Director: Nicolas Gessner
Screenplay: Laird Koenig
Based on a novel by: Laird Koenig
Starring: Jodie Foster, Scott Jacoby, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman
Country: France, Canada
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Jodie Foster had quite a year in 1976. Only thirteen when the year came around, she’d already enjoyed a successful career with dozens of TV credits and a couple of films under her belt. 1976 marked the beginning of her transition from child actor in family shows and Disney movies to a truly accomplished actress though. Within one year she starred in the cult classic (at least in more recent years) Bugsy Malone, family favourite Freaky Friday and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which she played a pre-adolescent prostitute. With these films she cemented her place in cinema history in one fell swoop. There was another film released that year though that is less talked about, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (plus Echoes of a Summer, but I know little about that). It won awards for best horror film and best actress for Foster at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, so within genre circles it was well regarded, but it certainly doesn’t share the reputation of the three other 1976 titles I mentioned earlier. Signal One Entertainment felt the need to address the balance a little though and gave the film a decent Blu-Ray release in the UK a couple of years ago. I recently got my hands on a copy and here are my thoughts on it
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane sees Foster play Rynn, a thirteen year old girl living on her own in a small town, but hiding the fact to her rather nosey neighbours. She tells them her father is a poet that is always working upstairs and doesn’t want to be disturbed. One neighbour, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), is a sleazy man, known by the townsfolk for having a taste for young girls and he sees Rynn’s isolation as an opportunity. Frank’s mother (Alexis Smith), who owns the property Rynn rents, is also suspicious of the situation and continues to snoop around, until she is accidentally killed after discovering a dark secret in the house. Rynn hides her body, but local teenager Mario (Scott Jacoby) bumps into her and can see something isn’t right. As the two develop a strong bond, Rynn decides to let him in on her secret and the two do their best to keep on top of things.
This is a most unusual little film and it’s no surprise it’s not as well known as many of Foster’s other roles. The premise and avenues the story goes down are quite odd, which is always welcome in my book. However, it’s all rather far-fetched and gets quite ridiculous at times. The fact that Mario so easily accepts what Rynn has done and helps out with her grisly activities after only having known her for a day or two is particularly hard to swallow.
The film’s rather stagey too, with pretty much the whole film taking place in or around Rynn’s house. Although it could be classed as a horror film, it’s more of a talk-heavy dark drama in this sense. It’s certainly never scary, although Sheen’s character is pretty disturbing to watch, if a little over the top.
What keeps the film afloat however is Foster. Even at this young age she had the ability to carry a film and she truly does here. She’s in practically every scene, whereas she was definitely only a supporting player in Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone. The film would fall apart without just the right actress and Foster is perfect for the role, due to her old-beyond-her-years nature. She balances cold and mysterious with warm and lovable to just the right degree to make the more ridiculous aspects of the film just about work.
As great as Foster is, it’s hard to class The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane as much more than a curiosity though. Stagey and far-fetched, it’s not one of the finest genre films of the 70s, although it’s enjoyably unique and worth watching for Foster’s performance.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is out now on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by Signal One Entertainment. I watched the Blu-Ray version and the transfer is excellent, with a generally sharp picture with nice natural grain and colours.
The only special feature of note is a commentary by DVD Delirium’s Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer. They’re a good pair, with a lot of knowledge to impart and an occasionally fun chemistry.