Release Date: February 17, 1989
Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Dana Olsen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’
The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.
Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.
‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.
The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.
The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.
As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.
There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies. It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.
- Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
- Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
- Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
- Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
- Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
- Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
- Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
- The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
- Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
- In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).
Staple His Ass Shut
A Hideous Raging Inferno
Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?
Prank On Ray
Acting Like A Guy On Vacation
You Are A Garbage Man
A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day
Can’t Come Out
This Is Walter
A Fine Christian Name
9 On The Tension Scale
I Really Like Your Hair
Art On The News