The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a 1976 French-Canadian thriller film directed by Nicholas Gessner, starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, and Scott Jacoby. It's adapted from the 1974 novel of the same name by Laird Koenig, who also wrote the screenplay.
Thirteen-year-old girl Rynn Jacobs (Foster) and her reclusive poet father Lester live in a Big Fancy House overlooking the ocean in the small town of Wells Harbor, Maine. Pretty soon though, some of the townspeople—like her landlady Cora Hallet (Smith) and Cora's pervert son Frank (Sheen)—catch on that something strange is going on. Why is Lester Jacobs always busy when people come to call? Why does he allow his young daughter to speak so rudely to grown-ups and take care of the household bills?
But when Cora finally demands some answers from Rynn, she unexpectedly goes missing.
Not long after, Rynn befriends Mario (Jacoby), a teenage amateur magician who becomes her Disabled Love Interest. Finally Rynn opens up to Mario about the secret of her reclusive father, her missing mother, and the disappearance of Cora Hallet. Mario offers his help to protect Rynn from Frank Hallet's continued lecherous interest, but when Mario falls ill and leaves Rynn alone, Frank makes his move.
Rynn's not afraid. She knows how to take care of herself. She's been doing it for a long, long time.
The film was nominated for five Saturn Awards in 1978 and won two of them, Best Horror Film and Best Actress.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Accidental Murder: Throughout the film, Rynn never actually kills anyone. Her father committed suicide; she poisoned her mother by mistake (after being told by her father that the potassium cyanide was a "sleeping powder"); Cora dies by misadventure through no fault of Rynn's. Even Frank Hallet's murder at the end might not have been intentional: it's unclear if Rynn meant to drink the poisoned tea herself or if she knew Frank would demand to switch cups with her. If Rynn intended to kill herself, then her only real crime is not trying to stop him—and it could even be argued that if she told him about the poison, he might have done something worse to her out of anger.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: In the book, Rynn is openly aloof, condescending, and superior to adults, which makes them dislike and mistrust her, while in the film she simply wants to be left alone but is constantly beset by busybodies. In the book, Rynn also murders Cora in cold blood, while in the film, it's an accident. Likewise, the book makes it plain that Rynn's father is a wealthy, smug intellectual who believes himself and his daughter to be "above" the townsfolk, while in the film, their plight is a bit more sympathetic: Rynn's father is a terminally ill man trying to make sure his daughter will be safe from her abusive mother after he dies, and the aloofness is to keep anyone from suspecting that Rynn's living alone.
- Adults Are Useless: Officer Miglioriti is well-meaning, but he is rather clueless and for obvious reasons, Rynn is reticent to turn to a policeman for help. The other adults are either threats, like the Hallets or Rynn's mother, or dead, like her father.
- Asshole Victim:
- Implied with Rynn's abusive mother.
- Discussed by Mario when he confronts Frank Hallet. He openly declares that the police would thank him for killing a pedophile like Frank. Frank gets his just deserts after trying to blackmail Rynn into a tryst.
- Cora Hallet is a difficult person to feel sorry for given her undeserved and unnecessary haughtiness, to say nothing of her lack of sympathy for her pervert son's victims.
- Bitter Almonds: The potassium cyanide Rynn uses to kill; it's commented during the film that it smells and tastes just like almond.
- Cool Car: Cora Hallet's 1955 Bentley.
- Covers Always Lie: Early posters for the movie show a child dressed in a frilly lace dress and cuddling a teddy bear while standing in a graveyard. None of these appear in the film and may have been put on the poster to cash in on the Creepy Child thrillers popular at the time.
- Creepy Child: Rynn unnerves adults with her mature self-assurance.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Everyone seems to be aware that Frank is a sex criminal, but there still doesn't seem to be enough evidence to arrest him.
- Dirty Old Man: Frank Hallet. It's implied that he's gotten away with molesting a lot of little girls in the past, and now he has his eye on Rynn.
- Disappeared Dad/Missing Mom: Rynn's parents. Eventually Rynn reveals that both are dead: Rynn's father committed suicide due to being terminally ill, and Rynn accidentally poisoned her mother.
- Genre Savvy: Rynn is smart enough to subvert the Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo, putting the potassium cyanide in her own tea and thus making sure that when the cups are switched her target drinks the poison instead of her. Either that or she's decided she'd rather kill herself than submit to being raped and Frank Hallet is undone by being Wrong Genre Savvy.
- Hollywood New England: Set in the village of Wells Harbor, Maine.
- Latex Perfection: Mario uses a latex mask and various props to pose as Rynn's father when Officer Miglioriti shows up and demands to actually speak with him. Somehow this works, even though Miglioriti is standing less than six feet away and Mario's his own nephew.
- Literary Allusion Title: A variation on the line "the little boy who lives down the lane" from the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep."
- Minor Living Alone: Rynn
- Morality Pet: Mario is the only living person Rynn seems to care about.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Frank Hallet switching tea cups with Rynn out of suspicion and paranoia that she poisoned his tea, when her cup was actually the one containing potassium cyanide all along. Not to mention dressing in a magician's get-up and limping with a cane as Mario would to conceal his movements, so that no one fitting his own description will have been sighted by Rynn's house, giving her a possible alibi when he ends up disappearing.
- Older Sidekick: Mario is several years older than Rynn.
- Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Frank does this at the end with the cups of tea Rynn brings him, mainly out of suspicion that Rynn put something in his cup. He ends up taking the tea with the poison in it and dies after consuming it.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 is used throughout the film.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Officer Miglioriti may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he immediately suspects that Rynn isn't telling him the full story. Unlike the other adults in town, he doesn't try to bully her into a confession, but instead goes out of his way to win her trust. Also unlike most of the other adults, he seems to be motivated out of genuine concern for Rynn rather than the need to make her cow to his authority. He's also the only person to actually confront Cora about her son's "behavior."
- Sexual Extortion: What Frank Hallet intends to do to Rynn in exchange for keeping quiet about her murders.
- Stage Magician: Mario is one of these and is on his way to perform at a party when he meets Rynn.
- Stalker with a Crush: Frank Hallet is a particularly vile example of this. He harasses Rynn whenever the opportunity arrives, watches her every movement and uses his mother's death (which he's not particularly aggrieved about) to force Rynn to become his Sex Slave. Suffice to say very few tears were shed for him at the end.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Rynn and Mario's relationship was really doomed from the word go, given that her lifestyle doesn't leave much room for any kind of normal relationship. Lampshaded by Mario when Rynn wonders if his parents knowing about them would be so terrible.Mario: They're gonna want to know everything about you! I'm not as good at lying as you.
- Sword Cane: Mario wields one of these and threatens Frank with it when he shows up at Rynn's house.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Rynn, yet again. She commits murders both before and during the movie. In addition, adults dislike her preternatural self-assurance, which threatens their authority.
- Villain Protagonist: Rynn. She is an interesting case because her killing is more of a survival tactic than a true villainy. At the same time, her actions are a little too extreme to describe as "antihero". Plus, it's not (usually) so much a matter of physical survival, but of preserving what amounts to her own values.
- Initially Rynn keeps the secret of her father's death to prevent both herself and her inheritance from falling into her mother's clutches (since the law would have automatically awarded both to Rynn's mother regardless of other circumstances). Up until that point, Rynn had committed no real crime other than failure to report her father's death. After her mother was no longer an issue, Rynn still had the problem of losing her independence and possibly all her money if she confessed what happened. She could either conceal her parents' deaths for three more years and enter adulthood with enough resources to put the past behind her, or she could admit what happened, spend the next three years suffering in foster homes (or longer, if she's sent to jail), and still end up with nothing. It could be argued that Rynn was fighting to preserve not her values but her entire future.