The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

What kind of movie is this? Is it horror? A children’s film? A coming of age story? A feminist or child’s rights message film? Or is it as director Nicolas Gessner said, “a teenage love story”?

The American release of the film — which was rated PG and deleted the nude scene that Foster refused, with her older sister Connie acting as her body double — offers these words: “She was only a little girl. She lived in a great big house…all alone. Where is her mother? Where is her father? Where are all the people who went to visit her? What is her unspeakable secret? Everyone who knows is dead.”

If you need to put this in a neat box, the term I’ve been using for films like this — and others that we’ll talk more about this week — is “coming of age while the supernatural lurks around the corner.”

Let’s travel to the small town of Wells Harbor, Maine, where Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is celebrating her thirteenth birthday alone in the home she shares with her poet father. The son of her landlady, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), visits and is immediately sexually aggressive to her. Later, his mother visits and demands to see her father, who she claims is in New York City before taunting the older woman about her son. Then there’s the cellar, which she’s obsessed with seeing. Well, curiosity killed the cat. And it kills Cora Halley, too.

The rest of the film involves Rynn hiding the body (and maybe even bodies), dealing with Frank and falling for Mario (Scott Jacoby, who of course was Bad Ronald), a young magician.

It also features Mort Shuman as a police officer. Shuman was once the partner of Doc Pomus and wrote “A Teenager in Love”, “This Magic Moment”, “Save The Last Dance For Me” and “Viva Las Vegas.”

While this is one of Foster’s least favorite films, I’ve always really loved it. That may be because she believed that one of the producers was crazy, as he wanted her to do have more nudes scenes. She also had a rough time filming the love scene.

While rated PG, this movie exudes menace and nascent sexuality. It also has plenty of dark moments, like Frank killing Rynn’s hamster. And then there’s the fact that Rynn’s father killed himself by drowning in the ocean before giving his daughter potassium cyanide so that she could kill her mother, then embalming her and placing her into that basement that interested the old landlady so much.

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