Viking Night: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
By Bruce Hall
October 25, 2017
This week’s column is all about confronting my deepest childhood fears.
I don’t mean to say that I worry about Martin Sheen coming to my door next week wearing nothing but a pumpkin. What I’m saying is that The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is the first motion picture I can remember seeing, and I was WAY too young to see it.
As I recall, my mother and a friend went to the drive-in when I was very little, and this was the movie they decided to see. I was in the backseat, and I assume they thought I’d sleep through the boring grown-up movie that’s actually rated PG but should totally be rated R. I did NOT sleep, and therefore witnessed one of the most notorious scenes in the film, when a character does something especially cruel to a defenseless animal.
To my recollection, I screamed for DAYS. In reality, it took my mother several hours to convince me that no, when someone dies in a movie they are not really dead and that this goes for animals, too. After that, I was fine. Or was I? No lie, I have specifically avoided watching this film ever since then, for fear seeing that scene again would trigger some long dormant lizard-brain trauma, and I would end up quacking like a duck or hanging off the edge of a clock tower covered with peanut butter (me, not the tower). And for the kids out there, a “drive-in” is just like a movie theater except you would stay outside in your car.
Sometimes people on roller skates brought you food.
But now in this, the season of terror and darkness, I have finally chosen to face my Waterloo and watch the Jodie Foster movie that broke my brain before I was even old enough to NOT fall asleep at 3 p.m. every day.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is an awkwardly titled film that opens on a not particularly scary Halloween night. A 13-year-old Jodie Foster bakes herself a birthday cake, and lights a cigarette on the candles. She even checks out a chipped tooth in the mirror, as if to accentuate her precociousness. This is not just expositional (this is a young-but-tough kid), but startling as well. It’s immediately apparent, less than two minutes in, that nothing about this child’s life is normal. Moments later a lubricious, middle-aged Martin Sheen comes to the door cradling a super-creepy Jack-O-Lantern...WITHOUT any kids.
Think about that. Look up the word “lubricious” if you have to. Then wait for yourself to die a little inside, and then we’ll continue.
Good. The girl’s name is Rynn (Foster), and she lives alone in her father’s cinematically oversized suburban home. It’s obvious her father isn’t around though, and Rynn seems to spend a lot of time doing things that make it look suspiciously like she’s raising herself. She dotes on the very pet hamster that changed the course of my life, buys her own groceries and even does her own private banking. But she’s also polite, well read, and extremely clever. Because her father is a well known poet and it’s the 1970s, her peculiar situation initially goes unheeded. But eventually people start to take notice, beginning with the aforementioned creepy neighbor, Frank Hallet (Sheen).