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Film: The ‘Burbs
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Dana Olsen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern and Carrie Fisher
This is one that was an odd blind spot for me. I’ve known about this movie existing for a while. It wasn’t until horror movie podcasts that I learned people are big fans of it. It isn’t technically horror from what I’ve heard but is adjacent. I’ve now seen it a couple times. What I will say is there are elements of the genre. The reason to move this up was it was selected previously for the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Series. That first time was to see if this was horror enough and then the next watch to make my determination to move forward or not for the year.
Synopsis: an overstressed suburbanite and his neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult.
We start this off seeing the Universal globe from an overhead view. It then zooms into a suburb in the Midwest of the United States. It focuses on a house with odd noises coming it. This draws Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) out of his place to investigate. There is something odd that happens when he steps on his neighbor’s property, the wind picks up. Ray glances across the street and sees that he isn’t the only one that noticed either.
The next morning, we get to meet the people that live along this cul-de-sac. Ray is married to Carol (Carrier Fisher) and they have a son named Dave (Cory Danziger). Ray is friends with Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun). For the timeframe of this movie, his wife is gone. Art is nosey and seem to be constantly eating. They’re also friends with Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern). He lives across the street and is a military veteran. It seems he hasn’t fully given that up. He is married to Bonnie (Wendy Schaal). They have problems with Walter Seznick (Gale Gordon) from down the street. He lets his dog out and he defecates in the Rumsfield’s yard. Another neighbor is Ricky Butler (Corey Feldman). From what I gather, the house belongs to his parents, but they’re away. He’s supposed to be fixing it up. He has more fun watching the neighbors and thinks of it as better than television.
There is a new family on the block, but none of the neighbors have met them. It is the Klopeks. There are rumors about things they’re doing, but no one has seen them doing what is claimed. The first that we do is Hans (Courtney Gains). The neighbors are afraid to engage them, due to what is being said. Our trio of guys take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of what is going on next door with this strange new family. They’re fueled when Walter disappears and they’re convinced the Klopeks had something to do with it.
Now I’m assuming most everyone reading this has seen this movie so I don’t think I need to go farther than that for the recap and introduction to the characters. For me, I’m glad that I can tick this one off the list. My first impressions as it ended is that this is fun. I can see why people question if this is a horror movie or not, because to me this isn’t. There are elements there which is why I’m writing this review. I think part of that goes to Joe Dante, who started in horror. I mean this feels a little less horror than Gremlins. He is good about adding in those elements for sure.
With that out of the way, where I want to start is this neighborhood. I’ve lived briefly in a suburb after college when I stayed with my grandmother. This reminded me of what she and her friends/neighbors would do. Not to this extent, but they know every else’s business and are nosey at times. It feels like my days in high school as well. I went to a small country high school and it was similar. There is a great scene here where Carol won’t let Ray out to continue their pursuit of the truth with Art and Rumsfield. Their reaction is that of children during the summer when their friend can’t come out and play. It made me laugh. I’ll be honest, a lot of the humor feels a bit over the top, while still being grounded in a way where I could connect. I was impressed with that.
I want to briefly shift from the story to go over the acting for a minute since it connects with what I’ve just laid out. It is great. I do want to say that. Hanks is on point as Ray. It is fun to go back to a movie like this to see why he’s ended up as one of the best actors of my generation. He plays this role so well. I like Dern in this crazy, military role. He’s an underrated character actor to me. To round out this group is Ducommun who is the buffoon. He is also the nosiest of the trio. He also fuels the other two when he gets out of hand with things he says. They all play off each other so well. Going along with them, we have an excellent supporting cast with Fisher, Feldman, Henry Gibson, Theodore Gottlieb, Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo and Rance Howard, to just name the ones that popped out. This is one of the best parts is this cast they assembled.
Having taken care of that, I’ll go back to the ‘horror’ elements here. We will eventually meet the rest of the Klopeks. There is Dr. Werner (Gibson) and Reuben (Gottlieb) along with Hans. All three of them are characters. Now the rumors start with not seeing them. They don’t remember the former family leaving or them moving in. Dave claims to see them digging in the backyard late at night. Ray ends up seeing this too. The Klopeks aren’t seen during the day, making some believe them to be vampires or ghouls. They are also foreign. I like that this movie is bringing in horror elements with the rumors. There is the real fear of not knowing your neighbor or what they’re doing behind closed doors. Ray does have an epiphany which leads to an interesting conclusion that brings more elements for my favorite genre.
Then the last things to go into would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I think that it is well done. This movie looks great. It captures the feel of living in an area like this. I like coupling that with having this unknown family nearby. This last concept was started in the 1970s and then was popular with having the horror in the suburbs during this next decade. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but also don’t need them. What we get are mostly practical and look good. Other than that, the soundtrack fit the movie without necessarily standing out either.
In conclusion, this is a fun movie. Would I call it a horror movie? Not necessarily, but I think with Dante behind the camera we get enough elements to make this adjacent. We have a great cast. They fit these characters so well and bring them to life. I like the concept of this movie for sure. The filmmaking elements are also good with the cinematography. It makes it feel like the suburbs where this is set. The effects were fine and the soundtrack also works. After my first viewing, I think this is a good movie and one that I will come back to that I’ve ticked it off the list. This also holds up after a second watch as well. It might be one that I fit into my rotation.
My Rating: 8 out of 10