The Burbs - 1989
Director(s): Joe Dante
Writer(s): Dana Olsen
Cinematography by: Robert M. Stevens
Editor(s): Marshall Harvey
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Courtney Gains, Henry Gibson and Wendy Schaal.
There are very few directors that are so deeply tied to the genre people deem as "cult classics" like Joe Dante. The man behind Gremlins 1/2, The Howling, and Small Soldiers to name a few, has a vast and unique resume. Dante's use of practical effects, subtle mix of adult humor in "family friendly" films, and his smooth tone setting visuals make him one of my favorite directors. When choosing a movie from his catalog the choice was simple, my wife hadn't seen The Burbs, and that sin had to be expunged from her record. Also, this year marks its thirty-year-anniversary. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Ray Peterson (Hanks) as he is getting ready to spend a week's vacation "relaxing" at his home. His vacation quickly turns into him and his fellow neighbors (Dern and Ducommun) snooping around trying to learn more about their mysterious new next-door neighbors, the Klopeks. They suspect the for a satanic cult that is going to murder people in their cul-de-sac. Dana Olsen wrote a script that creates and maintains a balance between the horror elements; creepy visuals, eerie music, and suspicious neighbors, and the comedic elements; morning routines of the cul-de-sac, neighbor stereotypes, and the hilarious banter between Hanks and Ducommun. Olsen slowly escalates the events allowing the audience to buy into Hank's descent into madness and obsession. There are countless running gags, slapstick comedy and witty remarks that make for great repeat viewings, as you always find something new.
Quick note: **SPOILER READ NEXT PARAGRAPH TO AVOID** part of me wishes they didn't bail out Hanks and crew with the trunk reveal. Them being the monsters, them being the villains would've made for a better ending. Small nitpick, but I've always wondered if it was a studio note.
As stated in my opening paragraph, Dante's directorial style is perfect for this kind of script. It allows him to play up the creepy factor of the neighbors, with makeup, practical effects, broken down house, and the mysterious wind that lives within their unkept yard. While indulging in his subtle humor, Ducommun eating everything in sight (including dog food), Dern and Ducommun acting like school kids asking Hanks's wife (Fisher) to let him come out and play and the garbage men trying to do his job, while Hanks and his crew dive into their truck. Dante knows how to set and maintain a tone that fits the film perfectly.
Dante and cinematographer Robert M. Stevens created multiple visually compelling shots as well. The tracking shot of the new neighbors, Hans, seeing the cul-de-sac for the first time. All of them staring at him in awe. The zoom in from the Universal logo globe, all the way to the neighborhood. And my favorite being the dream sequence where the transitions are seamless, with the use of practical effects and hilarious makeup.
The acting is fantastic, Hanks coming off his Big and Turner and Hooch success. He plays the straight man that slowly goes of the deep end, culminating is a manic rant accepting all the wrongs he has done and trying to choke his friend to death. Rick Ducommun plays off Hanks beautifully and steals the movie in my eyes. I could watch a three-hour movie of him talking fast while shoving whole French-toasts in his mouth. Bruce Dern plays the PTDS vet stereotype comedies used to always have. A soldier stuck in his military ways. Dern eating animal crackers and coffee on a stakeout, is everything I want. Corey Feldman plays a Corey Feldman role, as the burnt-out teen that has funny quips. "The pizza dude saves the day!" being one of my favorite lines of the film.
The Burbs is one of the best horror-comedies of all-time. Joe Dante and Dana Olsen create a film that highlights the horror of living in an insular neighborhood. How everyone is up on everyone's business and you are constantly under the microscope. The comedic tone blends in seamlessly with the horror, never fully favoring one over the other. The cast is stacked and they all play to their strengths, with Ducommun stealing the show. Joe Dante is why I love movies.
The Burbs is Why I Love Movies!
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