Are cold-blooded killers born or are they made? As far as a nature versus nurture conversation goes, we’re not going to open the can of worms that is biological determinism (nature) versus cultural determinism (nurture), except to say that most scientists (including me) agree that traits are honed thanks to a mix of genetics, culture and other factors.
But this is horror we’re talking about, and horror seldom adheres to the rules imposed by science. This list looks at human killers who inherited their murderous penchants from their parents, were born with some condition that drives them to kill, or were simply cold-blooded killers born to good, non-murderous families. They have bloodlust encoded in their DNA.
Nature vs. Nurture, Part 2 looks at killers who weren’t born bad, but who were shaped by outside influences to become bad.
10. India Stoker – Stoker (2013)
On her 18th Birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) meets her estranged uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) – an uncle that she didn’t even know existed. Her family had kept uncle Charlie away for good reason: he has a murderous secret. But something about him stirs a killer instinct that seems to have always lived within India.
9. Amy Dunne – Gone Girl (2012)
You might argue that Amy (Rosamund Pike)’s violent tactics are born from years living in the shadow of her children’s book alter ego “Amazing Amy”, but her choices and the way that she plans and executes bloody solutions point to something more innate to her personality.
8. Virginia Merrye (and the rest of the Merrye clan) – Spider Baby (1968)
Thanks to a lack of genetic diversity between Merrye family members, they all live with an unusual genetic condition, dubbed the “Merrye Syndrome”, by which they mentally, socially, and physically regress as they approach adulthood. Virginia Merrye (Jill Banner), the titular Spider Baby, is obsessed with bugs and spiders, not to mention trapping innocent people in ropes and stabbing them with her butcher-knife “stingers”.
7. Michael Myers – Halloween (1978)
The first time we meet Michael (Will Sandin) we are seeing the world through his eyes as a small child who is murdering his teenaged sister. The next time we meet him, he is The Shape (Nick Castle), a single-minded killing machine, void of humanity, and pretty much exactly the killer we expected he’d grow up to be.
6. Lola Stone – The Loved Ones (2009)
Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) is definitely Daddy’s Little Girl — to the point that they abduct people together and hold them hostage in their home. Besides the fact that both Lola and her father share a seriously inappropriate relationship and brown hair, they also share a predilection for jealousy and torture.
5. Joshua Cairn – Joshua (2007)
Joshua (Jacob Kogan) is a prodigious piano player, and a bit of an old soul for a 9-year old, eschewing typically kid fashion in favour of formal clothing. After his sister is born, Joshua begins to distance himself from his parents…and then he begins to engage in a number of disturbing and manipulative behaviours that baffle his parents (who seem to be pretty average, if affluent, people).
4. Mckayla Hooper and Sadie Cunningham – Tragedy Girls (2017)
At first glance, McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand), might seem to be nurture-fueled to murder thanks to their fascination with true crime and serial killers, and their shared ambition to grow their internet following. Once you get past this motivational red herring, though, it seems that these besties have always been in individual possession of darker natures, despite both being raised in safe, happy households.
3. Debbie, Curtis, and Steven – Bloody Birthday (1981)
You don’t get to choose when you’re born, and Debbie Brody (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis Taylor (Billy Jayne), and Steven Seton (Andy Freemon) were born to different families during a solar eclipse that predetermined their traits and their fates. Ten years later, these children launch a killing spree in their neighbourhood.
2. Henry Evans – The Good Son (1993)
Easily Rhoda Penmark (our #1 spot)’s counterpart is The Good Son‘s Henry Evans (Macaulay Culkin). When 12-year old Mark (Elijah Wood) goes to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents’ death, he finds them genuinely warm and welcoming. But then there’s Henry. He’s polite and seems nice at first, but it soon becomes clear to Mark that his cousin’s dark obsession with death is quickly escalating and that his new family might be at risk.
1. Rhoda Penmark – The Bad Seed (1956)
At first glance, Rhoda (Patty McCormack) seems like a bright, precocious child with her tidy outfits and neat blonde braids. But after a boy drowns at a school picnic — a boy that won a penmanship award that Rhoda believed was hers to win, her mother Christine ( begins to suspect that her daughter’s outward appearances are little more than a veneer hiding a much more sinister personality. After a little bit of digging, Christine discovers that she was adopted and that her biological father is a notorious serial killer. While the serial killer gene seems to have skipped Christine, she fears that 8-year old Rhoda must have inherited a killer gene that no amount of good parenting or wholesome upbringing can counteract.