Aug 31, 2013

What makes little girls creepy?

I recently watched the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. Or I should say the first half, because I found it a little creepy and am not sure if I'll continue. (Hey AMC, I don't think this will be the show to replace Breaking Bad for me).

At the very first scene, you know things are going to be bad when you find yourself walking behind this silent, shuffling little girl:

You seriously don't want her to turn around, do you?

The Shining had the creepy ghost twins.  I was going to put a picture here, but honestly, I just don't want it on my blog. You can see it here if you want to get that sick thud heart-in-your throat reminder.

Poltergeist had that little girl's sing-song voice saying "They're heeeere!"

Dawn of the Dead: the daughter zombie right at the beginning

Firestarter: Drew Barrymore being not-so-cute

A Nightmare On Elm Street: the little girls playing skipping rope outside, and chanting "One two, Freddy's coming for you..."

The Others: a bit different in that the "ghost" was a little boy - but the scene with the little girl with the gauze over her head during the seance is the scariest bit in the whole thing

The Exorcist: Forget the head turning and the still-shocking swearing, I have one scene for you: young girl in nightgown scuttling down the stairs backwards. Good God, it still freaks me right out.

The Cabin in the Woods has a ghost girl in a classroom of Japanese schoolgirls, which is a creepy scene all round. It also has zombies, knife-wielding clowns, werewolves and a rabid unicorn - but is the scariest monster of them all perhaps the little twirling pink ballerina girl? (Yes).

And then there is the scariest of the lot.....

I used to love horror films. I kind of still do - sometimes. Then in 2002 I saw the scariest film I had ever seen in my life: The Ring.  Just as Stephen King's "It", many years ago, traumatized me for horror novels forever, The Ring cured me of horror movies for years. And yet, no longer enjoying them but unable to stop myself, I returned for The Grudge and Dark Water. This makes the terror trilogy of stringy-haired ghost girl movies that are so completely, utterly scary. They are scary because of the style and cinematography. They are scary because of the vengeful ghost who punishes completely innocent people (instead of misbehaving teens). But mostly, they are scary because the monster is a dead little girl with long dark hair!

Why are little girls so scary?
Or at least, what makes them a good trope for scariness?

I have two little girls. They are not in the least scary.  But I'm as freaked out as anyone by a scary dead girl-child in a horror movie. They are scary in a way that little boys are not scary. Why is that?

If you Google "scary movies with little girls" you get a lot of stuff. You get a million movies with scary little girls in them, you get a heap of "top ten lists of scary movies with little girls in them", and you get some theories and commentary on why little girls are scary (like herehere, here and here).

I'm guessing the same as most people, that little girls in scary movies are scary because they invert how we see little girls. We invest A LOT, culturally (or perhaps psychologically - maybe this crap is universally human) in seeing little girls as sweet and pure and passive. It freaks us right out when we suspect that maybe they are not all those things. If we lose control of our little girls, we lose control of women, sexuality, reproduction, society, the lot!

Or maybe we suspect little girls hold secrets, or we fear the power they'll have as they grow.

Here's a comment on a "why are little girls scary" thread on a gaming review message board:

"Damn, I could be playing Quake 4 and see giant monsters and not have any reaction at all but a little girl in the right situations creep the **** out of me."

People respond as above, about how we don't expect little girls to be dangerous and it's about subverting our expectations etc, but he replies:

"Its not like she even does anything scary…she just appears and scares the crap out of me."

Then there's this post:

I think that would scare me too.

What do you think? 


  1. Hi Jackie,

    I think little girls are supposed to be the essence of innocence and when that innocence is tainted, it becomes as scary as hell.

    Stick with the Walking Dead - it gets much better. Series 3 is brilliant and I am waiting for Series 4 to appear. I can't wait.




    1. I think you're right about that - the innocence thing. Like, if our little girls are evil, EVERYTHING is evil! I know everyone loves The Walking Dead, so I will give it another go. I can't imagine a zombie storyline lasting 4 series, so there must be more to it!

  2. I haven't seen many horror movies, I've seen Poltergeist, Firestarter and the Exorcist, but none of them scared me the way that Chuckie did. That creepy ankle high little killer doll!

    I'd read the books Firestarter and The Exorcist long before I saw the movies, so they were spoiled for me. Especially Firestarter, I just felt the casting was wrong. In Poltergeist, the little girl wasn't evil, she was taken by evil spirits.
    If I knew how to insert a picture in a comment box, I'd put one in here that I have in my files.

    1. Oh yeah, Chuckie!! How could I forget - horrible. And he was a boy!
      I know the girl in Poltergeist wasn't evil, but still interesting they chose a girl to be the channel for the evil spirits.

  3. I think I have read Lord of the Flies. I know some of the content at least, and I think boys can be scary too. But what could be worse than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. You didn't ask, but my scariest movie was Cape Fear.

    1. Yes, Lord of the Flies was pretty creepy. I think of it every time playground squabbles occur at school (in other words, every day).
      Cape Fear was a very scary film. Couple of scenes in that were truly horrific, and the suspense build-up all the way through...
      But for me, The Ring was the scariest film I've ever seen.

  4. We all watched Blood Beach way back in the 80s, it was a B grade movie and sort of blah and predictable, then all of a sudden we all screamed and jumped about six feet off the couch...I've forgotten the rest of the movie, but not that moment.

    1. Yes, every scary movie has that ONE moment...!

  5. Little girls, for all the protestations that we adore their innocence and purity, are nevertheless, more often than not, the most oppressed and neglected sector of humanity. Here, for example, is a quote from Ewan Kirkland’s Alessa Unbound: The Monstrous Daughter of Silent Hill.

    “Alessa functions as both victim and threat. Primarily in Silent Hill I Alessa represents, not a monstrous rampaging child, but a remarkably frank expression of childrens’ oppression. Locations from Alessa’s past reveal her misery: an attic room covered with maniacal graffiti, a schoolroom desk scratched with the spiteful words of bullying classmates, and Alessa’s bedroom, a sad little sanctuary of drawings, storybooks and framed butterflies. Indeed, the young girl’s suffering, tormented by fellow pupils and a fanatical mother, being burned almost to death, then kept alive in a hospital basement, constitutes an extremely critical representation of Western childrens’ physical and mental abuse, familial isolation and oppressive institutionalisation...”

    At the same time, prepubertal girls have special powers of insight and prophecy that make adults fear them (e.g. the little Mayan girl in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto). In India, China and Africa, where female infanticide is a social catastrophe, they are murdered by the hundreds of thousands if not millions, often under suspicion of ‘witchcraft’. Their powers are all too often lost when they reach puberty and enter into the collective hell of adult human relations (not so much ‘human bonding’ as human bondage - as Somerset Maugham points out). Alessa, Alma Wade and Samara Morgan all start out as gifted little girls who have these powers in abundance. These powers remain in check as long as the little girls are striving to be ‘good little girls’. But when they are deprived of love, oppressed and abused, their frustration and fury causes their giftedness to arise as dark power - with all the fury and horror of a child’s rage magnified to superhuman proportions.

    In Alessa’s own words:

    "Do you see that Alessa was a good little girl? Even though nobody looked at her that way. Their parents told them she was bad. She didn't have a father like they did. Alessa was alone in the world. You know what can happen to little girls when they're left alone. Even her mother couldn't help. Even though she loved her baby. The rest of the family didn't love Alessa, they were just like the others, they made her scared. They had met many times since the town was built, to restore innocence and purity. They had a special place for that. Do you remember the hotel? I led you to all these places and you were very good at following my clues. You know how that feels, don't you? To lose your little girl. They thought they knew how to cast out evil. That you should be careful how you fight evil. Their weapons can turn back on them. Now you know why Dahlia is broken. She tried to get help, but she went too late. There were good people n the town, people like you, people who like to help. Alessa was so lonely, and hurt, and scared, they should have known better than to hurt her so badly. When you're hurt and scared for so long, your fear and pain turn to hate, and the hate starts to change the world. Alessa's hate grew and grew, burning inside her. Her hate got so strong she even hurt someone who was only curious. That's when I came. I told her it was their turn. I promised they would all fall into her darkest dream."

    1. Wow - that is awesome. Thank you!
      And yes, I agree.



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