There’s just something about Joe Dante in where he loves to shake up American middle class. We have suburbanites fighting killer gremlins, suburbanites fighting killer toys, suburbanites fighting werewolves, and now suburbanites basically turning on one another. “The Burbs” watches like something of a sick mid-quel of “Rear Window” and “The Trouble with Harry” in where the mundane is flipped on its head and transformed in to a veritable nightmare for a bunch of neighbors in a seemingly small cul de sac.
Tom Hanks plays Ray, a burnt out businessman who is hell bent on taking a vacation and burning off some steam. That’s all cut short when mysterious new neighbors the Klopeks move down the street, prompting a ton of speculation from Ray’s snoopy next door neighbors. The Klopeks are rarely seen, often appear at night, and always seem to be carrying around heavy objects. When one of Ray’s neighbors goes missing, the cul de sac immediately begins to suspect the Klopeks, and Ray’s vacation is put on indefinite hold. Joe Dante’s dark comedy is classic horror movie fodder playing a lot with perceptions of paranoia and hysteria and how we can take small incidents and transform them in to massive bombshells with our imagination.
Before long Ray and his friends are scrambling back and forth to solve the mystery of their missing neighbor, all the while hoping to uncover something about the Klopeks. Dante’s film is often intelligent, as there’s a bit of xenophobia and prejudice embedded in their actions as the Klopeks fail to fall in line and conform, prompting everyone to begin to suspect the worst. Ray acts out of fear and paranoia which is perpetuated by his neighbors. Mark, is a shell shocked veteran, while the other, Art, has an immediate hatred toward the Klopeks when they don’t seem as non-threatening as everyone else. Dante compiles a top notch cast of actors to portray this eccentric parade of denizens within this cul de sac, including Bruce Dern, Rick DuCommon, and Corey Feldman.
Feldman’s character Ricky is probably the best character as he seems to be the only one aware of how much fun the sequence of events that unfold are. He is in effect, the audience, who watches from his porch and revels in every disastrous consequence, from random bones popping up to an explosion that rattles the neighborhood. Dante plays a lot with audience perceptions, revealing small details about the Klopeks and asking us to decide if we’re on to potential psychopaths, or are as hysterical as this mostly bored group of people. Dante’s film is very subversive, working as a dark comedy, a thriller, a mystery, and horror film that focuses more on the terror of imagination, rather than the immediate threats of an in the flesh monster.