Why Are Horror Kids So Darn Scary?

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Murray, KY – ANNOUNCER: Horror has been a genre since silent films played images of Nosferatu and Doctor Caligari. Deranged killers, psychotic monsters, and giant, sewer-dwelling spider clowns are all hair-raising characters in horror flicks. For some people though, kids are outright terrifying. Chris Taylor talks to a film expert, a psychologist, and his five-year-old daughter to find out why.

This is my daughter Kiera's fifth Halloween. She's getting to be about that age where she thinks she can watch anything on TV. As a responsible parent I try to be pretty vigilant on the content she watches. I want to safeguard that innocent little mind of hers from anything too violent, too vulgar, or the stuff nightmares are made of. With the holiday right around the corner and the horror flicks hard to miss on many channels, it got me thinking

C: Hey Kiera, what scares you?
K: A monster, like a scary monster because it's really, really, really, really scary.

Kiera says she's also scared of alligators, crocodiles, and spiders.

C: Have you ever watched a movie that scared you?
K: Yes, it's Transformers. There's a bad guy in it and he destroys everything of the Earth.

She hasn't watched a horror movie yet and I plan to keep it that way.

Johns - I'm very scared of horror movies. As a child I remember just not being able to sleep.

Murray State Associate English Professor Dr. Timothy Johns.

Johns - I think horror movies tap our worst fears and what we are sort of scared about in every day life, and that's why horror films are often about everyday life and something just becomes monstrous.

Johns studies international film.

Johns - Children are often understood as the innocents, right? So, what if you make them the most terrifying beings?

Newer movies like The Ring, Silent Hill, and The Grudge 2 feature horror images of children, which some argue offer a bit more chilling effect than your average chainsaw-wielding maniac. It's not a new device. Those clips you just heard were from well known 70's and 80's classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, and The Children of the Corn.

Associate Psychology Professor Dr. Doug Pruitt at West Kentucky Community and Technical College says framing children as the antagonist goes against the grain of how we typically view them.

Pruitt - You'd never think twice about putting a child in your life and not feeling threatened, and somehow twisting that and turning that into something evil, I think, is just particularly disturbing to people.

According to Pruitt, images of children generally evoke feelings of caring, concern, and protectiveness.

Pruitt - And really there's a lot of innocence in children and it really evokes a lot of trust for people. And all of a sudden, you've got some evil force, you know. Whether it's an external force or something internal to the child, it's disturbing.

Pruitt says people tend to like that disturbance because the intensity of our emotional response breaks us out of the ordinary and mundane.

Pruitt - Some people certainly get a physiological thrill out of it, you know, just getting the adrenaline rushing [and] whole sympathetic nervous system firing. Then of course, when you calm back down, it's kind of rewarding.

Innocence may not be the only reason horror kids come off extra creepy. Professor Johns canvassed his class on their opinions, and came up with other possibilities.

Johns - Kids are growing up too early. Kids have buying power because they have jobs. I mean all of these new threats to the adult world.

Whatever the case may be, my daughter Kiera shouldn't be too scary for adults to handle this Halloween. She'll be trick-or-treating as a robot. For WKMS News, I'm Chris Taylor.