Although first written in 1954, March's The Bad Seed has lost none of its vibrancy through the passage of time, and holds itself in the lead of creeping, stealthy horror that will curl your toes and straighten your hair.
Christine Penmark is a beautiful young wife, recently moved with her husband Kenneth and daughter Rhoda to a languid town, finding appropriate lodging, and enrolling their precocious little girl into the Fern Grammar School. With her husband away all summer on business, Christine's social life centers around Rhoda, her effervescent neighbor Mrs. Monica Breedlove, Monica's brother Emory, and the shifty groundskeeper Leroy Jessup.
Christine is a gentle and well-bred lady, and often looks upon her daughter's fastidious dress and immaculate room and wonders how she deserved such a beautiful, normal child. On the morning of the Fern Grammar School annual picnic, Rhoda is already up and dressed, her hair neatly braided, and eager to go. Christine and Mrs. Breedlove drop Rhoda off with the three aging Fern sisters, Miss Octavia, Miss Burgess, and Miss Claudia, who take the children to their old home at Pelican Bay.
When a little boy mysteriously drowns at the picnic, the same little boy who won the penmanship medal that Rhoda had wanted so badly, Christine's world begins to fall apart with doubts. Memories flood back to her of Rhoda's strange friendship with an old woman back in Baltimore who had promised Rhoda her opal necklace when she died, the same necklace that hangs in Rhoda's room. Memories of the school Rhoda was expelled from for telling lies and being "a cold, self-sufficient child who plays by her own rules".
Christine turns to Emory's friend Reginald Tasker, who is writing a novel about females who have committed atrocious murders, and in his research she finds something terribly familiar. In the meantime, the Fern Sisters have informed Christine that Rhoda will not be welcomed back next year to the Fern Grammar School, stating that "they can do nothing for her in their environment."
Christine begins to wonder, when she looks upon her daughter, whether she is gazing at the angel or the beast. As the summer unfolds, Christine digs deeper into Reginald's research, fearful of what she will find and terrified not to learn more of her and Rhoda's past, until Rhoda takes a bold step and openly shows her mother where the real truth lies.
The well-bred gentility of the characters, their languid and imperturbable lifestyles, is what gives The Bad Seed such creepiness. Looking for a black spot in a picture filled with pretty flowers is harder than looking for one in a dreary landscape, but when you find it, it seems to grow until it mars the entire painting.
That is the feeling I got reading The Bad Seed, the creeping sensation of low terror that shudders like a soft vibration down your spine, leaving you uneasy and often short of breath. The Bad Seed is a must-read for any horror fan, simply because the soft touch of death will kill as certainly as the bludgeon. Enjoy!
Because of William March's indisputable classic, which was nominated for the 1955 National Book Award and which also introduced the term `bad seed' into the American lexicon, I don't think there is one person who has either read the novel or seen the film and not experienced their own share of shudders as well as a disturbing sense of the uncomfortable in the pit of their stomachs. Having read and seen both the novel and the black and white film adaptation of it, it still has the power … more
I want to thank Everyone for welcoming me back! :) I'm here to stay folks, my sabbatical on writing reviews is over and I'll continue to review for Lunch. It's great to be back, too! Thanks again for … more
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What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William March's classic thriller. After its initial publication in 1954, the book went on to become a million-copy bestseller, a wildly successful Broadway show, and a Warner Brothers film. The spine-tingling tale of little Rhoda Penmark had a tremendous impact on the thriller genre and generated a whole perdurable crop of creepy kids. Today, The Bad Seed remains a masterpiece of suspense that's as chilling, intelligent, and timely as ever before.