What's a person to do when they have a lot of time off? Maybe take up a hobby, travel the world, socialize with friends? Well for one man, this was a complex question. In the 1989 Joe Dante film "The Burbs" we see what happens when you live in a bubble and have too much free time on your hands. Tom Hanks stars as the lead in this amazingly dark and humorous satire of suburban paranoia. The film capitalizes on the frenzy that was born in the late 60's to mid 80's from the "satanic panic" era of news. During this time, a lot of people just assumed they may be surrounded by monsters. People were, and still are, constantly concerned about what their neighbors are up to. Well this film takes that human instinct and runs wild with it. It goes beyond paranoia, beyond neighborhood watch, and into...THE BURBS!
Tom Hanks stars as Ray Peterson, a suburban husband who decides to take a week off work to relax. His wife Carol(Carrie Fisher) insists that they take the kids and go on vacation, but Ray is perfectly content just lounging around. This is reinforced by his goofy best friend, and fellow neighbor Art Weingartner played by the gloriously cheesy Rick Ducommun. Together the two men pretty much dominate the conversation and create a world of their own. In this bubble that they've created, they are detectives of sort. Ray and Art are constantly scanning the neighborhood, looking for what weirdness may lurk beneath the fresh cut grass.
Through the perspective of these fellows, we are introduced to the neighborhood. We first meet Corey Feldman's character Ricky Butler. This was during a time where Feldman was getting too old to play "the kid", so he is a college age guy who randomly has an entire house to himself. It's a bizarre point in Feldman's career, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of his performance. If you've seen his performance as "The Frog Brother" in Lost Boys, it's along those lines. Then we have Walter who is a snobby older man who purposely trains his dog to poop on other people's lawns. That person's lawn in question belongs to some kind of military obsessed older man named Mark. Together in a culdasec, these men constantly agitate each other. But they all share one common goal...to figure out what the weird house on the block is up to. The weird house inhabited by a mysterious family simply known as...The Klopeks.
We don't know much about the Klopeks. We just know that they took over the house after the previous owners seemingly left town, and that the house is in terrible condition. It's as if the house is completely abandoned, but the neighbors know it isn't because they often see strange lights coming from the basement windows. After witnessing a series of strange events, Ray and Art attempt to introduce themselves to the Klopeks. All of their attempts fail miserably, so they enlist the military tactics of fellow neighbor Mark. All of their paranoia is unfounded, until the elderly neighbor Walter goes missing. The group can't locate Walter, and his dog is still around, so they see that as an alarming sign that something terrible has happened. This spurs an investigation into the Klopeks done by each neighbor. Together Ray, Art, and Mark try to infiltrate the house, and the mysterious family.
After a series of failed attempts to be stealthy, the group decides to just simply confront the Klopeks head on. To their surprise, the Klopeks welcome the neighbors into their home. What comes next is a peak into the Klopeks world, and it's definitely something straight out of the Addams family. We see a man, his brother, and what appears to be his young relative. They are inhabiting a house full of weird relics and macabre atmosphere. The group investigates the house and finds creaky doors, dusty photos, and weird foods galore. Nothing too alarming...until they discover a gigantic science lab and furnace in the basement. This area becomes the focal point for their paranoia and fuels their hunch that something disturbing lurks beyond the eyes of the Klopeks.
All of this sounds pretty creepy, but it's all played out in a very comedic way. There is a ton of slapstick humor, mixed with funny one liners. The film also contains classic "Honeymooners" humor, putting dramatically different people in the same room together for awkward periods of time. There is also a funny layer of satire that horror fans will definitely pick up on. Often the film has creepy music playing over what is usually a mundane landscape, playing up the paranoia of the suburban culdesac. The cinematography also plays up the paranoia of not only the characters, but the audience. As a viewer, you are left in the dark about the truth behind the people involved. It's very mysterious and uses the classic Hitchcock "Rear Window" suspense idea of what lies behind closed doors. It's not until the last ten minutes of film when you get solid answers. I won't be spoiling that reveal because this film is genius and deserves a dedicated viewing. After finishing the film, you will think twice about peering over your neighbor's fence or leering through the window with the strange light coming out of it. You may find something you aren't prepared for. If you would like to checkout the film for yourself, it's available for free as part of Amazon Prime, or 2.99 for non members. Also if you are already familiar with the film but want to revisit the best version available, SHOUT FACTORY released an amazing blu-ray edition last year.