The anger. The destructiveness. The urge to kill in cold blood. They weren't born with it…
Penelope Spheeris is best known for mainstream comedies like Wayne's World and The Beverly Hillbillies, but before all that she directed a gritty, hard-hitting pseudo-documentary about two young men suddenly turning to violence. That movie is The Boys Next Door, and it is a strong but predictable piece that is perhaps a precursor to Natural Born Killers. Anchor Bay has released the DVD version with an anamorphic transfer and director's commentary.
Facts of the Case
Bo (Charlie Sheen) and his best friend Roy (Matthew Caulfield) are just graduating from high school, and dread the coming Monday when they see themselves being locked into a going-nowhere factory job for the rest of their lives. The two decide to have a vacation in Los Angeles before starting their life of drudgery, and that is the turning point in their lives. Roy especially displays an inner rage that has been bubbling under the surface, with only a hint having shown before. First Roy beats a gas-station attendant nearly to death after a disagreement, and things go downhill fast as he begins exhibiting more and more violent tendencies. Bo seems almost reluctant, but goes along.
As the body count grows, the LAPD is on the case, led by a young detective (sensitively played by Christopher McDonald, before being type-cast into sleazy roles). No good end is in sight as the boys run amuck in the big city, with the cops gaining on them every minute.
Society has begun to question the causes of violence, particularly after so many recent killings that seem to have no reasonable motive. Those looking for answers to these questions will find none here; the motivations for the killers are no more apparent than what we've seen on the news. But the film does a good job of showing what we as a species are capable of, even those of us from the "civilized" countries.
The movie is more character driven and less action oriented than I would have expected, but that is a plus in this case, as it lessens the "seen it all before" factor. Bo and Roy are real kids; one who has this rage and capacity for violence seemingly inborn, and the other just willing to go along even if his moral compass tells him otherwise. The taut, quickly paced story is still slower than it could have been, and it gives you the chance to reflect a bit during the film. There are a couple quizzical and even funny scenes that offset the grim, graphic violence that keeps coming back. The film held my interest despite times when I felt like the rest of the movie was already laid out in front of me. Despite the predictability I often found, the ending still left me a bit surprised. The performances are straightforward and solid, and telling the story from the point of view of the killers is original enough.
The violence in the film, for better or worse, is quite graphic. The beating deaths of two of the victims are particularly painful to watch. Whether that merely catapults the film back into exploitation level or makes for a grittier feel is a question I'm not prepared to answer.
The DVD presentation holds few surprises, however. The Boys Next Door is given a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, with fine results. Age has faded some of the colors, but the level of detail is still pretty sharp, with only a hint of edge enhancement. Shadow detail is a bit murky in the many night shots, but it keeps the gritty look of the film intact. Though not reference material for a new film, it belies its age pretty well. The sound is an only adequate mono, with limited fidelity though at least it is clear. The '80s musical score fairly screams its decade of origin, and it can sometimes become a bit harsh and overshadow the dialogue. The extra content is a high point for the disc. There is a commentary track with director Penelope Spheeris and star Maxwell Caulfield. There were fun moments and interesting moments through the track, such as the fact that Caulfield got the role of Roy after Nicolas Cage had a conflict and had to quit at the last minute. Too bad, Cage might have made a career for himself if he had gotten this part. (That last sentence is sarcasm, for the humor impaired.) Cast and crew bios and a trailer complete the content, which makes for a nice package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film tries to be a bit more than it is as it begins with a rogue's gallery of famous serial killers. The introduction implies that this film will be case worthy of adding to that gallery, and therefore will rise above expectations of being only an exploitation picture. But it never quite reaches its goal as serial killers rarely work in pairs, and each has a modus operandi of his own. Roy and Bo seem to be visiting a highlight reel of these killers, rather than staking out a new method of their own. Their motivations are nearly absent, other than resentment about life in general, and does this make us understand why they kill? No, it doesn't. At best the film feels incomplete, and at worst having pretensions of greatness it was unable to achieve.
Despite the flaws, the gritty, hard hitting story and the presence of actors such as Charlie Sheen keep the film's head just above water, avoiding the stereotype of an exploitative violence flick. The DVD presentation is just good enough to warrant my recommendation, though some will want to give it a rental try before buying.
All involved are acquitted, except for our teen killers who must be made an example of. I sentence them to life without parole, thereby saving the government millions in the costs it would incur trying to execute them. Vengeance be damned; we're talking dollars and cents here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary Track
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