Posted by Andrew Wong
Recently, I have read the novel Jack Ketchum‘s The Girl Next Door, and I have seen the movie of the same name. This book was more graphic in terms of the scenes of torture of Meg Loughlin by Ruth Chandler and her family and friends than the movie ever could be. Comparing the two, the movie stuck close to the novel surprisingly. There was little change between the book and the movie until the final closings of the movie. Lastly, there are minor differences between both, described below. However, both were inspired by a true story of a young female boarder who was subjected to this abuse and torture in the basement of the house.
In the movie, as an adult, he is played by William Atherton and as a child, played by David Manche. Like the book, the adult narrates in the beginning, how his two divorces were caused by the trauma of this incident, and at parts throughout the movie. Astonishingly, the narrative follows the book nearly to the letter.
In the book, she is portrayed as a statuesque redhead, but in the movie, she is played by Blythe Auffarth who unfortunately was a statuesque brunette. However, in the movie as in the book, she underwent abuse and torture by Donny Chandler, played by Benjamin Ross Kaplan, Ralphie “Woofer” Chandler, played by Austin Williams, Eddie, played by Michael Zegen, William Chandler Jr., played by Graham Patrick Martin, and their female friends Cheryl Robinson, played by Gabrielle Horwath and Denise Crocker, played by Spencer Leigh.
Meg Loughlin, as portrayed in the movie, was an innocent girl who got caught in The Game, an abusive game invented by the Dead End Kids, consisting of David, Ralphie, Donny, Eddie, William and their two female friends. One of the Dead End kids was “it” and the Commando. He or she was assigned to take out a platoon of Troops, the rest of the kids, by pegging them with apples from the orchard. Unfortunately, the Commando never won, and he or she was tied up, blindfolded and gagged to a tree and subject to the abuse by the rest of the kids. This included stripping, beatings or lashings as the Troops saw fit.
Meg, as in the book and the movie, when she rebelled against her aunt Ruth Chandler. From the idea of The Game, suggested by her children, tied Meg up in the basement of her house and subjected her to beatings, lashings, burnings, rape by Eddie and Donny and ultimately death. The book was infinitely more explicit than the movie, as some parts of the torture in the movie were tamed down for American audiences.
Differences Between the Book and the Movie
- Described previously, Meg is portrayed as a brunette instead of a redhead.
- The opening scene of the movie of David Moran and the homeless man being killed by a car on Wall Street was never in the book.
- The burning of the cigarettes by Ruth Chandler near the end of the book was never portrayed in the movie. It may have been suggested but never actually seen.
- The actual burning of the tire iron on Meg’s vagina was suggested, and the movie cut off the actual display of that torture. It was graphic and intense in the book and it would have shocked American audiences for that kind of gruesome display.
- The fire incident in the last part of the movie was not extended as in the book. In the book, David, Meg and Susan were ultimately overrun by Ruth Chandler and her family, and David had to stay another night until their escape.
- In the movie, Ruth’s death was caused by David swinging a tire iron at Ruth when the fire incident began. Then David’s family and Officer Jennings, played by Kevin Chamberlin, came down the stairs and rescued them. In the novel, however, Ruth’s death was caused by herself as she took a swing at David while walking up the stairs and fell down the stairs. She snapped her neck as she tumbled, and that was the cause of her death.
- In the movie, Meg’s death was observed after David cuddled with Meg for one last time while Officer Jennings and David’s family watched on. This brought closure for the audience and not quite as disturbing perhaps as the book. In the book, Meg’s death was brought on by her clawing her way out after the fire incident failed for David, Susan and Meg. In the novel, she died alone on the floor after showing some humanity in a weak smile to Susan and David.
Recommendation of the Book and the Movie
The novel by Jack Ketchum is definitely a 10 out of 10. However, this novel won’t settle well for those with strict morals or prone to nightmares. As described by Ketchum, this book is one of conflicting morality, especially it is seen from the eyes of a young boy in David Moran. This is the first book that I have read by Jack Ketchum, and he is a terse and suspenseful author. In some ways, he is the horror version of J.D. Salinger.
The movie deserved an 8 out of 10, in as much as the movie stayed close to the novel. However, it lacked the intensity of the book. Lastly, the ending although comforting did not follow the novel. However, both the book and the movie portrayed the same social issue — the ignorance of torture and abuse within the confines of suburbia.
More on the social issue on abuse and torture within suburbia later…
(On a side note, Jack Ketchum’s The Woman is being made right now. I am currently reading this novel, and it will undergo the same analysis once the movie has been watched.)