There might not be any more of a “freak out moment” in horror than when the naive young protagonist, unaware of their surroundings and obvious impending doom, is walking through the woods, or an old empty house, or an abandoned asylum, and out of nowhere comes this horrifying little child, always pale, always quiet, and always wearing a white and tattered gown of some sort. It’s one of horror’s biggest tropes and we simply can’t get enough of it! But why? What makes us so scared of something so small and potentially non-threatening? Here are a few good reasons:
We Are Afraid of What Isn’t “Normal”
When we think of children, we often think of the sweet little angels that we see playing in the backyard or running around a playground. We love to imagine that kids are ice cream loving, hopscotch jumping, happy little campers with love in their eyes and songs in their hearts. And when that gets taken from us, all hell breaks loose. Literally, depending on the story you’re reading. We, as humans, are absolutely terrified of something not being what they appear and the idea that this little sweet creature isn’t what we want it to be scares us half to death. This leads us into our next reason.
Children Are Innocent
If you’ve ever read, seen, or heard of The Omen, you know damn well that that isn’t true. But if you live in the normal world outside of the horror-laced life of those sick, beloved readers who endure it, children often tend to be somewhat unsullied or untouched by the cruelty of the world. Essentially, a child isn’t tainted by evil quite yet, so when they ripen into monsters even before their teenage years (where they will be monsters whether this is horror or not), it can cause some folks to need a pants changing.
There Is Supernatural Or Even Murderous Power Given To A Creature That Lacks Logic
It’s like giving a bone cleaver to a chimpanzee. You wouldn’t want to be trapped in a room with that either, would you? Same concept.
Children In Horror Force Us To Face Our Errors
One of the scariest things a person can do is admit they are wrong and, whether it is to someone else or ourselves, nobody enjoys doing that. Children in horror stories ALWAYS make us admit that everything we know about children is wrong. Deadly wrong, more often than not. We like to think that children can’t hurt us, that they have good intentions, and that we are stronger than a child, but when confronted with your good ol’ fashion spooky-kid, you have to look those errors in your thought process right in the face.
Because, Most Of The Time, They Aren’t Even Children!
Truth of the matter is, the majority of the time you are confronted with a terrifying toddler with no eyes and kitchen knife, that thing isn’t human. Even in some of the stories where they ARE human (spoiler up ahead) such as in The “Orphan”, the “child” is really a sick, demented 40-something year old European women. Make it demons, ghosts, spirits, figments of our imaginations – whatever. Possibly the scariest part about children in horror stories (or anything, really) is that that sucker isn’t a kid.