One of the touchstones of the horror genre are movies that involve the “scary little kid”—things like “The Omen,” “Village of the Damned,” “The Innocents” and, more recently, movies like “Joshua” and “Orphan.” In these films, childhood innocence is perverted, replaced by pure, blackened evil, and the results are often chilling. But a much more interesting sub-genre, one that “Kick-Ass 2” (opening this weekend) fully engages with is the “killer kid” genre. This is different than the “evil kid” strain because these children aren’t necessarily evil (and there is no supernatural mumbo jumbo) but they can drop you like a bag of laundry just the same. The first “Kick-Ass” introduced us to Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), a pint-sized real-life superhero who is much more comfortable with stabbing a villain in the throat than taking him down to the precinct for booking. (In the sequel she grapples with her love of justice and her societal responsibilities.) In honor of Hit Girl’s return to kick-assery, we thought we’d run down five more memorable killer kids. They might not have gone to college yet but they’ve already got a PhD in Murdernomics.
So, just to recap: these are children who have never been possessed by the devil or come from outer space. They are just regular kids who can murder the shit out of you. In a way, these children are even more chilling than the ones who inhabit cursed videotapes or are forced to battle each other in a futuristic deathmatch, since they more closely resemble the kid next door or the one that your coworker just had. Handle with care.
Joe Wright‘s whirligig thriller, ostensibly about a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) who is raised by her former-spy father (Eric Bana) to become a killer, is really more of a coming-of-age tale laced with feminist subtext and fairy tale imagery and staged like a long, violent European art movie music video. Hanna is lethal, for sure, but she’s also sweet and curious; there’s an element of the fish out of water comedy mixed in there as well. When she kills she does so efficiently, more as a means to an end than anything else, since her main goal is to kill the woman who murdered her mother (Cate Blanchett, in full-on evil queen mode). What makes “Hanna” such a cool, involving variation on the killer kid subgenre is that while her father trains her to be a killer, it’s Hanna herself who chooses to go out into the world and seek revenge. It’s what makes the movie a legitimate piece of proto-feminist filmmaking instead of something like Zack Snyder‘s “Sucker Punch,” which came out around the same time as “Hanna” and mistook basic concepts of female empowerment for girls dressed like anime characters firing machine guns at Orcs. Hanna is an extraordinary young girl, born as part of an experimental procedure, but it’s through her interaction with an ordinary British family that she learns just how regular she can be. Just because she’s a killer doesn’t mean she doesn’t sometimes need a hug.
The set-up for Luc Besson‘s “Leon” is the stuff of pulpy film noirs (and we mean that in the best possible way): a family is murdered by a crooked DEA agent (Gary Oldman), leaving behind a lone survivor named Mathilda (a young Natalie Portman) left to avenge her loved ones. Enter Leon (Jean Reno), a mafia hitman who Mathilda recruits to train and guard her. The two develop an unlikely relationship as she trains for the moment when she can kill Oldman. While the movie occasionally tips too far in the (wrong) direction of strained whimsy, it does an admirable job in presenting the way that petulant childhood anger can curdle into something harder and more hateful. The way that Portman transitions from a little girl into a little killing machine is tackled beautifully, with the right amount of gummy grime thrown in for good measure. Part of what makes the movie so effective is how delicious a villain Oldman is: you can feel yourself rooting for the assassin and his protege to accomplish their goal because he’s so damn loathsome. For years Besson talked about wanting to mount a sequel that followed a fully grown Mathilda as she makes a living as a contract killer, but for whatever reason this goal was never accomplished and the project mutated into “Colombiana,” with Zoe Saldana in the grown-up Portman role. Unfortunately that movie wasn’t nearly as effective, and Saldana’s performance lacked the frayed nerve-ending woundedness of Portman’s which, at that age, remains a marvel of child acting.
“Violet & Daisy” (2013)
Poor James Gandolfini. One of his last roles was in “Violet & Daisy,” a borderline unwatchable indie thriller about a pair of young assassins (Alexis Bledel and, again, Saoirse Ronan) who kill people but mostly rattle on about the nature of their jobs. Gandolfini plays a mark who the two are supposed to murder but instead just chat with for most of the movie. He’s a “mysterious” figure, for sure, but there’s so much dialogue you wonder what else there is left to discover. While the movie attempts at showing you how a pair of young girls, when dealing with their job of murdering folks, would still, essentially, be young girls, the tone awkwardly shifts between pitch black and hot pink and the entire enterprise comes across like a toxic mixture of “Mean Girls” and “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.” Bledel and Ronan, for their parts, try their damnedest, even if it seems like Ronan is spinning her wheels after starring in the similar (but vastly superior) “Hanna,” but their hard work is largely undone by the leaden script and direction, both by Geoffrey Fletcher. At the beginning of “Violet & Daisy,” you’re intrigued by this idea of young girls killing people (especially since in the opening sequence they’re dressed as nuns) but by the end you’re left wondering why they were chosen in the first place for this kind of work, especially after we’ve watched them suck on lollipops and play pattycakes. Most killers don’t do that kind of thing. At the very least not in front of the guy who they’re about to kill.
“RoboCop 2” (1990)
In a movie full of exceptionally poor decisions and bad taste, the creme de la creme of both might be the Hob character (played by Gabriel Damon), a pint-sized drug lord who has no problem executing people and is addicted to a dangerous street drug called Nuke. This is a character who is so tiny and ruthless that at one point he tries to buy out the police force so that he can sell the drug. Later, he gets murdered by the new RoboCop, a former drug lord who was turned into a giant mechanical beast. Hob is the most outwardly evil kid on our list, which makes him even more tragic. Often, despite the button-pushing efforts of co-screenwriter and comic book legend Frank Miller (a man who practically bathes in taboos), the sadness of Hob comes through more often than menace. He seems like a kid dressed up in his best “Bugsy Malone” get-up, even when he’s doing truly repugnant shit. When RoboCop comes across his bullet-riddled body, it’s surrounded by money and gold, the things that Hob was so desperate for. It’s meant to be ironic but, like everything else in “RoboCop 2,” it seems unnecessarily over the top. We get it. He was a kid. And kids die. But he was also pretty fucking evil.
“Hard Candy” (2005)
It’s a wonder so few films have been made about sexually predatory Internet couplings, but “Hard Candy” is one of them. In it, photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) meets up with the underage Hayley (a star-making performance by Ellen Page) following some Internet communications, which we get to see, fleetingly, at the beginning of the movie. Soon, though, the tables are turned, and a potential “To Catch A Predator” scenario turns into something more along the lines of one of the “Saw” movies. Hayley, it turns out, is an avenging angel of sorts, has been tracking Jeff, and has evidence that he is a horrible, horrible pedophile (something he denies). The rest of the movie is a psychological grudge match between Hayley and Jeff, told impressively with baroque flourishes by David Slade (who would go on to do one of the ‘Twilight‘ movies and direct the pilot for “Hannibal“). Maybe most chillingly, especially for someone so young, is that you get the impression that Hayley has done this before and will do it again. She is the killer kid who has a real sense of purpose and social responsibility, which is so hard to find in youngsters these days.
But those aren’t the only killer kids in movies (that aren’t demonically possessed or otherwise overthrown by malevolent spirits — there are just too many of them to name here). There’s the little kid from “Sin Nombre,” and pretty much all of the little kids from “Battle Royale,” “Johnny Mad Dog” and “City of God.” Macaulay Culkin went bad for “The Good Son,” the tykes of “Mean Creek” aren’t so innocent, nor are the campers at “Eden Lake.” Any other pint sized terrors we missed out on? Any little kids scare the hell out of you? Let us know below.