stopwatch.
Ariel Gade as ‘Cecilia’ in Dark Water (2005)
Divorce proceedings and custody battles are never easy on kids. Some withdraw, others act out, and then there’s Cecilia, who after moving with her mother into a run-down apartment finds a Hello Kitty bag on the terrace and, soon after, adopts an imaginary friend named Natasha. It turns out her idea of “imaginary” is actually a horrifically dead girl who accidentally drowned due to her own parents’ neglect. This movie, adapted from the Japanese original, takes the emotionaly wrenching effect that a divorce has on a child and visualizes it, bringing us to dark places we never intended to explore. It also proved there’s more to John C. Riley than mere comedic brilliance.
Dakota Fanning as ‘Emily Callaway’ in Hide and Seek (2005)
You’d think it would be cool having Robert DeNiro as a father, but when he suffers from a split-personality, it’s more like that lost episode of My Two Dads where Paul Reiser goes crazy and kills the dude with the beard. Regardless, Dakota was the biggest child star in the world when this movie was released and she delivers a truly disturbing performance worthy of her enormous paycheck. An actual lost scene from Hide and Seek shows Dakota’s brilliantly subtle portrayal of the cruel and manipulative Emily.
Kristen Stewart as ‘Jessica Solomon’ in The Messengers (2007)
Before she was mingling with vampires and wreckin’ homes, Kristen Stewart was seeing ghosts. But her parents didn’t believe her, and who could blame them? They’d been forced to move to an old farmhouse in North Dakota after she nearly killed her little brother in a drunk driving accident. Her credibility was shot. Basically, she was the girl who cried werewolf. This successful little horror film, produced by the master Sam Raimi, offered more than simple scares as Stewart – unknown at the time – proactively investigated the house’s brutal history in an attempt to save her family with the truth.
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Dan Berry staggered onto the comedy scene while drinking heavily and skipping class at New York University. The warped mind behind The Prison Kite and HBO’s upcoming project The Bid, Dan has served as a network staff writer and is co-author of the soon-to-be-released biopic Madoff Uncuffed, documenting disgraced financier Bernie Madoff’s first year behind bars. Be the first person to follow him on Twitter @RealDanBerry.