THE BAD SEED (1956) (Blu-ray)
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Warner Home Video

The character of nasty but cunning child Rhoda Penmark was the innovation of writer William Archibald, who attempted to illustrate a theory of whether or not evil and mental illness were hereditary, in this case, stemming from the young girl's serial killer grandmother. Playwright Maxwell Anderson turned the novel into a hit play that won Nancy Kelly a Tony Award for portraying Rhoda's mother, and the film spearheaded the career of child actress Patty McCormack. In 1956, Warner Bros. brought the play to the big screen, shortly after its stage run, and wisely chose to keep on six of the original cast members.

Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) realizes that her young daughter Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is responsible for the death of Claude Daigle, a boy at school who won the penmanship medal which Rhoda wanted really badly. Rhoda is seemingly also responsible for the accidental death of an elderly lady, and Christine's suspicions are confirmed when she discovers the medal in Rhoda's possession, with pigtailed menace trying to destroy some murder evidence. The weird, child-like handyman Le Roy (the late, great Henry Jones) knows too much and after taunting Rhoda with accusations about the murder, he is set on fire. Christine now is certain that since she was born of a convicted murderess, she's actually responsible for passing on a hereditary "bad seed" to her daughter, and proceeds with drastic measures.

Very much filmed as a stage play with limited sets and some very overbearing acting, THE BAD SEED still translated well onto the big screen. You can call this campy or dated, but it really still packs a punch and the storyline of this outwardly sweet and perfect little girl capable of psychotic killings and putting up a front to hide her actions, gives the entire package an uneasy creepiness. Rhoda is captivatingly played by McCormack (Oscar-nominated here), and the film set a precedent for all the "demon kids" in cinema for years to follow. Kelly gives a typical bygone-era Broadway performance, but one filled with emotion and a kind of desperation that allows the audience to sympathize with her. Also in the cast are 1950s sci-fi star William Hopper as the loving husband away in Washington for most of the film; Evelyn Varden as the friendly, aunt-like apartment owner; Paul Fix as Christine's criminology writing father, who can't believe his sweet granddaughter can be sadistic; and a scene-stealing Eileen Heckart as the distraught, alcoholic mother of the dead boy. The "curtain call" ending was tacked on at the censor's request, and adds relief to a rather downbeat finale.

Warner Home Video had released THE BAD SEED in a full frame transfer on DVD in 2004, but this Blu-ray edition delivers the classic with a new and vastly improved High Definition transfer. The film is given the 1080p anamorphic treatment, now in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The black and white image is crisp and well detailed — blacks appear deep and the whites are very stable, and any grain present is subtle in appearance. The new HD transfer is also cleaned up a great deal, with virtually no blemishes to be witnessed. The 1.0 DTS-HD track sounds really good, especially for a film of this vintage, with dialog being extremely clear and Alex North's robust score remaining distinct. There are also optional English (for the hearing impaired), French and Spanish subtitles.

All the extras from the 2004 have been ported over to the Blu-ray, here in standard definition. "Enfant Terrible" is a 15-minute video interview with McCormack where she discusses everything from the play's beginning, to it being brought to film, and a bit about her co-stars. This and a lot more is also touched upon in a fun commentary with McCormack moderated by Charles Busch. The actress has a vivid recollection of working on the film all those years ago and at such an early age, and Busch throws a lot of good questions her way. She also points out how certain parts in the film where different on stage (or not in the play altogether), talks about her relationship with the other actors, as well as the before and after of her career in relation to THE BAD SEED. Even when they’re just watching the film and commenting on it, it's still a pleasure to listen to. The original theatrical trailer (full frame) is also included. (George R. Reis)