You might think that choosing just one movie program from this summer's "Midnight Mass" schedule would be difficult, given the absurd splendor of the array. What about the now-traditional opening-night screening of Showgirls, that misbegotten cult favorite, which reaches new heights of freakishness as the "Midnight Mass" cast of queens dashes through the live audience to give spastic lap dances, in a sort of Smut-O-Vision re-enactment of the horrifying hot tub scene? Or singalong Purple Rain, Prince's early-'80s big-screen debut given the "Midnight Mass" treatment with a 1980s slut pageant, spontaneous pant-alongs, sleazy swag giveaways, and song lyrics projected with the movie for greater-precision butchery of the Artist's satin-and-lace poetry? (This show has proven so popular that a second screening had to be added last week.) A desire to rifle the psychic cinema closet of "Midnight Mass" founder Peaches Christ might make the disco dystopia of The Apple compelling, while a desire to support up-and-coming talent would give the closing-night gala and Underground Short Film Festival allure. And, of course, there are always the tried-and-true classics Female Trouble and Mommie Dearest, with their consequent cha-cha heels tribute and mother/daughter mud wrestling. I chose none of these because, in my opinion, they all pale next to The Bad Seed.
Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 film adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's stage play might seem a bit understated, even stodgy, considering its competition at "Midnight Mass," but rest assured that the grade-school-age antagonist Rhoda Penmark (played by a young Patty McCormack) is a flawless and chilling portrait of vanity, greed, contempt, envy, cunning, self-obsession, artifice, and ambition run amok. In short, she is a drag queen waiting to happen. As in so many "Midnight Mass" favorites, none of the characters in The Bad Seed is particularly likable. Even Rhoda's beleaguered, horror-stricken mother, played beautifully by Nancy Kelly, comes across as pathetic and cloying up to and including her final, albeit futile, attempt to right her wrong in having ever procreated in the first place. The delight of The Bad Seed is the obvious pleasure LeRoy experienced in allowing his child star to be utterly devoid of redeeming qualities, even when she shares the screen with equally contemptible characters such as "LeRoy," the peculiar handyman played with a distinguishing grimy sneer by Henry Jones, or Mrs. Daigle, the drunken mother of one of Rhoda's first victims, portrayed in an Oscar-caliber performance by Eileen Heckart. While the two mothers, especially Daigle, elicit something akin to sympathy, in the end it is repugnance that wins the day -- and wins over the moviegoer. Given all this, it seems a shame that a closing act-of-God scene was included in the final edit, when it is so clear how both LeRoy and Anderson intended the story to end. Still, even this concession to mainstream mores becomes interesting in the context of the nature-versus-nurture debate being waged at the time; and, just as the post-credits feel-good moment between McCormack and Kelly only emphasizes how truly rotten McCormack's character could be, a lightning bolt from heaven proves a girl like Rhoda is completely beyond human control. The one thing that could possibly have made Rhoda Penmark more diabolical is if she sang and danced. To that end, Martiny -- Peaches Christ's seemingly blond and affable (but truly bottled and treacherous) sidekick -- stars along with the Midnight Mass Players in the world premiere of the short musical The Flawed Seed, which will be staged prior to the screening of The Bad Seed at the Bridge Theatre on Saturday, July 24, at midnight. Tickets are $10; call 751-3213 or go to www.peacheschrist.com.