Starring Maxwell Caulfield, Charlie Sheen, Patti D’Arbanville
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
Written by Glen Morgan, James Wong
It’s commonly accepted that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Such is the case with THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, punk queen and eventual studio comedy maven Penelope Spheeris’ 1985 feature about two angry young men engaged in a night of murder and mayhem. Inviting comparisons to Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS, this electric study of male aggression, repressed homosexuality, and bubbling economic anxiety feels just as dangerous today as it did upon release, and makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Severin Films.
Spheeris first made a name for herself surveying the punk subculture in the early 80s with the documentary THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981) and her first narrative feature, SUBURBIA (1983). THE BOYS NEXT DOOR is a dramatic 180-degree turn from her previous work, bringing the same outsider’s perspective to the story of two red-blooded all-American males practically foaming at the mouth with undirected rage. Going in dark, it would be all-too-easy today to see the film as a validation of the sort of perceived oppression that fuels the current spate of white nationalism motivated shootings plaguing the U.S., and this is likely much of the reason that Spheeris herself is leery and regretful of the film in hindsight. Examining it more holistically, however, one sees a piece of work that seems to scrutinize the American dream full-stop, explores the psychological effects of poverty, and works overtime to make us empathize with the killers without glamorizing their actions.
Low-rent teens Roy (Maxwell Caulfield) and Bo (Charlie Sheen) hightail it out of their small town as fast they can after graduation for some cruising and debauchery in Los Angeles. The goal: to have a “Caveman Weekend”, one last-hurrah before their crushing blue-collar adult lives begin. But when the two’s more aggressive tendencies begin to surface, bodies start piling up and with the law hot on their tails, they may not survive the night.
THE BOYS NEXT DOOR kicks off with touches of post-ANIMAL HOUSE humor, giving the film the whiff of a buddy movie with something rotten underneath. When Roy and Bo get to L.A., it’s a matter of moments before they’re beating the tar out of gas station attendants and stumbling into gay bars with similar results. It will surprise viewers that Sheen is the less psychopathic of the two, with Caulfield emerging as the film’s central focus. The British actor had just been dropped from a three-picture deal with Paramount over the thunderous belly-flopping of his should-have-been-star-making vehicle GREASE 2, and he readily admits that he was lucky to get THE BOYS NEXT DOOR at all. Not only was he hard up for work, but the project allowed him to express the anger he was feeling at the time. Stealing the screen from Charlie Sheen (even a pre-fame Charlie Sheen) is no mean feat, but Caulfield does it in disturbing fashion as the destructive Roy. The imposing, blond bruiser here is world’s away from the genteel square he played in GREASE 2, and he gives THE BOYS NEXT DOOR much of its white-hot energy.
Between bouts of violence, Spheeris captures the anything-can-happen vibe of L.A. by night, lit by the hot pink and sicky green neons of the Sunset strip. The script by Glen Morgan and James Wong (best known for their later work on The X-Files) is practically rotten with expletives, slurs, insults, and sexism. There are also puzzling bits (like a bikini-clad ride atop a car boot and the opening serial killer montage) that were clearly flourishes insisted upon by Sandy Howard, a producer straight out of the Roger Corman school of independent filmmaking. It could feel as if there were too many drivers behind the wheel here, but Spheeris’ firm hand wins out: knitting Howard’s exploitation showmanship and Morgan/Wong’s verbal brutishness together with her keen eye and delicate touch, making THE BOYS NEXT DOOR a cut above your average teen killer thriller.
Severin presents THE BOYS NEXT STORE in a new 4K scan from the original negative that’s categorically great with no real discernable damage or fluctuation in visual quality. Special features include a fabulous audio commentary with Spheeris and Caulfield, interviews, an alternate opening title sequence, extended scenes, theatrical trailer, and a tour of the filming locations as they are today. The standout is BLIND RAGE, an examination of the film with the always erudite and enlightening Stephen Thrower, who brings a much-appreciated perspective as a gay fan of the film.
An of-its-era teen crime drama with contemporary relevance, Penelope Spheeris’ THE BOYS NEXT DOOR is an exploitative thriller with a probing eye trained on male aggression and classism. Though it might be a tough watch for those sensitive to casual homophobia, overt misogyny, and flippant cruelty, if you can hack it, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR yields surprising depth and entertainment value. Making its Blu-ray debut from Severin Films with plenty of crackerjack special features, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR is highly recommended.
THE BOYS NEXT DOOR is available now from Severin Films.