THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1985)
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80s Crime thriller finds social outcasts Bo (Charlie Sheen) and Roy (Maxwell Caulfield) facing high school graduation and the start of dead end factory jobs the following Monday. They decide to hit L.A. for a last weekend of cutting loose, but as dark emotions and deep frustrations bubble to the surface, the party weekend quickly degenerates into a spree of violence, mayhem and murder.
Effective and disturbing little flick is directed by Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia, Wayne’s World) from a script from future X-Files writers/producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. It takes a dark look at that moment between high school and moving forward to your future, with the portrayal of two youths who don’t feel they have one. Obviously, from the film’s opening credits serial killer montage, we know this is not going to end well and it doesn’t, as a weekend of cutting loose becomes a vicious murder spree. It’s the brooding Roy who has the darkest emotions here as he does most of the killing, with the more simpleminded Bo along for the ride and assisting in some of the violence. Morgan and Wong’s script has implications Roy is also struggling with his sexuality and/or repressing homosexuality as he, at one moment, dupes a gay man (Paul C. Dancer) into taking them back to his apartment and then brutalizes and murders him. Roy also becomes apparently jealous when Bo gets laid with the lonely and pretty Angie (Patti D’Arbanville) and viciously murders the older woman, who is just looking for some company. These moments are violent and very effective as we watch two men venting their frustrations, and in Roy’s case, some dark harbored emotions, on innocent people. The police are slowly closing in on the duo, but even Detective Woods (Christopher McDonald) laments that it will take more heinous activity to get the clues they need to catch them. It also takes quite a few bodies for Bo to come around, want to walk away and go home, but Roy is out of control and we know it is only a matter of time before small town thrill-killers collide with big city police…and Spheeris makes it an intense and unsettling ride. There is some clunky dialog here and there, mostly between the police characters, but otherwise this is an underrated tale of two young men giving in to their darker impulses and taking their frustrations out on unsuspecting and undeserving people. Despite being thirty years old these themes resonate today more than ever, with the horrible reality of school shootings and teen killers.
Sheen and Caulfield are excellent in their parts. Long before he became ‘troubled’ Sheen plays a simple young man who seems to be happy to just go with the flow and in this case, go along with the more dominant and troubled Roy. Bo engages in the violence, but seems to be just following Roy’s lead as he lacks the inner rage and turmoil of his best friend. He’s sadly a follower and just as he is willing to walk into that factory on Monday morning, he is willing to follow the increasingly volatile Roy on his spree of violence. Bo does join in on some of the brutality, but it is Roy who initiates it and delivers the fatal blow in each case. It takes until the brutal murder of the sweet Angie for Bo to realize he’s had enough, but it’s too little and too late. Caulfield gives a very strong performance as the more dominant and deeply troubled Roy. Roy seems to have numerous frustrations bubbling within, as he is not only unhappy with his working class, trailer park life with his drunk and burnt-out father, but Morgan and Wong’s script seem to implicate he is also possibly suppressing homosexuality, as he targets the gay Chris for murder, kills the male of a couple with the woman being almost an afterthought and appears to be quite jealous when Bo is getting Angie’s amorous attention. It’s never discussed openly, but there are enough clues to suggest working class Roy is suppressing homosexual tendencies and this suppression is turning into rage. Rage is what fuels Roy, whereas Bo is just along for the ride and for the thrill of their criminal exploits. Roy is out for revenge against a world he possibly feels has mistreated him or dealt him a bad hand. Caulfield does a great job conveying these frustrations and Roy’s inner rage. Other major cast members are Patti D’Arbanville, as the ill-fated Angie, who seems like a sweet-natured and lonely women just looking for some company and the actress earns our empathy with limited screen time and Christopher McDonald as young detective Woods, who, unfortunately, has one of the weaker written parts and some of the more stilted dialogue. He is likable, but is a victim of some of the script’s flaws.
Revisiting this ‘lost’ flick after more than two decades, only makes it more disappointing that the film was never really recognized for the effective and unsettling crime thriller it is. It presents a simple, and all too real, story of two small town youths who let their darker emotions, frustrations and urges turn them down a violent path with only one end. The two lead actors are very good in their roles with conveying, especially in Caulfield’s Roy, emotions and inner turmoil they are not equipped to deal with…so they take it out on others. It’s shocking, brutal and even over thirty years later, very effective and relevant. Highly recommended.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.