In The Orphanage (exec-produced by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro), 7-year-old Simón is brought back to an orphanage, since abandoned, where his mother, Laura, enjoyed a happy childhood some 30 years ago. Laura plans on re-opening it as a haven for sick and disabled children. That is, until her son starts making some very disturbing new friends. Read on and see if Simón and his invisible cronies can hold a candle to some of the truly spooky kids in our gallery…
Emily (Dakota Fanning) Hide and Seek (2005)
CHILD’S PLAY After Mom’s suicide, Dad (Robert De Niro) moves with Emily to a remote woodland house. That’s when the hostile ”Charlie” starts making his presence felt. Is he real? Is he a ghost? Or is he a projection of Emily’s emotionally disturbed mental state?
CHILLING MOMENT When a cop asks her what’s in the picture she’s drawing, Emily says, ”You. Dying.”
WHY SHE SCARES US Ever since her starring role opposite Sean Penn in I Am Sam (2001) at age 7, Fanning has seemed eerily like a little adult. But her dyed-brown locks and thousand-yard stare in this movie indicated a new level of unchildlike gravity.
David Zellaby (Martin Stephens, far right) Village of the Damned (1960)
CHILD’S PLAY Nine months after a mysterious alien force knocks out every resident of Midwich, all the women give birth to near-identical kids — an army of blond, well-mannered children who grow quickly, have glowing eyes, and can bend the wills of adults telepathically.
CHILLING MOMENT After baby David’s mother gives him milk that’s too hot, she’s compelled to punish herself by plunging her arm into boiling water.
WHY THEY SCARE US These polite, conformist children combine the horrors of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Bad Seed, and a Hitler Youth rally.
Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) Interview With the Vampire (1994)
CHILD’S PLAY Saved — and damned — when mature vamps Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise) give her a transfusion, Claudia becomes part of a perverse nuclear family.
CHILLING MOMENT Claudia tries to cut her hair but learns that even her appearance is frozen for eternity, and that she’ll never hit puberty.
WHY SHE SCARES US Dunst is spookily convincing as a creature with the experience and appetites of a woman, trapped in the body of a child.
Damien Thorn (Seamus Davey Fitzpatrick) The Omen (2006)
CHILD’S PLAY As bizarre deaths pile up around Damien, his adoptive father, diplomat Liev Schreiber, slowly uncovers the mystery of the boy’s true parentage.
CHILLING MOMENT The same scene that terrified us in the 1976 original: ”It’s all for you, Damien!” a nanny yells from a rooftop, gazing into the boy’s face before hanging herself.
WHY HE SCARES US It’s not clear to viewers whether the impassive cherub means to harm others or merely radiates bad luck, or whether he knows he’s the spawn of Satan.
Sean (Cameron Bright) Birth (2004)
CHILD’S PLAY Young Sean believes himself to be the reincarnation of neighbor Anna’s (Nicole Kidman) dead husband, also named Sean. He appears in Anna’s life just as she’s ready to remarry and begins to persuade her that he really is her late husband reborn.
CHILLING MOMENT Prepubescent Sean matter-of-factly takes off his clothes and climbs into the bathtub with Anna.
WHY HE SCARES US At age 11, Bright had made a career out of playing the younger version of adult characters in films and TV movies. In Birth, however, we never meet the adult Sean, so we have to imagine the grim-faced young Bright as Nicole Kidman’s grown-up lover and soulmate. Eww.
Aidan Keller (David Dorfman) The Ring (2002)
CHILD’S PLAY Before journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) embarks on a race against time to solve the mystery of a lethal videotape whose viewers die a week after they watch it, her son, the solemn Aidan, draws pictures of corpses that disturb his teacher.
CHILLING MOMENT Rachel discovers Aidan, transfixed in front of a television, watching the video.
WHY HE SCARES US With dark circles under his eyes and a voice full of premature depression and doom, Dorfman looks like a kid who’s been kept awake by nightmares for most of his brief life.
Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) The Bad Seed (1956)
CHILD’S PLAY Rhoda efficiently dispatches anyone who keeps her from getting her own way. Nervous Mom (Nancy Kelly) senses that something in her own life is horribly wrong.
CHILLING MOMENT Having drowned a boy (offscreen) because he beat her in a penmanship contest, she says, ”Why should I feel sorry? It was Claude Daigle got drowned, not me.”
WHY SHE SCARES US The movie seems campy now, but in the comfy, conformist ’50s, the notion of a remorselessly homicidal child was a shocker. McCormack, who had played the role in the hit Broadway play, brought Rhoda to the screen with unsettling glee, earning herself an Oscar nomination.
Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) The Shining (1980)
CHILD’S PLAY Danny’s strong psychic sensitivity comes in handy when his father (Jack Nicholson), the wintertime caretaker of an empty, snowbound hotel, goes bonkers.
CHILLING MOMENT Danny finds himself croaking ”Redrum, redrum, redrum,” a cryptic warning he etches into a door (above) and later decodes in a mirror.
WHY HE SCARES US Danny doesn’t know what to make of the horrifying visions he sees — or his father’s all-too-real disintegration — and neither do viewers.
Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) The Sixth Sense (1999)
CHILD’S PLAY Cole and shrink Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), both traumatized by violent horrors, help each other heal.
CHILLING MOMENT Cole meets the gruesome ghost of a boy who tells him, ”I’ll show you where my dad keeps his gun,” then turns and unwittingly reveals a gaping wound in the back of his head.
WHY HE SCARES US Osment seems to have had his very childhood scared out of him, with traces remaining only in those big, liquid, haunted eyes.
Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) The Exorcist (1973)
CHILD’S PLAY Her body seemingly decomposing before our eyes, the demon-possessed Regan viciously taunts her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and the neurologists, psychiatrists, and priests trying to help her.
CHILLING MOMENT For some viewers, Regan’s notorious 360-degree head twist or her spider-walk on the staircase are the scariest bits; for others, it’s the dehumanizing medical tests that find the terrified girl poked and prodded as she’s strapped to a table.
WHY SHE SCARES US We see just enough of the healthy, cheerful Regan early in the film to be horrified by her obscene transformation.
Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) Silent Hill (2006)
CHILD’S PLAY After a mother (Radha Mitchell) takes her troubled daughter Sharon to an ash-covered town the girl had been mumbling about in her dreams, the girl disappears and the horrors mount…
CHILLING MOMENT During one of her sleepwalking jaunts, Sharon teeters on the edge of a waterfall; at the bottom is a girl who looks just like her (!), urging her to jump.
WHY SHE SCARES US Any parent would be terrified and helpless when faced with raising a seemingly possessed child like Sharon. And oh — did you not see those freaky ”Look, Ma, no mouth!” posters featuring Ferland?
Daveigh Chase as Samara Morgan in The Ring (2002) and Rhonda Volmer in Big Love (2006)
CHILD’S PLAY Turns out Samara’s brutal past was the key to the deadly videotape of The Ring. And on Big Love, Ronda — wearing her odd Little House on the Prairie-ish getups — was a manipulative teen who lived on a polygamist compound and was betrothed to a septuagenarian (Harry Dean Stanton, center). As such she lurked about eavesdropping and causing havoc for members of her very extended family.
CHILLING MOMENT On an episode of Big Love, Ronda, her look of calm entitlement slowly morphing into rage, assaults an official at a drama competition she’s been cut from. As for The Ring, well, admit it: You jumped back out of your seat when Samara crawled out of that videotape.
WHY SHE SCARES US On the big and small screens, Chase has freaked us out in very different roles, using her movements and voice (check out her unsettling hymns on Big Love) to maximum effect.