In 1956 a black and white movie staring Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark. Rhoda is a beautiful child, whose seemingly sweet demeanor and quick whit seems to captivate most of the adults in her life. She has a positively doting father who is a military man and an aware mother. I use the word aware because from the beginning of the film she is acutely aware of her daughters actions and peculiarities. While I don't want to ruin the plot and give to much away a slight explanation of the plot is called for. Rhoda and her parents live in a small town in an very well kept apartment which resembles more of a town house. The film opens with Rhodas father leaving on business and Rhoda being spoiled by the landlord and picked on by the grounds keeper of the complex. While being spoiled with sunglasses and a promise of a beautiful necklace her mothers notices her hungry actions in regards to the gifts and seems upset at her daughters "mature" mannerisms. While at a school picnic she even asks the teacher if her daughter socializes normally, this action seems to be prompted by Rhodas bizarre reaction to not winning a penmanship award. After this point revealing any further facts would ruin the plot of the movie however I can tell you that the death of the boy who wins the award Rhoda coveted dies after seeming to drown in a river near the picnic. A chain of events that delves into Rhodas mothers own childhood and genetics ensues ending in a climax which took even my by surprise.
This film explores, in a not obviously intended way, the question of nature vs nurture and if environment can truly change genetics and vice versa. It is based on a play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson. The concept of a beautiful evil child is one that film makers and writers have toyed with for years. The possibility of a child being a murder or even something more supernatural is one that can make some people cringe. Over the years there have been some interesting movies based on the concept of evil children. The following are others that I highly recommend, before I go off on the psychological aspect of the horror of evil children.
The concept of an evil child bothers so many people because children are supposed to be the ultimate image of innocence. They are supposed to be untainted by the "evils" and sins of adults, they are supposed to be clean slates and sponges waiting to be made into good and productive people. But sometimes there is something that goes wrong....In many cases there is some sort of trauma inflicted upon the child early in life that causes mental scarring. Abuse sexual, physical, or emotional can cause a "normal" child to become mentally ill and do unspeakable acts. In some cases genetics is the cause of the behaviors, one biological parent may be psychotic and have passed their illness on to their child. However most horror movies that deal with evil children who have no outright cause for their behaviors. They just seem to be evil for no reason at all. They have "perfect" families who are nice and they want for nothing. Those kind of evil children are the most realistic for me, the beautiful perfect looking ones who have everything they could ever want. When they kill it's for greed and angry jealousy. Those are the children who are spoiled to the core and kill because it's their privilege. Of course supernatural explanations like the devils seed or alien impregnation also round out the genera along with mutated genes or toxic waste.
Perhaps the reason that evil children horror movies sell so well is because of the underlining evil associated with the act of sexual intercourse in our cultures history. While this attitude is no longer seen out in the open the history shows that sex is something to be hidden and the power that can be emotionally gleaned from it hidden. Evil children can be our unconsciouses way of dealing with the "guilt" over sex and feelings of lust. Many times the evil child is evil because of its parents indiscretions or horrific acts. The moral of evil children movies is usually to show that you have to beware of innocence as much as evil. To not spoil your pride and joy to much, to make sure to beware of unhealthy things like living to access and global warming. All sorts of issues both political and not can be expressed in a typical evil child horror movie.
Well this is my first blog so judge gently. If I do alright there may be more.