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The Girl Next Door

A movie directed by Gregory Wilson

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The Girl Next Door - 2007

  • Jul 3, 2009
Pros: extremely disturbing but true account, Baker was terrifying

Cons: ...

The Bottom Line:
"Hallelujah, hallelujah
God bless the child who suffers"
~Shania Twain

Today I had the unfortunate experience of watching The Girl Next Door which was adapted to screen by Daniel Farrands & Philip Nutman from the book by Jack Ketchum. This is a surrealistic take on a coming of age movie like Stand By Me but more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw, etc. The book, and consequently, the movie, are based on the real case of Sylvia Marie Likens, leading up to her death. I have not read the book but I did read the account of Sylvia’s murder. In a case that is more shocking by its mere existence than any horror flick you could imagine, it is once again proof that the intricacies of the human mind are very involved, often dangerous.

The Girl Next Door:
The film opens in the current era showing a well dressed man hurrying from obviously a lucrative job, on his cell phone. As he crosses the street he passes a homeless man pushing a shopping cart, giving him little notice. Immediately we hear the sound of an accident and our well-to-do man turns to find the homeless man sprawled on the pavement and a car speeding away. Without a moments thought, he drops to his knees and starts giving the man mouth to mouth resuscitation. Not what we would have expected on first sight of this man.

We cut to his apartment as he stares at a painting, obviously done by a young child, and he begins to reminisce about his life. From what he is saying, at first, we assume the painting is by one of his children until the dark secret starts to unfold…

It was the mid 50’s and they lived in a small, secluded town. David, now shown as an 11 year old boy, is by the creek catching crayfish when a young girl happens by. She introduces herself as Megan stating she and her sister, Susan, have moved into the Chandler house, which just happens to be next door to David’s home. It seems that she and Susan have been orphaned when their parents were killed in an automobile accident. Megan bears some scars from the accident; Susan, already suffering from polio, is on crutches. Megan is 16, Susan’s age is undisclosed but appears to be around 10-11 since her body has not started to form.

It seems Aunt Ruth runs the neighborhood hangout, having three boys of her own. The appearance of two new people, especially female, seemed to hamper or impede her. I think she may have been slightly jealous of Megan since Aunt Ruth is starting to show the effects of her apparent alcoholism. She also tends to give the neighbor boys plenty of beer to drink and cigarettes to smoke, in addition to her wisdom about the ways of the world, especially pertaining to cheating men and loose women.

Ruth is divorced, probably bringing on her distain for men, and feels she isn’t living the life she is meant to live. Megan, and in some ways Susan, will pay dearly for this.

[In real life, Mr. & Mrs. Likens were carnival workers and Mr. Likens simply dropped these two girls off with Gertrude Baniszewski, having only known her two days. The incident also took place in 1964, not the 50’s but I think I know why they chose that era, for a couple of reasons.]

The abuse:
It isn’t long before Aunt Ruth decides that Megan is a tainted woman. Not that she has any reason to think so, Megan hasn’t even kissed a boy yet. However, I think Aunt Ruth feels her own sexuality threatened by this new female. At first the abuse was only verbal until she decided the best way to get even with Megan was through Susan. She would often place Susan face down, having one of the many young boys present pull up her dress and down her panties, then whip her with whatever she had handy. In one scene she used a toilet brush, another a knotted rope.

Aunt Ruth then moved on to Megan, taking her to the basement in what can only be termed a torture chamber. At first they hung her from the ceiling, suspended by her wrists, then she let her oldest son cut her clothes off with a knife. Once she was fully naked, they left her suspended there for several days with no food or water, returning to torture her on occasion. At all times Aunt Ruth requested all the neighborhood children be in attendance to watch and participate in these acts.

Finally, knowing it was coming from the start, she allowed her oldest son the privilege of raping the bound girl as she lay on a bedspring, no padding, still tied at the wrists and gagged. She then burnt the word “W_hore” into the skin of her stomach with a rusty bobby pin which she heated with a torch. Deciding that wasn’t sufficient to thwart Megan’s chances of finding love in later life, she performed a female castration with a blowtorch.

[In real life, the castration did not take place, however the extended torture and rapes did. In addition Megan’s body was covered with over 100 cigarette burns, some extending through several layers.  She actually burnt an entire sentence into the girl's torso, having the boys take over when she got tired doing it]

How David’s role came in the movie, regarding Megan:

David is the older man at the beginning, telling us through this horrific flashback of what happened that summer. David had actually formed a bond with Megan and attempted to free her several times. At one point, thought scared and frightened, he tried to discuss it with his father and then later with his mother. For his efforts, David was also held captive and stayed with Megan until her death.

[In real life, realizing they had went too far, Mrs. Baniszewski had one of her sons go to the nearest pay phone and call the police, saying there was a dead girl at such and such a residence. How she thought she was going to get away with this, I have no idea. It would have been better for her to have dumped the body somewhere and simply said Megan had run away. Certainly the neighborhood children would have backed her story since each participated, with the exception of David, in her rape and torture, including other young girls.]

I think one reason they set it in the 50’s was because it made it even more perverse because everything then appeared, at least in sitcoms, as loving American families. Another reason, so they could mention Carroll Baker as a hot pin-up girl in Playboy; Baker is the mother of Blanche Baker who played Aunt Ruth Chandler. What made Aunt Ruth so freakishly frightening was her utter calmness and quiet demeanor. While she appeared this sweet little homebody, she was maliciousness in disguise.

The extremely trying parts of Megan and David were played by Blythe Auffarth and Daniel Manche. Where these young children pull this terror from is beyond me, they shouldn’t know about such horror at their age. Yet they delivered it with each breath, blink, and cry.

The film received on award, for music, but unfortunately no soundtrack is listed. It goes without saying it is R rated for sadism, torture, sexual abuse, nudity, language, sexual dialogue - all involving children.

Overall impression:
This is evil at its’ darkest and most vile form. You are only given small glimpses to the actual torture and rape but cutting the camera away makes it even more foul because then your imagination takes over. The subject matter is reprehensible and would, and should, probably offend many. However, I think director Gregory Wilson did an excellent job of bringing this story to life, despite its’ atrocities.

We don’t like to think, or even believe, that these things exist but they do, more the pity.

The account of Sylvia’s death and trial:

I would also include the link to the True Crimes site dealing with this murder but Epinions deems the link is too long.



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More The Girl Next Door reviews
review by . December 25, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Dvd cover
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is a film based on Jack Ketchum's novel, which is based on true events. I've seen a lot of horror films in my time, and I have to say that the scariest ones are always the ones that hit close to home. When you read the newspaper, watch the news, you sometimes see and hear things that are almost unbelievable that humanity can sink into such aberrations. This film borders around the line between exploitation and voyeurism, but believe me, "The Girl Next Door is a realistic, disturbing …
review by . February 11, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Talk about being numb to your seat. Even though I've been warned I was still angered by it. I never cuss and fuss so much towards a film in my life. As a parent I was totally appalled of all the actions that took place towards the sisters. Just because your (Ruth) life ended up bad doesn't mean you can take it upon a child. She's lucky I didn't bump into her in the streets but fortunately enough she got what she deserves. In the beginning of this film, it revolves around David (played as an adult …
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Susi Dawson ()
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Based on the novel by acclaimed author Jack Ketchum,The Girl Next Doordraws 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 filmAn 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 Doorsucceeds 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...
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Director: Gregory Wilson
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: 17 October 2008 (Italy)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Daniel Farrands, Philip Nutman
Runtime: 91 min
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