Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FOOL'S VIEWS: Jack Ketchum Triple Feature

It appears that for author Jack Ketchum, there are few things scarier in this world than bored, disenfranchised youths from small town America. Based on these three extremely effective, low-budget screen adaptations of his novels, a good case could be made for that viewpoint:

Girl Next Door, The (2007) (1st viewing)
Inspired by the real-life 1965 slaying of Indiana teenager Sylvia Likens, dour suburban divorcee Blanche Baker gains popularity with the neighborhood adolescents by handing out beers and letting them watch TV all day long. But the hijinks take a significantly darker turn when she offers up her 14-year-old adopted niece (Blythe Auffarth) to the youths as a plaything for every imaginable abuse. Peeking beneath the 1950’s seemingly placid exterior of Ozzie and Harriet normalcy, director Gregory Wilson and screenwriters Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman tackle the unenviable task of creating a film with torture-porn tendencies while refusing to turn it into just another exploitation programmer. The result is an uneasy mix of moralizing and terrorizing, akin to a TV movie with intense subject matter and implied violence, where it is the viewer’s own moral compass providing the chills as opposed to a director’s vision. More disappointing is the choice to eliminate the internal conflict felt by our lead character David, played Daniel Manche – rather than being equally fascinated and horrified by the events in the basement next door (as he is in the novel), David merely struggles with the impotence and insecurity of youth. This approach works, but there is certainly more ore to be mined in the former, and it seems like a missed opportunity to address the very core of the horror genre and its fans. Even so, it is a worthy effort and the extraordinary performances by Baker (who played Molly Ringwald’s sister in 1984’s Sixteen Candles!) and Auffarth carry the day.

Lost, The (2005) (1st viewing)
Written/directed by Chris Sivertson, The Lost opens with an onscreen invocation that conjures a dark fairy tale, “Once upon a time, a boy named Ray Pye put crushed beer cans in his boots to make himself taller.” As Pye, Marc Senter leads an extraordinary cast of fresh faces and well-schooled veterans, fully inhabiting his loathsome, murderous character with a combination of electrifying instability and cloaked insecurity. The two-hour running time, born of Sivertson’s desire to preserve Ketchum’s subplots, might test the patience of some, but the gamble pays off big-time when the explosive, bloody climax inevitably arrives – In terms of emotional involvement, the viewer actually has something to lose.

Red (2008) (1st viewing)
A similar ethic accompanies Red, which follows the escalating levels of violence following the senseless thrill-killing of an older man’s faithful canine companion. Brian Cox anchors the picture with an unmannered portrait of a man looking for justice in a corrupt world, where money and power breed contempt for one’s fellow man. Well acted by a capable ensemble, Red succeeds mightily as a dramatic showcase boasting solid performances (though it could have lost its too-pat ending and been a better film for it).

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