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Bad Seeds: Pet Sematary and Literature’s Creepiest Kids

by  | May 6

Famously known as the book that King himself regards as his scariest work, Pet Sematary has found a new audience with its 2019 reboot, just as it did exactly thirty years ago with the original film adaptation. A rumination on death, and how grief can haunt a family and manifest itself in different ways, Pet Sematary lasts the test of time not only because of its solid scares, but for its deeply relatable themes. Still, the standout performances in both films are the recently undead children and their hideous juxtaposition between childhood innocence and pure evil. Spooky kids in literature are nothing new, and they’ve had a long history that has chilled horror lovers for years. Here are books featuring my favorite creepy kids, who prove that, indeed, sometimes dead is better.

The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed

by William March

Somewhat regarded as the “bad child” thriller that started the motif, William March’s 1954 novel examines the duality of a little girl, Rhoda Penmark. Outwardly smart and charming, she hides a dark demeanor that begins to reveal itself to her mother, Christine, following the seemingly accidental death of a classmate. As incidents escalate, Christine has to grapple with the possibility that her little girl isn’t at all what she seems.

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Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

by Zoje Stage

In this recent take on the bad-seed theme, stay-at-home mother Suzette struggles to connect with her seven-year-old daughter, Hanna. Showing nothing but loving behavior toward her father, Hanna grows more and more extreme as she exhibits her dark habits in front of only her mother. In alternating narrative perspectives from Hanna and Suzette, Baby Teeth offers an intriguing look at both a mother’s suspicions about her daughter and a daughter’s inner thoughts and motivations. It’s a new and fascinating perspective on a family dynamic that really sets this book apart as one of the best modern “bad seed” reads.

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Night Shift

Night Shift

by Stephen King

What is scarier than a sociopathic preteen? How about a whole bunch of them? After taking over a town and forming their own cult-like society, the children of Gatlin, Nebraska, worship a mysterious deity that lurks among the cornfields. When a young couple, Burt and Vicky, unwittingly stumble into the town, they are soon terrorized by the sociopathic children. Stephen King is no stranger to a creepy kid or two (the bullies in It; the twins in The Shining; Charlie in Firestarter…must we go on?), and this supernatural Lord of the Flies-esque short story remains his creepiest collection of kids yet. This tale, included in King’s anthology Night Shift, also spawned the 1984 cult classic film of the same name.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin

by Lionel Shriver

In the bestselling novel We Need to Talk about Kevin, a mother, Eva, recounts her relationship with her family through a series of letters to her husband. After their son commits a horrifying act, she retraces her experiences with him throughout his life. Weaving from her child’s early childhood to present day, Eva ruminates on the first signs of cruelty and violence her son displayed to secrets and discord between mother and son. As she tries desperately to understand why her son became such a monster, Eva also examines the nature of motherhood and the dark side of when it all goes wrong.

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My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer

by Derf Backderf

Sometimes the scariest monsters aren’t just in novels or horror movies but are regular people who in turn do heinous things. In this graphic novel, author Derf Backderf reflects on his time in high school with fellow classmate and even brief friend Jeffrey Dahmer. This stunning work shows how the psychology and behavior of a young Dahmer, now regarded as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, warned of a darker future. Adapted in 2017 into a critically acclaimed indie film starring Ross Lynch (yeah, good luck watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina after this performance), this story is both empathetic and deeply human. The horror comes from thinking anyone we may have known growing up could go on to do horrendous things.

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Amy is a Legal Contracts Assistant at Simon & Schuster. She loves thrillers, contemporary fiction, and all things Stephen King! If she isn’t talking about her obsession with true crime podcasts like Last Podcast on the Left she is gabbing on about any and all things film. She loves reading in her favorite NYC bars, which you can see on her bookstagram, @boozehoundbookclub