The People Next Door – Blu-Ray Review

The People Next Door is one of those ridiculous early ’70s anti-drug movies set in the suburbs. It was directed by David Greene, who made a notable cult serial killer movie, I Start Counting, the previous year. It’s 1970 and a girl named Maxie is messed up on drugs, specifically acid, which has now come to the suburbs. Eli Wallach plays her father, who is hopelessly out of touch with his kids, with Julie Harris as the mother.

The film starts out really strong but in a very campy way. It has not aged well, but that’s half the charm of the movie. Maxie’s parents find her tripping out in a closet, and she has some amazing dialogue as she’s coming down, like “’I’ve tried all the grooves, even horse, but acid’s my scene.” Next they’re trying to figure out what to do, but they can’t. Now she’s done so much acid that she’ll have to be institutionalised, since she’s doing things like running out into the street naked when she’s tripping. There’s a scene where the dad flips out and gets violent when some young person is over and smoking weed.

The result is a fun, silly film from that time that’s amusing to watch, although it’s certainly not a great movie. It’s well-made, shot by Gordon Willis so the cinematography makes it look great. It’s one of Willis’s earliest films, the same year as Hal Ashby’s first film as a director, The Landlord, and the cult oddity End of the Road. Mike Chapman, who later shot Taxi Driver, was the camera operator. Chapman worked with Willis on almost every film he did until 1972. There’s also a soundtrack of nondescript “psychedelic,” slightly proggy songs by some band called The Glass Bottle (some of whom are interviewed on the new disc).

The first half an hour is what really makes it, since it falls into silly melodrama once Maxie is actually institutionalised. But it’s a fun ride nonetheless. A youngish Hal Holbrook and Cloris Leachman play the school principal and his alcoholic wife, who live next door and counsel Maxie’s parents to connect better with their kids, but it’s definitely too late for this family. The script is by J.P. Miller, the author of another much better addiction movie, Days of Wine and Roses. Miller also write the 1976 Helter Skelter TV movie.

Extras on the Indicator Blu-Ray, include a new audio commentary with actress Rutanya Alda, who plays a nurse in the film, and film historian Lee Gambin; and four new featurettes: Tripping with Maxie, which finds Deborah Winters recalling her role as Maxie; Structured How to Feel, in which supervising editor Brian Smedley-Aston discusses his work with Greene; My Life in Review with musician John Sheldon; and People Person, an appreciation of Greene’s career by film historian Vic Pratt. To these are added an image gallery and a 36-page booklet with new and old writing on the film.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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