The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a 1976 Canadian/French psychological thriller film directed by Nicolas Gessner (Someone Behind the Door) from a screenplay by Laird Koenig, based on his 1974 novel of the same title. It stars Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, and Scott Jacoby.
The plot tells the story of Ryann Jacobs (played by Jodie Foster, who was thirteen years old at the time).
Rynn lives in a small New England town, in a house that her father has leased for three years. It’s been a while since anyone has seen Rynn’s father. Rynn always tells everyone that he’s either out of town or that he’s busy in his study and can’t be disturbed. When the friendly local policeman (Mort Shuman) expresses some doubt about Rynn’s claim that her father is working, Rynn says that her father is a drug addict, like all of the great poets.
Rynn’s main problem is with the Halletts. Cora Hallett (Alexis Smith) owns the house in which Rynn is living. Cora drops by regularly, haughtily demanding to see Rynn’s father. Her creepy son, Frank (Martin Sheen), also makes a habit of visiting. He’s not interested in Cora’s father. Instead, he’s interested in Cora. Everyone in the town knows that Frank is a perv but no one is willing to do anything about it. He’s protected by his mother’s money.
One day, when Cora drops by, she insists on going into the basement. She says she has something down there that she needs to retrieve. Rynn tells her not to go down there but Cora refuses to listen, which turns out to be a huge mistake. Cora screams at what she sees down there and then falls to her death. With the help of her only friend, Mario (Scott Jacoby) an aspiring magician who walks with a limp, Rynn covers up the murder.
Mario turns out to be a very good friend, indeed. Not only does he tell people that he’s seen Rynn’s father but he even stands up to Frank when he shows up at the house, searching for his mother. However, as it soon becomes clear, Frank isn’t one to give up so easily….
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is an interesting hybrid of a film. It definitely does have elements of horror. The running theme throughout the film is that Rynn might kill people but it’s all the adults in her life who are truly monstrous. Frank is truly a monster and Martin Sheen gives a remarkably intense and creepy performance in the role. Frank is the type who will say the worst things imaginable and then smirk afterwards, confident that he’ll never have to face any sort of justice for his crimes.
At the same time, the film is also a coming-of-age story and a teen romance. Rynn and Mario are two outsiders who find each other. You like both of them and you want things to work out for them, even though you spend almost the entire film worried that Rynn might end up poisoning Mario. Foster and Jacoby share some genuinely sweet scenes. Things would be just fine, the film seems to be saying, if all of these stupid adults would just mind their own business.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is an effectively creepy and sometimes even sweet little film about a girl who occasionally has to kill people. Keep an eye out for it!
Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via HorrorCritic
“Hitchcock would probably have brought out more of the bubbling sense of black humour, like the scene where Jodie Foster casually describes how she disposed of her mother and learned about preserving bodies at the local library. As a director, Gessner seems merely a passive observer and always lets the script carry the film…” Moria
” …a very minimalist story with a limited number of characters, but does its job very effectively and was one of the very first indications that Jodie Foster had the acting chops to successfully continue her career for as long as she wanted to. The film’s deliberate pace and low-key approach may not appeal to all viewers, but this remains a very potent and underrated thriller.” Robin’s Underrated Gems
“The autumnal palette is captured vividly and the cinematography is outstanding. The house, the beach and the forlorn woods seen so often in the movie are captivating. Gessner’s film is a great isolated country house mood piece and despite the occasionally stodgy stage play aesthetic it works perfectly as a sinister drama. The perfect film for a late wintry evening.” Rock! Shock! Pop!
“This film, about a homicidal orphan girl, is farfetched nonsense with precious little to appease shriek freaks. Laird Koenig’s screenplay from his novel is riddled with unsuspended disbelief – coincidences, gimmicks.” Variety, December 31, 1976
Cast and characters:
Jodie Foster … Rynn Jacobs
Martin Sheen … Frank Hallet
Alexis Smith … Mrs Hallet
Mort Shuman … Officer Miglioriti
Scott Jacoby … Mario
Issued on Blu-ray on May 10th, 2016 by Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing.
A producer’s desire for “sex and violence” led to a nude scene depicting Rynn being added to the film. Foster strongly objected, saying “I walked off the set”. As a result, her older sister Connie acted as the nude double. Her mother had suggested Connie, who was 21 at the time. A VHS release of the film removed the nudity, but it was re-added to the DVD.