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  • Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film by Dominic Lennard
  • Amanda Greer
Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film Dominic Lennard Albany, SUNY Press, 2015, 195 pages, ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5329-3

Over the course of his energetic book, Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film, Dominic Lennard examines those pint-sized, flinty-eyed child villains so popular in horror cinema through a variety of lenses. In discussing Damien, the satanic villain of The Omen (1976), Lennard invokes a discourse of patriarchal anxieties; a chapter on Rhoda of The Bad Seed (1956) situates this bourgeois murderer within an analysis of class hierarchies; long, dark-haired Samara of The Ring (2002) generates an analysis of gender inequalities and a critique of cultural prejudices against working mothers. Even from this brief summary, it is clear that Lennard's text aims to cover a lot of ground. While much of this is done successfully, Bad Seeds does spread itself a little thin, leading to some weaker arguments and sparser discourse littered across what is ultimately an immensely readable analysis of a culturally important figure in an influential genre—a must-read for horror fans.

In Bad Seeds, Lennard primarily performs his cultural analyses through the examination of narrative, plot, and characterization. While this approach provides some interesting and insightful arguments, Lennard's most significant contribution to the field of film theory occurs when he veers away from straightforward narrative analysis. For instance, in his third chapter, "The Looking Child," Lennard applies Laura Mulvey's theory of the male gaze to the adult-child relationship, arguing that the child is usually the object of a subjective adult gaze. The child embodies "to-be-looked-at-ness." The child villain, however, inverts this gaze to become the subject, the gazer, or, "a figure who not only rejects the 'childish' (passive) position prescribed for it but also powerfully refutes the entire adult-child hierarchy" (60). [End Page 90] Lennard's application of film theory to the figure of the child gestures to a rich – and mostly unexplored – area of analysis. His use of Mulvey's theory is engaging and begs for expansion. Though Lennard successfully combines the figure of the child and Mulvey's theory of the gaze, he does not go on to discuss the ethical implications of the evil child's inverted gaze. Questions arise: How do we deal with the sexual nature of Mulvey's subject-object dichotomy in applying it to the figure of the child? What does the unsettling nature of this inverted gaze indicate about cultural anxieties surrounding the child? A follow-up article exploring these questions might be warranted, both to help fill the gap in film theory regarding on-screen children, and to further an already interesting and engaging analysis.

Where Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors stumbles a bit is in Lennard's neglect of conflicting views; in failing to confront opposing arguments, Lennard leaves noticeable gaps and holes in his own. In his analysis of The Omen in Chapter Six, for instance, concludes that the film challenges patriarchy and dominant ideology, functioning as a politically resistant film. Though it is tempting to agree with Lennard's persuasive and well-researched arguments, his failure to properly analyze the maternal figure in The Omen undercuts his conclusion. In the film, satanic Damien's adopted mother is constructed as doting, meek, and almost completely helpless, relying fully on her husband for protection—hardly counter to dominant ideology, especially in the 1970s. At one point, Lennard does acknowledge that Damien's adopted mother, who is never told that Damien is not her biological son, is "excluded from knowledge and ownership of reproduction" (105). However, Lennard's analysis stops there; he fails to examine the implications of this maternal figure's exclusion from her own powers of reproduction. As a result, Lennard's claim that The Omen functions as a challenge to dominant ideology is severely weakened. Had he addressed such gaps in his arguments, this analysis would have become much more fortified and persuasive.

Unfortunately, Lennard's tendency to identify potentially problematic representations in horror films...


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pp. 90-92
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