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Why The Girl Next Door’s True Story Makes The Movie Harder To Watch

Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, harrowing 2007 horror film The Girl Next Door is made a much harder watch by being based on a real case.

Warning: Contains discussion of real life torture and abuse.

Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, harrowing 2007 horror film The Girl Next Door is made a much harder watch by being based on a real case. In the 2000s, there arose a sub-genre of horror that came to be labeled “torture porn” by many in the press. At the head of this pack were the Saw and Hostel franchises, which featured excruciatingly brutal scenes of violence and gore courtesy of Jigsaw’s traps and the Elite Hunting Club, respectively.

The idea behind the label was that the kill and torture scenes were being done solely for the twisted amusement of horror fans, and for some fans, that’s undoubtedly true. Still, Saw especially has more to offer, like a very intricate story. One 2000s horror movie that could never be accused of presenting torture for audience enjoyment is The Girl Next Door, not to be confused with the 2004 comedy starring Elisha Cuthbert.

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The Girl Next Door centers on Meg Loughlin, a teenager who is sent – along with her younger sister – to live with her aunt Ruth after her parents are killed in a car accident. Unfortunately, Ruth is a sadistic psychopath who begins abusing, then torturing Meg, and also sexually assaulting Meg’s sister Susan. The most horrifying part of it all is that The Girl Next Door was inspired by an infamous case of true crime.

The Girl Next Door: True Story Inspiration, Explained


Girl Next Door - Meg Tied Up In The Basement

The Girl Next Door – and its source novel by Jack Ketchum – were inspired by the real-life torture and murder of a teenage girl named Sylvia Likens in 1965. Sylvia’s abuser, Gertrude Baniszewski, was a family friend, not her aunt, but the circumstances were very much the same. Just as in the film, Gertrude’s children and neighbor kids get involved in the abuse, which reached horrifying levels.


What Happened To The Real-Life Meg (Sylvia Likens)


The Girl Next Door - David and Meg

Sadly, Sylvia ended up dying in almost the same manner as her onscreen The Girl Next Door counterpart Meg, and there was no David equivalent there in real life to try and protect her. Sylvia died from a combination of the horrific abuse inflicted upon her and being malnourished. The abuse itself lasted for several months in reality, and opportunities arose for Sylvia to try and tell someone what was happening, but Gertrude, the leader of her abuse, threatened to subject her younger sister Jenny to the same treatment. Gertrude unsurprisingly tried to cover up her crimes, but Jenny was able to reveal the truth to police officers once removed from the home. Infuriatingly, Gertrude was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Sylvia, but only served a mere 19 years before being paroled.


The Girl Next Door’s True Story Makes The Movie Harder To Watch


The Girl Next Door is, on an objective level, a good horror movie. It’s well-written, well-acted, well-shot, and has good period production design, and is legitimately terrifying. While the violence is shocking, if it was entirely fictional, it would be easier to deal with. But knowing that this tragic, harrowing true story happened to a real person is emotionally shattering and devastating, and makes the film an endurance test to watch.

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