OffspringThe fourth film adaptation of the work of Jack Ketchum, 2009’s OFFSPRING is, like the other three (THE LOST, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and RED), not bad. But then again, the film, about inbred cannibals living in a seaside cliff in Maine, isn’t great either!

Jack Ketchum’s novel OFFSPRING, initially published in 1991, was a sequel to his infamous 1980 splatfest OFF SEASON. Both novels are stripped-down, moment-by-moment accounts of normal folks who come into contact with a cannibal clan, and the unspeakable carnage that results.

OFF SEASON was apparently unfeasible as a film due to “rights issues,” meaning the OFFSPRING movie appeared first. Ketchum for the first time did the screenwriting duties himself, for producer-director Andrew van den Houten (who previously co-produced THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and directed the well-received 2005 indie HEADSPACE).

Although set in Maine, OFFSPRING was lensed on location in Michigan. It was released straight-to-DVD in October of 2009, by the Sam Raimi affiliated Ghost House Underground (the reason the DVD misleadingly touts the film as “From The Makers of The EVIL DEAD Trilogy”).

In the sleepy town of Dead River, David and Amy are staying at the seaside home of their friend Claire. Also on hand are Luke, Claire’s young son, and David and Amy’s infant child. But there’s a problem: Claire’s abusive ex Stephen calls to inform the group that he’s on his way to the house, and should arrive that very evening. The local cops, led by the world-weary George, are called, but they already have their hands full with a brutal murder that recently occurred in the area.

What no one realizes is that a clan of inbred cannibal shitheads—consisting of several men, a couple women and quite a few children—are living in a cave by the sea…and are hungry!

That night the cannibals swarm Claire’s house, and the carnage begins. David is killed and Luke runs into the woods with the baby. Amy and Claire are dragged off to the cannibals’ lair, where Amy is forced to breastfeed a cannibal infant.

Around this time Stephen arrives at Claire’s house (having manhandled a young woman hitchhiker on his drive there) and ends up in the cave with Amy. It’s up to Claire, Amy and Stephen to find the requisite depravity within themselves to properly face down the cannibals—George too, who turns up with a firearm…but will it be enough?

OFF SEASON and OFFSPRING are in many respects the least promising of Jack Ketchum’s novels for a film adaptation, as without the brilliance of Ketchum’s prose the material risks degenerating into a tired retread of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (and God knows there are enough of those already!). Andrew Van Den Houten does a good job distinguishing his film from the rabble: it has an arrestingly spare, minimalist vibe, and isn’t padded in the least. The action is brutal and straightforward (and doesn’t rely on cacophonous music!), and the running time a brisk 79 minutes.

As a first-time screenwriter Jack Ketchum does a surprisingly good job. He’s captured the essence of his novel without any cringeable dialogue or blatant attempts at making it filmic (unlike other horror novelists-turned-screenwriters—Stephen King, anyone?). Nor does he tone down the head-bashing, brain-chomping, intestine-pulling, kid-killing nastiness of the novel.

But the film has problems. The low budget severely compromises many of the action sequences, which are unusually elaborate even for a Hollywood production (among other things, OFFSPRING’S makers couldn’t afford stuntmen). There’s also the problem of uneven performances by a cast of varying experience. So while the film deserves credit for its off-Hollywood boldness and ingenuity, it’s still not all it could be.

Vital Statistics

Modern Cine/Ghost House Underground

Director: Andrew van den Houten
Producers: Andrew van den Houten, William M. Miller, Robert Tonino
Screenplay: Jack Ketchum
(Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum)
Cinematography: William M. Miller
Editing: Douglas Buck
Cast: Art Hindle, Ahna Tessler, Amy Hargreaves, Pollyanna McIntosh, Erick Kastel, Jessica Butler, Leigh Feldpausch, Stephen Grey, Spencer List, Ed Nelson, Tommy nelson, Rachel White