The 'Burbs (1989)

MAY 3, 2008


Some may wonder why The ‘Burbs is included as a Horror Movie A Day entry, and it’s perfectly reasonable to do so. However, it meets my criteria (IMDb lists it as comedy/horror), and quite frankly – there is more legit suspense and (light) scares than in many “straight” horror films. So F you! It’s horror!

(I also like the fact that now I have two Tom Hanks - the least horror-ish guy ever born - movies reviewed here.)

It’s also hilarious. The reason I think the film works where so many others have failed is that it puts funny people into a standard horror movie situation, rather than try to make a funny situation scary (such as recent films like Killer Pad – which is about a crazy, out of control teen party that gets crashed by demons or something. I haven’t seen it, but the trailer made me want to slit my wrists). The plot is really no different than Fright Night or certain Twilight Zones – a guy becomes convinced that his neighbors are murderers. And the fact that (spoiler) they ARE certainly solidifies the film as horror, although it ends rather abruptly after this reveal.

I’m convinced that Tom Hanks is the only guy in the world who could have pulled off the role of Ray. A lot of big actors have certain “Everyman” abilities that the best (non big) character actors have, but still just don’t look right in certain situations. For example: Bruce Willis. Sure, I buy him as a regular detective, or a boxer, or whatever, but there is absolutely nothing sillier than the sight of him driving an SUV around suburbia in The Story Of Us. But Hanks doesn’t have that problem, and he’s friggin flawless here (asking his neighbor to look at his new tools is the film’s funniest moment). I wish the guy would do more non-romantic comedic work; after this he pretty much only did one more (Joe Vs The Volcano) and then it was all dramas and romcoms, with the occasional Road To Perdition to “stretch”.

I also really dig the ensemble nature of the film. The best scenes are the ones with three or more of them doing something ridiculous in order to discover more about their neighbors. Hanks may be the star, but if it was just him vs. the neighbors, the movie would probably suck (especially since Bruce Dern is the one who delivers the film’s most quotable line – “You’re about a 9 on the tension scale, Rube!”). Again, this is part of why the ending feels a bit weak, as it comes down to just Hanks vs the head of the killer family (Henry Gibson), with the supporting cast all off somewhere else (Corey Feldman disappears entirely in the last 10 minutes, only resurfacing in the final shot). Maybe a scene of the family "in action" would have helped, though I can understand the reasons for not wanting to do so.

As you may have noticed, the film was watched in a backyard. My buddy Mike has a great projector setup, and since it was his birthday, there was plenty of delicious snacks for me to devour. As a bonus, the film’s editor (Marshall Harvey, a friend of Mike's), brought sardines on pretzels, the "awful" hors d'oeuvres that the family serves Hanks when they finally enter the strange house and meet the neighbors. I believe I was the only one who had any, and I’m certainly the only one who ate three. Look, sardines – good! Pretzels – good! I don’t really see the issue.

Also, the location added another thrill to the proceedings – when Dern sits on his roof you can see the same mountain in the background that you can see from Mike’s street (the movie was filmed on the same backlot at Universal that now serves as Wisteria Lane). That’s fucking cool. Imagine watching, I dunno, Star Wars and then looking out your window and seeing Mos Eisley or something? Actually that would mean I was in a fictional spaceworld and listening to the same annoying song for eternity, so I’d probably freak out.

What say you?


  1. wow!
    I didnt expect this to be in your reviews!

    i loved this movie.

  2. I'm really happy to see you review this! The 'Burbs has been one of my favourite films for about as long as I can remember :)

  3. What's the other Tom Hanks film you've reviewed?

  4. His first one - He Knows You're Alone!

  5. I saw this movie several years ago and knew your review was right but.... I just watched it again after all those years and this is a great movie. Your right about Hanks being the only one that could pull that character off, it just works. Reminds me of his Bachelor Party and Money Pit days. Late post cause just skimmin through reviews to see what I have not seen before or in a while. I hope you continue this site for a long time!


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