“Strange days have found us,
Strange days have tracked us down…”—The Doors
It was my 10th birthday. My mother treated me out for a night on the town to take in a flick followed by some awesome Mexican food. I’m a sucker for a Mucho Nacho Grande platter. I waited for weeks in blissful anticipation leading up to that fateful night, devouring the previews with every glance, anxious to see this quirky, offbeat comedy. I was already a fan of horror comedy (minus the Abbott & Costello flicks that damaged the image of Universal), marinating my young mind with TV classics such as The Munsters, The Addams Family, Tales from the Darkside, The Twilight Zone, and anything a bit off with a perfect blend of giggles & gallows humor. Today’s feature, I hold very close to my eccentric heart, especially with the recent news of one of its stars, Rick Ducommun of Groundhog Day (1993), passing away. This flick, is not a masterpiece by any means, but is highly enjoyable nonetheless. Without further ado, let’s take a strange trip into the creepy Cul-de-sac of The ‘Burbs (1989).
The Universal logo dissolves into an aerial shot, zooming in on the street of the fictional Mayfield Place in Hinkley Hills (a town somewhere located in the Midwest). The set located on the Universal back lot in Studio City, has been used time and time again, from the days of the wholesome, Leave it to Beaver (1957), to recent years used as the scandalous backdrop to Desperate Housewives (2004). We are introduced to Ray, Tom Hanks of Forrest Gump (1994), as he is standing on his lawn, staring at the eerie abode next door with mysterious, midnight noises coming from its new inhabitants. Morning arrives, as Ray shuffles around tending to his normal suburbia routine while taking a week off of work due to burnout. His vacation starts off by with the highly enjoyable acts of throwing hot coffee at the local paperboy before watching Vietnam Vet, Rumsfield, Bruce Dern of Black Sunday (1977), make an about face after raising the flag for reveille, resulting in his boot landing in the canine excrement of Queenie, Precious from The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the pride and joy of neighbor Walter, Gale Gordon of Dennis the Menace (1959).
Sipping on his orange juice, not wanting breakfast or an awesome box of Gremlins Cereal, due to a “stomach thing” (most likely ulcers due to work related stress), Ray’s wife, Carol, Carrie Fisher of Star Wars (1977), and son, Dave, Cory Danzinger of Eerie, Indiana (1991), morning meal is interrupted by their obnoxious neighbor Art, Ducommun, as he shoots up their house with a BB gun (not sure if it was a Red Ryder) while hunting crows. The topic of the day is about the new, weird, and possibly Slovak, family, the Klopeks that moved next to Ray.
One evening, Ray, Art, and Rumsfield spy on the Klopeks hoping to catch an illegal act of sorts to justify their suspicion of the newbies to the block. As the three stakeout the house, Hans Klopek, Courtney Gains of Children of the Corn (1984), bizarrely drives the family car from the garage to the curb, transporting a burdensome, awkward shaped garbage bag from the trunk, and maniacally beats at it with a garden hoe before reversing the car back into the garage. Later that evening during a thunderstorm, Ray stares out a window seeing hooded figures in the Klopek’s backyard digging what appear to be graves (things certainly do go bump in the night). Morning arrives once again this time with a roar of the garbage truck, as Ray, Art, and Rumsfield run to intercept the trash from the Klopek’s curb much to the confusion of trash men, Dick Miller of A Bucket of Blood (1959), and Robert Picardo of The Howling (1981). The trio come up with nada, no dead bodies, or any other incriminating nasty evidence on the Klopeks.
With all of the trash commotion going on, Bonnie Rumsfield, Wendy Schall of American Dad! (2005), finds Queenie, running loose shy of the watchful eye of Walter. Doing the neighborly thing, Ray, Art, The Rumsfields, and Ricky, the neighborhood meatball of a teenager, Corey Feldman of The Lost Boys (1987), break into Walter’s house, “A soldier’s way, saves the day,” finding him nowhere, and discovering that his faithful toupee left behind in what seemed to be a scene where a struggle occurred. More conspiracies and what ifs, disease the group as they try to find an answer to the questions that their collective, racing mind has developed. The following night, Ray and Art have a meeting, while smoking cigars in Ray’s basement cussing & discussing Walter’s disappearance and the possible Satanic ties the Klopeks have with the dark arts.
Carol and Bonnie, annoyed with Ray and his two snooping, cohorts in crime over the whole situation with their off the wall theories on the Klopeks, decide the couples-minus Art, will pay a visit to their new neighbors, showering them with hospitable sweets and neighborly sap to welcome them to the block. Inside the Klopek residence, we meet the tense Reuben, Brother Theodore of The Hobbit (1977), and his prestigious brother, “DA DOCTOR,” Werner, Henry Gibson of The Blues Brothers (1980). Casual & awkward exchanges of conversation occur while Rumsfield tears at the wallpaper, unbeknownst to all inside the residence that Art, with the assistance of Ricky and Dave, trespass into the Klopek back yard, setting off the alarm, alerting the family watchdog. After the housewarming party exits for the night, Ray reveals to Art and Rumsfield that he found Walter’s toupee in the “Slovak” household. This discovery leads Ray and company to the theory that Walter was murdered, the Klopek clan the culprits, and they would continue their investigation in neighborhood justice.
Another morning arrives finding Ray, Art, and Rumsfield beginning their operation after the Klopeks depart for the day. With the OP a GO, they inadvertently kill the electricity to the neighborhood while trying to bypass a security system, set up a listening/observation post on Rumsfield’s roof (red rover,red rover…), and digging in the Klopek’s basement (which the furnace appears to be an industrial size crematorium) in hopes of finding the corpse of Walter.
Will they find Walter’s remains? Are the Klopeks really murderers? Are Ray, Art, and Rumsfield correct in their assumptions? Will they make a Bosom Buddies reunion? Are you tired of me asking questions yet?
The ‘Burbs was directed by Joe Dante of Piranha (1978), with a screenplay based on the boyhood neighborhood observations of writer, Dana Olsen of Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). The ‘Burbs is a pop culture geek’s candy store of sweet nods and references to Citizen Kane (1941), Rear Window (1954), Curse of the Demon (1957), The Sentinel (1977), and the spaghetti western shots/music of the 1960s-just to name a few. The ‘Burbs also exhibits clips of The Exorcist (1973), Race with the Devil (1975), Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968) that add humor to their corresponding scenes. Receiving mixed reviews, The ‘Burbs reached the top of the box office upon its release, and has garnered a devout following after all these years.
This is a rare film in that, likeable characters are terrorizing a family simply because they don’t mow their lawn, the house is in need of TLC, and the family might be foreign. Somehow, we side with the suburbanites though the behavior of the characters is detestable by all means. If you live in the suburbs or a tight knit neighborhood, you know what I’m talking about. Growing up in these kind of neighborhoods where on the surface everything seems safe and nice, is just a mere façade as you may be living to a serial killer. Gossip runs amok between garages, smiling faces tell lies, backstabbing ensues, and everyone tends to their lawns in these communities. Welcome to suburbia…give The ‘Burbs a gander when you are done trimming your shrubs.
For my new neighbors if you are reading this, if you see me, because I see you watching me from your garages and from behind your blinds, wave. I’ll wave back and I’m actually very friendly if you would like to converse. Also, please don’t call the cops if you see me moving a casket around my yard at the end of the summer, I’m not a ghoul. I just like prepping for Halloween.
ANY FILMMAKERS, PRODUCTION COMPANIES, OR DISTRIBUTORS WHO WOULD LIKE TO HAVE YOUR FILMS REVIEWED, PLEASE CONTACT EITHER MYSELF OR THE INTESTINAL FORTITUDE.
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org