The Boys Next Door was Penelope Spheeris’ first film after Suburbia and, like all of her best work, it was a flop—but gained a cult following via VHS. It also features Charlie Sheen in his first notable role after Red Dawn. Much like Platoon, he is cosplaying another one of his father’s most notable roles, but this time it’s Kit Carruthers (based on Charles Starkweather) from Badlands. The real star of the film is Maxwell Caulfield, who was coming off the complete failure of Grease 2; fans of Empire Records will recognize him as Rex Manning.
The film opens with a strange montage of famous serial killers, which tries to somewhat clumsily connect Ed Kemper, for example, to the two young men in the film. It’s an interesting way to start the film, but the boys (with the possible exception of Roy Alston (Caulfield), who is the more psychotic one of the two) are spree killers, not serial killers. The film starts off as almost a parody of ‘80s teen sex comedies, where these two poor boys literally have to crawl through the bushes to get to the big high-school graduation party. The two boys, Roy and Bo (Sheen), eventually decide to go on a trip to Los Angeles before they face years of blue-collar jobs—these two are most certainly not going to college. The film gradually takes a shockingly dark turn as the two goes on a complete rampage, leaving much bloodshed in their wake.
Spheeris clearly hates these two entitled brats, but at the same time does show real insight into their behaviours and why they end up doing what they do. Roy is very obviously gay, and clearly has feelings for Bo but can’t express them. His closeted homosexuality comes to a boiling point when Bo is getting off with Angie Baker (Patti D’Arbanville), who is this older witchy hippie chick, and Roy brutally murders her by shaking her to death. It’s such an unusual method for murder, which just makes the film so much more impactful and disturbing. Earlier in the film, Roy also very brutally murders a gay guy who brings the two boys home, but while he is there, he is clearly flirtatious with the guy and even takes his shirt off.
The two boys visit the world famous La Brea Tar Pits, which actually predates their iconic appearance in Miracle Mile. That film does share some DNA with The Boys Next Door in the sense that it starts off as a completely different film and quite rapidly goes into directions you never saw coming. Incidentally, the two young men in The Boys Next Door are ‘80s proto-Incels: they are depicted as sexist, racist, homophobic, and believing they are completely entitled to everything. Spheeris does completely condemn them, but not without some astute commentary on why they think the way they do. It’s kind of the bastard nihilistic stepson of Heathers and River’s Edge—it doesn’t have the wit of Heathers or the desolation of River’s Edge, but it’s nasty little film that deserves to be seen.
The film is also quite funny at times, especially when Bo tries to explain what anarchists are to Roy: “Anarchists, man. It means they’ll fuck anything!” Spheeris also undoes the one criticism I have of Suburbia, because here she portrays the cops as just as the bad as the boys. Suburbia is very sympathetic to the punks, but the stepdad to the head of the punks, who is a cop, is portrayed in an overly sympathetic way, which is that film’s one false note.
Finally, given that it was the early ‘80s, both Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage auditioned for The Boys Next Door. Cage turned down playing Roy, but Glover got fairly far into the audition stage. He was deemed “too psychotic” after he tested with Caulfield.
The Blu-Ray release from 101 Films is mostly a port of the US Severin disc, but does include a booklet with essays from John Towlson and Rich Johnson. The extras on the disc include a commentary from Spheeris and Caulfield, and an appreciation from Stephen Thrower, who wrote the mammoth book on exploitation cinema Nightmare USA. Caulfield and Christopher McDonald (who plays one of the cops on the trail of the boys) are interviewed, as are Spheeris and Caulfield; street band performers Texacala Jones and Tequila Mockingbird, who appear in the film; and actor Kenneth Cortland. The Psychtronic Tourist is a featurette in which Kier-La Janisse visits the locations in the film. The disc is finished off with a silent alternative opening, deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.