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Jack Ketchum’s Offspring

January 2, 2010

Offspring, the book, is Ketchum’s sequel to his brutal 1982 debut, Off Season. Like that first book, it’s the roaring, visceral tale of an inbred tribe of modern cannibals who have been living and hunting in the remote Maine woods since the mid-1850s, and how their hunger leads them to an isolated house filled with people who have no idea what’s out there.

Over the past few years, ModernCine has been bringing Ketchum’s bleak, bloody visions to life.

Until now, I’ve been able to see only one Ketchum film: 1997’s The Girl Next Door. Remember, I live in the last igloo on Icefloe Avenue, and there’s a storm on. My local Blockbuster doesn’t usually stock this stuff, and I owe $100 in late fees at the art-house rental place from the time I lost the DVD of Twitch of the Death Nerve. I think it fell out of my briefcase at a parent-teacher interview.

I was happy to find Offspring (2009) for rent at Blockbuster the other night. I’ve just watched it for the second time, this time with the commentary. Overall, I’m pleased with it. Ketchum wrote the screenplay, and stayed so close to his book that I saw scenes unfold the way I pictured them while first reading Offspring. The casting is right — and effective, considering the limited experience of most of the actors — and the presentation of the cannibals makes them frightening without falling into caricature. These are grunting cave-dwellers, all of whom were stolen as children and raised in the wild, and when you watch, you buy it. Even the very young children, who could have been played for giggles but are as terrifying as the dominant adults (The Woman, First Stolen and Second Stolen).

  • Warning: There are some very disturbing scenes in this film, some very graphic violence and some terrifying ideas.

Offspring stars Art Hindle as George, the sheriff who first discovered the cannibals years before — and eradicated them (in Off Season, the events of which are quickly described in this film). Also in the mix are Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman and Holter Graham as the current sheriff; he was the kid in Maximum Overdrive. McIntosh, in particular, is a rampaging icon of horror. Speaking of which, I have an autographed photo of Art Hindle from when he was on ENG.

As I’ve told you before, Jack Ketchum is a particular favourite of mine, which continues to surprise me. I don’t like gore, or splatter, or torture porn, but his books (and now films) are filled with such scenes. Not all of them, of course, but enough. What works for me is Ketchum’s ability to sum up a character in a few lines, to set a scene without telling you exactly what you’re seeing. That translates to this film, largely due to Ketchum’s involvement — he’s in the film, too, as a paramedic — but also because director Andrew van den Houten stuck close to the creator’s vision.

Great film? No. Great horror? Yeah. It’s short and tight and will surprise you, because there isn’t a cliche to be found. Everything is fresh and new and dark and disturbing, just like Ketchum’s books.

And I haven’t even mentioned The Cow.

  • Note: I wondered why Offspring was made before Off Season, but it turns out someone else owns the rights to that first book. There are other films — learn more here — and other books, which you can read about here.
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