The ‘Burbs. A film by Joe Dante.
I grew up in what was by no means the rural outskirts of a city and was not within sixty miles of what the government class as a city in England, but it certainly had that feel about it. My childhood residence was in a cul-de-sac so this movie has a very close place not only in my funny bone but also to my youthful years. My folks were by no means people who would twitch curtains and are not what I would call nosy but they certainly had an interest in what went on and still goes on in their little corner of the world. The Burbs takes this nosy neighbour idea, multiplies it by a considerable number, adds paranoia and general boredom to the character’s lives and tops it off with a very American cold war unease but without the actual threat.
What makes this Movie so enjoyable for me is not the plot, as it is pretty singular and you think is only ever going to come to one conclusion, but the different characters that interact within the piece. Each member of the neighbourhood adds their own elements to the story and the comedy, the stressed business man who is taking a week off work to relax only to have his plans dashed by his interfering neighbours. His wife who can see her husband getting more and more worked up by the events unfolding before her and continuously tries to help him relax. The two main culprits that drag her husband into all the stupid games are a Korean War veteran with every type of military equipment available for them to do all the spying that want and his partner in crime a bored house husband with too much time on his hands and an overactive imagination. With the laid-back teenager, painting his parent’s house for the summer whilst they are away, looking in on the whole scenario as if he is almost part of the audience. All of them are spying on and surmising over the movements and habits of the less than social new family on the street with the run down house and unkempt lawn. It is this lack of social interaction that brings about the main plot device. Who are the Klopek’s? When did they move in and how many of them are there?
What I think also draws me to it are the subtle underlying levels of horror and peril that are thrown in throughout posing a very real question that we must all ask ourselves at times. How well do we actually know our neighbours? You may disagree, thinking that it is merely a comedy, but I think that there is a very fine line between horror and comedy. This seems to be a running theme throughout many of Joe Dante’s movies, Gremlins, Innerspace and The Howling all having their roots grounded in comedy but including sinister undertone.
A number of people within my social circle all share the same appreciation for this movie as I do and we have been known to spend an overly long time discussing it, sometimes on a meaningful level, but mostly with jovial recollection. One of my sisters used to sit and watch it with me when we were younger and my wife beamed about the fond memories the movie gave her the first time we discussed it. A number of my close friends all perk up and discuss it at length when it enters conversation. However, I have also seen people give a very negative opinion about the film and as with most comedy the humour in it is not for everyone. Many a time my sister and I would be watching the movie when my Mother would enter the room and state ‘I hate this film’ in her broad Geordie accent before turning around and exiting the lounge as soon as possible. Another of my sister’s also use to leave the room if we decided ‘The Burbs’ was what was going to be watched, although a lot less vocally than Mum.
The paranoia of the unknown neighbours takes the lead characters measures of finding out more about the Klopek’s to the extreme when they start using night vision goggles to spy on them in the dark. Slip notes under the outcast’s front door, ringing the door bell and then running away like a group of mischievous schoolboys. Forcibly stopping the Bin men from doing their jobs by going through the Klopek’s bins in the middle of the street, in search of any shred of incriminating evidence they can find.
When an elderly neighbour’s dog shows up cold and shaking they presume the worst, thinking that his absence is down to the Klopek’s, so they take it on themselves to check and see if the he is okay. After some snooping around and some breaking and entering they get into the house. Signs of a struggle in the lounge area send the imaginations of the group into overdrive and a whole new bunch of even more outrageous ideas are hatched.
The wives are more sceptical, deciding to put a stop to everything by inviting themselves over to the new Neighbours house and cooking Brownies as a greeting gift. The Klopek’s very reservedly invited their neighbours in offering them pretzels and sardines. What follows are in my opinion moments of comedy gold. Awkward silences and stumbled attempts at pleasantries are the crux of the scene with the social inadequacies of the new family made even more apparent by the invasion of their home. The evening ends when an uninvited guest makes a rather loud entrance through the back garden.
Having had a chance to snoop around the Klopek’s house the husbands hatch a plot to have a more though look around the house when the occupants are away on business the very next day. Again, moments of comic genius unfurl in an over the top and very Hollywood ending.
My conclusion is that if you are at a loss for something to do this coming Sunday why not get hold of a copy of the ‘Burbs, leave all sensible thinking behind you and enjoy this little gem.