Monstrum

S3 E8 | FULL EPISODE

Don’t Let Them In! The Urban Legends of Black-Eyed Children

An urban legend that exploits our fears of an obstructed gaze and the deeply unsettling idea that the youngest of our species are out to destroy us, the lore of Black-Eyed Children, or Black-Eyed Kids, is a modern construction. But the “evil spawn” child archetype of the horror genre and hundreds of years of social expectations of childhood inform these unsettling monsters.

AIRED: June 23, 2021 | 0:11:57
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TRANSCRIPT

(slow music)

- You're relaxing at home when there's a knock on the door.

You peer through the peephole and see a small child

with their hoodie obscuring their face.

You open your door and ask if they need help.

But when they look up,

you are staring into black lifeless eyes.

It's not hard to figure out

why these creatures horrify us so much.

It's in their name.

Black-eyed children or black-eyed kids, also known as B.E.K,

are modern monsters whose eerie

and unnatural appearance and behavior inspire fear.

The unusual eyes are unnerving.

But it's the age of these monsters

that really amps up the terror.

What is it about evil children that freaks us out so much?

(dramatic music)

Dr. Emily Zarka and this is "Monstrum."

The first report of a black-eyed kid appeared in 1998.

Texan reporter Brian Bethel wrote of an experience

he had two years prior while he was sitting in his car

near a movie theater.

Bethel claimed that his car was approached by two boys

around the ages of 9 and 12 wearing hooded sweatshirts.

One appeared as an olive-skinned, curly-headed young man,

and the other a red-headed,

pale-skinned, freckled young man.

Bethel opened the window a crack

and the two boys asked for a ride to their mother's house

to pick up some money so they could see

the "Mortal Kombat" movie.

To this day Bethel recalls that when the second one

of the boys spoke, he felt an unnatural sense of dread.

He pointed out the movie had already started

and they wouldn't make it back in time.

But the boys began to push harder saying things like

they were just two kids

and that they didn't have a gun or anything.

Bethel describes their voices as mechanical and rehearsed.

The strange experience culminated in terror

when he realized each boy had black eyes,

soulless orbs with no white showing at all.

Understandably unnerved, he began to drive away,

but one of the boys banged on his window and angrily cried,

"We can't come in unless you tell us it's okay.

"Let us in."

Bethel sped off, and upon checking his rear view mirror

he noted that the strange black-eyed children

had completely vanished.

In 2013 Bethel wrote that his strange experience

with these children was originally shared

in a private communication with a small group of friends

on an email list that then was leaked onto the internet.

I couldn't find any evidence of this original document,

but Bethel's story is undoubtedly

the foundation of all B.E.K. lore.

And that's how an urban legend is born.

In eyewitness accounts and other stories,

the childlike creatures

are frequently wearing hooded clothing.

Although some versions claim

they are dressed in antiquated outfits.

They have odd speech patterns, black eyes,

and perhaps most importantly,

they just don't act in a way we think children should.

Similar to some vampire legends,

it appears that they must be invited into a private space.

And to me, this creepiness of evokes fairy,

demon, and changeling vibes.

Though encounters tend to end without lasting effects,

some people who've had run-ins with these creatures

report nightmares and agoraphobia.

Through the numerous interviews

Bethel conducted as his story circulated online,

others across the world began to speak up

about their own supposed experiences

with other black-eyed children.

England in particular seems plagued by black-eyed children.

And they often serve as fodder

for tabloid magazines and newspapers.

Like in 2014, when songwriter

and paranormal investigator Lee Brickley

was interviewed by the Birmingham Mail

about the siting in Cannock Chase, England.

The sensational story was quickly picked up

by the British and international press.

Brickley had been investigating rumored sightings

of a black-eyed ghost in Cannock Chase.

(woman screaming)

Including one where a woman and her daughter

were out for a walk when they heard screams

and spotted a child wandering alone.

The mother ran to catch up, but could not find the child.

When she turned back around,

a girl appearing to be 10 years old

stood there with her hands over her eyes.

She asked, "Are you okay?

"Were you screaming?"

The girl just dropped her hands and revealed eyes

the woman said were completely black, no iris, no white.

Startled, the woman grabbed her daughter and jumped back.

When she looked up expecting to see the child,

she'd vanished.

Interestingly, Brickley also claimed that the same girl,

whom he calls a ghost, had been seen 30 years earlier

in 1982 in that same area by his own aunt,

something he wrote about in his 2013 book,

"UFOs Werewolves & the Pig-Man."

Brickley claims that his aunt heard a child crying at night,

and following the sobs

she came upon a girl about six years old

who looked up at her with completely black eyes

before racing off into the woods.

Even a police search for the child turned up nothing.

The sightings of this singular female B.E.K.

in Cannock Chase may be connected

to a real life tragedy that influenced

Brickley's identification of the creature as a ghost.

Cannock Chase made headlines in the 1960s

as the site of one of the largest police investigations

in British history, the search for the murderer

of three local school girls.

Some say the black-eyed child of that area

is the ghost of one of the girls.

And it would make sense that a young female resident

who grew up with those stories

would believe that she had seen something,

even if it wasn't there.

As the urban legend of the black-eyed children

evolved out of references to eyewitness accounts

of the monsters in the British and American press,

their presence across media of all kinds exploded.

Numerous YouTube videos claim to show evidence

that such creatures exist.

(people yelling)

The B.E.K. also gained notoriety and lore expansion

through crowdfunded fan fiction texts and productions like

"Sunshine Girl and the Hunt for Black Eyed Kids,"

"The Black Eyed Children,"

and "Black Eyed Children: Let Me In."

The comic series "B.E.K." expands the monster's threat

with the invention of a violent origin story,

where regular children turn into black-eyed kids

if they murder their family.

B.E.K. are such great modern folklore

because they defy romanticized notions of childhood

and the inherent goodness of children,

ideas that have evolved over time.

The perception of children as innocent and weak

requiring constant adult instruction,

both morally and physically,

is a relatively modern invention.

Prior to the Romantic period,

children were largely socially insignificant.

They were background characters, relegated to chores,

familial duties, and little else.

But with the progression of the Industrial Age

in the late 18th century, as infant mortality declined,

and literature and philosophy

regarding child education grew,

alongside increased scrutiny around child labor,

the cultural concept of the child changed.

Childhood became a sacred cultural symbol,

a time of perceived innocence and happiness

when children were not valued

for their usefulness or economic viability,

but rather for their hopeful possibility and vulnerability.

This new of childhood continued to progress

and evolve well into the 20th century,

when the seismic social shifts

following World War II changed everything.

Suddenly youth culture and scrutiny

of popular media's influence on children became hot topics.

And 1950s pop culture was flooded with movies and literature

showing bad kids and juvenile delinquents.

Around this time, the theme of children being born evil

became a prevalent one, as we were introduced

to ever younger characters

with genetically inherited threatening characteristics,

like a desire to kill and mind control.

Then through the 1970s and all the way into the 90s,

we see a spike in horror texts

with children possessed by demons

or some other kind of evil entity.

They're even portrayed as the literal offspring

of Satan or the devil himself.

The rise of the child villain

can be framed in countless ways,

including an emerging fear of youth culture

stemming from a movement away

from traditional conservative ideas by younger generations.

Others argue it's a manifestation

of Freud's Oedipus complex, where it is the id,

the instinctual unconscious part of the mind of the child

that wants to murder the parent,

or Peter Pan Syndrome, which locates the child's

desire to kill in an attempt to reject

their own future as an adult.

And sure, as a generalized explanation

for the increase in fictional accounts

of terrifying children, these all make sense.

But none of that really explains the other key feature

besides age that makes the black-eyed children scary,

those black eyes.

The eyes are the window to the soul is a familiar saying.

We communicate with our eyes

and they serve vital survival and social functions.

So when they appear unnaturally obscured,

we become uncomfortable, even scared.

Scientific research does show that we tend to track

the eye movements of others

as an evolutionary social mechanism.

Perhaps the inability to follow the gaze of the B.E.K.

is what adds to their eeriness

and the danger they threaten.

They could be looking anywhere or nowhere.

Unfortunately, this concept was at one point

taken it to the extreme with a practice called physionomy,

which is predicated on the idea

that one's facial features and eyes

could be read as a natural language

that would reveal insight about a person's character,

or supposedly an indication of their ethnic origins.

Needless to say, there was a lot of bigotry

and racism in the practice.

Although its roots date back to ancient Chinese,

Japanese, and Mesopotamian traditions,

the practice held prominent intellectual weight

in Europe until the 18th century.

Unsurprisingly, the eyes were the most

important feature to interpret.

According to a late 15th century text,

eyes with no whites visible

were manifestations of unreliability in a person.

There is also a larger cultural history

of dark eyes or black eyes being tied

to inherent evilness or an inner darkness,

including many racist depictions

of non-white individuals in literature, including children.

Dark or black eyes are also featured

in evocations of possession and demonic presence,

and often symbolize a lack of control.

To me, black-eyed children are the, excuse the pun,

offspring of four main threads.

One, our natural wariness of an obscured or unusual gaze.

Two, intergenerational conflict.

Three, the legacy of malevolent children in horror films.

And four, the ease of which the internet

reinforces urban legends.

The power of the internet to expand the reach

of these creatures cannot be overstated.

Historically folklore and folk tradition

had been passed on through generations by word of mouth,

and could even take years to spread

from one country or continent to the other.

But in modern times, the worldwide web

functions as a global town square,

the electronic equivalent of sharing stories by the fire.

I know that personally, thanks to a combination

of the "Children of the Corn" and the French film, "Them,"

I am terrified of trick-or-treaters.

Which yes, makes me somewhat of a Halloween Grinch,

but it also helps me understand

why stories of B.E.K. continue to circulate.

Obviously we know that my fear of trick-or-treaters

is largely irrational,

and we know that there aren't soulless children out there

trying to kill us, right?

I mean the black-eyed kids are always trying

to breach the border from outside to inside,

from a public space with witnesses

to a private, more solitary one.

Their faces are obscured, their eyes unreadable.

This particular urban legend

seems to tap into something deeper.

We are genetically programmed to care for

and protect the youngest of our species for survival.

So when they are portrayed as sinister and dangerous,

it is deeply unsettling.

The world of B.E.K. suggests that if you care for children,

they will kill you.

And if you ignore them, they will haunt you.

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