Following the bleak teenage-wasteland melodrama of her first narrative feature, Suburbia, Penelope Spheeris’s The Boys Next Door applies her exploration of disaffected youth to the American outlaw tradition over the neon-hued backdrop of Reagan-era Los Angeles. We’re introduced to Bo and Roy, played by Charlie Sheen and a beefy Max Caulfield, on the eve of their high school graduation, with the two white-T-shirted rebels chalking a body outline in the wispy smoke and demonic lighting of road flares burning below. This rather childish, no-stakes prank and their classroom buffoonery barely hint at the violence to come; after all, these are just the invisible “boys next door” who fail to garner more than exasperation and mockery from their polo-shirted peers and the object of Bo’s fantasies, Bonnie, in all her perfect blonde conformity. After crashing the popular kids’ party, the boys take Bo’s $200 graduation present on a road trip to downtown LA for one last “caveman” weekend before they clock in at the local factory come Monday morning; what follows is a rapid escalation in random violence, resulting in four murders before the inevitable police confrontation.
The rather bizarre opening credit sequence, whose tone is rarely repeated in the irony-tinged, fuchsia-hued film, features photos of several American serial killers and soundbites about them, and concludes with the admonition, “The scary thing is, seemingly normal people commit these crimes. They can act like anyone: your friend, your teacher… the guy next door.” The proceeding killing spree excavates this threat and the hinted-at mystery; after all, he seemed like a nice guy, how did this happen? The Boys Next Door signals familiar explanations throughout—absent parents; a casual racial epithet; constant, virulent misogyny; noxious homophobia/Roy’s simmering self-hatred—but the meaninglessness at the core of their behavior seems to find its deadly flashpoint in the hopeless adulthood looming over the weekend’s conclusion. Between explosions of sweaty, panting violence and the episodes of satiated calm that follow, Roy tells Bo, “You’re screwed” no matter what, that good looking, successful heterosexual men in pressed chinos “keep us from going anywhere”—the closest he’ll come to verbalizing the murderous, barely coherent rage of disappointed, dreamless suburban boys.
The Boys Next Door is the first film from screenwriters Glen Morgan and James Wong, the writing/directing duo behind Final Destination (1 and 3) and some of the best episodes of The X-Files—most notably, in this context, season four’s Home, the first instance of a TV-MA rating and “viewer discretion” warning for the show. Partially inspired by the documentary Brother’s Keeper, the episode locates a farmhouse at the edge of a small town, whose local, prototypically all-American population live in a silent contract of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the shockingly deformed Peacock brothers and their loving (literally) mother. The undisturbed perpetuation of the Peacocks’ pre-modern, technology-free, incestuous lifestyle, and its violent incursion into the sanctity of the good picket-fenced people’s lives next door, presents an explicit condemnation of the nuclear family and the cherished values of small-town folk a full 10 years after Spheeris’s film—an exhumation of decayed, deadly myths that persist today.
The Boys Next Door is available to stream for free on Tubi