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Young blood: A brief look at ‘Orphan’ and the ‘evil child’ trope in horror films

(Please be warned, this article contains spoilers if you have not watched the films The Bad Seed and Orphan).

Regular readers of my blog know that I enjoy watching horror movies and I’ve written articles on why people enjoy watching horror movies, a look at scary clowns in film and television, as well as more direct and indirect in-depth looks at my personal favourites including the Hannibal Lecter and Alien franchises.

One of the most popular tropes in the horror genre is the ‘evil child’ (often referred to or seen as equivalent to the ‘demonic child’, ‘creepy child’, ‘bad seed’ and ‘demon seed’ trope). This has spawned dozens on online articles looking at celluloid examples of the evil child sub-genre such as ‘Top 25 Evil Child Movies’, ‘Evil Kid Horror Movies’, ‘16 Creepy Child Horror Movies That Will Make You Not Want Kids Ever’, ‘The Top 10 Most Evil Children In Movies’, ‘We’re Baaack: The 20 Most Evil Children From TV And Movies’, and ‘The 50 Spookiest Kids In Horror Movies, Ranked’ (to name just a few).

The film that arguably started the trope was Mervin LeRoy’s 1956 horror-thriller The Bad Seed. The film was based upon Maxwell Anderson’s play of the same name (itself based on the 1954 novel The Bad Seed by William March and – for you trivia fans – the inspiration for the name of Nick Cave’s band The Bad Seeds). The ‘demon child’ of both the book and the film is sociopath Rhoda Penmark, whose mother (Christine) – spoiler alert – learns that she is an adopted child and is the biological daughter of Bessie Denker, an infamous serial killer (and believes that she genetically caused Rhoda’s sociopathy).

As a teenager, the demonic child that had most impact on me was Damien Thorn (in Damien: Omen II) mainly because I shared my middle name with the titular character. However, there are hundreds to choose from that share many of Damien’s chilling characteristics (some horror and some not) including Joshua Cairn (Joshua), Dalton Lambert (Insidious), Lilith Sullivan (Case 39), Brahms (The Boy), Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist), Nicholas and Ann Stewart (The Others), Tomás (The Orphanage), Henry Evan (The Good Son), Delia (The Omen IV), Kevin (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Toshio (Ju-On/The Grudge), Samara (The Ring), Santi (The Devil’s Backbone), The Grady twins (The Shining), and Gage Creed (Pet Sematary). In addition to this there are those films where there are a group of demonic children (e.g., Children Of The Damned, Children Of The Corn, and the ‘psychoplasmic offspring’ of The Brood), as well as ‘demon seed’ children that are yet to be born (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, etc.).

When it comes to ‘evil child’ films, one of my more recent favourites (at least in terms of the film’s twist at the end) is the 2009 US psychological horror film Orphan (directed by Jaume Collet-Serra). When it comes to horror films I much prefer ‘psychological horror’ (which tends to be rooted in reality and is why I like the Hannibal Lecter franchise) as opposed to supernatural thrillers and the archetypal ‘slasher films’ (although I do like watching gory films). Orphan centres on married couple John and Kate Coleman (played by Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) who after the death of their unborn baby adopt Esther, a nine-year old Russian girl from an orphanage (played by Isabelle Fuhrman).


In the scene where a provocatively-dressed nine-year old Esther attempts to seduce her new father (who had been drinking heavily) I began to guess the twist in the film that – spoiler alert – Esther was (because of a hormone disorder called hypopituitarism) a woman in a child’s body. Near the end of the film, it is Esther’s new mother (Kate) that receives a call from the Saarne Institute (a mental institution) and is informed that Esther is in fact a violent murderer from Estonia called Leena Klammer, a 33-year-old woman whose physical growth was stunted and had spent most of her adult life posing as a young girl and had killed at least seven people (including the father of an Estonian family who adopted her and who she killed for rejecting her sexual advances). According to the IMDb ‘Trivia’ page about Orphan:

“Earlier drafts of the script include more information about Esther’s past and explain why she attempts to seduce her adoptive fathers. She was molested by her father for years, starting when she was an infant; this sexualized her at a very young age and destroyed any future chance of her having her own children. Her father later took another lover, telling Esther that, because of her condition, she could never be a real woman. She murdered them both and was ultimately sent to Saarne, a mental institution. After escaping from Saarne, she worked as a prostitute in Estonia for years, mostly catering to wealthy pedophiles. When she was arrested for this, she kept up the pretense of being a child to stay out of jail and was sent to an orphanage. Esther sees herself as trapped inside the body of a child, and it disgusts her. She wants to ‘grow up’ and be a wife, a mother, and a lover (what her father considered a ‘real woman’), and tries to find ‘love’ with her father but she didn’t”.

After the film had been released, there was a lot of debate about whether the medical condition that Esther had really exists. According to Wikipedia entry on the condition:

“Hypopituitarism is the decreased (hypo) secretion of one or more of the eight hormones normally produced by the pituitary at the base of the brain…The signs and symptoms of hypopituitarism vary, depending on which hormones are undersecreted and on the underlying cause of the abnormality…Hypopituitarism is a rare disease but may be significantly underdiagnosed in people with previous traumatic brain injury…The first description of the condition was made in 1914 by the German physician Dr. Morris Simmonds”.

Not only does Esther’s medical condition exist, but her character was actually inspired by the true life case of Barbora Skrlova who was one of the individuals in a 2008 story that the Daily Mail entitled ‘Boy ‘skinned and eaten’ by his cannibal cult family after being held captive in a cellar’. The story in question was a disturbing case involving single parent Klara Mauerova (described as an aggressive schizophrenic) and the physical abuse of her two sons (Yakub and Ondrej). The story was recounted in a 2017 article on the website entitled ‘Barbora Skrlová: The woman who inspired the movie Orphan’. From what I’ve read, Mauerova became depressed after the father of her children left her and she asked her sister (Katerina, who also appears to have had some kind of mental illness) to move in with her to help her look after the children. According to

“The sisters met Barbora Skrlová at the university, a 33-year-old woman who looked [like a] 13 [year-old] girl because of a difficult disease called hypopituitarism. [Skrlová] was really skilled manipulating, and that’s what she did with the two sisters, they became really good friends because of her tragic childhood stories, she made the sisters take her to live with them. Years before meeting Klara and Katerina, [Skrlová] had been hospitalized for several years in a psychiatric center because she had made herself known as an orphaned child to a family that wanted to adopt her, but they realized about it and sent her to an asylum”.

The story alleged that Skrlová and the Mauerova sisters imprisoned Klara’s two sons (naked) in an iron cage in the basement of their house. It was also alleged that Skrlová wanted “to fatten [the two boys] just as Hansel and Gretel and wanted to commit cannibal acts while filming with a camera”. According to the Daily Mail story:

“An eight year-old boy was skinned and his flesh fed to cannibal relatives after his mother kept him locked in a cellar… Evil Klara Mauerova – a member of a sinister religious cult – wept in court as she admitted torturing her son Ondrej and his ten year-old brother Jakub. The court also heard allegations that relatives had partially skinned eight-year-old Ondrej and then eaten the raw human flesh. The two boys told how their mother and relatives had stubbed cigarettes out on their bare skin, whipped them with belts and tried to drown them. The court heard how the family had sexually abused them and even made them cut themselves with knives. They said they were kept in cages or handcuffed to tables and made to stand in their own urine for days”.

A neighbour alerted the police that there was something suspicious going on in the Mauerova household (having picked up what was happening on his baby monitor). When they police eventually arrived they discovered “the worst scenes they had ever seen” in the Mauerova’s basement. They found the two naked boys in the cage alongside a “little girl crying” (i.e., Barbora Skrlová). Skrlová told the police that her name was ‘Anika’ and that she had been adopted by the Mauerova sisters. The ‘little girl’ was taken to a children’s home by the police but absconded the same night. She was later found many months later living with another couple who had adopted her (but this time as a boy called Adam and described by the couple as a ‘child genius’ who suffered severe anxiety and depression attacks). Skrlová was sentenced to 12 years in prison but released in 2012. Her whereabouts are currently unknown.

Given that the orphan in the titular film was eventually exposed as an adult, it could be argued that the film is not technically about an ‘evil child’ and therefore not part of the ‘evil child’ trope (but I think that’s pedantry and misses the point). For almost all of the film, the audience believes Esther to be a child and on that basis alone it belongs to the ‘evil child’ horror genre. As plot twists go, I think it was one of the better ones, up there with The Usual Suspects, The Crying Game, and The Sixth Sense (which I won’t spoil just in case there are a few of you reading this that haven’t seen these three films).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ananvisca, V. (2017). Barbora Skrlová: The woman who inspired the movie Orphan., June 17. Located at:

Daily Mail (2008). Boy ‘skinned and eaten’ by his cannibal cult family after being held captive in a cellar. June 21. Located at:

International Movie Database (2018). Orphan trivia. Located at:

Orphan Wiki (2018). Leena Klammer. Located at:

Villians Wiki (2018). Esther Coleman. Located at:

Wikipedia (2018). Hypopituitarism. Located at:

The Great Defecator: The (maybe not so) secret sex life of Adolf Hitler

In a previous blog I briefly looked at some of the psychological research that had been carried out examining Adolf Hitler’s personality. I briefly mentioned in that blog some of the more salacious speculations about his sexuality. It’s not my usual style to speculate on the sex lives of people who are not around to defend themselves (although I did make an exception in a previous blog about the television personality Jimmy Savile).

Hitler’s sexuality has been the subject of scholarly (and not so scholarly) debate for decades. The vast majority of material has concerned Hitler’s sexual orientation and whether in fact he was gay (not that it bothers me whether he was or wasn’t). For instance, much media coverage was given to Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams’ book The Pink Swastika about Hitler’s (and other leading Nazi Party members’) homosexuality. Other scholars (such as the German historian Dr. Lothar Machtan) have tried to put the case forward that he was bisexual (which would make more sense given the five women he was alleged to have had sexual liaisons with above and beyond his longstanding 16-year relationship with Eva Braun) or that he was asexual – although I’ve yet to come across any scholarly evidence of this apart from a brief 1998 online essay by American Dr. Jack Porter. He wrote:

“Did Hitler despise homosexuals? Was he ashamed of his own homosexual identity? These are areas of psychohistory that are beyond known knowledge. My own feelings are that Hitler was asexual in the traditional sense and had bizarre sexual fetishes. All these things were of course kept highly secret from the German people”.

Many academics have disputed the allegations made in The Pink Swastika although Dr. Machtan published (what seems to me at least) a well researched German book on Hitler in 2001 (the title of which translates as Hitler’s Secret: The Double Life of a Dictator). He claimed that Hitler had many gay friends in Munich who helped Hitler win over the intellectuals in various social circles during his rise to power. This included Ernst Hanfstaengt (a business man and close friend of Hitler), Dietrich Eckart (a journalist and politician who helped Hitler form the Nazi Party), Ernst Röhm (one of Hitler’s closest confidants, and an officer in the Bavarian Army who later became the Nazi leader of the Sturmabteilung – the Assault Division), and Edmund Heines (Röhm’s deputy leader in the Sturmabteilung). He personally ordered the killings of both Heines and Röhm for their “immoral sexual behaviour”. The Wikipedia entry on Hitler’s sex life claimed that:

“There is considerable evidence that he had infatuations with a number of women during his lifetime, as well as overwhelming evidence of his antipathy to homosexuality, and no evidence he engaged in homosexual behavior”.

The American journalist Ron Rosenbaum (and author of the 1998 book Explaining Hitler:  The Search for the Origins of Evil) has been very critical of Dr. Machtan’s research and went as far as saying in a 2005 article for the Southern Poverty Law Center, that Machtan’s “evidence falls short of being conclusive and often falls far short of being evidence at all”. However, Hitler’s persecution of homosexuals was as abhorrent as his treatment of Jewish people (sending them to their deaths in the Nazi concentration camps – some of who were experimented upon in Hitler’s quest to identify what he believed was a biological basis for homosexuality). The Wikipedia article on Hitler’s sexuality cites the work of American historian Jonathan Zimmerman who claimed that:

“Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis arrested roughly 100,000 men as homosexuals. Most convicted gays were sent to prison; between 5,000 and 15,000 were interned in concentration camps, where they wore pink triangles to signify their supposed crime. A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% of political prisoners and 35% of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The study also shows that survival rates for gay men were slightly higher for internees from the middle and upper classes and for married bisexual men and those with children”.

Irrespective of whether Hitler had homesexual tendencies, no-one denies that during World War II, the allies did their best to cast Hitler as a sexual deviant with claims that he was a urophile (i.e., sexually aroused by being urinated upon in Hitler’s case). However, much of this can be dismissed as nothing more than anti-Hitler propaganda. Ernst Hanfstaengl (who was for quite some time a member of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’) was one of the few who openly spoke of issues surrounding Hitler’s sex life (after Hitler had committed suicide). In his 1957 book Hitler: The Missing Years, he wrote:

“Hitler was a case of a man who was neither fish, flesh nor fowl, neither fully homosexual nor fully heterosexual… I had formed the firm conviction that he was impotent, the repressed, masturbating type”.

In my previous blog on Hitler’s personality, I mentioned the two independent reports that were commissioned by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by psychologists Dr. Walter Langer (A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend) and Dr. Walter Murray (Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behavior and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender) during the World War II in an attempt to get inside the mind of Hitler. German politician Otto Strasser (a member of the left-wing National Socialist German Workers’ Party) claimed that Hitler had forced his niece Geli Raubel to urinate and defecate on him. In relation to his sexuality, this ‘evidence’ – I use the term tentatively – was used by Dr. Langer’s to assert that Hitler was an “impotent coprophile [and] possibly even a homosexual streak in him”. However, the report did conclude that the evidence surrounding Hitler’s alleged homosexuality was weak. Dr. Murray’s report briefly dealt with Hitler’s alleged coprophilic tendencies but was more concerned with Hitler’s probable schizophrenia (which I covered in my previous blog). In 2007, Dr. Frederick Coolidge and his colleagues published a paper examining the psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. Summarizing the work of Dr. Langer, they wrote that:

“Using sources only available up until 1943, Langer diagnosed Hitler as a neurotic bordering on psychotic with a messiah complex, masochistic tendencies, strong sexual perversions, and a high likelihood of homosexuality”.

More recently, Hitler’s alleged coprophilia was alluded to in a 2011 biography of Hitler’s lover Eva Braun by Heike B. Görtemaker. However, other recent books on Hitler have been more explicit. For instance, Greg Hallet in his chapter ‘Hitler’s Sexuality’ (from his 2008 book ‘Hitler was a British Agent’) wrote:

“Hitler’s close boyhood friend from Linz, August Kubizek, wrote Adolf Hitler, Mein Jugendfreund (My Youth Friend), ‘Adolf did not engage in love affairs or flirtations. He always rejected the coquettish advances of girls or women. Women and girls took an interest in him but he always evaded their endeavours’…During deconstruction, it is customary that the person is sexually abused in the manner which is most embarrassing to that person. In Hitler’s case, he was sodomised, creating a submissive distant respect for homosexuals like his bodyguards and some of his highest-placed leaders. His natural bent was developed into coprophilia (being shat on)…With each deconstruction an embarrassing addiction is developed and filmed. With Hitler it was sadomasochism, coprophilia and homosexuality. That is, he liked to be verbally abused and slapped around, to have his head urinated on, his chest shat on, and to have sex with men”.

None of this is definitive proof that Hitler was a coprophile but some would argue that there are enough indirect pieces of evidence to suggest that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. As far as I am concerned it is never likely to be proven given any new evidence that is likely to have come to light would have probably come to light by now (but you never know).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Coolidge, F., Davis, F. & Segal, D. (2007). Understanding Madmen: A DSM-IV Assessment of Adolf Hitler. Individual Differences Research, 5(1), 30-43.

Görtemaker, H. (2011). Eva Braun: Life with Hitler. New York: Knopf.

Hallett, G. (2008). Hitler was a British Agent. London: Progressive Books.

Hanfstaengl, E. (1957). Hitler: The Missing Years. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.

Lively, Scott; Abrams, Kevin (1995). The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. Founders Publishing. Corporation

Moser, R. (2005).  Anti-Gay Religious Crusaders Claim Homosexuals Helped Mastermind the Holocaust. Southern Poverty Law Center, 117. Located at:

Plant, R. (1986). The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt.

Porter, J.N. (1998). Genocide of homosexuals in the Holocaust. October 10. Located at:

Porter, J.N. (1998). Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany: The Persecution of the Homosexuals during the Holocaust. Newton, MA: The Spencer Press.

Rosenbaum, R. (1998). Explaining Hitler:  The Search for the Origins of Evil. New York: Random House.

Rosenbaum, R. (2001). Queer as Volk. Slate, December 3. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Sexuality of Adolf Hitler. Located at: