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Review: The Bad Seed (1956)

The Bad Seed (1956)

Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy

Premise: A housewife (Nancy Kelly) begins to suspect that her daughter (Patti McCormack) is a killer.

What Works: The Bad Seed is a classic film. A lot of the familiar plot points of the troubled child genre are established here and echoed in later films like Orphan, The Omen, and The Good Son. The Bad Seed plays out with much more ambiguity than many of its successors, holding off on revealing the truth about the child in ways that further the mystery and create doubt about the sanity of her mother. There are some terrific performances in the film, including Eileen Heckart as a mother whose son has drowned, Henry Jones as a mentally disabled local, Patti McCormack as the troubled child, and Nancy Kelly as her mother. McCormack gives the most memorable performance here and it has become the de facto example of manipulative and potentially evil children in film. The Bad Seed is also interesting to watch in part because of the time it was made. Shot in black and white and set in suburbia in the mid-1950s, the picture has a look not all that different from Leave It to Beaver but then uses it as the setting for a murder mystery in which a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl might be a psychopath. This makes the film rather subversive in what it suggests about suburbia and about the nature of evil. These themes were later echoed in films like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and places The Bad Seed, along with Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, among the original American horror films.

What Doesn’t: The only trouble with The Bad Seed is the ending, which is a cop out. The rest of the film is terrific but the conclusion is a let down.

DVD extras: Featurette, commentary track.

Bottom Line: Despite the faults of the ending The Bad Seed is an important film and highly entertaining. It has some terrific performances and is worth viewing by thriller aficionados or those interested in the roots of the American horror film.

Episode: #249 (August 2, 2009)