Little Monsters Causing a Ruckus
“There’s nothing like a little monster to inspire terror among grown-ups (Calhoun p. 1).”
In John Calhoun’s Childhood’s End: Let the Right One In and Other Deaths of Innocence he explores a few different topics while referencing many movies, stories and films. The media he uses range from the early 1900s to the present and all have one thing in common: creepy, corrupt, and mysteriously evil children. Calhoun goes on to show what it is about this type of media that is so compelling. When the role of children is changed from one of innocence and vulnerability, to one in which they are cunning, evil, and dangerous, it not only terrifies, but captivates, the audience.
To the human mind, the unknown is a common cause of the emotion we call fear. It is for this reason that children, expected to be ignorant, innocent, and vulnerable, can be so terrifying when this role is reversed. Within their socially acceptable role, children are predictable. When they are unconstrained to this role, it calls into question everything adults take for granted about how children act. Calhoun uses the following quote to describe why it is so terrifying to see children as these films depict them:
“But in the world of Let the Right One In, and of the little-monster subgenre in general, the character can be seen as much more than this: she is a repository of adult fears about children, who are so like us yet in crucial ways so different, who are both vulnerable and demanding, and in touch with the id in ways that can elicit great anxiety and discomfort, especially when sexual stirrings begin to take form (Calhoun p.1).”
With this quote, Calhoun explains how the taboo of children, unaware of social norms and rules that adults abide by and who pursue what they want, combined with adult-like intelligence and personality, brings forth fears that the unthinkable, forbidden, and unknown, could occur. There are many examples of this fear of the unknown in this genre. One in particular is Village of the Damned. This was produced in the 1960s and involved a village wide blackout that resulted in the impregnation of every single woman in the village, even the virgins. The children that are then born are sophisticated, experience accelerated growth, and can control adults with their eyes. No one in the village knows how or why they came and generally don’t know what to do about them, thus causing terror and panic among the villagers.
Another idea that is unnerving to the public is that of a child’s seeming vulnerability. If you were to see a small child huddled in a dark alley shivering, you would probably help them, would you not? Now what if this child suddenly lunged out at you and aggressively bit and fed itself on your flesh? Because of their perceived innocence we dismiss the danger that could come from a child. In these horror movies, children are not the ones that need protection, but rather the other characters need protection from them. Calhoun states, “The power of children to inspire pity and terror—because of their vulnerability, because of their uncontrollability—has once again moved to the cultural front, not least at the movies (Calhoun p.6).” With this quote, Calhoun explains how the various elements of these films has helped them to not only become popular at the box office, but has aided in creating a cultural phenomenon.
All of the previously mentioned ways children can be scary involve them having powers or knowledge that normal children do not possess. However, do not think this is the only way children can be scary. There are plenty of ways that children can be very frightening just being terrible to other children. Calhoun agrees by ending with a sobering remark, “The torment he (Oskar from Let the Right One In) undergoes at the hands of the boys at school is unusually violent, easily making the point that monstrous children can come in forms other than the supernatural variety (Calhoun p.6).” This is completely true; none of bullies possess anything special except a broken home and desire to cause pain and suffering to others. This is most frightening to adults when children, who are suppose to be care-free and innocent, are showing adult emotions and evil intentions. The fact that these children have learned these drives so early in life and are tormenting others can be emotionally disturbing, these situations may happen and do happen in everyday life, not just in film.
Frankly, I think this image of “devil” children in horror films scares the hell out of most people. With our image of children being so sweet and innocent we picture them as vulnerable and in need of our protection; when this is reversed and we are placed in danger because of these children it can be quiet shocking when they deviate from the social norms we are used to. John Calhoun gives a good proposal for why it is that they are so disturbing, using ideas like their vulnerability and innocence to showcase how abnormal it is when these roles are reversed.
1.) What characteristics does Eli have that go against the social norms expected of children?
2.) What about Eli’s history makes her captivating to the audience?
3.) How do Eli and her actions reflect what Oskar is feeling inside during his encounters with his tormenters?
Calhoun, John. Childhood’s End: Let the Right One In and Other Deaths of Innocence