The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens
The Girl Next Door: A Powerful Film
Critic Jennifer Morrow noted that the film version of Jack Ketchum's novel The Girl Next Door, a fictionalization based on the Likens case, would have "a hard act to follow" when it was released after An American Crime. But follow it did — to critical praise.
Directed by Gregory M. Wilson with a screenplay by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman, the movie largely follows the novel. It is told in flashback from the viewpoint of middle-aged David Moran (William Atherton). He recalls the pivotal year of 1958, when 16-year-old Megan Loughin (Blythe Auffarth) and her 10-year-old sister Susan (Madeline Taylor), recently orphaned in a car wreck that left Susan handicapped, moved in with David's next-door neighbors, the divorced Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) and her three sons. Daniel Manche plays the teenaged David Moran.
The Chandler house is a neighborhood hangout for teenagers because Ruth allows them to smoke and drink. However, Ruth takes a strong dislike to Megan. Ruth's mistreatment of Megan escalates from harsh discipline to outright torture. Ruth's children and other youngsters join in tormenting Megan.
Horror maestro Stephen King, an outspoken fan of the novel, effusively praised the film. "Terrific performances and really extraordinary cinematography," he wrote. "The first authentically shocking American film I've seen since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer over 20 years ago. If you are easily disturbed, you should not watch this movie. If, on the other hand, you are prepared for a long look into hell, suburban style, The Girl Next Door will not disappoint."
In a review for scoopy.net, Greg Wroblewski remarked upon the movie's beginning focus on the youngsters enjoying such innocent pleasures as fishing, going to a carnival and running to an ice-cream truck. He argued that when the film then shows "demonic" violence, it "carries an extraordinary power" because of the contrast with the movie's wholesome start. Wroblewski found David to be a troublingly complex character: his "disgust always seems to be tempered by titillation." Wroblewski considered the other characterizations not always as "complex as they might be," but concludes that the film is successful because "it delivers an emotional punch."