Thursday, October 14, 2010

Syllabus: Youth and Malice

A while back my friend Farrah was doing these posts I loved with syllabi for imaginary classes. (Here's one on cuteness. Here's one on acknowledging the camera.) I'd like to see a class on books and films that feature children or teenagers encountering (and in engaging in) acts of cruelty, violence, and evil, with a particular focus on children; teenagers are evil anyway. (Slasher films don't count.)


A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Music for Torching and/or The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


Heavenly Creatures
Stand By Me
Mysterious Skin

What else should be on the syllabus?


  1. Sadly, something about African child soldiers would probably not be amiss.

  2. Those syllabi were the greatest things I've seen all week. Thanks for that.

    I'd suggest Leolo, which is on my top-three-most-disturbing films list. Spoiler alert: boys + cat rape. (Um, as opposed to consensual cat-sex.) But, it's arty.

  3. Whoa -- never heard of that. Must (?) investigate.

  4. Boy A. The book (by Jonathan Trigell) and or film. It's inspired by some serious cruelty (the story of James Bulger, Andrew Garfield is amazing in the movie.

  5. WHOA. Will definitely check that out.

  6. Ah, Heathers is an interesting case. I wanted to veer away from violence played for laughs or scare value, but since it's a black comedy that satirizes realistic high school cruelty, I think it qualifies ....

    Keep 'em coming!

  7. That Gus VanSant movie about Columbine...Elephant i think it was called.

    And Compulsion, the Orson Welles movie about the Leopold-Loeb case, which was kind of remade into a sandra bullock movie called Murder by Numbers.

  8. I never saw Elephant. was it good?

  9. i didn't love it, though the part where they actually shoot up the school was done well.

  10. watch elephant if you want to feel terrible

  11. The movie If -- British film, made in 1968, directed by Lindsay Anderson, with Malcolm McDowell in the top-billed role. I've never actually seen this one, I know of it only by reputation and from a couple of reviews I've seen -- it's one of those "what kind of chaos would ensue if teenagers actually took over," etc., films of which there were a few during those years. It was made a few years before Malcolm McDowell blew away the movie screen in A Clockwork Orange.

    Key Witness, from 1960, a teenage gang terrorizes a man and his family after the man's court testimony leads to a conviction of the gang leader for something or other. The gang leader is played by Dennis Hopper, in early classic form. The upright citizen father is played by Jeffrey Hunter, otherwise known for playing Captain Pike in "The Cage," the original two-part pilot episode of Star Trek, and for playing Jesus of Nazareth in the movie King of Kings. This is probably the definitive example of the teenage switchblade gang movies of those years.

    The Children's Hour, the 1961 film made from Lillian Hellman's play, with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. The cruel-children aspect of this one is only one element of the plot, but a pivotal one.

    Equus, a 1977 British film in which a psychiatrist investigates a terrible act of cruelty done by a teenage boy to several horses. Richard Burton plays the psychiatrist. Adapted by Peter Shaffer from his play of the same name.

    And, you didn't mention T.V. shows specifically, but an obvious choice would be the classic Twilight Zone episode in which a boy with terrible superhuman powers terrorizes the people of the small town where he lives, including turning a man into a jack-in-the-box.

  12. Books:
    The Bad Seed by William March

    The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

    The Other by Thomas Tryon

    The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane by Laird Koenig

    All four of these books were made into films: The Bad Seed is neither better or worse as a film; The Midwich Cuckoos was made as Village of the Damned and remade by the same name--the original film is good, the remake is supposedly terrible; I haven't seen The Other; and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane is a film I love, and for my money, better than the book.

  13. I saw The Village of the Damned when I was a little kid. It was fun/creepy.

    I don't suppose The Other is related to The Others (Nicole Kidman movie which I kind of love?)

  14. Disturbing Behavior

    I'm watching it right now.

  15. How can you not include slasher films!

    But since I see you're including some horror, you might check out "Ils." Though the exact role of the evil teenagers isn't immediately apparent in the story until the end, it's quite essential.

    Also, of course, there's Carrie.

  16. Ils is a GREAT example. Wow. Yes. It's terrifying, too.

    The Other has nothing to do with The Others. The Others is more a riff on Henry Miller's The Turn of the Screw, which, come to think of it, isn't a bad example of what you're looking for. No, The Other is about a boy who does some bad things, and was a big bestseller in the 70s.

    I don't think you're looking for out and out supernatural stuff, but there is The Omen (mediocre, but the child is effective) and Children of the Corn (dreadful, in all it's incarnations, yet somehow powerful). You already have one King story on your list (Stand By Me), but he has a few with bad kids... Sometimes They Come Back--essentially about bullying--and Pet Sematary.

    So many bad children!

    I also thot about "Teddy" by Salinger in 9 Stories, but I can't remember if Teddy is bad or not... and unwilling to reread the story to find out!

  17. I think Teddy uses his powers for good! Unlike the boy in that aforementioned Twilight Zone episode (which is updated in the TZ movie they made in the '80s, along with the William Shatner episode about the creature on the plane wing....)

    I think I'm only shying away from horror/slasher films if they don't focus particularly on the intersection of youth and malice, but are just about people getting killed in general (even if those people happen to be young).

  18. There's the Butcher Boy both a novel & film.

    Of course there is Battle Royal but I guess they are manipulated by adults to kill each other...

  19. How about The painted bird by Kosinski? A terrifying novel on the Holocaust written from a childs perspective.
    The novels by Agota Kristoff too!

    Yra van Dijk

  20. The Iron Giant, Born into Brothels, Persepolis, maybe Frederick Wiseman's High School-- and although it's nominally a horror film --Let the Right One In.

  21. Also! Night of the Hunter, and the third [I think] segment of Satantango. And I second Gummo.

  22. The fifth child! -Lessing
    Lord of the Flies (if you must)
    Babel Tower (AS Byatt) has some interesting child cruelty, although its not the main focus.
    I feel like I am missing a good twin/bad twin book... Acch!

  23. The Life Before Her Eyes (2007) - Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood (centers on the 15th anniversary of a tragic school shooting). I'm thinking more of Uma Thurman's "child" in the movie than of the shooter himself.

  24. I forgot the absolute best example, which is neither a book nor a film but a television program, specifically Season Four of The Wire.

  25. Two films: Kieslowski's "A Short Film About Killing" and Breillat's "Bluebeard". The cruelty in both films is portrayed with a good deal of ambiguity.


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