Based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door follows the unspeakable torture and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt…and the boys who witness and fail to report the crime.
Based on a novel by horror legend Jack Ketchum (novelist and four time Bram Stoker Award winner, writer of movies such as The Woman, Offspring, and Red), The Girl Next Door is the type of movie that will linger in your head and haunt you. The first time I saw it, it burned a place in my memory as one of the only movies to truly disturb me (and I can take a lot). When I watched it again for the purposes of this review, I did so first thing in the morning. It ruined my entire day.
There are so many horror movies (especially German ones, I’ve noticed) that put up a warning beforehand, telling you that you will be offended and disgusted by what you are about to see, in an attempt to draw you in and keep you watching. Consider this review my own personal warning about The Girl Next Door. It is horrifying, it is disturbing, and much of it is true. The movie may be based on a Ketchum novel, but Ketchum’s novel is based on the true story of the 1965 murder of Sylvia Likens, a sixteen year old girl from Indianapolis.
Directed by Gregory Wilson (Ghoul), with a screenplay by Daniel Farrands (writer of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and a number of Friday the 13th documentaries) and Philip Nutman, The Girl Next Door shows us a small suburban neighborhood in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. We watch as David (Daniel Manche; Jugface and I Sell The Dead) catches crayfish from a stream and ends up meeting Meg (Blythe Auffarth). Meg and her sister Susan (Madeline Taylor) are staying with David’s neighbors, the Chandler’s, after losing their parents in a car accident. Our optimism hopes to see young love blossom between the young kids, who seem to hit it off right away. Then we remember this is based on a Jack Ketchum novel, and that optimism slowly fades away.
Ruth Chandler, played coldly and cruelly (in other words, perfectly) by Blanche Baker (who won an Emmy for her role in the tv mini-series Holocaust and also played Samantha Baker’s older sister in Sixteen Candles), is the next door neighbor of David. We first see her as a bitter, chain-smoking, middle-aged woman who has no problem giving out beers to her underage sons and their friends. She has a noticeable chip on her shoulder, often noting how her own husband left her to raise her sons on her own, and has apparently decided to take this anger out on Meg and Susan. She berates them in front of her sons and David and any other neighborhood kid who happens to be around. She tells Meg she is too fat and needs to eat less. She jokes about the girls’ parent’s deaths. And this is her nice side.
Eventually, Meg is brought down to the basement, tied up to the ceiling, and blindfolded. The boys tease her, ask her dirty questions, taunt her. David doesn’t like it, but is afraid to do anything. This eventually escalates into torture, humiliation, and rape. Horrible things are played out on the screen as we see a young girl’s life ruined one day at a time. But the worst things, the most vicious and brutal tortures, are only spoken of, hinted at, and our imaginations pick up where the scene ends and run wild with the hints we’ve been given. Things happen to this poor girl that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies, and all the while we just keep waiting for David, or someone, to step up and put a stop to the madness. Meg is slapped, punched, burned, cut, all while being called a dirty slut, all of it being witnessed by her little sister. And it gets worse and worse as the film moves forward.
The Girl Next Door is a horrifying experience to sit through. It’s one of those movies that I’m glad to have seen, but I’m not sure I could recommend it without a lengthy disclaimer beforehand. Some of the acting is a little bit rough, and there is a wraparound story of one of the characters briefly narrating the memory of Meg and her sister to us that seems to be there only to remind us that we are watching a movie, to give us an escape from the hellish world we find ourselves wrapped up in. But the fact remains, this is based on a true story.
Sure, some of the details were changed, but the general idea is rooted in fact. So no matter how bad any of the various aspects of the film might be (and really, the whole thing is done pretty well), we are still left disturbed knowing the truth. This is a movie that has convinced me to read more of Ketchum’s work, while at the same time leaving me feeling hopeless afterward. It’s a powerful experience that will test even the most die-hard of horror fanatics. In fact, if you’re not horrified and disgusted after viewing this film, there is probably something wrong with you.