The Boys Next Door

the-boys-next-doo-rev The Boys Next Door  (1985)    New World/Drama-Thriller    RT: 91 minutes    Rated R (language, strong violence, sex, a scene of drug use)    Director: Penelope Spheeris    Screenplay: Glen Morgan and James Wong    Music: George S. Clinton    Cinematography: Arthur Albert    Release date: March 7, 1985 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Maxwell Caulfield, Charlie Sheen, Hank Garrett, Christopher McDonald, Patti D’Arbanville, Paul C. Dancer, Richard Pachorek, Lesa Lee, Kenneth Cortland, Moon Unit Zappa, Dawn Schneider, Kurt Christian, Don Draper, Blackie Dammett, Phil Rubenstein, James Carrington, Grant Heslov, Carlos Guitarlos.    Box Office: N/A

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 File The Boys Next Door under Great Movies That Flew Under the Radar. It wasn’t widely released or heavily marketed. It played one-week engagements around the country in late 1985/early 1986 before landing on home video in May ’86. The movie really gained momentum when it started airing on cable later that year. Viewers sat up and took notice of it. It gained a cult following. I watched it several times over the next year.

 It would be easy to mistake The Boys Next Door for just another exploitation flick. It’s a low-budget job from New World which usually means something along the lines of Certain Fury or The Annihilators. You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover? That definitely applies to The Boys Next Door, an unsettling account of two teens on a weekend crime spree in L.A.

 the boys next doorDirected by Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization), The Boys Next Door stars Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2) and Charlie Sheen (Red Dawn) as two high school outcasts destined for a bleak future as blue collar factory workers. Roy (Caulfield) and Bo (Sheen) are the opposite of popular with their peers. They’re not even welcome at a graduation party thrown by a rich classmate. It doesn’t help their case any when Roy pisses in the pool (it has a chemical in it). You see, Roy is a very angry person. He’s filled with rage and murderous impulses. Bo, on the other hand, is basically decent. He just has no social skills.

 On the night of their graduation, the boys spontaneously decide to take a trip to L.A. for one last hurrah before they begin working at the local factory the following Monday. What better way to spend the $200 Bo’s grandparents gave him as a graduation gift? Their weekend gets off to a hell of a start when Roy beats a Middle Eastern gas station attendant nearly to death with a crowbar over $2. This act puts two of L.A.’s finest, Detectives Hanley (Garrett, Car 54, Where Are You?) and Woods (McDonald, Grease 2), on their trail. Over the next 24 hours, Roy and Bo proceed on a murderous crime spree that claims the life of a gay man and an attractive young couple (shot in their car Son of Sam-style).

 You know how there are certain movies that teens find cool for the wrong reasons? I’m talking about movies like Over the Edge, River’s Edge and Kids. The Boys Next Door is that kind of movie. I was 19 when it gained popularity on cable TV. When it would come up in conversation with other teens, the scenes most talked about were the gas station scene, when Roy chucked an empty beer bottle and hit an old lady in the head and the subsequent bit where Roy speeds off with a angry girl holding on to his car hood for dear life. There was also the bigoted cop who used some very colorful terms to describe gays. He nearly gets his lights punched out by McDonald’s character. Oh yeah, it also introduced the phrase “Eat my f--k!” into our vernacular. I still don’t know what it means but it sounds funny.

 The previous paragraph describes the thoughts of teenage Movie Guy. I still think The Boys Next Door is a cool flick but for greater reasons than scenes of violence. It’s scary to think that the kid you picked on in high school could potentially turn into a mass murderer. Caulfield convincingly captures the anger of a social outcast dealt a crappy hand in life. His home life is far from idyllic. He lives in a trailer with his father, a drunk who ignores his son. Spheeris conveys their dysfunctional relationship in a single scene. We fully understand his “F the world!” attitude. Sheen is also good as Bo, the loyal friend who follows Roy down a dark path from which there’s no return. It’s also he who tries to convince his best friend to stop the killing. It takes some thought but you eventually understand his friendship with Roy arose from his lack of social skills. When rejected by his other peers, he gravitated towards a fellow outcast. The psychology in The Boys Next Door isn’t exactly deep but it gives the viewer something to think about.

 I love that The Boys Next Door lacks the polish and sheen of a major Hollywood production. It has a cheap, slightly scuzzy quality that perfectly fits the picture’s tone. Spheeris endows the movie with a great sense of realism especially the scenes depicting Hollywood’s nighttime street life. Whether it’s an arcade or a little neighborhood bar, The Boys Next Door always feels authentic. It’s in the latter place that the guys meet Angie (D’Arbanville, Modern Problems), a New Age-y sort that offers up hippy-dippy statements like “If you know your place in the cosmos, the world is beautiful.” It’s a small role but D’Arbanville does a good job of it.

 I also like that Spheeris opens The Boys Next Door with shots of notorious serial killers like David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Kenneth Bianchi (The Hillside Strangler), Henry Lee Lucas and Wayne Williams (The Atlanta Child Murderer). It reminds viewers of their heinous crimes which serves as context for Roy and Bo’s descent into cold-blooded violence. Serial killers and mass murderers could be anybody. It’s a disturbing thought. The Boys Next Door is likewise disturbing. It definitely leaves an impression. I think it’s one of the best underappreciated movies of the 80s. It makes for great late night viewing. 

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