My Love of 80's Films: The Burbs

Cast: Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun, Henry Gibson

Director: Joe Dante

Synopsis: Set in an average suburb that is anything but average, a stressed, restless resident and his fellow neighbours become convinced that the new family on the block are Satanic worshipping murderers.

My first film in this series took a look back at the 80s classic Teen Wolf. In this article I’m going to explore the bizarre, but underrated world of The Burbs. With big names such as Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, and Bruce Dern, this film had some great leads, but it also had a brilliant supporting cast in Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, and Henry Gibson.

The Burbs is a bizarre satire that comments on suburban life in the 80s when people were scared that kind of lifestyle would make them into boring, restless individuals. It is this setting that director, Joe Dante, chose for his group of male wannabe detectives. The premise is also resonant of kids in the holidays with nothing better to do than wander around their neighbourhood making up scare stories to while away the time.

Dante picks up on a lot of stereotypical characters for this film and they are played out well. Ray (Hanks) as the bored neighbour who doesn’t want to do anything during his holiday except stay home and watch TV in his pyjamas. Art (Ducommun), Ray’s neighbour, who is relishing the fact his wife is away so he can drag his friend into his fantasies about the new neighbours on the block. Mark Rumsfield (Dern) an ex-military man and an extremely patriotic American who creates a fair amount of xenophobia towards the new neighbours, seeing as their name (Klopek) is far from ‘American’.

And finally, Ricky Butler (Feldman) the teenage loudmouth who loves any bit of drama happening on the street. He keeps his distance from the main action but encourages it all the same; unlike Ray’s wife (Fisher) who is the one tie to a somewhat stale reality.

Ray Peterson’s (Tom Hanks’) character is the main focus of this film, and is clearly meant to be the hero, even if it is a hero made up of accidental, comedic timings. Hanks plays a strait-laced, overly stressed man who is somewhat bored with his job and life.

For me, his character isn’t that likable, which is unusual as I love most of Tom Hanks’ films. He does, however, bring his genius outbursts of rage that have made him well known and liked in other 80s films such as Turner and Hooch and Splash.

When Walter Seznick (the cantankerous resident of the burbs) goes missing, Ray and his fellow neighbours suspect the Klopeks of foul play and begin a spectacularly outrageous exploration of their run-down, creepy old house. Note, a very amusing scene with Tom Hanks, a sardine and sneezing fit.

The twist at the end is seen by many as working against what Dante set up for most of the film, but I enjoy the reveal as, after all, the audience has been working with the characters for the whole hour and forty and deserve to get a resolution which suits.

In a way, The Burbs is a little overlooked, like Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf. I believe more people appreciate this film now than at the time, especially since the suburban way of life is no longer seen in quite the same light.

I think Dante combines comedy and mystery well, giving them equal measure. And with a mix of wide-angle shots, close-ups, and sometimes little audio, he creates some brilliantly awkward, yet hilarious scenes that combine for a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Written by Rebecca Perkin

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