The Bad Seed is a 1956 American horror-thriller film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It is based upon a play (of the same name) by Maxwell Anderson, which in turn is based upon William March’s 1954 novel The Bad Seed. The play was adapted by John Lee Mahin for the screenplay of the film. It stars Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack (as the bad seed of the title), Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart, Evelyn Varden, William Hopper, Paul Fix, Joan Croydon and Jesse White.
Christine Penmark seems to have it all: a lovely home, a loving husband and the most “perfect” daughter in the world, Rhoda. But since childhood, Christine has suffered from the most terrible recurring nightmare. And her “perfect” daughter’s accomplishments include lying, theft and possibly much, much worse. Only Christine knows the truth about her daughter and only Christine’s father knows the truth about her nightmare…
Although the novel and play had the mother dying and the evil child, surviving, the Hays Code did not allow for “crime to pay.” The ending of the film thus has it the other way around, with Christine’s life being saved by the local hospital and Rhoda being struck down by lightning while trying to retrieve the penmanship medal from the lake. A bizarre end sequence showing Rhoda being spanked was tagged on to ram home the point.
The Bad Seed was remade for television in 1985, adapted by George Eckstein and directed by Paul Wendkos. It starred Blair Brown, Lynn Redgrave, David Carradine, Carrie Welles, Richard Kiley, Chad Allen and Christa Denton. This version used the original ending as in the March novel. Eli Roth has stated that he is interested in making an updated version.
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“Though not regarded as a classic (even the Warner’s DVD copy can only muster up “one of the great ones”), this timeless thriller is just as disturbing today as it was upon its original release. Far from “campy fun,” The Bad Seed is an extreme nightmare and one that stays with the viewer long after the credits end.” Monsters at Play
“The Bad Seed may be talky, bulky and overly theatrical, but it explores the subject matter of the root of evil and how it can lurk behind the quaintest of appearances in a refreshingly psychological and probing fashion. The climax of the film goes to a very dark place, and when there it’s some of the most arresting moments in horror.” Rhett Miller, Horror Digital
“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.” The Lair of Filth