The ‘Burbs (1989)

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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His worst fears had been confirmed. It was indeed... a ginger.
His worst fears had been confirmed. It was indeed… a ginger.

Twitter Plot Summary: There are some creepy new neighbours in an unassuming suburb. Are they up to no good?

Five Point Summary:

1. Google Earth: 1989 edition right there…
2. A ginger. Must be evil.
3. The dog’s found something interesting.
4. The most awkward dinner party ever.
5. An explosive finale, if you will.

Suburban paranoia is a common theme wherever you go – people are naturally suspicious of others as part of some deeply ingrained survival instinct. That’s played out to comedic effect in The Burbs, where Tom Hanks’ Ray Peterson just wants to have a quiet week off without having to head out to the holiday cabin, much to his wife’s chagrin – played, surprisingly, by Carrie Fisher. Who knew she’d made other films besides Star Wars? I jest of course – I’ve also seen her in Drop Dead Fred. What’s partially on his mind though is the new neighbours who have moved in next door. Nobody has seen them and strange noises come out of their basement at night. Something is afoot, clearly.

We’re introduced to the neighbourhood in quick succession: next door to Ray is the slightly nutty Art, ever the conspiracy theorist; over the road are Mr Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door to him is Corey Feldman. Yeah, instantly that dates it as an 80s movie. Up the road is Walter and his tiny, tiny dog, one that has a habit of making deposits on Rumsfield’s lawn. Each person in the neighbourhood fits a particular stereotype, and if you can’t tell immediately that Rumsfield is a military man then you’re clearly not watching the right film. Hanks is his typical affable self in “Everyman” mode, Dern is stern brilliance as Rumsfield, and Rick Ducommun is plain wacky as Art. Corey Feldman does what he does best (irritates, slightly) and rocks an impressive 80s hairdo.

When roly poly toupee wearing neighbour Walter disappears and leaves his dog behind, the group  all assume the worst and assume that the new neighbours have killed him and buried him in their back garden – Ray’s observation of them digging several holes in their back yard is a clear indication that all is not well, right? The trio of Rumsfield, Art and Ray turn their surveillance up to 11, yet somehow don’t feel the need to inform the authorities at all – even when Ray’s dog digs up a human bone from next door’s garden.

Their new hobby was hiding behind bins. Nobody knew why.
Their new hobby was hiding behind bins. Nobody knew why.

The neighbours – the Klopeks – are suitably creepy and suitably foreign – strangers in a strange land. The fact their house is decaying and fallen into disrepair adds to the sense of strangeness, as does the gothic vibe it gives off – it stands unique and alone in a neighbourhood of uniformity. This is emphasised when the womenfolk decide to take everybody round to visit the Klopeks. Not only does the inside of the house give off a creepy Hammer Horror vibe, but the food served up to the guests is both hilarious and yet liable to give you an upset stomach.

Joe Dante hasn’t made a huge number of films, but on the whole they tend to hit the mark. Joe Dante plus Tom Hanks is a winning combo for sure. It may not have the edge that Dante infused the Gremlins films with, but even without a cute Gizmo to draw in audiences it is a black comedy of high quality, balancing the mundanity of suburban existence with the macabre notion that the neighbours are serial killers. And who could blame folks for thinking as much – one of the Klopeks is ginger.

Score: 3.5/5

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