Released in 1989 and directed by Joe Dante, "The Burbs" is a quirky, yet delightfully disturbing film that
focuses on small town paranoia. It persuaded rural dwellers everywhere to keep a closer eye on the
neighborhood and watch their step.
I’m the Ranting Usher. Let me talk you to your seat.
Ray Peterson, a small town skeptic played by Tom Hanks is driven to extreme measures when fellow
suburbanites convince him that the odd and reclusive Klopek’s are meddling in the macabre.
The Burbs earned vast popularity due to its combination of comedy and horror. One wouldn’t think that
opposing genres would work well together in the same movie. Like "Gremlins" and other classics that
come before it, "The Burbs" proved that when juxtaposed with versatile acting, careful timing and
subtlety, horror and comedy can complement one another perfectly.
A dream sequence, for instance, encompasses the major elements introduced into the film in a way
that’s both frightening, and cleverly witty. Ray Peterson is sprawled on a grill in his backyard with the
Klopeks surrounding him chanting, “I want to kill everyone. Satan is good. Satan is our pal.”
He hears his wife, the ever so rational and naïve Carol Peterson, played by Carrie Fisher, say in an
eerie voice. “It was so nice of you to invite the new neighbors over for a barbecue, Ray.”
Walter, an elderly man whom Ray and his friends are certain has been murdered by the Klopeks,
emerges out of a garbage can with an axe stuck in his head. The garbage man approaches him and
says, “Oh, I bet that hurts, huh?”
These are just a few of the moments that make The Burbs so engaging and fun to watch. It’s also
interesting to watch Ray Peterson suffer from indecision as he faces a moral quandary. Should he
listen to his conscience that keeps telling him over and over again that he’s acting irrationally?
“You know, I’ve been thinking about it, guys. I don’t think we should go through with this. I just think
things have gone off the deep end. I mean night goggles? What’s next, we tap their phone-line? I
should have gone up to the lake. I should have listened to Carol.”
Or should Ray follow through with his investigation to confirm his suspicions about the Klopeks?
“Ritual killers,” Carol says, shaking her head. “So let me get this straight. The Klopeks are offering up
Walter as a sort of human sacrifice?”
“That’s one of the theories,” Ray tells her.
That he consistently changes his mind throughout the movie causes you to question your own
morality. You start asking yourself what you would have done in a similar situation. That keeps you
guessing and makes you want to know exactly how the movie is going to end.
What sets "The Burbs" apart from other mysteries is that regardless what trail of logic the viewer’s
follow they are ultimately rewarded when the movie presents a split conclusion and two great ironies
What viewers take away from "The Burbs" is a skewed perspective on small town life and about
whether or not jumping to conclusions is a good idea. Reason dictates that if you think you might be
overreacting you probably are, but every once in a while, you might get it right.
If that was the message Joe Dante meant to communicate, then he definitely succeeded. If he was
trying to express what can happen when we judge others before we judge ourselves then he
succeeded there too.
I’ll tell you one thing.
If I ever spy one of my neighbors digging in their backyard during a rainstorm or driving their garbage
out into the street and banging the hell out of it with a stick, screw it, I’m calling the cops.
I’m the Ranting Usher. Let me talk you back indoors where it's safe.
Do you agree with my review? What kind of neighborhood do you live in? Let me know in the comment
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