Christine (Nancy Kelly) lives a pretty sweet life. She is happily married to an army man (William Hopper) that spends a lot of time away from home, she has a beautiful home to housewife inside, and her daughter, Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is an adorable and perfect little girl.
|"Choose your next words carefully, bitch."|
The Bad Seed is based on the play and novel of the same name, so it isn't too surprising that the sets in the film are fairly limited or that the script showcases a lot of dramatic posturing. That's not a problem, by any means, but knowing that it is based on a play explains a few things, like when characters almost break the fourth wall or monologue.
While I'm not too sure The Bad Seed deserved four Oscar nominations, the acting still holds up. Nancy Kelly looks positively haggard as the film progresses, which fits her character's state of mind perfectly. Too often, we see allegedly teenage characters with only a little dirt or blood to indicate that they are starring in a horror movie; Kelly looked the worse for wear, and that is without the benefit of a monstrous villain. Patty McCormack's performance was very interesting. Yes, it's a pretty good job for a child actor, especially in the 1950s, but I think she did a good job conveying how unnatural this character behaved. The exaggerated manners toward authority figures and the horrible little monster underneath reminded me of a homicidal Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver, which might sound weird, but I think it fits pretty well. Eileen Heckart is the third actress in the film that was nominated for her work, and she played the grieving and drunken mother of poor Claude Daigle. She was...okay. Her speeches were good, but her portrayal of a drunk was a little too cartoonish for my taste.
|Guess which is the drunk character|
|Henry Jones, handyman|
Mervyn LeRoy directed this film, and he deserves credit for making something so unlike the rest of the horror movies being made at the time. In the 1950s, you had basically two choices for scary movies: monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, etc.) or ridiculous science fiction films that added horror elements to their plots (Plan 9 From Outer Space, Attack of the Crab Monsters, etc.). The Bad Seed is a well-crafted thriller that is still moderately effective today. The pacing is a little slow, mostly because I think LeRoy wants to over-explain how a child could be a killer, but I don't think this hurts the overall tone of the film.
|I get it. Kids are evil. You don't have to tell me twice.|
There are a lot of things that have aged poorly in The Bad Seed, though. The acting, while very good for its time, oftentimes feels campy from a modern day perspective (and that's not helped out by the film's ending one bit). The news of Claude Daigle's death was spread via the radio, which is appropriate for the time period; however, the radio announcer was laughably well-informed on the story --- if a news reporter listed that many details on a crime today, it would be a sure thing that the reporter committed the crime. For as good of a job as Nancy Kelly does with her role, her character is shockingly naive at times, which made me want to smack some sense into her. I also don't believe any decent parent would let this guy spend any time near their child, handyman or not.
|That's what we call a pedasmile.|
The Bad Seed was years ahead of its time and it still holds together pretty well, even if parts of it feel archaic. The actresses featured in the movie all do great jobs, which is rare enough in a film, much less a 50+ year-old horror movie. This could have been another disposable drive-in flick, but it is instead the prototype of creepy children in cinema. The film's unintentional campiness detracts from the horror a bit, but this is still a fun watch.