ByEmily Browne, writer at Creators.co
[email protected] Twitter: @emrbrowne
Emily Browne

Villains of horror come in all shapes and sizes; deformed mutant dream invaders, masked assailants, cannibalistic families, demonic forces... but more often than not, the creepiest antagonists are kids. From The Exorcist to the The Conjuring, The Omen to Sinister, children make amazing antagonists — but what's it like to be part of these movies?

Adults can rationalize violence and fear, but what about the kids that venture into darkness in the name of horror? How do you coax a one-of-a-kind creepy performance from you're lead when he/she is barely out the kindergarden?

The Witch (2015)

The Witch is set in New England in 1630, and follows a family who are haunted by a mysterious and terrifying witch.

Director Robert Eggers successfully avoided traumatizing the 3 child actors by removing all of the terrifying aspects of the plot. When the kids needed to look scared, he would relay what he wanted using exaggerated hand movements, or give them physical exercises to capture the essence of fear.

'The Witch' Image: A24
'The Witch' Image: A24

Eggers also told the kids that they were rehearsing for a play, not making a movie. This made the kids' experience a fun one, and delivered some incredible performances despite their age and the subject matter.

Poltergeist (1982)

Heather O’Rourk in 'Poltergeist' Image: MGM
Heather O’Rourk in 'Poltergeist' Image: MGM

Some kids know exactly what's going on and what's expected of them — just ask a 10-year-old Heather O’Rourk, star of 1982's Poltergeist and Poltergeist 2 (1986). According to sculptor Stuart Land:

She loved her role and all the special effects done to her. She smiled all the time. Lit up every room she was in. She knew from the first Poltergeist film when she was 7 that it was a horror film [sic].

Orphan (2009)

One of the most believable performances from a child actor can be found in 2009's Orphan. Isabelle Fuhrman starred as Esther, a 9-year-old creepy Russian orphan who starts causing all kinds of havoc for the family who adopt her. Like O'Rourk, Fuhrman was totally unphased by the experience, telling Blastr:

"If America hates me, then I've done my job, that's the point of the movie—I'm supposed to make everyone hate me, and then at the same time, go, like, 'Wow, I feel sorry for her,' but 'Whoa! She's so mean!'"

More horror? Check out:

The Exorcist (1973)

Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' Image" Warner Bros.
Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' Image" Warner Bros.

In a recent interview, director William Friedkin appeared on WTF with Marc Maron to talk movies. Friedkin spoke about the difficulty they had when casting the little girl in The Exorcist, knowing full well what would be asked of her:

"I made it a game. She was 12 years old, she had no idea of the implications of a lot of the stuff she was doing. For example, when I first met her, [she said] we had seen tapes and interviewed thousands of young girls and I felt, as Mike Nichols (former director) did, that we'd never find a 12-year-old who could do the range of this stuff. And now I was interviewing 16-year-old girls, 17-year old girls who looked younger to try and find someone who would not be totally destroyed by this."

Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' Image" Warner Bros.
Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' Image" Warner Bros.

He went on to describe his first meeting with 12-year-old Linda Blair:

The minute she walked in the door ... I knew it was her [...] I asked her "Linda, do you know anything about "The Exorcist?" She said "Yeah, I read the book. I said, "Well what's it about?" She said "Well it's about a little girl who gets possessed by a devil and she does a whole bunch of bad things. [...] She pushes a man out of her bedroom window, and she hits her mother across the face and she masturbates with a crucifix." And I looked at her mother who was still smiling and said, "Do you know what that means Linda? [...] To masturbate?" and she said; "Yeah, it's jerking off, isn't it?"

The rest is history.

Come and See (1985)

Aleksei Kravchenko in 'Come and See' Image: Sovexportfilm
Aleksei Kravchenko in 'Come and See' Image: Sovexportfilm

No kid is more hardcore than Russian actor Aleksei Kravchenko, who starred in the Soviet WWII horror Come and See. The movie follows the horrors of the fascist genocide in Belorussia in 1943. Kravchenko plays a normal boy named Florya who gets thrown into the brutality of war and genocide.

Not only was Aleksei regularly evaluated to make sure he was mentally stable enough to film the harrowing scenes, he was also shot at with live ammunition! One review stated:

“Aleksey Kravchenko says that he underwent "the most debilitating fatigue and hunger. I kept a most severe diet, and after the filming was over I returned to school not only thin, but grey-haired." The 2006 UK DVD sleeve states that the guns in the film were often loaded with live ammunition as opposed to blanks, for realism. Aleksei Kravchenko mentions in interviews that bullets sometimes passed just 4 inches (10 centimeters) above his head such as in the cow scene.”

'The cow scene' the review refers to was a scene where the crew shot and killed a live cow. Talk about method.

Aleksei Kravchenko in 'Come and See' Image: Sovexportfilm
Aleksei Kravchenko in 'Come and See' Image: Sovexportfilm

So what about the finished product? The kids are (more often than not) not allowed to attend their own premier, as the movie's rating (anywhere from PG-13 to NC-17) forbade it. It's likely that the kids will get the see the movie when it comes out on DVD, or if they're very small, they just have to wait until they're older. Overall, it's up to the parents, who may choose to not let their kid see the movie at all.

Which child actor is your favorite horror hellraiser?

Source: Quora. Featured image courtesy of Warner Bros.