Such is the simple reality behind The Bad Seed, a classic pseudo-camp horror classic that, with its companion film Village of the Damned, pretty much convinced the world that little blonde kids are evil.
In this film, young Patty McCormack plays the cupid-faced Rhoda, who loves her parents but rages with jealousy inside. When a classmate ends up drowned and a neighbor slips down a flight of stairs to her death, tongues start a-wagging and even mom Christine (Nancy Kelly) begins to wonder if Rhoda doesn't have some bad blood in her. When talk of a local murderess -- who'd just about be old enough to be Christine's mother -- rolls around, Christine puts it all together: Rhoda is guilty of some pretty heavy stuff, and there's quity a temper under that angelic face.
McCormack's work here defined her career; she'd never make another movie that so deeply impacted the moviegoing world. Poor Nancy Kelly is so torn up it's hard to watch: Does she turn her daughter in to the police or try to handle the problem herself? What would you do? There aren't any easy answers in The Bad Seed, and even though Rhoda is clearly irredeemable, there are flashes of genuine love that will make any parent question their own approach to child-rearing.
Mervyn LeRoy's direction (he also made this book into a Broadway play, and cast several of his stars in the film -- Kelly won a Tony Award) is apt and filled with little touches that put you in Christine's mindset, most notably during a manic piano piece Rhoda plays after setting a fire in the basement. The movie's way too long at about 130 minutes -- a leaner 90-minute William Castle-style production would have been much more effective and helpful in eliminating some of the fat in the story.
The movie has influenced dozens of "evil children" flicks, from The Omen to Problem Child. The film was notably remade in 1993 with Macauley Culkin as The Good Son and, believe it or not, sketchily sequelled in two films 40 years later: Mommy and Mommy II, both of which starred a now considerably grown McCormack.
Now on DVD, the film offers commentary from McCormack and film historian Charles Busch, as well as a retrospective featurette.
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenwriter: John Lee Mahin