Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs is a delicious black comedy which focuses on the residents of a small cul-de-sac of Mayfield Place in the fictional town of Hinkley Hills. Strange events soon lead them to believe that their new neighbours are murderers. Dante takes the rough premise of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and filters it through a comedy/horror prism. This gives the film a unique tone, one which has helped it stay relevant for over a quarter of a century.
Tom Hanks plays Ray Peterson, the bored family man on week-long vacation. Much to the chagrin of his wife (Carrie Fisher), all Peterson wants to kick-back and relax. However he’s lead astray by fellow neighbours Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) and Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), who decide to snoop on the Klopek family (Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore and Courtney Gaines).
The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante working at the top of his game (that’s saying something when he also helmed The Howling and Gremlins). Dante’s macabre humour is perfect for the mixed tone of Dana Olsen’s script and he attacks the film with a mischievous glee. He has the perfect leading man in Hanks, an actor who is the ultimate screen everyman. Hanks goes from being idle to curious and then to manic over the course of the film and he makes it all feel very real, despite the film’s far-fetched premise. He works well with Ducommun and Dern, and the trio share a great chemistry as a group of over enthusiastic man-children.
Utilising the Universal backlot, The ‘Burbs is hyper stylised and this is something which works to its advantage. It feels like the real world, but everything about Mayfield Place is just a little off. Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score helps add to this. Goldsmith was a master composer who helped add magic to a lot of classic films and the world of movies hasn’t been the same since he died a decade ago.
A modest success of it’s release in 1988, The ‘Burbs has rightfully gone on to become a cult classic, and it’s easy to see why. The tone of Joe Dante’s film is hard to pin down; it’s too funny for a traditional horror movie and too dark to connect with mainstream audiences who only want laughs. However, the film works as its own thing, playing with genre conventions and delivering a unique tone that helps set it apart from most studio comedies.
Arrow DVD have gone above and beyond with this blu-ray release for The ‘Burbs, making this a truly essential purchase for fans of the movie. Things kick-off with a wonderful high-definition of Dante’s film but then they get truly spectacular. The disc also comes with an alternate version of the film, sourced from Dante’s own work-print. This version differs quite a bit from the final release, which gives the film a different slant. There’s also a wonderful hour long retrospective documentary on the making of The ‘Burbs. It’s an informative piece but it is sadly lacking in contributions from Hanks, Ducommun and Dern. The disc also comes with an alternate ending and a feature which compares the work print of the film to the one that was eventually released. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe this blu-ray.