Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Everyday Horror

Beginning this Wednesday, Oct. 3rd and for approximately 10 days after that, The Girl Next Door will be playing at NYC’s own Pioneer Theater http://www.twoboots.com/pioneer/#GirlNextDoor. I have not yet seen this film, but I will as soon as time allows, and will post my reaction to it directly. What do I know about it and why am I plugging it? Because it’s based on the book by Jack Ketchum and he seems to be very supportive of the finished product and that is enough for me. Ketchum’s book is one of the few genuinely harrowing reads you’ll ever experience, a thinly veiled fictionalization of the 1965 torture and murder of 13 year-old Sylvia Likens in Indiana. Over the course of three months, she was beaten, starved, raped, and finally murdered by a group of adolescent boys who all lived in the neighborhood and had known her, but it was the fact that one of the boy’s mother, a family acquaintance who was being paid $20 a week by Sylvia’s parents to look after her, was not only giving approval and encouragement for the atrocities, but was keeping Sylvia imprisoned in her basement and participating in them herself. Even today, with access to all of life’s innumerable horrors at our fingertips, the details of the crime weaken the knees.

Thanks to Wikipedia and Google, you can find out all about the Likens murder case; all the how’s, where’s, and who’s, and even some speculation as to the why’s are readily available. You can even find poor Sylvia’s picture. What you can’t do is see the life behind her eyes; we can’t hear her laugh or see what happens to her face when she smiled. Until recently, Sylvia existed only as a feminist allegory or a case file with decades of dust resting on it – but in 1989, Jack Ketchum made her into a person again. With “The Girl Next Door”, Ketchum wisely changed the names, location, and even the decade. His story takes place in a quiet New Jersey suburb in the late 1950s, and introduces us to a group of neighborhood kids that could have walked right out of Stand By Me. The novel is told through the eyes of one of the boys that has developed a crush on Sylvia (called ‘Meg’ in the novel). Ketchum is a visceral writer who has never shied away from gore, as any reader of his wonderfully nasty “Off Season” and its sequel can attest, but none of the horrors presented in the ensuing pages plays to the sensationalistic aspects of the story. There are several times where our young narrator simply states that he is too horrified to speak about what happened on a certain day and will say nothing, and coming on the heels of a chapter where hot needles are used to burn the type of words into flesh that most of them had heretofore been forbidden to even utter, it brings hairs to rise.

The film has garnered pretty darn good word of mouth, and appears to be getting a city by city release in anticipation of a DVD release at the end of the year (Merry Christmas, Mom!) Until the Scribe has seen it for himself, I can only recommend that anyone interested check out Ketchum’s book as quickly as possible. It’s strong stuff, and there were more than a few moments when this reader seriously questioned continuing on. Hopefully you, just as I was, will be glad you did - it’s an unforgettable read. Regrettably, because of Ketchum’s name and credits, the book is usually classified under ‘horror’ in most book stores, and while that is as good a word as any to describe the events in the book, it also guarantees that it will be lost amid the endless volumes featuring Stephen King wannabes churning out the exploits of time traveling vampire hit men. So the link below is provided both to hasten the search, and to get the Scribe that sweet 4% commission.