The 'Burbs

The 'Burbs

The 'Burbs

1989. Directed by Joe Dante. 

A cornerstone of 80's nostalgia cinema, Joe Dante's pitch black comedy The 'Burbs is a screwball critique of petty suburban living.

The Klopeks are a reclusive family that has moved into the idyllic cul de sac of Mayfield Place.  Soon after, the denizens of the neighborhood begin to think the family is up to no good.  When an elderly man goes missing, a trio of nosy suburbanites decides to get to the truth of the mystery behind the Klopeks, no matter the cost.  

The cast is monument of comedic talent that embody the stereotypes of every neighborhood..  Tom Hanks stars as the every man who just wants to enjoy his vacation.  Bruce Dern delivers a scene stealing performance as the Vietnam vet who never left the war behind.  Rick Ducommun is the standout as the quintessential arrogant and overly curious neighbor.  Carrie Fisher is the voice of reason as Hanks' characters' wife and Wendy Schaal delivers a purposely cliche'd role as the vet's oversexed vixen wife.   

Dante's famous dark comedic delights are on full display throughout this story.  I remembered watching it endlessly as a child and upon my recent viewing it really hit home how Dante was totally taking aim at the middle class with both barrels.  The villain in this film is the not mysterious outsiders, but the fear that the neighbors have and their insatiable need to be proven right in their murderous suspicions.  It's a malicious, yet playful in the way it leads the audience along, hitting all the familiar notes while delivering an ugly comic book picture of American living.  

The film is elevated by Dana Olsen's smart script.  There are endlessly quotable lines (Trousers All Day!?) that also highlight many of the things the film is satirizing.  The exchanges between the core trio and their insane notions of masculinity coupled by the world building done in the early act is phenomenal.  The film was shot on the studio using a neighborhood set from Dragnet.  It never leaves the world of Mayfield Place, creating a unique version of the chamber mystery.  James Spencer's production design really shines, especially with the Klopek's House, a Gothic cavity in the street's gum line.  

The final component is Jerry's Goldsmith's wonderful score that evokes an almost Burton like feeling with it's odd notes and brooding organ pieces.   It manages to present scenes of faux terror in comedic glory, with the principal example being the "femur bone" scene.  The score elicits memories of terror from monster matinee's while the expert camera work of Robert Stevens captures the hilarious reactions of Hanks and Ducommun in a hyper-Vertigo homage.  

Available now on Netflix, The 'Burbs is a film that never found it's place with critics.  Many thought it was going for a comedic riff on the Twilight Zone but when distilled, The 'Burbs is more a Hitchcock parody.  It's a slapstick commentary on the mean hearts that dwell next door and cautions you that while killers may walk among us, it's those at our backyard barbecues and bake sales that we should wary of.   Potential buyers beware...

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