In a rare moment of unity, the Internet has enjoyed a collective "WTF" moment watching the case of Natalia Grace unfold.

Most recently, Dr. Phil interviewed the Ukrainian-born orphan who's been accused of masquerading as a child in order to be adopted by an all-American and "unsuspecting Christian couple"—before allegedly attempting to murder them. As the (now divorced) Indiana couple Michael and Kristine Barnett await trial for felony neglect of a minor, Dr. Phil has appointed himself to be the interlocutor to uncover new layers to the mind-boggling story. As if straight out of the 2009 horror movie Orphan, the Barnetts alleged that in 2010 they adopted Natalia from a Florida orphanage believing that she was 6 years old. While they were well-informed that Natalia was born with a rare form of dwarfism, they claim they were "scammed" by the "con artist" whom they allege was at least 20 years old when they adopted her. In 2012, they successfully petitioned a court to legally change Natalia's age to 22, claiming that bone-density tests and anecdotal evidence proved that she'd completed puberty and was a grown adult. Then they rented Natalia her own apartment in Indiana while they moved to Canada with their biological son.

Cue our collective "WTF?!"

ukrainian orphan Daily Mail

From media coverage ranging from The Daily Mail to Buzzfeed News to The Cut, we know that some details of the Barnetts' testimony are in direct contradiction with others who support Natalia. Dispute over the girl's age at the time she was adopted place her anywhere from 6 to 8 to 14 years old, with initial bone density tests never recovered or corroborated by other scans. The Barnetts had Natalia treated for various psychiatric disorders, and while Dr. Phil pointed out that children who grow up in institutional care can experience developmental difficulties, the brain is surprisingly resilient and can compensate for neglect later on. That's to say: No, Natalia Grace is probably not a psychopathic movie villain come to life.

Apparently, Natalia's been living with a new Indiana couple, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, who don't believe she's an "evil dwarf," in Dr. Phil's delicate phrasing. In the interview, Natalia says of the Barnetts, "I actually thought I had found the right family after bouncing around from a lot of families. I thought I had found the right family for me." But soon, as Buzzfeed News notes, "Things started going downhill after she underwent a surgery related to her dwarfism...and Kristine Barnett began questioning her age. 'Everything started happening after that one moment,' Natalia said." She identified her conditions as diastrophic dysplasia, as well as scoliosis. Sitting with Dr. Phil, as Natalia watches video testimony of Kristine Barnett's allegations against her, her open expression clearly wilts. She watches as Kristine alleges that she discovered evidence of Natalia having a menstrual cycle and full pubic hair when she was believed to be 8 years old (which Natalia and Cynthia Mans deny), among other claims that Natalia made threats to murder the family and hid knives in the kitchen. Natalia went into detail to recount her version of the events that drove Kristine Barnett to accuse Natalia of poisoning their coffee and standing at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night while holding a knife. Ultimately, she said she doesn't wish the Barnetts to be sentenced to prison, but "if it comes to that…" so be it. She said the Barnetts should "get right with God." Dr. Phil ends the interview by telling Natalia, "I'm very impressed with you. You're an impressive young woman."

So while we now have Natalia's side of the story, our weirder-than-fiction fascination with the (probably) 16-year-old is refracted through plenty of ableism and xenophobia that still exist within horror stories' tropes.

First, there's the creepy factor of the foreign, adopted child. Orphan worked so well to freak us out because of its excellent play with the Spooky Boy trope (i.e. children are inherently creepy and they Know Things). The good/evil child dichotomy might be filtered through the lens of tiny-psychopath-on-the-loose or the more obvious supernatural threat of possessed children, but depictions of non-biological children have been used to add an eerie quality and signal that The Kids Aren't Alright. From Damien in 1978's The Omen being adopted and maybe being the Antichrist to Macaulay Culkin as a sociopath in 1993's The Good Son to 2009's Orphan, let's acknowledge there's a not-great message that non-biological children pose a danger to our sense of safety underlying some of our classic horror tropes. In one of the most famous examples—get ready for a throwback—we have the patently horrifying appearance of Samara in The Ring. Yes, she's a dead little ghost girl based on Japanese folklore, but her full backstory is that she was a troubled kid with a horrific parentage who was adopted by an uber-Christian couple before she began showing supernatural powers—until her adoptive mother threw her in a well to, you know, protect the village.

The Ring (2002) - Samara Morgan's FULL Death Scene (with Deleted Scenes) www.youtube.com

Moreover, foreign children particularly bear the brunt of this weird, mostly unconscious anxiety, with Esther in Orphan being a young Russian girl. Evil characters using "foreign accents" has long been a not-quite-right problem in media. As carriers of racial or plain xenophobic stereotypes, many movie "villains were constructed based on views of the American people at the times in which the films were created. This would mean that the foreign entanglements at the time of production had a direct impact on the villain character as far as casting and racially biased portrayals," as studied by Bryant University. That is to say: Why, exactly, do all the headlines about Natalia Grace identify her only as the "Ukrainian Orphan"? Regardless of her age, she's indisputably been in the United States since 2008 when she was first adopted, though she was later sent to a Florida orphanage. Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, Natalia has been an American citizen since 2008.

In case you have a headache from how plain an allegory that is for Spooky (Adoptive) Children, let's just mention the obviously ableist aspect of our possessed-by-a-demon tropes. The unsettling truth is that many of history's famous cases of possession have compelling arguments that a medical condition was to blame for the symptoms we now associate with "evil," especially in horror movies: body deformities, strange gait, unusual facial characteristics, unusual voice. After all, who isn't still haunted by Linda Blair crawling down the stairs in The Exorcist? The Insidious franchise is predicated upon a lovely couple witnessing their son Dalton fall prey to supernatural forces, which is signaled by the fact that he falls into an unexplained coma. A sad trope in media, in general, is that of the "Sad Cripple," with plenty of professionals and activists and regular viewers who understand metaphors pointing out that there's a regressive, f*cked up stigma being reinforced about disabilities and disfigurement in today's media.


As Dr. Colleen Donnelly wrote in "Re-visioning Negative Archetypes of Disability and Deformity in Fantasy," "Fantasy and horror often exploit disabled people, presenting them as embodiments of terror and evil...Dwarves have been presented as a race of stout, earth and mountain dwelling miners, sometimes susceptible to obstinacy and greed, as in Tolkien's Hobbit (1937) and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), and made childlike by Disney or in the presentation of munchkins in the Wizard of Oz movie. Often throughout history, villains and malefactors have also been presented as monstrous, disabled or deformed."

So if it's true that the Barnetts' behavior towards Natalia changed after she had an operation related to her medical condition, maybe the Barnetts have simply watched too many horror movies. Natalia told Dr. Phil, "I don't want people to see me as what they have been saying I am…I want them to see my personality...I don't want them to be scared to come say hi because of what they read...I want them to see the genuine me."

'I Don't Want People To See Me As What They Have Been Saying I Am,' Says Ukrainian Orphan youtu.be

MUSIC

Grimes Is Selling a Piece of Her Soul, Because of Course She Is

You can bid on a legal document that grants you ownership of a percentage of Grimes' soul.

If you're feeling particularly soulless as of late, you're not alone!

Grimes, who birthed both a studio album and her first son earlier this year, isn't letting a world in shambles keep her from Grimesing on. She's now dabbling into fine art too, making her debut in simultaneous online exhibitions on Gallery Platform Los Angeles (May 28 through June 3) and Maccarone Los Angeles (May 28 through Aug. 31). The show is called Selling Out and features a piece also called "Selling Out" that contains part of Grimes' soul.

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Film Features

Night of the Spooky Boy

Hollywood's spookiest monster might be living in your own home.

You know all the classic movie monsters–werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies–but there's one that might not immediately come to mind, and boy oh boy is he spooky.

We're talking, of course, about the Spooky Boy®. Oh yeah, he's bad. Real bad. He does the wrong things in school, kills small animals, and slurps spaghetti. But what exactly is a Spooky Boy, and why is he always trying to kill Moms™? The answers may spook you.

Anatomy of the Spooky Boy

The Omen Damien 2006 Spooky Boy Damien from The Omen (2006)

Spooky Boys are, in essence, scary little boys that appear in movies and on TV. They are always white and never minorities. Their skin tends to be pasty and their faces angelic, albeit with blank expressions. In rare cases, spooky little girls can also be Spooky Boys.

Spooky Boys are also notorious for doing Spooky things. They eat bugs. They steal sharp objects which their Mom usually finds hidden amongst some toys. They draw pictures of people dying. They also murder people, but often they stand there looking spooky. For instance, here's a scene from The Prodigy where Spooky Boy Miles comes to help his mom.

The Prodigy Exclusive Movie Clip - What Did You Do? (2019) | Movieclips Coming Soon www.youtube.com

Why's he need to be so creepy about it? Just give her the hammer like a reasonable person, dude. And sure, he's probably got some cat bodies in there or whatever, but how about letting those speak for themselves? Being weird about it beforehand is just going to ruin the reveal for your Mom.

The movie logic behind the Spooky Boy's spookiness boils down to a few core reasons:

1. The Spooky Boy is possessed by an evil entity (i.e., The Prodigy)

2. The Spooky Boy is an evil entity (i.e., The Omen)

3. The Spooky Boy is just a real bad apple and perhaps also an adult in disguise? (i.e., The Orphan)

One important thing to note is that Spooky Boys are not ghosts. There are Spooky Ghost Boys (i.e., Insidious), but while they may have some visual similarities, they don't fulfill the fundamental requirement for spooky boys––a hatred of Moms.

Spooky Boys Hate Moms

Spooky Boy from The Hole in the Ground, hating his Mom

The core directive of a Spooky Boy is to kill his Mom. He may kill others along the way, including babysitters, child psychologists, and classmates, but the end goal is almost always a battle between mother and son. Dads can also be Moms, and sometimes both parents are primary targets, especially when one of the parents is super easy to destroy.

Best Horror Scenes - The Omen www.youtube.com

Here's a spoiler, Spooky Boy Damien wins pretty hardcore. But the important part is that a parental clash occurs, this being the core thematic element of every Spooky Boy flick.

The narrative of a Spooky Boy movie always flows the same way:

1. Meet Spooky Boy and his Mom. Mom loves Spooky Boy.

2. Spooky Boy does some bad things. Mom denies it.

3. Spooky Boy's misdeeds ramp up. Mom notices. Spooky Boy notices that Mom notices.

4. Mom tries to stop Spooky Boy. The Spooky Boy turns on Mom.

5. Mom tries to kill Spooky Boy. Spooky Boy attempts to guilt Mom. "Don't you love me, Mom?"

The end. Sometimes the Mom succeeds and kills her Spooky Boy. Or sometimes an outsider steps in just in time to stop the "crazed" Mom from killing her "innocent" son. The result doesn't matter. They'll both be back again and again. It's an eternal struggle between two opposing forces, the Spooky Boy and the Mom.

Regardless, it's always pretty great seeing a parent just let loose on a Spooky Boy, like in this scene from The Orphan.

Orphan | "What did you do?!" Scene youtu.be

Why Do Spooky Boys Exist?

the bad seed spooky boy OG Spooky Boy from The Bad Seed

Surprisingly, the first Spooky Boy movie was actually about a spooky girl. The Bad Seed, a 1956 black and white film about a murderous elementary school girl named Rhoda, was the first major motion picture to place a child in the villain role. But it wouldn't be until 1976's The Omen, starring Gregory Peck as the adoptive father of a demonic little boy named Damien, that the Spooky Boy genre would hit mainstream success.

Monsters almost always function as physical embodiments of our fears. Vampires can be a manifestation of pestilence, distrust of sexual partners, or the genuine fear of men who sparkle. Zombies can represent anything from our fear of dead bodies to our fear of groupthink.

In this light, Spooky Boys are representative of parental fears, mainly the existential terror of failing as a parent and raising a "bad" person. That's why the movie always ends with the parent crushing their maternal (or paternal) instincts and attempting to destroy their child for the greater good. Of course, these movies tend to soften the blow through demons and possessions to reassure viewers that if their children are bad, it's not their fault.

After all, some boys are just born spooky.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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