The Boys Next Door

October 5, 2011

Roy and Bo are celebrating their graduation day from high school. Since the other kids in their small Southwestern town don’t like them, they must make their own fun. To that end, they hop in a car, drive to Los Angeles, and look for an outlet for their energy, which, next week, will be channeled into the local factory, where the two will run the drill press for the rest of their lives.

The outlet they find is, to them, almost as casual as playing video games or drinking beer: They start killing people. This is the disturbing premise of The Boys Next Door, a strong youth-alienation film from director Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia).

The title is a bit of a misnomer. Although these boys are attractive and of average intelligence, at least one, Roy, is already deeply maladjusted. During the drive to Los Angeles, Roy confesses to Bo, “I got stuff inside of me”—stuff about to explode. Bo, not as explosive but malleable, goes along for the ride.

They arrive in town and, without planning, start lashing out at people who irritate them—foreigners, homosexuals, women. Meanwhile, detectives on the case search for some clue in the series of seemingly unconnected crimes.

All of this may sound overly distasteful, and it’s not a nice film, but Spheeris has a gift for portraying the banality of the terror these boys wreak. When they beat a gas station worker over a money dispute, Bo takes time to grab a handful of chewing gum from the front counter. A visit to the LaBrea Tar Pits inspires the concept for “Caveman Day,” in which the boys envision a society where all rules are overturned.

This banalization of murder is reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Badlands, which also portrayed a pointless murder spree. What makes The Boys Next Door so compelling is the acting from Maxwell Caulfield, who plays the simian Roy, and Charlie Sheen, who plays Bo. Sheen is the son of Martin Sheen, who starred as the killer in Badlands.

It’s a bit puzzling to speculate about the film’s potential audience. Without heroes or a happy ending, the teen crowd will not be much interested. And by not wearing its pretensions on its sleeve, the film will probably be ignored by the critics who applauded Badlands. But, while it’s ugly at times, this is an impressive piece of filmmaking.

First published in the Herald, March 1986

Spheeris really does have a feel for this kind of thing, and if the movie might be derivative of A Clockwork Orange or Badlands or some other banality-of-evil texts, it is pretty potent. Or so it seems from 25-year memory The film never got any particular traction, with audiences or critics, so I suppose my observation in the final paragraph held true.