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The 10 Best Child Actor Performances In Horror Movies

It's been said that writer-comedian W.C. Fields' once warned against working with children or animals. This adage exists because getting a take just right with either is extremely difficult. Acting is a tightrope, and it's unfair to expect a child to turn in a performance on par with their adult co-stars.

RELATED: 10 Brilliant Performances By Child Actors 18 Or Younger

Horror often relies on the child protagonist to further sell the fear. An adult taking on a boogeyman is nothing compared to a helpless (and seldom believed) child. While many child actor performances in horror are, at best, cliche, some performances blow the audience's expectations out of the water.

10 Abigail Breslin - Signs (2002)

Signs was graced with several great performances, particularly from the central four family members. M. Night Shyamalan's film wisely strays from making Abigail Breslin's character a precocious child who's afraid of aliens. Instead, the child is wildly intelligent, nearly to the point of possessing prescient knowledge. The character wouldn't work if there wasn't a mature performer playing her, and Breslin is it.

The plot follows Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a grieving farmer who was once a priest. When strange patterns begin forming in his crops, he and his family suspect foul play from the neighborhood youth. In reality, the source of the trouble comes from somewhere else. Signs is an occasionally startling thriller with plenty of secret details the audience probably missed the first time.

9 Kirsten Dunst - Interview With The Vampire (1994)

Kirsten Dunst's breakthrough performance as Claudia in Interview with the Vampire remains one of her most impressive performances, despite decades' work in the industry, and she holds her own (if not more so) with the likes of Antonio Banderas, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt. It's her many scenes with the latter actor where she truly shines, imbuing her character with the rebellious nature that would very much be present in someone who's been made immortal without their permission.

The plot of this Anne Rice adaptation follows several vampiric characters throughout decades of history. The tale of Lestat (Tom Cruise) and what he's capable of is relayed to the audience via wraparound segments featuring vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) telling his story to a biographer (Christian Slater).

8 Harvey Spencer Stephens - The Omen (1976)

While Damien Thorn, son of the Devil, was played by a different actor in each Omen film, there's only one original. Harvey Spencer Stephen's quiet turn as Damien is impressive if only for what he does with his eyes. The viewer gets the sense that he knows there's a crown waiting for him, he knows what he has to do to get it, and he's actually excited about doing it.

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The Omen follows the Thorns, a family headed by a renowned American diplomat, Robert. He and his wife lost their child shortly after birth, but are allowed to adopt a child whose mother ostensibly died in childbirth. Soon, Damien's behavior begins to unveil a terrible secret: he is the son of Satan himself.

7 Miko Hughes - Pet Sematary (1989)

Miko Hughes had a particularly terrific 10 years in Hollywood, although he continues to work today, effectively culminating with his outstanding work in Mercury Rising. And it all started with Pet Sematary. Gage Creed is the toughest character to capture perfectly, and if anyone undergoes the biggest change in the narrative, it's him. Hughes manages to capture both sides of the coin to relative perfection. His performance in the first half is so sweet that, when he does pass on, it's even more heartbreaking. Hughes' performance in the latter half can be a bit cartoonish, but it's hard to imagine the details of his performance being entirely up to him.

Overall, his work here rivals (or exceeds) his work in such films as Kindergarten Cop and another major horror film: Wes Craven's New Nightmare. The plot of this female-directed horror movie follows the Creeds as they arrive at their new house out in the country. Unfortunately, it's right by a very busy road. With some time and trauma, the Creeds learn that the house is right by something else: a pet cemetery.

6 Heather O'Rourke - Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist has always had a reputation of being a somewhat haunted film, a lot of which has to do with young Ms. O'Rourke's untimely passing at the age of 12. Silly superstition as it may be, it's also indicative of how swiftly O'Rourke entered the viewing public's hearts. Poltergeist wouldn't be the same without her wide-eyed, precious performance.

The plot follows the Freelings, a middle-class family moving into a brand new house. The patriarch is a real estate developer, and their new house is just one of an expansive lot. Unfortunately, the homes happen to be built on the remnants of a burial ground.

5 Danielle Harris - Halloween 4: The Return O0f Michael Myers (1988) & Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (1989)

Danielle Harris would return to the franchise as a different character during the brief Rob Zombie phase, but it was her work as Laurie Strode's daughter (Jamie Lloyd) in two of the earlier films that stands out. Halloween 4 allows her the opportunity for a more straightforward kid-in-horror performance, and she excels in what many see as the best Halloween sequel.

Halloween 5 makes the odd choice of essentially silencing Jamie. While it's debatable whether or not this works in the widely-deemed inferior fifth installment, Harris handles the newfound character depth with grace. Making Jamie unable to speak and prone to night terrors allows for new acting challenges. She sells just about all of it, even when the repetitive script isn't helping her. Her two performances make interesting companion pieces in terms of understanding a child before Michael Myers and after Michael Myers.

4 Isabelle Fuhrman - Orphan (2009)

Isabelle Fuhrman brought a surprising amount of gravitas to the surprising 2009 psychological horror film, Orphan, and the movie's big twist works because Fuhrman's depth in the role makes it more plausible. Her work here rivals the skills displayed by her adult co-stars, including Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and the perpetually outstanding Margo Martindale (Justified). Fortunately, audiences will soon see a digitally de-aged Isabelle Fuhrman reprise the role of Esther in Orphan: First Kill.

The plot follows Kate (Farmiga) and John (Sarsgaard), a couple mourning the loss of their unborn child. After they decide to adopt a little girl named Esther, things begin to go wrong.

3 Alex Vincent - Child's Play (1988) & Child's Play 2 (1990)

Alex Vincent gave an extremely convincing fear-based performance in the original Child's Play. The sequel, released two short years later, features a noticeably more mature performance from Vincent, and he is as convincing as a weary, battle-hardened child as he was a scared one.

RELATED: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Child's Play

The plot of the Child's Play series follows a serial killer in the body of a red-haired doll. In order to escape his current form, he has to place his soul in the body of the first person he told: a young boy named Andy Barclay.

2 Haley Joel Osment - The Sixth Sense (1999)

Haley Joel Osment experienced massive Hollywood success in the early aughts for one reason: The Sixth Sense. His gut-wrenching, utterly believable turn as a boy who can see ghosts is nothing short of mesmerizing. He's not just a scared boy. He's that, but he also conveys a young man who is attempting to grapple with something in life he shouldn't have to. Osment's work here rivals what's been done by any adult actor in horror.

The plot follows Cole Sear, a child with an incredible, yet scary, gift. When Dr. Malcolm Crowe enters his life, Cole learns more about his gift than ever before. In the process, Dr. Crowe may learn a thing or two about himself, as well.

1 Linda Blair - The Exorcist (1973)

While Haley Joel Osment's career will probably always have The Sixth Sense as its major standout, Linda Blair's turn as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist doesn't even feel like acting. People ran out of The Exorcist in 1973 for the same reason it generated so much controversy: seeing a child's very soul in danger is troubling. If Regan MacNeil didn't feel like a genuine human being, The Exorcist wouldn't work. It's a relatively restrained tale, so the audience has to feel every bit of Regan's decline into full possession. Blair pulled it off, helping make The Exorcist a masterclass in the poignancy of horror with a domestic focus.

The plot follows divorced actress Chris MacNeil, on-location shooting a film when her daughter, Regan, falls ill. Soon, Regan's behavior transcends any known illness, of any type. It becomes clear that there is only one avenue to take, and it comes in the form of faith-shaken priest Damien Karras.

NEXT: The 5 Scariest Quotes From The Exorcist (& The 5 Most Profound)

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