Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A review of "Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “The Girl Next Door”
By: Brian Cotnoir

     Yet another fantastic film based off of a novel by Author Jack Ketchum is the 2007 Horror/Thriller “The Girl Next Door” (not to be confused with the 2004 Comedy of the same title).  The story of “The Girl Next Door” is loosely based off of the real life murder (and torture) of a young girl named Sylvia Likens.                                                         
The film is told in narration form by the adult version of our main protagonist.  Our story is set in 1958, and our protagonist is the young David Moran.  David becomes infatuated with a young girl named Meg, who just moved next door to him along with her younger sister Susan.  Meg and Susan’s parents perished in a tragic car accident, and she was sent to live with their mom’s cousin, Ruth Chandler.  On the outside, Ruth appears to be calm and fun: she lets the kids in the neighborhood wander into her house any time they want and gives them cigarettes and beer.  However, the way she treats her three sons and the other neighborhood kids, is the complete opposite of how she treats Meg and her younger sister.  Ruth verbally and physically abuses Meg and Susan in front of her sons and the other children and is real casual about it; if Meg tries to defend herself—or her crippled sister Susan—she is punished in the most physical and horrific ways imaginable.  She is beaten, tied up, stripped naked, and humiliated in front of her cousins and friends.  Mrs. Chandler even let’s one of her son’s and other boys in the neighborhood rape her and invites other kids to come and watch.  She even uses a blowtorch to give Meg a clitorectomy (look it up on your own, because I am NOT explaining what that is).  Now David struggles with the ultimate problem of what can he do to help his friend?                                           
Actress Blanche Baker plays a straight up psycho!
     So you know how in my review of Jack Ketchum’s “The Woman” I said the Cleeks were the Most Dysfunctional Family I have ever seen in a film?  Well Ruth Chandler is definitely the most despicable, sadistic, and Most Evil character I have ever seen in a film.  The fact that she was based off of a real person absolutely terrifies me.  The woman Ruth Chandler’s character was based off of is
Gertrude Baniszewski
named Gertrude Baniszewski and just as I’ve said all those nasty things about Ruth Chandler being the Most Evil Character I’ve ever seen in a film, I believe Gertrude Baniszewsi is the Most Evil person who has ever lived!  I’ve read most of the “Encyclopedia of Serial Killers” and I think she’s worst than Charles Manson, worst than Albert Fish, worst than Ted Bundy, worst then John Wayne Gacy. I am absolutely flabbergasted as to how this woman was not put to death by the state of Indiana and somehow managed to get paroled after committing these horrific and shocking crimes, but I digress.  The actress who played Ruth Chandler is Blanche Baker, and one thing that’s great about her performance is just how nonchalant she is about what she’s doing.  She is committing the most serious crimes imaginable to a child—in front of other children—and she looks like she should careless and doesn’t think she’ll ever get caught.  Her hatred for Meg and the crimes she commits against her seem entirely unmotivated and that she’s only doing these things because she feels like she can.  That’s a pretty evil and horrifying character in my eyes.                        
Blythe Auffarth plays the role of Meg
in Jack Kethcum's "The Girl Next Door"
Then we have the character Meg, played by actress Blythe Auffarth.  Auffarth gives a good performance as well, and I applaud her because this is not an easy role to play; the helpless tortured girl.  I know I’m just nitpicking on this next part but, Blythe Auffarth seems too old to be playing a teenager.  Auffarth was 22-Years-Old when “The Girl Next Door” was filmed, the person her character was based off, Sylvia Likens, was sixteen.  I understand why they had to cast an older actress for this role, because there’s no way you would ever want to cast minor for this type of role.  It’s kind of like how Stanley Kubrick cast—then 28-year-old—Malcolm McDowell to play the role of 15-year-old Alex DeLarge in “A Clockwork Orange”.  Like I said, I know I’m nitpicking, but when all the other kids in the film are between 10-15 it’s really hard to believe that this character claims to be a teenager when they are very obviously much older.                                               
Young David Moran struggles with what to do
    Then we have the character young David Moran.  Young David has to deal with a lot of difficult issues that are better suited for adults.  Unfortunately, the adults don’t give him any real good advice. He goes to his parents, and he is told that it’s none of their business to interfere with other families domestic problems.  He goes to the Police and they pretty much tell him the same thing, by the time anyone decides to listen to him or help Meg it’s too late.  One thing I like about his character is that he is put a situation that far too many people are placed in at some point in their lives.  I believe that everyone has known at least one person that has been abused at some point in their lives.  When we are teenagers, our closest friends confide in us their darkest and most tragic secrets, and suddenly we are more qualified at fourteen to help our friends solve their problems then a trained professional or responsible adult.  David’s story is also tragic because he wants to help Meg, but he’s scared to and doesn’t know what he can do.  I hate it in films when a good character stands by and watches others abuse a helpless victim/character, but in David’s case I can forgive it.  What teenager would know what to do if he was put in that situation?  How do they overcome their fears and know what’s the right thing to do?  All David wants to do is help his friend, but no one seems like they want to help.  Even when he tries to do something right on his own, it just ends up causing more pain and hardships for the people he’s trying to help.             
Meg get's savagely abused throughout the film
    Besides great characters and a terrifying story, this film also offers a great retrospect into the “Social-Norms” of its setting.  The first time David witnesses Meg being disciplined by Mrs. Chandler he is told that it a “Domestic Matter” and that it’s “none of his business”.  It’s sad to believe that this was once considered typical; hell I still think this is typical for what happens a lot today.  There’s a scene in the film where David and one of Meg’s cousins see her telling a Police officer about the abuse she suffers and all the cop does, initially, is show up and ask a few questions.  Once the police officer leaves, Meg is beaten by her cousins, while her cruel Aunt ponders a most horrendous punishment that does not fit the crime.  Seeing how nobody in an authority position tries to stop Ruth Chandler and her sons until it’s too late is almost as scary as the crimes they commit against Meg.                    
     By the way, I’ve noticed that Jack Ketchum likes to have his female character’s tied up in basements in his stories.  Also in a couple of his novels/films that were adopted from  his works his antagonists are unfeeling and very monotone, and their only motivation appears to be that they’re just really evil or really bored; anyone else notice that?                         
     “The Girl Next Door” is another great horror film adapted from the literary works of Jack Ketchum, if you ever get a chance to see a movie based off of his works or read one of his books I seriously recommend you do it.  If you want to read my review of Ketchum’s “The Woman” just click the link below.


  1. Was David Moran's character a person involved in the actual events?

    1. In the research I've done, I could not find any real life person who matches the description of David Moran from the story. Unfortunatley the girl who this story was based off of, had no one to come to her aid.

    2. Thanks for the info! Great film, sad story.