I must confess to a weakness for horror films with kids who either start out perfect, or look perfect, then turn out to be horribly evil or morally corrupt. I love Village of the Damned, The Exorcist, The Omen, Audrey Rose, The Good Son, and so on. The Bad Seed was one of the first horror movies I saw as a child, so maybe that's the reason for my penchant. I liked it so much, I even sought out the book it was based on (and delightfully discovered the much darker ending in the William March novel).
Ten year old ice princess Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is pretty as a picture and polite as you please, but behind the blonde, pigtailed facade lurks a sinister and slippery sociopath. Her long-suffering mother Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) can barely keep up with her precocious offspring as Rhoda goes from one crime to another (of course, she doesn't want to believe her daughter is bad and wears the proverbial parental blinders). The only one who really knows that Rhoda isn't sugar and spice and everything nice is the slow-witted janitor of her apartment building, LeRoy (Henry Jones). Unafraid, he underestimates the girl and eggs her on -- when one of her classmates winds up dead, LeRoy taunts Rhoda about blue electric chairs for little boys and pink electric chairs for little girls. As Rhoda's roster of victims grows, Mrs. Penmark can no longer turn a blind eye. With Mr. Penmark conveniently away, the lives of a suspicious mother and a dangerous daughter spiral into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Most of the cast of The Bad Seed played their roles in the hit Broadway play, clocking in hundreds of hours as these characters. As you watch them onscreen, you can see the ease in which they embody their fictional skins -- mostly, this works to the movie's advantage but the acting is often very theatrical, and certainly by today's standards is well over the top. For adults seeing The Bad Seed for the first time it may come off as slightly campy, but with all of the creepiness and suspense mostly well intact (I say "mostly" because decades ago, The Bad Seed was rare in its depiction of a child as evil -- now, it's old hat and viewers are jaded). As I mentioned before, the moralistic Hollywood of the 1950s forced the filmmakers to tack on a feel-good ending (the play retained the book's chilling climax), but it doesn't ruin the overall impact of the story.
Warner Home Video has not only beautifully restored the print in all its shadowy black and white glory, but they've generously added some brand new featurettes. There is over-the-movie commentary with Charles Busch ("of Warner Home Video"… in what capacity, we never know) and Patty McCormack herself. This is fun, but is basically a retread of the more entertaining and succinct featurette "Enfant Terrible: A Conversation With Patty McCormack". There is also a new "Making of" doc, and a vintage trailer which is so cheesy and overwrought it's a great laugh when seen with modern eyes.
Review by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com