The Bad Seed

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The Bad Seed is a novel by William March, published in 1954. It was made into a play, which was then adapted to film in 1956, and a made for TV remake in 1985.

Christine Penmark, a housewife, moves into a new town with her husband Kenneth and daughter Rhoda. She has always thought her daughter was very peculiar; while always polite, courteous, and charming in public, there was a cold, apathetic, and calculating quality in her personality that she found very disturbing in a child. As Christine notices the strange, horrible things that happen in the proximity of her daughter, she comes to see that Rhoda is the very definition of Enfante Terrible.

One of the earliest and more notable examples of a child being portrayed as irredeemably evil, and delves into the issue of nature vs. nurture as Christine discovers the truth of her own origins.


Tropes used in The Bad Seed include:
  • Adults Are Useless: Almost all of the adults buy Rhoda's act; the children in her school know there's something wrong there and usually avoid her.
  • Affably Evil: Rhoda's always polite and sweet-acting, and only harms people when they have something she wants.
  • The Alcoholic: Hortense Daigle, mother of Claude Daigle ( whom Rhoda killed because she wanted his penmanship medal), became addicted to alcohol to dull the pain of losing her only child.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Rhoda
  • Arc Words: "What'll you give me for a basket of kisses?" "I'll give you a basket of hugs."
  • Asshole Victim: Leroy could be said to have had it coming. Even so...
    • Then there's Rhoda at the very end of the film.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rhoda, full stop.
  • Break the Cutie: Rhoda'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 (mother in the book, 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: Rhoda's tap shoes and the wood wool Leroy uses to sleep on.
    • Also, Christine mentions her husband keeping an actual gun in the house. She later uses it to shoot herself.
  • Children Are Innocent: Mercilessly averted.
  • Corruption by a Minor: Rhoda and Leroy have a relationship that is disturbingly sexual, although they never touch each other.
    • In the book he actually compares his relationship with her to an odd courtship.
  • Creepy Child/Enfant Terrible: Rhoda could have been the Trope Namer for these.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Rhoda, definitely!
  • Dissonant Serenity: Rhoda. She never shows much excitement, no matter what she's been up to.
  • Every Proper Lady Should Curtsy: Patty McCormack, who played Rhoda, curtsies to the audience at the end curtain call.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Rhoda and Leroy's confrontations.
  • Executive Meddling: Rhoda is not allowed to get away with her crimes in the movie. In the book and the original play, she survives her mother's attempt to murder her, and it is hinted that she will go on murdering. In fact, at the end of the movie, she and her mother come onscreen and Rhoda gets a huge spanking. Yes, her DYING wasn't even enough!
  • Foil: Leroy, the gardener, is the only adult who can see through Rhoda's perfect child act, and enjoys teasing her to get under her skin.
  • In the Blood: Christine discovers that her biological mother was a serial killer and believes that she passed her murderous nature to Rhoda.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Au Claire de la Lune" will never sound quite the same again...
  • Karma Houdini: Rhoda gets away with everything she's done in the book and the play, and nearly does so in the movie.
  • Lack of Empathy: When Christine asks Rhoda if she understands the pain Mrs. Daigle must be going through after discovering his medal that she stole from his 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?"
  • Love Martyr: A familial example: Rhoda's mother 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!".
  • Motor Mouth: 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, her brother Emory as a closeted homosexual, and herself as having incestuous feelings towards him. Worse, in the movie, she manages to analyze the reason her marriage failed... based solely on her ex-husband's name.
    • 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 around her, and thus can never apply her knowledge to a real situation. Of all the characters, she's the most clueless when it comes to Rhoda's nature.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the nature of Rhoda's death the cheerful "curtain call" during the end credits seemed strange, especially the playfulness/comedic nature in which Rhoda is spanked.
  • 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.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Christine has one in the book's backstory. Kenneth's mother always thought there was something not right about Christine, and warned her son about marrying and having children with her. Worth mentioning, her name is Rhoda Howe—Christine named her daughter after her mother-in-law in an attempt to appease her, but it failed to improve their relationship.
    • Even worse for Christine, it seems the elder Mrs. Penmark may have been on to something after all.
  • Offing the Offspring: Rhoda's mother tries to do this in the book, play and 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.
  • Panty Shot: About ten minutes into the movie, when Rhoda leaps in front of Leroy and her skirt and slip flip up.
  • 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.
    • Rhoda'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.
  • Recurring Riff: Rhoda is frequently seen playing Au Clair de la Lune in the 1956 film, which she manages to make sound creepy.
  • Schrödinger's Cast: Chistine's father Richard Bravo is alive and well in the play and movie, but had died before Rhoda was born in the book.
  • Serial Killer: By the end of the story: Rhoda has a body count of four: her pet dog, a neighbor who promised her a snowglobe after her death, Claude Daigle, and Leroy. With the exception of the last one, they were all for hedonistic reasons.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Monica. How often do you hear "penurious" and "larvated" in a conversation?
  • 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 / Ted Baxter: Leroy, who as mentioned before overestimates his intelligence.
  • The Sociopath: Guess who.
  • Sound-Only Death: We hear Leroy screaming, pounding on the door, being set loose, and screaming some more, before he dies, but all we see is Christine's reaction. It's still horrible.
  • Stepford Smiler: Rhoda, and as she finally catches on, her mother.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Rhoda!
  • Worthy Opponent: A few lines of dialogue suggest this between, of all people, Leroy and Rhoda once they both discover that the other is also a sociopath.