In director Joe Dante’s endearing 1989 horror comedy The ‘Burbs, starring Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher, “love thy neighbour” is a term mostly adhered to by the residents of Mayfield Place. Living out a relatively peaceful existence in their quiet cul-de-sac, save for the odd lawn care disputes, the arrival of the mysterious Klopeks threatens to shatter the peaceful suburban bliss, particularly for immediate neighbours Ray Peterson (Hanks) and wife Carol (Fisher). The trio of unidentifiable Eastern Europeans (“Klopek – is that a Slavic name?”) keep themselves to themselves, spending all night using their basement furnace and paying zero attention to the general upkeep of their property.
Ray and his fellow suburbanites, a jumpy war vet (Bruce Dern), an antagonist teenager (Corey Feldman) and a bumbling loudmouth (Rick Ducommun), begin snooping around, convinced their new neighbours are engaged in nefarious activities. Revisiting The ‘Burbs, it’s easy to see why the film has grown in statue and likability over the years. Ostensibly, it’s a rather silly and gentle little satire, but there’s something undeniably magic about it. Hanks, channelling his eminently likeable everyman routine, certainly plays a big part in its long-lasting popularity (his hilarious meltdown towards the end also showcases his wonderful physical comedic chops) but there’s a deeper hook for the audience here. Again, Dante is able to hint at the possibly of something bizarre lurking underneath that mundane suburban veneer.
It’s a familiar Spielbergian conceit – the two filmmakers formed a fruitful collaboration during the 80s – and Dante has real fun with it here, taking those wildly embellished urban myths perpetuated across different generations and social circles, and using them as means of stoking the imagination and ramping up the paranoia of an otherwise well-adjusted neighbourhood. He’s also happy to play out the mystery surrounding the Klopeks on a leisurely basis, making fantastic use of his ensemble cast. Skilfully mixing elements of horror while never alienating its core PG demographic, The ‘Burbs also benefits from a wonderfully playful score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith. While the film bottles it slightly at the end with the obvious, neatly-tied-together resolution which would have benefited from maintaining an ambiguity, the enormous sense of fun established by Dante and his cast in the run-up more than makes up for any shortcomings.