The Girl Next Door Is an Excruciatingly Disturbing Film from 2007
Do you know who Gertrude Baniszewski was? Up until last night, I’d never heard of her. In July 1965, two traveling carnival workers suggested that their two daughters, Sylvia and Jenny, board with Banisewski and her seven children while they worked across the state.
The weekly rent, $20, was agreed upon, and the girls were left in Baniszewski’s care. The first week’s rent was late, and as a result, Baniszewski beat the girls. Her brutal behavior escalated to torture, and she encouraged her own children to join in, as well as others from the neighborhood. Sylvia died from the brutal, inhumane treatment.
Last night, in need of a bit of escapism, I chose to watch The Girl Next Door. I don’t usually research movies I review until after I’ve watched them; I don’t want other viewers’ opinions to influence mine. Big mistake.
Browsing Netflix under “horror” (my favorite escape genre), I found The Girl Next Door, (2007) which is described as, “Inspired by true events, this thriller set in 1958 follows the harrowing story of two adolescent girls (Blythe Auffarth and Madeline Taylor) who, upon losing their parents in an accident, are sent to live with their Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker), a sadistic psychopath. Unbeknown to the residents of the small New Jersey suburb, the girls endure unthinkable punishment at the hands of their aunt and three cousins.”
Having seen many horror films “based on a true story,” I already had this one pegged before it started to play. Two girls, living with a mean relative, are tormented until they turn the tables, and it’s auntie’s turn to cry. Most likely ending: two girls, sobbing and hugging each other after auntie takes a spill during a fight and is impaled on a wrought iron fence. Her last word as she goes down, “Bitches!”
The thing about formulaic horror stories--psychological or otherwise--is that their capsulized summaries are filled with hyperbole. “Harrowing,” “sadistic,” “unthinkable,” and “psychopath,” are all stand-ins for “corny,” “pointless,” “goofy,” “meaningless,” and anything else that would describe a movie like Bride of the Monster, for example.
The Girl Next Door (a/k/a Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door) is not a formulaic horror film. It is a horrifying, fictionalized depiction of events that were even more horrific than what the audience sees in the film. This is no Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, that eternal favorite of psych-horror fans.Continued on the next page