Thursday, June 9, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 9: Most offensive character.

I have never been the type to get offended by something fictional. Things go on in movies all the time that I would be VERY offended by if they happened in real life, but I don’t see any point in getting bent out of shape over a movie. A character’s actions may be absolutely reprehensible, but it didn’t actually happen. Real life things are different. In Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferrox, Calamity of Snakes, and flicks like that, animals are ACTUALLY killed on camera. While that’s not an issue for me as I eat meat and therefore feel it would be hypocritical to get all up in arms over this, I can absolutely understand this offending people. IT’S REAL! Plus, I could never fault anyone for killing snakes. The only good serpent is a dead serpent. On the other hand, take something like the “baby rape” scene from the most controversial film in many years, Serbian Film. I was repulsed. I was disturbed. Offended? No. Why? It didn’t happen. I’m sure someone out there in this sick world of ours has done that. That’s despicable, I would be deeply offended, and that person should die, preferably by my hand. In the film, however, that falls under the banner of artistic freedom. I’m not offended.

That being said, there is one movie that features a character that offends me. Not in a “how could the filmmakers do that?” sort of way. I’m glad this film was made. I’ve only seen it once, I had to force myself to finish it, and I will never watch it again, but I’m not offended that it was made or that this character was portrayed the way she was. This one character that goes beyond repulsive and disturbing and breaks the offense threshold because she is based on a real person who actually committed the acts portrayed in the film.

This is Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski. This isn’t the character, this is the actual person. Look into those eyes folks. That is pure evil. In 1965 she took in Sylvia and Jenny Likens as borders while their parents toured and worked in a carnival. She was severely physically abusive to the girls and, from August until October, presided over the torture and death of Sylvia. She involved her own children and the neighborhood kids in the crime, which involved the repeated burning, beating, starvation, branding, partially skinning alive, genital mutilation, and repeated rape of Sylvia. Gertrude encouraged the children to play “a game” which got them all involved in violating and torturing the 16 year old girl. After months of torment, the girl died. Jenny was rescued and Gertrude was brought to trial a short time later. Thankfully, Gertrude died in 1990.

Jack Ketchum wrote a novelization of these events called The Girl Next Door. That book was a rough ride. I have a couple of hot button issues in real life, and the victimization of children, whether it is physical, psychological, or sexual, is one of them. It is the only one if my real life hot button issues that I sometimes have trouble digesting when it is fictionally portrayed. This book, however, had the backdrop of being based on true events. Knowing that what I was reading wasn’t pure fiction but a fictionalized yet still close to the true story account made it a tough read. It is well written, as are all of Ketchum’s books. The emotional intensity is off the charts. I sped through it in one day both because it was so rivetingly written and to get it over with. That book made my soul hurt.

Then I heard that it was going to be made into a movie. I thought that there was absolutely no way an R rated movie come anywhere close to the intensity and emotional gut punch of the book. I was wrong. The movie was just as harrowing. It managed to portray the horrors of the situation without devolving into kiddie “torture porn.” I despise that term, but this is one time where it actually is applicable. After knowing the true story and reading the book, Blanche Baker’s performance as Aunt Ruth, the Gertrude character, had me clenching my teeth to keep from screaming at the TV. She is so easily despisable, and the sadistic little grin that creeps up slowly throughout the film is alarming. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the flick, because honestly I don’t want to relive it. I am offended that this woman ever lived. That’s why the character could offend me, because it is only partially fictional.

As I said before, when a lot of people say a character “offends” them, that mean that they feel that the filmmakers were in the wrong for having that character be the way they were. I am not saying this at all. I applaud the filmmakers, as well as Jack Ketchum, for making her so offensive. While this movie turned my stomach and I will never see it again, I feel that it is an important film. There’s a reason we need films about Hitler. There are reasons we need fact based serial killer movies movies. There is a reason that Justin Beber 3D flick had to come out. Sometimes society has to be reminded that there are real monsters and real evil out there. They need to know that things like this do actually happen. To understand humankind, we need to not just see it at its best, but we have to plumb its depths sometimes. Fiction does not do this. Serbian Film, Salo, August Underground, and any other flick people describe as “offensive” all portray an artist’s vision. The Girl Next Door portrays the depths of real human depravity. Aunt Ruth, as a stand in for Gertrude Baniszewski, is scarier than anything any horror screenwriter has ever cooked up. Her character is offensive on every level, just the way it needed to be. The true story was also the basis of the film "An American Crime," which I have not seen. As for The Girl Next Door, I give it two severed thumbs up, but I would feel wrong telling anyone to check it out. It is a well executed film, and the only one I can think of that I really wish I could “unsee.”

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