Author: James Ackland
We all have one neighbour we don't really know. Or trust. A neighbour whose behaviour we question or are suspicious of. Some neighbours just keep to themselves and we see only fleeting glimpses. But we don't LIKE these neighbours. They don't fit it. Inspired by childhood neighbourhood rumours and tall tales this is a story of xenophobia and suburban paranoia wonderfully brought to the scene in Joe Dantes 1989 film The 'Burbs.
Playing on classic all american phobias, Dante's film tells the story of a group of homes in anywhere America who struggle with what they cannot accept. The unknown.
Tom hanks in a freshly finished, yet to be released BIG, pre FORREST GUMP role hams it up as Ray Peterson who has taken a week off to just drink beer, watch the game and play with his new tools. That's all he wants to do. But after a disturbance at the neighbours house keeps him up one night him and his other cup de sac dwellers can’t help but investigate to uncover the mystery of the Klopeks.
Alongside Hanks is the great (and under appreciated) Rick Ducommun (DIE HARD, SPACEBALLS) who in my mind is channelling his inner John Candy. Annoying and truly believable as the "other" kind of neigh our we all have… yeah you know who i’m talking about!
Across the street is the great Bruce Dern (THE DRIVER, NABRASKA) as the Vietnam scarred Lt. Mark Rumsfield, a flag waving patriot, with racist leanings and an impossibly hot 1980’s wife played by Wendy Schaal (AMERICAN DAD). Dern already looks pretty worn and aged in this film, it’s simply awesome that he’s still going strong.
Corey Feldman is the local beer drinking, pizza eating teen and 4th wall breaking story commentator Ricky Butler this must have been just before his slide into drug addiction. Hell, he could be in the middle of it as he comes across like a Fast times Jeff Spicoli clone. Or that could have just been himself on the screen.
The always beautiful Carrie fisher is unfortunately relegated as Tom Hanks’ housewife. Not a bad choice, she plays the trusting moral character that doesn't believe the odd behaviour that surrounds the cul de sac and we always need that character to balance the mad capped behaviour of the 3 stooges.
The neighbours under suspicion, the Klopeks, live in a dilapidated home that poses the question as to who these people are and why are they driving down the property value in the small community? Brown grassless lawns and a house that's falling apart. It's all too much for this "perfect" community.
After our trio of snoops witness what they think is a body being dumped in the garbage the need to get down to the bottom of this mysterious family must be solved.
Courtney Gains in his normal "hick" look suitably creeps as anyone who has seen CHILDREN OF THE CORN can tell you. Brother Theodore is perfect as curmudgeon Uncle Reuben. Also part of the Klopek brood is the late Henry Gibson (MAGNOLIA, THE BLUES BROTHERS) whose calm delivery is hilarious and also believable as someone who could potentially be seen as a psycho.
As mentioned in the accompanying essays the film was shot during a writers strike on the universal backlot over 40 days. This allowed Dante to shoot in sequence and to explore lots of options for the actors to improvise. This i believe was a plus for a film rich with subtile gags that you pick up on after repeated viewings.
TV shows like the Munsters, Leave it Beaver and Desperate Housewives were all been shot on the universal street lot. So if it looks familiar it’s because you’ve been there before.
The laughs are tight and gags using pretzels and sardines add to the awkward humour that just makes you feel really nauseous. Joe Dante uses some great returning gremlins actors. Especially Dick Miller who plays a garage man with his usual fantastic manic frustration. In fact almost every actor in this film went on to work with Dante again, especially for GREMLINS 2.
Joe Dante would have been on a high after GREMLINS and he is still at the top of his game with The ‘burbs. While there is certainly a REAR WINDOW aspect to the film it’s more in the vein of a classic Albert & Costello meets the Wolfman kind of vibe. He uses tight comedy and some great surreal dream sequences to play on Tom hanks' paranoia.
Unfortunately for us, Dante’s run of classic 80’s films ends here and apart from The GREMLINS sequel in 1990 he hasn't done much of this calibre again. Working in television and sporadic films (THE HOLE) for the last 24 years i’m sure we all hope for a great return to the cinema for Dante soon.
Restored in 2K by Arrow the restoration to Dantes specifications and the film looks brand new! Its presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is filled with natural grain; due to the age and budget, despite the transfer, this is honestly the best the film is every going to look.
Sounds great in 2.0 stereo and Jerry Goldsmiths score is a rare comedy film highlight!
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
• Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
• New audio commentary with writer Dana Olsen, moderated by author Calum Waddell
• There Goes the Neighbourhood: The Making of The ’Burbs - A new feature-length documentary including interviews with Dante, actors Corey Feldman, Courtney Gains and Wendy Schaal, director of photography Robert M. Stevens and production designer James H. Spencer
• The original Workprint cut of the film transferred from Director Joe Dante’s personal copy, on home video for the very first time - includes deleted and alternate scenes!
• A Tale of Two ‘Burbs – Video featurette comparing the differences between the Workprint and Theatrical cuts of the film, with optional audio commentary from Dante
• Alternate ending, presented in HD for the very first time
• Original Theatrical Trailer in HD
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kenneth J. Souza, author of Scared Silly: The Films of Joe Dante, and an article looking at the collaborations of Joe Dante and composer Jerry Goldsmith, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.