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Literature / The Girl Next Door

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The Girl Next Door is a horror novel by Jack Ketchum (pen name of author Dallas Mayr), published in 1989. Brutal and disturbing, the plot is loosely based on the case of Sylvia Likens, an Indiana teenager who was tortured and murdered in a basement.

A Film of the Book was made in 2007. Not to be confused with the 2004 film by the same name.

The film and novel contain examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: David feels progressively more like this.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the book Davey is initially more passive and even gets some voyeuristic thrills over Meg's predicament. In the film he is horrified from the start.
  • Adorkable: David and Meg. Especially when they're together, making the tragedy all the more depressing.
  • Adults Are Useless: The parents send their kids over to Ruth's house with no idea what's going on. When Davey tries to tell his dad or the cops in town, nothing happens.
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  • Age Lift: In the novel, Rutherine is said to be 37 years old, yet in the movie, she is much older (in her fifties). Hence, her ugly appearance mirrors her ugly actions.
  • And I Must Scream: Meg in the second half when she's kept in the basement with a gag.
  • Asshole Victim: Ruth is such an awful, sadistic abuser that her obvious murder is ruled as an accidental death.
  • Audience Surrogate: David in some respects is made to represent the audience for continuing to read the story.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Aunt Ruth. Despite her maliciousness, she can talk softly to her nieces, while still abusing them, as well as put on a false show of kindness towards Officer Jennings.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Aunt Ruth is dead and her kids are arrested. Yet, after God knows how many days of being tortured and beaten, Meg succumbs to her wounds and dies in front of Susan and David. And Susan is rescued, nevertheless
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  • Break the Cutie: Meg, of course, and Susan.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Some of the neighbors knew what was going on with the girls and still did nothing. Truth in Television, unfortunately.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Susan's crutches are used in the climax.
  • The Corrupter: Aunt Ruth has a terrible influence on the neighbor boys.
  • Covers Always Lie: An early paperback edition showed a skeleton in a cheerleader's outfit, which has nothing to do with the story.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Susan can't walk well without her crutches, which (coupled with her age) is why she is unable to help Meg during her abuse.
  • The Dragon: Willie to his mother, Aunt Ruth.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the film's prologue, before David recounts his story, he out of all the bystanders saved a homeless man who was hit by a passing car. It shows his compassionate nature, which was founded in his youth when he refused to join in on Ruth's 'games'.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Willie is fanatically and disturbingly loyal to Ruth, who does not like him at all.
  • Evil Gloating: "If I see any slutting going on around here, your ass is grass and Auntie Ruth's the lawnmower."
  • Evil Matriarch: Ruth is a particularly nightmarish example. She tortures her nieces in increasingly cruel ways and her sons take orders from her. She is also quite happy to get other kids to join in on Meg's torture. And she gives them cigarettes and alcohol.
  • Evil Old Folks: Ruth herself in the film.
  • Fostering for Profit: The arrangement starts this way, but turns bad quickly.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The most brutal act isn't shown. The narrator says "I'm not going to tell you about that."
  • He Knows Too Much: Aunt Ruth towards David when he finally decides to tell someone about the abuse.
  • Hypocrite: Aunt Ruth denies Donnie to "fuck" Meg because Willie just raped her and considers it incest. Later on, it is revealed that Aunt Ruth has molested Susan (to where she made her bleed.
  • Jerkass: There's a cluster of them in this case. Aunt Ruth and her kids (Willie, Donnie, and Ralphie). Other neighborhood kids apply here too, especially Willie's friend, Eddie.
  • Kick the Dog: Susan and especially Meg are on the receiving end. Turned up to eleven in the second half
  • I Want My Mommy!: Susan's literal words after Willie rapes Meg in front of her.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Subverted. Aunt Ruth beats Susan just because she was unable to stop Meg from hitting Ralphie, who was inappropriately touching Meg.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The neighborhood kids torture Meg for fun and treat it as just another game.
  • Naughty Bird Watching: Eddie and Willie try to catch Meg naked by watching her through a window. They only catch glimpses of her.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Aunt Ruth makes a remark that the carnival was more exciting in her time when she was younger.
  • Parental Neglect: Ruth toward her own children. Also, the absent parents whose kids end up at Ruth's house.
  • Police are Useless: Quite so. Meg even reports to Officer Jennings after a domestic incident, yet nothing is done about it. Until the end where, Jennings, upon finding a dead Ruth and David telling him about what she did to Meg, decides not to arrest him and rule Ruth's death an accident, while gathering Susan in his arms and removing her from the premises.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: While it's not shown, everyone stands around talking about it, which is more disturbing.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The case is a real life story, although the details, names, and setting have changed.
  • Sadist: Ruth, just Ruth. There's no quite clear reason why she puts all those stuff on both Meg and Susan, except in order to amuse herself. She also likes smoking cigarettes as she watches her sons torturing and/or raping Meg.
  • Shameful Strip: Aunt Ruth and her three sons play a game with Meg, who's tied up, called "Confess". Meg has to confess how she "plays with herself". After she refuses, the three boys strip her naked.
  • Slut-Shaming: Aunt Ruth burns the words I FUCK. FUCK ME. onto Meg's stomach.
  • Take That!: The book was partially written in response to Ketchum's disgust with Gertrude Baniszewski.
  • The Sociopath: Aunt Ruth shows some traits of high-functioning sociopathy, like an ability for verbal and psychological manipulation, but for most of the time she proves to be a low-functioning sociopath who torments victims too young and weak to defend themselves.
  • The '50s: The book's setting is small-town Jersey. It's a far cry from Leave It to Beaver.
  • Torture Porn: Zig-Zagged. There is plenty of torture. At first, Davey (and by extension the reader) feels a sense of voyeuristic excitement. This is happening, and it's allowed to happen. As the narrative progresses, the violence and feelings of helplessness become increasingly uncomfortable.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Or, in this case, Ruth is a cousin who's agreed to take Meg and Susan in (foster parent).
  • Would Hurt a Child: Aunt Ruth isn't afraid to beat ten year old handicapped Susan.


Example of: