The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She is all alone.

Rynn (Jodie Foster) is a 13-year-old girl living alone in a big house in the countryside. Her father has leased the place for three years from nosy landlady Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) and her adult son Frank (Martin Sheen) who continually makes lecherous advances towards Rynn. No one has seen her father and when anyone asks for him she comes up with excuses, which starts to make everyone in town suspicious. She meets fellow teen Mario (Scott Jacoby) who she lets in on her secret and the two devise a plan that will rid them of the meddlesome Hallets.

Although she has stated in interviews that this is the least favorite out of all the movies that she has done I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the part of an independent headstrong young woman than Foster, who has always carried that persona. Despite the vast age difference she easily carries the picture from her older co-stars. There is even a nude scene involving her character although it was done by her older sister Connie working as a body double. This was done despite her adamant protests as was a scene where she goes to bed with Jacoby, which she has said made her extremely uncomfortable and probably explains her dislike for the film.

Sheen is menacing as the perverted Frank, who enjoys ‘younger girls’ and his ongoing banter and advances with Rynn is consistently creepy and tense. Alexis Smith is excellent as the mother and her worn face and attitude gives her a witchy presence and it is too bad she couldn’t have remained for the entire movie. I also found Jacoby engaging and amiable and I really enjoyed his character, which I found a bit surprising since he is best known for playing dark, sinister characters in Rivals and the TV-movie Bad Ronald.

The on-location shooting, which was done in both the Canadian province of Quebec and in Maine, is excellent and gives one a nice taste of small town life on the east coast. There is some nice synthesized music that gives the film a dark tone. The premise is offbeat and to some extent, at least during the first half, it is enough to keep you intrigued.

My main issue with the film is the fact that not enough happens. Almost all the action takes place in the main room of the house, which eventually becomes dull, especially visually. There are no scares, or shocks and the twists aren’t all that clever, or surprising. In fact the final twist I saw coming long before it happens. There are times when cutaways would have been helpful and spiced things up particularly when Rynn talks about a visit from her mother and her ‘long red finger nails’, which we never see and is just described. The conclusion leaves A LOT of unanswered questions making this thing empty and incomplete. The final shot is one very long take of a close-up of Foster staring at a subject while the credits role by, which eventually becomes annoying and it would have been better had they done a freeze-frame instead of forcing her to sit and stare at something way longer than humanely possible. Also, composer Mort Shulman is badly miscast as the policeman. His acting abilities are clearly limited and he shows no presence or authority and makes the scenes he is in weak.

It is hard to know what genre to put this in. It is really not scary and the mystery angle has too many loopholes to being taken seriously. The story, based on a novel by Laird Koenig, seems rather tame despite some dark elements and geared more for teens, or young adults.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG (Brief Nudity, Mild Cursing)

Director: Nicholas Gessner

Studio: American International

Available:  VHS, DVD, Netflix Streaming

2 responses to “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

  1. Just watched this yesterday and I completely understand your point. I thought that Foster was so good and Sheen so creepy, that most of the other issues don’t matter. I would still give it a slightly higher score, it works despite the lack of scares and action. The characters of Rynn and Marco act out of self defense rather than malevolence. This gave them sympathy for the love story. story It is a little creepy of us to be leering at the two young lovers the same way Sheen’ s character would.

  2. Pingback: It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980) | Scopophilia

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