Jodie Foster's early appearances include Coppertone advertisements, cartoon voices, and Walt Disney's Napoleon and Samantha. Her future star potential became most evident in 1976, when she appeared in Martin Scorsese's brilliant, notorious Taxi Driver and Nicolas Gessner's lesser-known but compelling The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Laird Koeing adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same title.1 More than anything, however, the film resembles a play: a very taut, suspenseful play.2 We see few characters and fewer sets, but the plot twists in many uncertain directions.
Rynn Jacobs, an eccentric 13-year-old girl moves to town. She presumably shares the house "down the lane" with her father, a reclusive author, but no one ever sees him. Both townsfolk and audience begin to suspect she lives alone, hiding some sinister secret. The suspicious include a busybody landlady and her son (Martin Sheen), an emotionally disturbed man with a warped sexual attraction towards the girl.
Gradually, Rynn reaches out, and becomes involved with Mario, a teenage boy who has an interest in stage magic and a moderate physical disability. The film has attracted criticism for the presentation of their adolescent sexual relationship. The title character appears apparently nude in the PG-rated film. In fact, Connie Foster, acted as her sister's butt/body double. Broadcasts often excise the brief shot3. Their relationship underscores the film's questions regarding maturation. When, exactly, should we receive full rights and responsibilities?
The film, of course, also has us asking what these young teens will do about the adults investigating the house, and the adult predator circling Rynn.
Foster's work in Taxi Driver overshadowed this film. Nevertheless, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane remains a well-acted, melancholy thriller, which won the 1977 Saturn Awards for best horror film and best actress. It still turns up on television, especially around Halloween, and its unsettling effects strike deeper and last longer than those of the more sensational, higher-profile films in this genre.
1. The movie follows the novel closely, though it softens Rynn's character somewhat.
2. Koenig has since adapted it for the stage.
3. The U.S. theatrical release edited both this scene and one use of the f-word.