The 'Burbs (1989)

In a quiet close, Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) has decided that he would like to spend his vacation quietly at home unwinding from the pressures of his job. However, there are pressures in suburbia too, and Ray's neighbours - neo-psycho war vet Bruce Dern and fat slob Rick Ducommun - are trying to convince him that there is something very strange about the Klopeks, the reclusive new family on the block, whose Munsters-style dwelling shakes mysteriously at night and gives off strange lights. Are they aliens, devil worshippers, homicidal maniacs or just slightly eccentric and antisocial? Ray becomes more and more obsessed and, egged on by everybody he knows, is drawn into the strange world of the Klopeks, which ultimately turns out to be only slightly less strange than the 'normal' life he has been living.

Joe Dante is one of the most imaginative talents currently working in the mainstream cinema and this, like his Explorers, is an extraordinarily unconventional picture (it slips in the last ten minutes, but that doesn't matter) which combines marvellous acting, a personal vision of the nightmare heart of America, a gonzo comedy style that combines Charles Addams with I Love Lucy and an unmatched, subtle filmmaking verve. Dante here goes straight for the sit-com jugular, even to the extent of recruiting Lucille Ball's perennial exasperated boss Gale Gordon for a cameo, and plays a painfully funny game of escalating chaos.

Tom Hanks again gets to show how good a light leading man he can be, and the film also boasts a marvellous supporting cast, with Dern sending up his maniacal image as a henpecked weekend warrior, screen brat Corey Feldman getting laughs as the teenager who uses the destruction of his neighbourhood as an excuse for a party, and Laugh-In alumnus Henry Gibson and beatnik performance artist Brother Theodore as the Klopeks. From the title down, it's packed with filmic in-references, the best of which is a parody of a Leone shoot-out that ends up with a Morricone-scored zoom into the staring eyes of an understandably startled poodle. Outstanding.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: City Limits (issue uknown)


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