Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Bad Seed (1956)

For those of you following along at home, you know I’m not a big fan of kids or the whole “parenting” experience. Kids just creep me out and imagining one growing inside of me…ugh…it gives me the willies. Other people can reproduce all they want (though it would probably be a better place if most of the population DIDN’T), but you won’t see me cradling a newborn anytime soon.

My repulsion of children is probably why I love evil kid movies so much. There’s just something so inherently EVIL about kids – their grubby and germ-infested hands, drooling mouths and overall utter lack of hygiene are one thing, but the fact that kids are supposed to be these angelic innocents and, in fact, usually AREN’T is what is so disturbing about them. So, naturally I couldn’t wait to check out 1956’s The Bad Seed, which features Patty McCormack as an 8 year old who is rotten to the core!

Little Miss Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is the picture of 1950’s perfection. She always minds her P’s and Q’s, curtsies to teachers and guests, always keeps her room tidy, her prim and proper dresses are always spot-free and her tightly braided pigtails never have a hair out of place. She is the perfect little lady and is adored by everyone. Well, almost everyone. When her doting military father, Colonel Kenneth Penmark (William Hopper), must go away to Washington D.C. for a while, Rhoda and her mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), are left to their own devices. Christine begins to suspect that Rhoda is not the supposed innocent that she pretends to be. When fatal “accidents” start occurring, Christine becomes more suspicious of Rhoda, until she is torn between her love of her daughter and her moral obligation.

I found that The Bad Seed has definitely held up all the years since its release, though it may not be for everyone. Before being turned into a movie, it was originally adapted for stage from a book. The whole film does have a very “play-like” feel to it, like how the actors enter and exit and how it is mostly set in the Penmark’s living room. Yet, it wasn’t until AFTER I watched the film that I learned of its roots in theater and I hadn’t noticed any of the similarities to a stage play while watching the movie, so this certainly didn’t affect my view of the film.

Even though the film is over two hours long, it had more than enough story to keep me interested the entire time. To some it might seem to drag on, but I found it to be a delightful and engaging film. It is dialogue heavy, and it being 1956 when it was released, doesn’t feature any bloody deaths. Still, the increasingly strained relationship between mother and daughter, the escalating criminal behavior of Rhoda and a few twists and turns on “nature vs. nurture” kept me glued to the screen.

The intriguing story was supported by excellent acting. Patty McCormack does an amazing job as the blond-haired, blue-eyed but truly evil Rhoda. At first I thought she was overplaying the sugary sweetness of her character, but as the film continued I could see that the saccharine performance only helped to more clearly juxtapose her character’s black and rotten core. I would not want to get on this child’s wrong side! Nancy Kelly as Rhoda’s mother, Christine, also does an amazing job. Her portrayal of Christine’s mental deterioration is impressive. Her range of emotions, starting at happy at the beginning of the film and nose-diving toward depressive towards the end, is quite a spectacle to watch. You can really sympathize with her increasingly desperate situation. She definitely convinced me not to have kids (as if I needed convincing!).

If you don’t mind dialogue-heavy, black and white films, The Bad Seed is a delightful film in the “evil child” subgenre of horror. If you’ve ever found yourself carefully avoiding playgrounds and edging away from beaming parents and their newborns, you’ll find a lot to love with The Bad Seed.

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