THE OFFSPRING by Jack Ketchum (2005, Overlook Connection Press)
Taking up 11 years after the events of Off-Season, The Offspring continues the rampage of the feral cannibal clan. The clan is now led by “The Woman”, the only survivor of the police assault on their cave. The other carry-over is Sheriff Peters, who is now living retired in Dead River, trying to come to grips with the horror he witnessed at the conclusion of the previous novel.
The Offspring begins with a gruesome raid on a house occupied only by a babysitter and the baby she’s watching. The mother, slightly drunk after leaving a bar, walks in on the carnage and becomes the third victim. When the police arrive, they realize the similarities in the killings and go immediantly to Peters. But the retired sheriff has been hitting the bottle hard since his wife died.
The action moves to a young couple living in the same area who are game designers. They also have a new born baby. The couple, David and Amy Halbard, are living the good life in their restored rustic home with few neighbors around. Their latest computer game is based in a dark forest with all kinds of killer supernaturals. David steps out on the back porch one morning and spies a half-naked young girl watching him from the tree line. Amused, he thinks nothing of her and returns to work.
What David doesn’t realize is he’s just seen Second Stolen, one of cannibal clan scouting the house. The Woman kidnapped her for the tribe after she’d added First Stolen, a young child she discovered torturing a kitten. The tribe consists of several small children as well. And The Woman has decided to appease the spirit of the dead child the kids killed on their own by taking out the Halbard family. The hunt will soon begin.
It’s a good novel with plenty of gore, but used for maximum effect. The ending of the first novel seemed conclusive, but Ketchum’s explanation of how The Woman survived is believable. The influence of a certain other horror writer is obvious as Ketchum uses plenty of cultural references to make the mood relevant. It still holds up 20 years later and this is to the author’s credit as a writer.
The movie version of The Offspring came out in 2009. With a screenplay by Ketchum himself (he even has a walk-on part), it is one of the most faithful adaptations of any book. All the major points in the novel are covered. The only change is the language of the feral clan. In the book it’s assumed they are speaking some form of english to each other, but the movie has them communicating in some kind of guttural pidgin. Which makes for some confusing scenes. When The Woman is telling her tribe what to do, you have no idea what she is saying. If you’ve read the book, you know what she’s talking about.
The real reason to watch the movie version is to see Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance as The Woman. Covered with dirt and with a permanent scary glare, she comes across as one creepy character. She’s not as tall as the character description in the book, but just as menacing. Imagine Sheena Of The Jungle as a serial killer. With the moral center of a razor knife.
The book and move make a good companion set, but read the book first. It’s the best way to understand some of the scenes in the film.