The second narrative feature from director Penelope Spheeris – who is perhaps best known for helming the best Saturday Night Live movie of all time, Wayne’s World – is a quintessentially ’80s movie, from its squealing guitar-heavy soundtrack to its fetishization of 1950s greaser attitude. It is also compelling, tense and rather brutal, and though it seems to be reaching for relevant social commentary, it never sacrifices its pure entertainment value for this higher goal. This is a film that knows what it does well and sets about doing just that, without pretension.
The Boys Next Door stars a young, pre-“passion,” Charlie Sheen as Bo Richards, a high school outcast whose only real friend is the even more ostracized Roy Alston (Maxwell Caulfield). After a gripping opening credits sequence featuring pictures and voice-over narration of various well-known mass murderers, including David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and Kenneth “Hillside Strangler” Bianchi, the pair are introduced playing a childish prank on their high school on the last day of their senior year. Faced with nothing better than a future of low-wage labor at a nearby factory, the two crash and basically ruin a party attended by the more popular kids before hitting the streets of L.A. to try and pick up girls by yelling at them from their car windows, with all the success such a method usually brings. Before long, they vent their sexual and social frustrations in a series of increasingly violent acts that escalate from assault to multiple murders in the span of a few hours.
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If the aim of filmmaking is to provoke a response in the viewer, then Wes Craven’s original “The Last House on the Left” must be considered a massive success. For anyone with even a shred of decency, it’s a tough movie to sit through, and I found it be just that some 15 years ago when I first saw it. With the remake in theatres, a DVD re-release of the 1972 “classic” was a no-brainer, and I figured I’d give it another spin and see how I felt about it today. The good news is that my decency-ometer must still be working, because the first half of the film had me squirming and made me feel ill. On the other hand, as I’ve since seen far more depraved fare such as Pasolini’s “Salo” and Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights,” I also came away from it with more of an appreciation for what Craven unleashed all those years ago. One wonders if the Manson family killings were an influence on the piece, as it strongly evokes that time and place.
The story, if you can call it such, revolves around escaped convict Krug (David Hess) and his posse of animal followers, and what happens when they kidnap two teenage girls, Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham). What follows amounts to little more than rape, torture and death. It goes on seemingly forever, and it’s all done in a documentary style for maximum effect. The happenings are juxtaposed with scenes of two bumbling, ineffective cops, who might be there for comic relief, but really serve the narrative’s third act, which is all about taking the law into your own hands. In the last half-hour, Krug and Co. by chance arrive at the home of Mari, where her parents discover the fate of their daughter and exact revenge against the lunatics. Once you get past the generally off-putting nature of the entire affair, the biggest problem with “Last House” is that the climax isn’t anywhere near as harrowing as the setup. You never really feel that Krug and his cronies get what’s coming to them, although there may be a point buried somewhere beneath it all that people such as the parents could never achieve the same levels of brutality as Krug. Finally, there’s the weird, folksy score written and sung by Hess himself, which serves as unsettling narration. If the movie weren’t twisted enough, those songs take it to a whole other level of sickness.
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