TheLostTHE LOST was the first film adapted from the work of novelist Jack Ketchum, and transposed his hellish universe to the screen quite well. In other words, it’s a skilled and intelligent but strictly not-for-the-squeamish viewing experience.

Jack Ketchum’s 2001 novel THE LOST was, like most of Ketchum’s books, published as a paperback original, and received far less attention than it deserved. Loosely based on the true-life killing spree of Charles Schmidt, the “Pied Piper of Tucson” (who also inspired the seventies shocker THE TODD KILLINGS), THE LOST contained all the sharp, compact prose and unflinching violence that characterize Jack Ketchum’s writing. It’s one of Ketchum’s finest works, and among the most powerful genre books of recent years.

This film version was completed in 2005 but not commercially distributed until March 2008 (on DVD following a brief theatrical release), and so ended up appearing after THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, a Ketchum adaptation made two years later.

THE LOST was commissioned by MAY’S Lucky McKee for his buddy Chris Sivertson to adapt and direct. It’s a good thing the film appeared when it did, or Sivertson’s reputation might have been permanently marred by his 2007 Lindsay Lohan bomb I KNOW WHO KILLED ME, which appeared on more worst-of-the-year lists than any other movie and swept the Razzie Awards (although in truth it’s not all that bad). Those doubting his talent need only take a look at THE LOST, an impressive piece of filmmaking by any standard.

Ray Pye: a slick, Elvis-worshipping young man with a cool car and exaggerated rockabilly style. He’s also a violent sociopath with an overpowering compulsion to kill–and Ray spots a prime opportunity to do so when he encounters a lesbian couple in a forest. He senselessly shoots both women while his loser friends Tim and Jen stand by and watch. Terrified by Ray’s propensity for violence, Tim and Jen keep quiet about what they’ve seen.

Four years later Ray is still afoot in the sleepy New Jersey town where he killed the girls. Charlie Schilling, a cop, knows Ray is guilty and has been trying to take him down, but can’t seem to make any of the charges stick.

Ray is carrying on relationships with several teenage girls, including Jen, who’s interested in Tim but banging Ray. So is the sexy, flirtatious Katherine, who’s irresistibly drawn to Ray’s dangerous aura. Ray in turn becomes increasingly smitten with her, as she’s strong-willed and clearly harbors some dark secrets. One night, after a bout of truncated outdoor sex, Ray reveals to her the worst thing he’s ever done (which we already know). Katherine reveals her own dark secret, involving a schizophrenic mother who burned her fingertips off.

This does nothing to help Ray’s deteriorating mental state, which has already been irretrievably weakened by an over-influx of drugs. Katherine’s confession helps push Ray over the edge, as does his discovery that Jen and Tim are an item. Furthermore, Charlie Schilling’s too-young girlfriend

Sally, who Ray has had his eye on for some time, will have nothing to do with him. Inevitably he snaps completely and embarks on a bloody rampage, shooting several of the town’s residents and kidnapping Jen, Sally and Katherine. The four end up in a tiny house occupied by a pregnant woman and her husband, who are about to undergo a most excruciating torture.

With THE LOST Chris Sivertson has turned in a lively and stylish piece of work. It’s galvanized by a terrific performance by Marc Senter as the sociopathic Ray Pye, a true legend in his own mind with a style all his own. Other impressive performances are delivered by the seductive Robin Sydney as the flirtatious Katherine and the veteran Ed Lauter as the cop looking to take Ray down.

Sivertson was wise to pay Jack Ketchum’s novel close attention, which is a prime reason the film is so appealingly unique in its construction. Note the way it begins as an intense crime drama and then, in a smooth but unexpected turn, segues into a dark-hued character study. But the final twenty minutes are as brutal and disturbing as nearly anything you’ll see, with a climax of stunning gut-level brutality involving spilled brains and the mutilation of an unborn fetus. Somehow it all works, in a film that will satisfy the most blood-thirsty gorehounds but also those viewers demanding solid narrative construction and character development.

I do have a complaint, though. It’s with the period detail, or lack thereof: the story is supposed to be set in the late-1960’s, but it’s impossible to tell from what we see, much less hear. Sorry, but I find it difficult to accept a sixties-set movie with wall-to-wall death metal tunes on the soundtrack!

Vital Statistics

Whistler Productions/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Director: Chris Sivertson
Producers: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson, Mike McKee, Shelli Merrill
Screenplay: Chris Sivertson (Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum)
Cinematography: Zoran Popovic
Cast: Marc Senter, Shay Aster, Alex Frost, Megan Henning, Robin Sydney, Dee Wallace-Stone, Michael Bowden, Ed Lauter, Katie Cassidy, Erin Brown, Michael Bowen, Ruby Larocca, Tom Ayers, Jack Ketchum