Christine Penmark seems to have it all: a lovely home, a loving husband and the most "perfect" daughter in the world. But since childhood, Christine has suffered from the most terrible recurring nightmare. And her "perfect" daughter's accomplishments include lying, theft and possibly much, much worse. Only Christine knows the truth about her daughter and only Christine's father knows the truth about her nightmare.Written by
Though Flawed and Stagy, Still Chilling After all These Years - Part One
I saw "The Bad Seed" years ago, circa 1970, for the first time, and have seen it periodically over the years. When I first saw the film, as a child, I found the film, expectedly, quite chilling.
I saw it again this afternoon, after not having seen it for about three years, and still find it quite disturbing. Now that we have IMDb, I decided to offer my thoughts. And so, I was shocked to find SO MANY comments about it...more than for any other film that I've reviewed on IMDb to date. If I add anything of unique value, great. If not, I'm happy to share my review anyway.
Certainly, there are flaws, or perhaps only "unique differences", in this film. Primarily, it can very easily be considered a filmed play, as the staging, the dialog, and the entrances and exits of the characters throughout the film seem to be lifted directly from the stage version. Therefore, some may find the film a bit too sterile or unnatural in many ways. However, I think it is this very sterile, staged, stark-from-a-production-standpoint quality that gives the film an even eerier and in some ways far more realistic edge than might be found were it to be produced today for film, with far more slick and sophisticated sets, dialog, camera work, etc. The realism and pronounced disturbing quality of this version stems from the simple story itself, the psychological horror of which could be in some ways obfuscated from a much more sophisticated, big-studio, modern-day production.
As for the subject matter itself, I know that the number of cases, historically, involving child murderers is actually low. Therefore, some critics have argued that to take a relatively rare phenomenon, such as the child murderer, and build a motion picture around it, portraying it in the vein of plausibility, can be misleading and dangerous, giving the impression, especially to younger viewers, that child criminals are more commonplace than you may think. I wholeheartedly reject this notion. The whole purpose of acting is to portray the entire range of the human condition with as much truth as possible, no matter how rare or commonplace certain aspects of human behavior might be. Though child murderers may be few in number, it's an area worthy of as much exploration, in film, as is an ugly, unrealistic alien telling us to "phone home" or the sinking of the Titanic.
Even though this film possesses a definite "campy", staged, and perhaps even "cult" quality, it is chillingly effective. One reason for which this film works is due to the character of Rhoda herself, played by Patty McCormack. The smiling, blond, blue-eyed veneer of the child juxtaposed with the idea of her criminal potential (and actions) is just plain "creepy". Moreover, the less you see, in terms of the actual crimes she commits, the more you conjure. And, you continually wonder who her next victim will be. Furthermore, you wonder how many people will eventually "come on to her" and become aware of whom she is, and how that knowledge will affect their fate.
Another reason for which this film works is because of the mother, Christine, played by Nancy Kelly. As we slowly watch her become aware of what has become of her daughter, we can't help but empathize with her predicament and her decision in handling it. The first few times I saw the film, just as I felt that Patty McCormack's portrayal and dialog delivery were probably mere replicas of what she offered on stage, I felt that Nancy Kelly's performance was affected and probably lifted directly from her work on the stage (I've never seen a stage version, nor have I read the book, yet). But in the case of Ms. Kelly, watching her realize what she has ultimately given birth to and raised is very heart wrenching. Moreover, I have always wondered if the use of her right hand was a direction given to her by either of her directors (for play or film), or if it was something she came up with herself. Two instances come to mind.
In the first one, the manner in which she hits the table with her right hand as she listens to what is happening outside near her shed while Rhoda plays "Au Claire de la Lune" on her piano is very pronounced, appears somewhat odd and is perhaps symbolic. She seemed to be pounding her hand not only in outward denial and anger at the realization she now has of what her child is capable of committing, but as a means to torture and punish herself for having given birth to her in the first place. In the second instance, Nancy Kelly used her right hand again in a very pronounced manner when she offers Rhoda her vitamins "that night". Again, I couldn't help but wonder what symbolism she wanted us to draw from her gesture. It might be said that this very hand, which once comforted and fed her child all her life, has now become the tool that feeds the ultimate fate of her child toward the end of the film. (Again, not having read it, I have a fairly good idea how the book ends).
As for how the ending/epilogue in the film was handled, practically everyone on this site who has offered a review knows that the use of the "casting call" was basically dictated by the mandates of the Hays Code. I'll just add that I find that the chilling effect of the story carries over to this bizarre "epilogue". I still find it a bit unsettling to see each of these actors take their bows, especially considering that some of the characters they portrayed would, in my estimation, appear stranger to a child than does Rhoda....particularly Leroy, when he bows to the viewing audience carrying his large pitchfork.
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