The Bad Seed (1956)

This is another of those ‘evil child’ movies. It was actually really good, and was genuinely frightening.

I read this book years ago, a while before I’d started my book blog. It was quite an eerie book too, and I didn’t get round to watching the film until late January.

Of course the narrative of evil children is quite complex but in this instance it was done well. Some people have said this film is rather stagey but I disagree, even though by the last 3/4 of the film all that was happening was Rhoda and her mother screaming at each other. It was like The Jeremy Kyle show – but with full sets of teeth and better hair.

Rhoda (Patty McCormack) seemed icily dangerous, with her high astringent voice and perfect manners. Of course all of her murders are committed offscreen but this does not waylay the feeling of terror which exists throughout the film and her earlier murders are hinted at. Her mother Christine is obviously fearful of her own poisonous heritage and the realization of it later in the film is very chilling. In the same way, while Rhoda is never seen killing Claude Daigle, his mother is seen as an emotional, alcoholic mess and in pieces over the loss of her son. It is truly heartbreaking because it exposes the consequences of Rhoda’s actions.

“I’m drunk. It’s a pleasure to stay drunk when your little boy’s been killed.”

Of course due to the production code some elements of the film couldn’t be done but it shows what can be achieved with subtlety and nuances. I have never been so genuinely frightened by a film, and all without the use of excessive jumpscares and over-the-top music. In the same way, while they could only show so much to impressionable screen audiences at the time, the way Rhoda hints that the landlady would have been the next victim – had Rhoda’s life of villainy not been ended by a lightening strike.

The gardener, Leroy, suspects he knows what Rhoda is doing and at the same time comes across as eerie. His rambling to himself seems almost like he is taking the audience into his confidence, as if we have been allowed to glimpse the grim world in which these people inhabit. If anything, this film proves that horror and evil can exist in any seemingly perfect domestic existence.

MY RATING: ***** / *****

 

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