In a quiet suburban town in the summer of 1958, two recently orphaned sisters are placed in the care of their mentally unstable Aunt Ruth (Emmy® winner Blanche Baker of HOLOCAUST). But Ruth s depraved sense of discipline will soon lead to unspeakable acts of abuse and torture that involve her young sons, the neighborhood children, and one 12-year-old boy whose life will be changed forever. William Atherton (DIE HARD), Catherine Mary Stewart (NIGHT OF THE COMET) and Grant Show (MELROSE PLACE) co-star in this devastating drama adapted from the controversial best seller by Jack Ketchum that Rue Morgue Magazine called one of the most disturbing reads in the history of horror literature.
Based on the novel by acclaimed author Jack Ketchum, The Girl Next Door
draws its nerve-wracking power from a real-life horror show--the torture of Sylvia Likens and her sister by Gertrude Baniszewski and her offspring in the mid-1960s (the case also serves as the basis for the film An American Crime
). Here, the Likens character is a recently orphaned teen (Blythe Auffarth) taken in by Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker), a single mother who plies her adolescent sons and their friends with alcohol and lax supervision. Ruth takes an almost instant disliking to the bright young girl and her sister (who is afflicted with polio) and mounts a campaign of mental and physical abuse upon them; her sons quickly fall into step behind their mother, and a neighborhood friend (Daniel Manche) struggles with his own participation in the atrocities. As true crime thrillers go, The Girl Next Door
succeeds on many fronts: Baker and Auffarth give impressive performances, and the violence, though harrowing, is never offered as exploitation. Director Gregory Wilson also keeps the pace brisk and breathtaking as the torture escalates; however, he is less capable in the expositional scenes, and the script by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman has a leaden ring at times (which undoes the efforts of the younger cast). Still, it's challenging fare for strong-hearted horror and suspense fans. The DVD includes two sets of commentary: one by Wilson, producer Andrew van den Houten, and cinematographer/co-producer William M. Miller, and another by Ketchum and the screenwriters, who pull no punches in expressing their displeasure over changes made to the film's conclusion (and their assessments are entirely correct). Interviews with the cast and crew and the original screenplay (in DVD-ROM format) round out the supplemental features. --Paul Gaita