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The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane | Blu-ray Review

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the LaneKino Lorber brings the 1976 obscure genre gem The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane to Blu-ray for the first time, an oft forgotten psychological thriller starring a thirteen year old Jodie Foster as a precocious child killer. More character portrait than pulpy potboiler, it got lost in the shuffle early on, premiering during Foster’s most prolific year to date, the actress starring in five films, including seminal titles such as Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the family classic Freaky Friday. The title’s shelf-life wasn’t enhanced by future efforts of Hungarian import Nicholas Gessner, who had previously directed the strange (and also enjoyable) Charles Bronson thriller Someone Behind the Door in 1971, and later, with a handful of exceptions, stuck to television productions throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It would seem Foster’s unpleasant memories concerning filming has something to do with her noted distancing from the title, which is unfortunate considering her particularly enjoyable performance here (which netted her a Saturn Award for Best Actress).

In a sleepy Quebec town, 13-year-old Rynn (Foster) is celebrating her birthday all alone, which falls on Halloween, when’s she interrupted by an aggressive trick-or-treater, the lecherous Frank Hallett (Martin Sheen), who is known as the local pervert and also the son of the landlord who owns the house Rynn lives in with her father. Except, Rynn’s father never seems to be around, a famous poet his daughter is always making excuses for. When Frank’s mother (Alexis Smith) arrives to take some canning jars from the cellar, it sets off a peculiar ripple effect concerning Rynn’s living situation, because the self-sufficient child has a dark, peculiar secret.

Novelist Laird Koenig adapted his own novel for the screen, although the limited exterior shots gives this production the semblance of something originally written for the stage. Koenig seems much more adept at crafting his own prose for the screen, however, compared to his later contributions to two Terence Young projects, such as adapting Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline (1979) or co-writing the embarrassing war drama Inchon (1981).

Despite reports of a producer pressuring the underage Foster to pose naked or with less apparel throughout filming (the lone nude sequence uses Foster’s elder sister as a body double), she is quite impressive as a self-sufficient teenager who doesn’t bat an eyelash at poisoning people like some Robert Bloch concoction. Koenig’s screenplay features a variety of monologues for Rynn which could have easily danced into over-the-top territory a la Patty McCormack’s The Bad Seed predecessor, but Foster’s Rynn is always eerily, almost preternaturally adept at maintaining composure and taking control (with a noted preference for Chopin). A pair of sequences featuring Alexis Smith as a domineering landlord are compelling power plays between two strong-minded women, with an underlying element of sleaze thanks to Martin Sheen as the locally acknowledged pedophile who roams the community looking for young girls just like Rynn, unchaperoned and vulnerable.

The striking Quebecois production was lensed by DP Rene Verzier (who would segue into David Cronenberg’s Rabid, 1977), and the film has the strange, almost redolent essence of many daring and offbeat 1970s productions, the romance between Foster and Scott Jacoby’s (who also starred in the cult 1974 television film Bad Ronald) crippled magician feeling like a cross between a Paul Zindel play and Harold & Maude (1971).

Disc Review:

Kino Lorber presents a much improved transfer of the title (in comparison to the previous 2005 DVD release from MGM), in high-definition widescreen 1.85:1. Picture and sound quality are both commendable. Plus, KL includes several extra feature worth checking out, including optional commentary from Nicolas Gessner.

Martin Sheen Interview:
This half hour interview from April, 2015 with Martin Sheen finds the actor reminiscing about his experiences filming the project, including his delight in working with the ‘disarming’ Gessner. According to Sheen, there was little tension on the set (and it’s too bad Foster wasn’t included in a recent interview to share her thoughts).

Conversation w/Sheen and Gessner:
Martin Sheen speaks with Nicolas Gessner via Skype in this five minute segment where they discuss working together. Gessner recalls his favorite three Sheen performances and how they are all the exact opposite of the type of person Sheen portrays here.

Final Thoughts:

A cult classic worthy of a wider following, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is ripe for rediscovery and features Jodie Foster in her first (and one of her best) lead performances.

Film Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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