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Creepy Children Singing
When trying to give an eerie feel to a program or film, a common method is to have a Creepy Child, or a spooky choral group, singing in the background or far away. The song is typically a sorrowful nursery rhyme. The characters often appear to be aware of it, and may even shout out to ask if anyone is there.
One of the most effective and common ways of installing fear within the audience is to use a creepy child or an eerie chorus singing in the background of the scene. One of the most earliest notable examples of this is from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds where a class sing a made-up folk song called “Risselty-Rosselty” while a mass of Creepy Crows slowly gather on an empty playground outside.
The best example is from A Nightmare on Elm street, where spooky girls herald the coming of Freddy Krueger with a nursery song.
Anime and Manga
- Black Lagoon: “My mother has killed me… my father is eating me… my brothers and sisters, sit under the table, picking up my bones! They’ll bury them, under the cold marble stones…”
Amatsuki has a choir of children singing the creepy nursery rhyme “Toryanse” in a whisper when Yakou appears.
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind features several eerie moments when Nausicaa as a child chanted this eerie little tune, which is still quite ominous despite it being only “Na na na”. If you fail to see why, consider that at the film climax, Nausicaa has more or less become an avenging version of a Messianic Archetype; in the manga, it is far, far worse.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion uses this in the Rebuild movies in the distressing scenes.
Although no words can be made out, you can hear childlike vocalizing in Nui Harime’s leitmotif in Kill la Kill. She has this leitmotif for a very good reason.
- “Ake ni Somaru” from Hell Girl starts with this, followed by creepy trance music. It did a damn good job of turning mundane, peaceful scenes (like a cityscape at sunset) into spooky panoramas.
- The track Pendulum from Shiki starts out innocently enough with a childlike chorus singing a La La La melody, only for it to slowly descend into darkness and madness as the tune shifts into a a much grimmer tone with the singing starting to sound less like innocent children and more like they are screaming the melody.
- Kara’s theme in Boruto: Naruto Next Generations has these.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has quite a few, such as Wo ist die Käse and Noi! The Clara Dolls from the followup movie, most of them sung in Gratuitous German.
Film - Animated
- In Coraline (2009), this trope is practically the whole soundtrack.
- Parodied in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012), when the three lemurs wind up in Sonya the bear’s supposedly empty train car. A creepy child-like “La la la” appears…but it turns out to be Mort. King Julien, who gets freaked out by the chanting, tells him to stop.
- In Pokémon 3 (2000), the Unown’s Pokémon Speak often sounds like this, fitting their status as a Hive Mind of Eldritch Abominations.
Film - Live Action
- A trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) film has children creepily singing “I’ve Got No Strings” (from Disney’s Pinocchio) as violent action plays on the screen… the last lines ominously spoken rather than sung by Ultron himself (James Spader).
- Don’t Look (2018): The movie starts with a creepy girl’s voice singing “Silent Night”. The voice is Nicole’s when she was a kid.
- The Innocents (2021) has a few instances, plus a child’s creepy poem recital for good measure.
- An iconic one from teh franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street: “Freddy’s Coming For You”. The children are strongly implied to be spectres of Freddy’s previous victims, as he often populates his nightmare world with them.
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…
Three, four, better lock your door…
Five, six, grab your crucifix….
Seven, Eight, gonna stay up late…
Nine, Ten, never sleep again.”
- Easily half of Tim Burton’s films (particularly those scored by Danny Elfman) tend to have this in the background somewhere.
- Pops up in Scrooged (1988) as well, which Danny Elfman also scored.
- The opening of Children of the Corn (1984) depicts what happens to the town after the children murder all the adults through crayon drawings as a choir of children sing wordlessly.
- The opening credits of children-turned-zombies-comedy Cooties (2104) feature the journey of a tainted chicken nugget from slaughterhouse to cafeteria, with all the gory details…which would have been disturbing enough without a soundtrack consisting of children chanting gibberish, grinding synthesizers, and what can only be described as a sinister kazoo chorus.
- Poltergeist (1982) (composed by Jerry Goldsmith) has a great one with “Carol Anne’s Theme”, a semi-religious sounding lullaby that sounds very innocent and pure. Taken to a disturbing level in the ending credits when the children laughed ominously.
- In a creepy scene in The Birds (1963) by Alfred Hitchcock, schoolchildren sing the nonsense folk song “Risselty-Rosselty” while a mass of Creepy Crows slowly gather on an empty playground, waiting to attack them as soon as they leave. Subverted in that the children themselves are innocent victims, the creepiness coming from the context, suspense, and situation.
- Samara Morgan sings one herself in The Ring (2002).
“Round we go, the world is spinning.
When it stops, it’s just beginning.
Sun comes up, we laugh and we cry.
Sun goes down, and then we all die…”
- The opening theme to Pet Sematary (1989) is a great example of this trope.
- In Hannibal Rising (2007) , the German children song “Ein Männlein steht im Walde” is a central theme that continues through the whole movie. The last scene shows young Hannibal marching off to his next kill while a creepy, high-pitched children’s choir sings the song.
- Deep Red (1975) has a creepy lullaby that serves as a background music for some of the creepiest moments.
- Modesty sings a creepy song about hunting witches in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).
- The opening sequence and end credits of ABCs of Death 2 (2014) both feature children singing “La la la la” in an eerie manner.
- Ju Dou (1990): After the horrifying ending when Tianbai kills Tianqing, followed by Ju Dou setting fire to the dye mill (and apparently immolating herself), the film ends with a freeze-frame of the burning mill, and a thoroughly creepy recording of children singing a Chinese nursery rhyme.
- Phantoms (1998) : At one point during the 1998 film, the Ancient Enemy uses a child’s voice to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’
- The Last Metro (1980): A creepy children’s choir singing what appears to be a Vichy France hymn sets an ominous mood when Bernard meets his La Résistance contact in a church. Sure enough, the contact is arrested.
- M (1931) opens with an old lady scolding children for singing a song about the child murderer who’s stalking the city.
“Just you wait, it won’t be long
The man in black will soon be here
With his cleaver’s blade so true
He’ll make mincemeat out of you!”
- Tower of Terror (1997): When Buzzy Crocker and his niece Anna pay a visit to HTH: The Hollywood Tower Hotel so Buzzy can get a phony tabloid picture of Anna dressed as Sally Shine for The National Inquisitor, suspicious sounds send them exploring the resort’s halls. They eventually hear the wandering spirit of the real Sally Shine, singing:
“It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring”
- The original theme for The Amityville Horror (1979) includes a childlike choir of “la la la”‘s that just sound… unsettling.
- Mr. Jones (2019): Starving Ukrainian children surround Gareth and sing (with a dissonant calm tone) a creepy song about Stalin being the organizer of this tragedy, and people eating their children after turning mad because of starvation. They later reappear (with a extract of the same song) during a hallucination sequence. A few notes from the same song are heard again much later, during a scene where Gareth encounters children in his hometown in Wales
- The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014): The horror sequle contains lots of exmaples of creepy childrens voices being heard, with the sining of songs and nursery rhyms being prevalent throughout.
- In Dark Shadows, we hear Barnabas Collins’ dead little sister Sarah long before we meet her. She sings “London Bridge” quietly, and occasionally plays a recorder.
- Doctor Who has been doing this since at least “The Trial of a Time Lord” where the Doctor was hunted through a series of abandoned warehouses whilst Creepy Children sang Ring-a-Ring-o-Roses in the background. It wasn’t clear if he could hear or not. The new series used it in the Series 6 episodes “Night Terrors”, “Closing Time”, and ‘The Wedding of River Song”
The Beast Below:
“A horse and a man, above, below
One has a plan, but both must go
Mile after mile, above, beneath
One has a smile, the other has teeth
Though the man might stop and say hello,
Expect no love from the beast below”
“Tick tock, goes the clock
And now, what shall we play?
Tick tock, goes the clock
Now summer’s gone away”
Long before that, during the Seventh Doctor’s run, we have “Remembrance of the Daleks”, where a little girl witnesses the Doctor and Ace arriving, before singing
“Five, Six, Seven, Eight,
There’s a Doctor at the gate.”
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
“Can’t even shout, can’t even cry,
The Gentlemen are coming by.
Lookin’ in windows, knockin’ on doors,
They need to take seven and they might take yours.
Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word,
You’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.”
- Star Trek:
“Hail, hail, fire and snow
Call the angel, we will go
Far away, for to see
Friendly angel come to me.”
Also, the episode “Miri” has unseen children singing standard schoolyard chants, to creepy effect.
“Huffety puffety Ringstone Round.
If you lose your hat it will never be found,
So pull up your britches right up to your chin,
And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
And when you are ready, then we can begin,
Huffity, puffity puff!”
- Near the end of the second season of Veronica Mars, there’s a closing-episode montage set to Alejandro Escovedo’s “Falling Down Again”, which features children singing in the chorus and laughing during the fade-out, playing in conjunction with the imagery of Thumper chained to a urinal, struggling while the stadium is being demolished
- The Poirot episode “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” makes use of this at the beginning and throughout the episode, as children ominously sing the nursery rhyme.
- Stargate SG-1: The episode Grace has Major Carter wandering away from the X-303 Prometheus’ bridge to investigate a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that seems to be coming from somewhere nearby. She doesn’t find the source
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In “Nightmare as a Child”, Helen Foley hears Markie creepily singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in her mind.
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