MARCH 9, 2008
A while back I watched The Girl Next Door, which was a pretty good movie based on a book by Jack Ketchum, whom I was not familiar with. It wasn’t a masterpiece or anything, but it got me more interested in seeing The Lost, which was also based on one of his novels, but directed by Chris Sivertson, who impressed me with his work in the ludicrous and yet totally endearing I Know Who Killed Me (which was actually shot long after The Lost, which is just now hitting DVD). And he repeats continuously that the books have been faithfully adapted into films, so I think it’s safe to say that after watching both films: the guy needs to branch out a bit.
Both are based on true stories (though Lost seems to stray further from reality than Girl did with its respective true event), and both involve mostly unlikable people doing horrible things. Here it’s a guy named Ray Pye, who looks like any hipster douchebag you might encounter at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. There was scarcely a moment in the film where I didn’t want to just punch him in the fucking neck and wipe his stupid self-painted “beauty mark” off his face. And that’s kind of a problem, because there isn’t really anyone else to identify/sympathize with, other than few supporting characters who are only given 2 or 3 scenes each and thus stink of “They were more important in the book”. No, the entire two hour film is basically Ray being a douchebag, drinking, doing drugs, and fucking women.
On that note, I should point out that this film has more nudity than any non-pornographic film I can recall, including a montage of Ray bedding at least two girls (the footage is all sped up and Avid farted to death so it’s hard to tell, there might be a third in there). And since there was nothing really “horror” going on (that’s 3 of my last 4 films! I need to narrow my standards), I began wondering if maybe there was a guy doing Porno Movie A Day, and if he was maybe watching what he thought was a porno but was really a horror movie. I also wondered how chafed he was. “I’ve been doing PMAD for 6 months now, and I haven’t missed a day... it really stings down there.”
(Note – this is what happens when a movie is more or less treading water for over an hour – the viewer begins wondering about the movie watching/masturbating habits of non-existent people.)
Anyway, the last 15 minutes finally include some truly gripping psychological horror, as Ray kidnaps a few girls and tortures them. But until that point, the only scary thing about the movie was the sight of Ed Lauter in bed with a girl at LEAST 40 years younger than him. Gah! And it’s a shame, because if they had the good sense to shave at LEAST 20 minutes or so out of the middle of the film, they could have had a really great movie here.
Luckily, Sivertson assembled a great cast. In addition to the always welcome (just not in bed with a girl who could play his granddaughter) Lauter, we get the great Michael Bowen (from, ironically, Lost), Richard Riehle, Dee Wallace, and the blond from Black Xmas. Also, the film “introduces” Robin Sydney, which shows how long it’s been sitting on the shelf, since she’s been in at least a couple movies I reviewed months ago.
There’s also some nice black humor. Late in the film, someone we thought was dead suddenly begins trying to escape. “The fuck is she still alive for?” Pye yells. “I already fucking shot her!” The guy playing Pye is actually a good actor (at least I hope he’s acting, if he’s really like that then... Christ), and there’s a few instances like this in the film that help keep the film afloat. Then again, for every line like that, there’s one like “It can’t be a wrong number, not at this hour,” in regards to a late night phone call. I’m sorry – it’s late, lots of folks are either drunk or their contacts are starting to dry out, plus it’s dark. Wouldn’t it be MORE likely to have a wrong number than during the day?
The disc’s extras are largely worthless. There are some outtakes, many of which are just more of the same type of stuff that there is too much of in the movie to begin with, though there’s a pretty funny beer “buying” scene that’s worth a look. The scenes are presented entirely out of order in relation to the film, but it’s not too hard to figure out where most of them would go. There’s also some audition footage (an extra I never quite understood the appeal of – I’d rather see the actors who DIDN’T make the cut) and a storyboard thing.
The worst is the commentary track though. It’s Ketchum and another novelist named Monica O’Rourke. Over 119 minutes, they discuss things that pertain to this actual book/movie for maybe 10. The rest of the time, O’Rourke is simply asking Ketchum about his other books, what he’s working on, what he was like as a kid, where he was on 9/11, etc. I swear to Christ I thought she was eventually just going to ask him what he was having for dinner or if he saw the game last night. And while he drones on (the guy is certainly not against talking about himself), she says “Right” over and over and then he punctuates every anecdote with “Yeah.... yeah...” I’m sorry, but when I watch an audio commentary for a film, I want to learn more about the film (or if it’s a Kevin Smith film, lots of jokes at the expense of Ben Affleck). And certainly there was a wealth of material he could have drawn from – the real life case, changes from the book, how he felt about casting decisions vs how he pictured the characters in his mind, etc. but he sadly barely touches on any of that, resulting in a track that should have been presented as a highly edited interview with Ketchum. But hey, if you ever wondered what kind of car Monica O’Rourke drove when she was 19, this is the commentary for you!
All in all, a decent film that could have used another edit or two, coupled with extras that only die hard fans of the film (or would-be Ketchum biographers) would enjoy. Girl Next Door was much more enjoyable and much more gut wrenching – even though the violence here is actually more disturbing out of context, the film’s endless middle section coupled with the fact that none of these people are likable (at least the kids in Girl had some moments of innocence) sort of counteracts the ending’s intention – it’s supposed to shock, but by that time I was actually just “excited” something different was happening.
(I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I am in the minority here – this film has cleaned up at festivals and won acclaim from several critics/sites, including Bloody Disgusting. And again, it’s not a BAD film, just a missed opportunity to be a great one).
What say you?