The Savage Stack - THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1985)

Penelope Spheeris mixes punk rock and serial murder for a chilling look at a pair of handsome spree killers.

There’s always going to be – for lack of a better term – a stack of films we’ve been meaning to get to. Whether it’s a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays haphazardly amassed atop our television stands, or a seemingly endless digital queue on our respective streaming accounts, there’s simply more movies than time to watch them. This column is here to make that problem worse. Ostensibly an extension of Everybody’s Into Weirdness (may that series rest in peace), The Savage Stack is a compilation of the odd and magnificent motion pictures you probably should be watching instead of popping in The Avengers for the 2,000th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with filmic “comfort food” (God knows we all have titles we frequently return to when we crave that warm and fuzzy feeling), but if you love movies, you should never stop searching for the next title that’s going to make your “To Watch” list that much more insurmountable. Some will be favorites, others oddities, with esoteric eccentricities thrown in for good measure. All in all, a mountain of movies to conquer.

The seventieth entry into this unbroken backlog is Penelope Spheeris' punk rock spree-killing picture, The Boys Next Door...

During the late '70s and early '80s, Penelope Spheeris was immersed in the Los Angeles punk scene, crafting her non-fiction chronicle, The Decline of Western Civilization ('81). She hung out with bands The Germs, Black Flag, and X, taking cameramen into shows, and capturing the reckless youth that made up this beer-soaked, mohawked collection of motley youth. Spheeris knew just how fucking weird LA could be, but in studying the scene lifers who gravitated toward these artists' angry music, she also got a sense of what these mini revolutionaries were running from. A lot of them were homeless or crammed into shithole apartments, barely scraping by with minimum wage jobs and/or petty larceny. Nevertheless, this life beat the one that waited for them at their parents' home, wherever the hell that may be. No future was better than working on some assembly line or slaving away over a new brood of rugrats. Better to die in the gutter than rot in suburbia. 

That's the sort of life that awaits Bo (Charlie Sheen) and Roy (Maxwell Caufield), a couple of losers in Nowheresville, California who just graduated from high school with no friends and barely the ability to read. Yet they don't give a shit about any of that, wanting to fuck off and play pranks on their peers, such as an early morning chalk outline of Bo's body awaiting the entire school on their last day of class. As a crowd gathers, wondering who could've been shot down on such an idyllic campus, the boys laugh while perched atop the hood of their Plymouth Roadrunner, pleased with their final masterpiece. Not a single thought is given to how traumatic seeing the outline of a dead body could be for their fellow adolescents. The good times are all that's valued it in the end, as Bo and Roy both know – come Monday – they’ll be reporting to their factory jobs, punching a clock for the next thirty-five years before retiring and eventually passing away in their sleep.

But before they give themselves over to taxes and death, the boys crash a party and then hit the road for Hollywood, hoping to have one last wild-ass weekend before existence as they know it ends completely. We know this is all going to end in misery; the opening title cards of Spheeris' The Boys Next Door having been juxtaposed against the mugshots of serial killers such as David Berkowitz, while psychologists' testimony mixes with a portentous soundtrack provided by George S. Clinton (Multiple Maniacs ['70]). The doctors’ descriptions of these notorious massacre artists fit Bo and Roy all too well – white, handsome, unassuming yet charming – and we're just waiting for the shit to hit the fan. These boys were already up to no good. Now it’s only a matter of time before their true graduation from mere mischief to madness and murder occurs before our eyes. 

Penned by future X-Files masterminds Glen Morgan and James Wong, The Boys Next Door doesn't so much follow a linear plot as it does a meandering series of conflicts, each one worst than the last. Almost as soon as they arrive in LA, Bo and Roy practically beat a Middle Eastern gas attendant to death and rob his station, all because he wouldn't give them any more fuel than the two dollars' worth they actually paid for. Shortly thereafter, the two are cruising toward Skid Row, hollering at any pretty women they see whilst swigging whiskey from a flask and forgetting the fact their shitty little hometown exists at all. This weekend, it’s all about girls, booze and letting off a lot of steam; they're wild animals finally released from any sort of societal leash. All the while, Spheeris has handpicked a collection of metal and punk, ranging from Great White, to The Cramps, to Code Blue, all ear-splitters soundtracking this descent into hell. 

Like Henry (Michael Rooker) and Otis (Tom Towles) – whom John McNaughton would profile in his own cold blooded masterwork, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ('86) – there's a suppressed homoerotic attraction between the two boys, which they both smother via an endless tirade of rampant misogyny and homophobia. The Boys Next Door indulges these unpleasantries to a wholly uncomfortable extent, as Bo and Roy abuse nearly every woman they come in contact with, and are barely restrained from committing a hate crime when they mistake The End Zone – a rather obvious queer bar – for a place they can pick up girls to fuck. Afterwards, their newly acquired tour guide to LA’s gay scene ends up becoming their first victim, as Roy practically sacrifices the man on the altar of his own sexual confusion, shooting him dead with a .38 after he’s kind enough to invite the two back to his apartment for a nightcap. Now, the murderous portion of the guys' vacation has begun, and each crime is filmed like a loose musical number, with blaring rock laid over the awful violence. 

A year before she made the mostly satiric Hollywood Vice Squad ('86), Spheeris is applying a real sense for texture to the dark alleys and sun-drenched boardwalks that become these two murderous bozos' debauched playground. While never as grimy as Gary Sherman's sleaze classic Vice Squad ('82), Spheeris ensures cinematographer Arthur Albert (Night of the Comet ['84]) captures it all with an eye for free-flowing authenticity. Arthur's lens leers at a gaggle of New Wave street performers (not to mention the squares who take in their show) and the purple-haired punks who hang under theater marquees, hollering at the boys to "go back to The Valley!" This is Skid Row as seen by a woman who was only a few years away from making her second Decline doc, and we can feel The Metal Years seeping into this fictional document of teenage revolt.

In fact, the spree-killing is really an afterthought; an extension of Bo and Roy's uprising against the lack of future that's coming for them, causing The Boys Next Door to occupy this grey thematic space between McNaughton’s Henry and Alex Cox's Repo Man ('84). The weirdness of LA becomes a magnet for lost youth – who mostly only end up spiraling further down its drains – destined to die with a needle in their arms, or on the other end of an authority figure's weapon. Just as the squatter kids in Spheeris' Suburbia ('82) end up facing tragedy despite almost separating themselves from society altogether, we know the end of the road for Bo and Roy is paved in blood and regrets. Meanwhile, a pair of cops (Christopher McDonald and Hank Garrett) sense the fatalistic air wafting around this new generation. These kids are fucked for life, and they know it; apathy breeding an epidemic of violence that's only going to get worse, before it ever gets better. 

The Boys Next Door is available on DVD, courtesy of IMAGE Entertainment.