The Scene That Was Too Much Even For The Most Brutal Horror Novel
Horror fans in the Cracked audience -- or crackheads, if you will -- probably know about Jack Ketchum’s 1989 horror novel The Girl Next Door. Yet it might also be the case that some don’t, as the cult-classic is a respected piece within the genre, but perhaps due to its depressively brutal descriptions of the torture of a young girl, it continues to be somewhat of an open secret among genre fans. Thus it is still not placed up there with other classics of spine-tingling horror. Normally at this point, we would describe the gruesome and exhausting violence in The Girl Next Door: No, Not The Elisha Cuthbert Romcom as ‘unflinching,’ if it weren’t because, well, the book does flinch -- and at a very specific moment.
We won’t spoil that scene of the novel, but we are going to talk about its plot and inspiration, so here, look at these cute kittens!
Ketchum, who died in 2018, was a brilliant writer. One of his masterpieces, The Girl Next Door is based on the real case of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl who back in 1965 was tortured by the neighborhood kids under the ‘supervision’ of the caretaker that was supposed to look after her and her sister. The enabling psycho, Gertrude Baniszewski, ‘authorized’ her kids and their friends to torture and molest Sylvia for three months, which simply, uh, sucks, it just sucks. Seriously, it’s a profoundly sad story, and we almost feel sorry if you didn’t know it and are about to read the Wikipedia entry. Be sure to read this entry afterward.
Also, here’s the trailer for the 2007 movie with Elliot Page as Sylvia and Catherine Keener as Gertrude.
Thus The Girl Next Door is simply heart-wrenching. It is not a literal telling of Likens’ story, but a fictionalized version, names changed and all. And its power is such that even if one distrusts its infamous reputation, it has passages and chapters that will simply crush your soul -- as the novel is told from the perspective of one of the neighborhood kids, who early in the book falls in love with Meg, the Sylvia-surrogate. The kid, David, tells us his recollections of the events that led to the torture and murder of Meg, all in a surprisingly tasteful manner. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a good novel: it never relies on shock value, but rather frames its shocking developments in good characterizations and dialogue. Now, don’t get us wrong, it’s nightmare, depression-fuel, to be sure, yet it is also very well written, and it continuously avoids being tacky or cheap in its narration of its most horrible events.
Which leads us to that scene. The novel’s set in the ’50s, and as we said, it does feature some differences from its real-life inspiration. As far as we know, this is one of them. Again, we won’t spoil anything, but it all happens in the book’s infamous Chapter 42, a chapter with just a few lines of text, and taking place right at the height of Meg’s torture. There, the Gertrude character has a brilliant idea to keep punishing Meg, which no, we won’t spoil. And here the detailed account of Meg’s suffering comes to a sudden stop, David refuses to pursue it (‘I’m not going to tell you about this. I refuse to,’ he says), and instead opts to move on with the rest of the story. It's a truly chilling moment in a chilling, classic novel based on a sad, horrific case -- and although we did spoil that the chapter exists, you’ll still have to see for yourself just what it takes for such a bleak tale to choose to go momentarily quiet.
Oh, and by the way, in a weird case of Deep Impact/Armageddon alignment, another movie came out the same year as the Sylvia Likens film, but in this case specifically based on Ketchum’s novel:
Normally here is where we’d put the trailer for the Elisha Cuthbert romcom, but really, once you know details of the case there isn’t much room for silliness. Still, though, kittens!
Top Image: Starz