Sunday, November 12, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Bad Seed and Night of the Hunter

* The Bad Seed

Rhoda Penmark is an angelic, sweet little girl until she doesn't get what she wants. Her mother starts to catch on to her deceptive ways when Claude, a boy at her school, dies in a seemingly tragic accident. I had seen this movie years ago and it's an amazing watch. The entire thing is set up like a stage play and takes place around Rhoda's house and the yard just outside. All of the information is conveyed through conversation between characters, but Rhoda's actions are no less chilling than if they were full view of the audience. Her failure to understand right from wrong and her charming facade make the stories believable. It's even more disturbing that she has so many people under her thrall when she would kill to get what she wants. Patty McCormack does a phenomenal job oscillating between enraged and sweet

Two other women give the film emotional weight: Rhoda's mother Christine and Hortense Daigle, Claude's mother. Christine starts out happy and healthy, but rapidly deteriorates emotionally when she realizes the truth about her child. On one hand, her little girl deserves protection and love and on other, Christine has a responsibility to stop her and save others Rhoda would kill. It tears her up inside, especially when she finds out her parentage isn't what she's been told all her life. Hortense is a complete mess after her son died. Multiple times, she shows up at the Penmark house, sloppily drunk and full of questions and stories. This role could have very easily been overacted or badly acted, but Eileen Heckart makes Hortense's pain heartbreaking. Although the scenes are uncomfortable and outside of social norms, she's doing whatever she can to cope and find out what happened to her son.

The Bad Seed is film that stays with you. This murderous intent and lack of emotions behind an angelic smile are absolutely chilling. The scene that encompasses Rhoda is when she's set fire to Leroy and plays Au Claire de la Lune on the piano faster and louder to drown out the ensuing chaos. For a film entirely dependent on dialogue, the performances are all strong and well done. The weakest part of the film is the ending due to the Hayes Code, which basically didn't allow the true ending of the play. The ending undermines Rhoda's character and the curtain call undermines the tone of the entire film.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Night of the Hunter

Siblings John and Pearl are shown where the $10,000 their father Ben stole is right before he's carted off to jail to be hanged. Reverend Powell shares a cell with Ben and weasels his way into the family when he gets out to find the money. Night of the Hunter is a realistic movie with dark fairy tale elements from the point of view of children. John is older than Pearl and sees things she doesn't, like the local children singing a cruel song about their father and the danger in Rev. Powell. He has to step in as an adult to protect his sister and himself when no adult will intervene. Rev. Powell is incredibly adept at manipulating adults with his charisma and his shield of religion. He has a relaxed air about him in every situation because he's completely sure things will go his way. John's defiance infuriates him like no other.

The other aspects that make this film memorable are Rachel Cooper and the beautiful cinematography. Rachel is a harsh, stern woman who takes in essentially stray children. She uses religion to strengthn the children's moral compass and bring them in as a family, counter to the reverend. While he would kill a woman for sexual interest in men, Rachel understands one of her oldest and reacts with love. One scene encompasses these difference. When he is stalking them in the night, Rev. Powell sinces the hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Rachel joins in harmony while she sits vigil with her shotgun to protect her children, singing the same song with very different meaning. The look of the film is gorgeous with deliberate use of shadow and light. The scene where the children's mother is discovered in her car underwater is hauntingly beautiful. The look enhances the fairy tale and horror atmosphere.

Night of the Hunter is a film I didn't expect and will revisit in the future. The view of children was especially unexpected because so often children aren't treated as capable. This film treats children as real people trying to overcome impossible obstacles. The music used also creates and sustains the atmosphere, especially Pearl's lullaby in the journey down the river with her brother. The only weird part of the movie is the almost slapstick quality of physical fighting scenes that are deadly serious. It lightens the mood and perhaps shows that children don't truly know what danger they are in. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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