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Film / The Bad Seed (1985)

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Previously adapted as a 1954 stage play and a 1956 feature film, The Bad Seed saw its next incarnation in 1985 with this ABC Made-for-TV Movie written by George Eckstein and directed by Paul Wendkos.

This version modernizes the story in terms of setting and backgrounds, although the actual plot isn't altered that much. The most notable change is that our murderous little girl is now named Rachel instead of Rhoda.

Blair Brown stars as Christine Penmark, with Carrie Wells as Rachel, Lynn Redgrave as Monica Breedlove, David Carradine as Leroy Jessup, Richard Kiley as Richard Bravo, and David Ogden Stiers as Emory Breedlove.

It contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Rachel is a brunette, in contrast to the blonde Rhoda of previous versions - though, in the original novel, Rhoda's hair was brunette, and nearly black.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Rhoda is now Rachel, Claude is now Mark, Hortense is now Rita.
  • Adults Are Useless: Almost all of the adults buy Rachel's act; the children in her school know there's something wrong there and usually avoid her.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Rachel, who later turns out to be a cold, remorseless psychopath. note 
  • Asshole Victim: Leroy could be said to have had it coming. Even so...
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Rachel gets away with everything in this version as well.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rachel, full stop.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Rachel's a manipulative psychopath, Leroy, who is wise to her evil, is just a bully who acts dumb to get away with what he does, but then we also have Monica who willfully ignores Rachel's behavior, and the most heroic character, Rachel's mother Christine, is morally conflicted.
  • Break the Cutie: Rachel's poor mother!
  • Changeling Fantasy: Since childhood, Christine has had this thought in the back of her mind that she was adopted, though unlike most examples of this trope, the idea fills her with horror. Her parents (father in the movie) profusely deny this, and her friends assure her that this is a common childhood fantasy. Unfortunately for her, the truth is far worse than she could imagine.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rachel's tap shoes
    • The special vitamins and sleeping pills Monica gives to Christine
    • Also, Christine mentions her husband keeping an actual gun in the house. She later uses it to shoot herself.
  • Children Are Innocent: Mercilessly averted.
  • Creepy Child/Enfant Terrible: Rachel is a modernization of Rhoda who could have been the Trope Namer for these.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Leroy.
  • Death by Adaptation: Kenneth Penmark is deceased before the story begins in this version.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Rachel, definitely!
  • Dissonant Serenity: Rachel. She never shows much excitement, no matter what she's been up to.
  • Despair Event Horizon: For Christine this is Rachel's murder of Leroy. She is forced to give up any lingering denial she may have had about Rachel's evil nature or her, Christine's, inability to control her.
  • Enfant Terrible: No Freudian Excuse needed. Rachel was born evil. Hence the name of the story.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Rachel and Leroy's confrontations.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In spite of readily admitting he is a mean and uncaring man who likes to get under a little girl's skin just for kicks, Leroy is genuinely disturbed when he realizes that kind of person Rachel really is. He's an asshole too, but even he recoils at murder.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Rachel, a sweet looking eight year old girl, with the dangerous mind of a psychopathic killer.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Rachel may act sweet and polite, but she's still a murderous brat who has no empathy for anyone.
  • Foil: Leroy, the gardener, is the only adult who can see through Rachel's perfect child act, and enjoys teasing her to get under her skin.
  • For the Evulz: Leroy's motivation for tormenting Rachel.
  • Happily Married: Christine and Kenneth were happily married in this version.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Leroy is correct about a number of the characters: Monica is an arrogant know-it-all, Christine's kindness is a bit condescending, and he is is quite right about Rachel's selfish, coldblooded personality.
  • Karma Houdini: Rachel gets away with everything she's done.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Monica is described as an "amateur psychologist" but clearly doesn't have any actual expertise in the field. Her advice only serves to distress and upset Christine more and more, but she's totally blind to the fact that Rachel is a serial killer. Nicely contrasts her employee Leroy who's a case of Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Lack of Empathy: When Christine asks Rachel if she understands the pain Mrs. Daigle must be going through after discovering his medal that she stole from Claude's body, she responds, "I guess." Later, she says, "If Mrs. Daigle wants a son so bad, why doesn't she get one from the orphanage?"
  • Light Is Not Good: Rachel, with her blonde hair and spotless white dresses, is a classic example.
  • Love Martyr: A familial example: Christine sacrifices her sanity, integrity, and her life out of the love she has for her daughter, who when asked if she truly loves her, only replies "You're silly!".
  • Motormouth: Monica Breedlove, Christine's landlady and a prominent figure in the community. A fan of Freudian psychology, she is constantly psycho-analyzing others, diagnosing Leroy as a paranoid schizophrenic, etc
    • In what is meant to be irony, despite her intelligence and insight, she spends so much time talking that she never actually observes what's going on around her, and thus can never apply her knowledge to a real situation. Rachel has her wrapped around her little finger and she doesn't even realize it.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Leroy pretends to be a humble simpleton in front of Monica and other adults, while revealing his true mean nature to children. He believes himself to be Brilliant, but Lazy, but based on his wife's comments and his own actions in the story, this is debatable.
  • Offing the Offspring: Rachel's mother tries to do this in the movie. She also finds out that her own biological mother, a famous serial killer, murdered her entire family, including her other children and almost killed Christine herself.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Leroy comes off like this during some of his interactions with Rachel.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The book went into a lot more depth than the play or movie could do, especially concerning the Incomparable Bessie Danker.
    • Leroy's dialogue was more vulgar and both he and Monica made a lot of references to sex that would have been unacceptable to use in a film at that time.
    • Rachel's school is run by the three Fern sisters: Burgess, Claudia, and Octavia. This is still the case in the adaptations, but only Claudia physically appears in the movie to make things simpler and most of the plot points involving her sisters are transferred to her.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Zig-zagged. In the book Emory was Monica's brother and she had divorced Mr. Breedlove but kept his last name. In this version Emory is Mr. Breedlove.
  • Schrödinger's Cast: Chistine's father Richard Bravo is alive and well in the play and movie, but had died before Rachel's book character was born .
  • Serial Killer: By the end of the story, Rachel has a body count of three: a neighbor who promised her a snowglobe after her death, Mark Daigler, and Leroy. With the exception of the last one, they were all for short-sighted and selfish reasons.
  • Setting Update: This movie now sets the story in the 1980s.
  • The Shrink: Monica — she probably perceives herself as a Type 3 (Awesome Shrink) , but is pure Type 2 (Well-Meaning But Ineffective) all the way. As what goes along with Type 2s, she does not mean to hurt Christine with her psychobabble and only wants the best for her.
  • Smug Snake / Small Name, Big Ego: Leroy, who as mentioned before overestimates his intelligence.
  • The Sociopath: Rachel has neither conscience nor empathy and has no issues with killing to get what she wants.
  • Sound-Only Death: Christine's suicide is portrayed by a gunshot off-screen.
  • Stepford Smiler: Rachel, and as she finally catches on, her mother.
  • Villainous Lineage: Christine discovers that her biological mother was a serial killer and believes that she passed her murderous nature to Rhoda.
  • Villain Protagonist: Take a wild guess on who it is.
  • Worthy Opponent: A few lines of dialogue suggest this between, of all people, Leroy and Rachel once they both discover that the other is also a sociopath.