Horror cinema has been around since the late 19th century. That gives us 130+ years of thousands of individuals who have laid some cement on the foundation of the genre that we have today. From the performers who were drenched in blood and screamed their way through countless films, to the writers and directors who created the causes for those screams, to the makeup artists and costume designers who brought the horrors to life.
It’s been an internet hobby of mine since the internet was a thing to research those involved with the genre. The most interesting part of the research is the arrival of the present and seeing where these individuals from past films are at now. With this monthly column, I will be sharing with you bits of information that I find out on these pioneers of horror past, answering the question, Where [Sc]are They Now?
Silver Screams! January at Nightmare on Film Street is all about the scares sans color which I’ve found to be – at times – even more effective. There was a bit of excitement within me for Where Sc[Are] They Now because I knew that old Hollywood is rich with talent with all sorts of history. Then I realized that if I wrote about any of the majority of that talent then I would have to leave you with a “But they are no longer with us, anymore.”
“The innocent yet devious and homicidal nature that [Patty McCormack] brought to Rhoda in the feature film led to an Oscar Nomination […her] performance has stood the test of time, and continues to chill us.”
Then a face rose up in my horror fueled mind, the face of an angelic little lady who just does not do any bad, the face of Rhoda Penmark aka The Bad Seed. Released in 1956, The Bad Seed introduced us to the seemingly innocent Rhoda. Her blonde pigtails and distaste for wearing jeans made her a quirky individual to the grownups that lived within the apartment complex she resided in, but Rhoda had a spiteful side. She didn’t like being bested, and she always knew how to get what she wanted which always resulted in death. Those deaths being via drowning, fire, or slipping on purpose to trip someone down a flight of stairs.
Patty McCormack was the genius performer who brought Rhoda to life. She actually originated the role in the stage play that led to the film being made. The innocent yet devious and homicidal nature that she brought to Rhoda in the feature film led to her being nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Although she didn’t win, McCormack’s performance has stood the test of time, and continues to chill us.
McCormack has a resume that stretches back to the 1950’s. We are literally entering the 8th decade of performances from her. That resumes includes theater, TV, and film as well as having received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Upon my research, I was pleasantly surprised at how many horror offerings she has given us in the previous 7 decades. Granted, if you asked anyone back in 1956 if they considered The Bad Seed to be a horror film, I’m sure you would get a very assertive No. Heck, if you asked people these days, the same answer may occur. But to this individual, The Bad Seed is horror and Patty McCormick’s performance was a precursor for all of the killer kid flicks that followed after it.
Many a year actually passed before McCormack appeared in another horror film. From what I can gather, her next horror appearance came in the form of the Wes Craven directed made-for-TV horror, Invitation to Hell (1984). Pure camp, it is, but McCormack’s role isn’t as big as I wish it would have been. She portrays the wife of the man who is the lead character’s best friend, and may have around 5 minutes of screen time. She is one of the victims of an “invitation” that leads her and her two children into the springs that grant whoever enters eternal wealth. She basically sells her soul to the devil, who in the film’s case isn’t an actual devil, but an entity portrayed to campy death by Susan Lucci (All My Children).
“Patty McCormick’s performance [in The Bad Seed] a precursor for all of the killer kid flicks that followed after it.”
The 80’s McCormack offerings came in the form of a sequel and a TV series. In 1988, she was the mother of the family who moved into an ill-fated house in Saturday the 14th Strikes Back, the sequel to 1981’s comedic horror spoof, Saturday the 14th. The TV series, you ask? It was the Nightmare on Elm Street spin off, Freddy’s Nightmares. McCormack starred in the second season’s Halloween episode, Photo Finish, in which she portrays a photographer who works out a deal with Krueger (Robert Englund). Krueger will torment the models that she photographs so that she can capture the perfect Halloween shoot. So not only did McCormack work with Wes Craven, she also got to be – spoiler! – on the receiving end of Freddy Krueger’s blades, and in the worst way possible.
The nineties didn’t bring much horror fare to McCormack’s resume. She did star in a film titled Mommy (1995) and its sequel, Mommy’s Day (1997), that is said to have been companion pieces to The Bad Seed in which she portrays an overprotective, psychotic mother willing to do anything or get rid of anyone that gets her way. They are untraceable as far as my search went. The trailers promise low budget camp, and I would love to get set my eyes on them.
Further horror titles that she was in in the late 90’s and aughts saw McCormack portray a local lady with a knowledge of snakes (Silent Predators, 1999), a local lady with a secret to hide (Shallow Ground, 2004), and a spirit who aides her troubled granddaughter who is caught in between heaven and hell (Left in Darkness, 2006). These three titles were either a made for TV film or premiered in the phase of questionable DTV releases, but McCormack always added a presence that elevated the films.
The McCormack horror offerings of the aughts reside in TV offerings as she guested on an episode of Supernatural titled Heartache in 2012 and an episode of Stan Against Evil titled The Eyes of Evie Barret in 2017. She also cameod in the remake of The Bad Seed done by Lifetime in 2018. This isn’t to say that she didn’t constantly work within cinema during those years. She did have a role as Pat Nixon in the Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon.
“She has a notable presence in every project that she appears, and I would love to see that presence on the big screen, again.”
Patty McCormack’s life outside of cinema is pretty private. That’s totally understandable given the lengthy and successful amount of years that she has put into Hollywood. While she may be ready to slow it down, I can’t help but think how awesome would it be to see her take her place amongst Lin Shaye and Jamie Lee Curtis, and return to horror as a kick-ass heroine. She has a notable presence in every project that she appears, and I would love to see that presence on the big screen, again.
Have you experienced any of these entries of horror starring Patty McCormack? May I suggest tracking down the episode of Freddy’s Nightmares, Perfect Shot, that she’s in? Because it truly is perfect. Let us know your favorite Patty McCormack horror performance over on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, or on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!