January 2, 2013

Filthy Review - 'The Bad Seed'

The Bad Seed (1956)

Review by Jude Felton

As much as I would like to, there are always going to be films that for one reason or another I have never had the chance to see. I’d love to be able to say that I have seen every movie ever made, but it just isn’t going to happen, so I just do my best to catch up with them as best I can. One such film is the 1956 thriller, The Bad Seed, a movie which pre-dates the killer child sub-genre by decades. Hell, this is pushing 60 years old, so I can only imagine the response to it upon its initial release.

If the artwork and cover blurb was not enough to fill you in as to the content of The Bad Seed I will continue to divulge, and yes for once there is an element of the spoiler in this review. Of course, I won’t reveal any critical plot elements to you, as that would just be damned rude.

The Bad Seed focuses on a young girl, Rhoda, and her mother, Christine, who both live a seemingly idyllic life in an apartment complex. Rhoda’s father is a military man who goes away on work, which leaves Rhoda and Christine alone. There is the nosey, with a heart of gold, landlady, Monica, who pops in seemingly at will, and also the apartment block’s maintenance man, Leroy, among other characters. The focus however is the relationship between Rhoda and Christine.

Rhoda is the picture perfect child; she has wonderful manners, is polite and is apparently doing quite well at school. She also has a nasty temper, a disdain for almost everyone and she does not like coming second. So, when a fellow student dies in a drowning accident, Christine begins to reluctantly question whether Rhoda had anything to do with it.

The Bad Seed is based on a stage play; a fact that becomes very clear with the set-up and execution of this tale. Most of the action takes place inside Rhoda and Christine’s apartment, with only the occasional scene taking place elsewhere, and the focus being very much on the dialogue between the characters. What may surprise some viewers of this film is the fact that, despite what the title of the film and accompanying artwork may imply, the story is as much about Christine as it is about Rhoda.

It really is Christine’s character that moves the story along as she questions what has happened; looking to her own past for answers to her many questions. Yes, this is a film about a murderous young child, even though we are never privy to any real violence, but it also looks deep into the nature versus nurture debate; are killers born that way, or is their upbringing part of the cause?

The Bad Seed is a very talky film, not to mention a quite lengthy one at just over 2 hours, but it flies by. It is filled with great, and on occasion quite eccentric, characters, the script is just an absolute joy and all the performances are pitch-perfect. Patty McCormack, who plays Rhoda, is an absolute gem and her performance is just perfect. Her ability to switch between sweet and innocent to cold-blooded indifference is just a joy to watch.

Just about every film featuring an unhinged child that has been made since this has been influenced by The Bad Seed, and I can’t recall any being half as effective. This is dark material that doesn’t rely on violence, gore or even scares in order to be a truly chilling tale. Sure, it does look a little dated now, after all this is a Grandparent of a film, but the subject matter and execution are absolutely perfect. Just listen to the creepy tune that Rhoda plays on the piano, and you will know exactly what I mean.

All that remains for me to say is that you really should check this film out. I wish I had visited it earlier, as not only is it a great movie, which was nominated for several Academy Awards, but it also serves as a vital part of the history and origins of modern horror films. The Bad Seed is a nigh-on perfect film.

The Bad Seed is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video.

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