Friday, November 1, 2013

Maynard and Emma's BURBS-tastic BURBS-a-rama!

My good friend, Maynard, Austrian blogger extraordinaire from the Horror Movie Diary, always suggests the most fun themes for joint posts. So far, we've collaborated on The Addams Family, Beetlejuice, and now, The 'Burbs, which in case you haven't seen it, is the funniest film ever. EVER!!

First up is my rampant, runaway, enthusiasm-fest about what this movie means to me, for which I apologize in advance, followed by Maynard's Burbs-tacular review!

So without further ado...

The 'Burbs is an absolutely hilarious comedy, chock-full of quotable lines, but it also examines human behaviour within the petri dish of sprawling, middle-class suburbia in a light-hearted, but nonetheless thought-provoking way. On the one hand, we can feel sympathy for the Klopek family, who are under relentless scrutiny from their neighbours simply for being different (initially, at least), and just want to be left in peace. It's also fascinating, however, to consider what motivates people to become obsessively preoccupied with anyone or anything that deviates from the norm.

Having grown up in the Australian 'burbs, I identify with this movie so much. The architecture may be a little different but the Universal Studios "Colonial Street" backlot in California even has Australian Eucalytus trees, which makes it all feel scarily familiar. [Historical sidebar: Australian Eucalyptus trees were introduced to California during the Gold Rush as a renewable source of timber for construction.] The entire story is restricted to this one location (in the movie, a cul-de-sac called Mayfield Place), reinforcing the parochial nature of suburbia and the way small things can become magnified and spin out of control without a broader frame of reference to give some perspective.

Incidentally, Colonial Street has been the location for countless television and movie productions, and music videos. In recent times it is probably best known as Wisteria Lane on Desperate Housewives, but over the years there have been many notable residents, in particular, the Munsters. Ricky Butler's house in The 'Burbs was the Munster home in another life. If you're interested, you can find out more trivia about Colonial Street here.

Probably my favourite thing about The 'Burbs is how beautifully it captures  the seemingly universal experience of having a creepy house somewhere in your neighbourhood. My best friends in high school were Sue and Richard, and the three of us would walk back and forth from school each day past a rundown, little dwelling hidden behind a tangle of foliage and overgrown trees. The house was alway dark and quiet, and to be honest, we didn't give it much thought until one evening, Sue and I were walking home at dusk after a trip to the local shopping mall, and we were stopped in our tracks by a red glow coming from it.

Between the trees, through some open doors, we could see right into a room that had decor which was more like a Hammer Horror set than a typical suburban home. It was one of the most surreal and astonishing sights I had ever witnessed. Behind the exterior of that shabby residence there hid what I can only describe as some sort of ceremonial-style chamber with chunky candles burning in floor-standing, gothic candelabras. Most memorable of all was a HUGE, wolf-like dog (you just know I want to say hellhound) sitting Sphinx-like on a red, Persian rug in the centre of the room. The dog watched us intently and menacingly, so we decided it was best to move on rather swiftly.

This was back in the days before cell phone cameras, so to my everlasting  regret, I have no photographic evidence, but I scoured the internet looking for images and found the ones above (sources: here and here). Even after giving them a red glow, they're still not quite right, but if you can combine the three pictures in your imagination, you'll get a bit of an idea.

The next morning we couldn't wait to regale Richard with the tale and the three of us rushed to the house, but it was back to its usual state of looking silent and locked up. Thus began the legend of The Vampire House. (Yes, I wish we had come up with a cleverer name too.)  We concocted a whole entertaining mythology around that abode, involving a giant dog that guarded its undead masters while they were vulnerable during daylight hours, until they rose at sunset.

One afternoon, as we were passing The Vampire House, we began daring each other to go and knock on the door. (Yes, think Art and Ray egging each other on to go and introduce themselves to the Klopeks.) Richard took up the challenge while Sue and I hid behind some bushes trying to suppress our laughter. What we weren't expecting was for the door to open and Richard to disappear inside. Lets just say that after 20 minutes of waiting, the situation didn't seem quite so amusing anymore.

When Richard eventually emerged we were desperate for details. Apparently, after a woman had opened the door, Richard hurriedly came up with a story about a school survey on saving whales. He was invited into an appropriately gloomy kitchen and offered tea. All the other rooms were shut off so he saw nothing of the rest of the house, or the dog. While they were drinking tea, and Richard was busily concocting a tissue of lies regarding the whale issue, the woman mentioned that she was just waiting on a delivery of soil. If you are familiar with Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, then you'll understand why that particular detail has always been priceless to me.

Sue, Richard and I always reminisce about The Vampire House when we get together. It was our version of the Klopek house and it made life in the humdrum 'burbs somehow more eerie, mysterious and thrilling. It's kind of intoxicating to discover something extraordinary hidden amidst the ordinary and that's why it's hard to blame Ray Peterson for eventually succumbing to Rumsfield and Art's wild conspiracy theories and crazy antics. Regardless of the Klopek's guilt or innocence, or the film's underlying message about intolerance, the Klopek house seems to serve a much needed function in Mayfield Place in that it distracts residents like Rumsfield, Art and Ray from any secret dissatisfaction they might feel about their picture-perfect suburban lives.

Ultimately, whether it's the hysterically silly humour or the more serious subtext, when it comes to The 'Burbs, it all boils down to the final line of the movie, delivered by Ricky Butler:


And now here's Maynard's review:


German Title:
Meine teuflischen Nachbarn
(= My Devilish Neighbors)

USA, 1989
Director: Joe Dante


“The ‘Burbs” is one of the absolute funniest horror-themed comedies ever made (only “Shaun”, “Fright Night” is better). I’m always shocked when I see the 6.6 rating on Imdb, or when I hear people saying that ‘it’s an alright movie’. Are you kidding me? This is Joe Dante’s masterpiece, better than “Gremlins”, better than “Piranha”, better than everything he has ever made, at least IMO.

Together with screenwriter Dana Olsen, Dante created a clichéd suburban microcosm where a few really wacky characters try to solve the mysterious secrets that surround the mysterious Klopeks, a new family in the neighborhood who’s acting and behaving in very unusual and unsettling ways.

The movie’s basic theme that revolves around the question “Who is crazier: the suburbanites or the people outside of suburbia?”, was already wonderfully portrayed in Dick Maas’ superb 80s comedy classic “Flodder”, but here, it got taken to a whole new level by Dante exaggerating it into an uber-hilarious and super-goofy laugh-fest that is packed to the brim with insanely funny gags and outrageous dialogue, but also pays massive tribute to classic horror films by including many well-known horror/thriller tropes (abandoned house, mysterious noises and lights in the night, creepy shadows, thunder and lightning, “Rear Window”-like neighborly behavior...).

I heard people comparing it to Wes Craven’s 1991 flick “The People Under The Stairs”, and yeah, in terms of neighborhood secrets and bizarre families, it almost feels like a continuation of “The ‘Burbs”, but set in a Ghetto-like environment. Would be interesting to know how “The ‘Burbs” would have looked like if Craven had directed it; probably much darker and not as entertaining.

Well, it’s easy to create such an entertaining film when you have such an awesome cast - and actually, it’s the cast that makes this movie so incredibly awesome.

Tom Hanks is absolutely brilliant as average joe Ray Peterson who just wants to spend a relaxing week off work at home until he realizes that there’s something wrong with this weird European family. He’s the skeptic who tries hard not to over-interpret things, and to stay grounded in reality.

“I’m going to do something productive. I’m gonna go watch television.”

His neighbor Art Weingartner - stunningly played by Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun - is the exact opposite of Ray. A loud, silly and quite greedy guy who instantly suspects the Klopeks to be satanists and/or cannibals.

“Ray, do you want them to take your family, tear their livers out and make some kind of satanic pâté?”

Best of all: the mighty Bruce Dern as ex-soldier Mark Rumsfield who’s bored and slightly frustrated in this oh-so-nice neighborhood, until the Klopek-situation starts to roll and gives him a perfect excuse to go back to war.

“Are you completely pussy-whipped? Why don’t you just take your balls out of your wifes purse? Make a stand for one time in your life!”

Also very worth mentioning: Corey Feldman as super-cool rocker kid Ricky Butler (“Yo Rumsfield!”), the wonderful Henry Gibson as the strange Dr. Werner Klopek (“I let you keep the femur, but now, now I want my skull!”), Brother Theodore as grumpy Reuben Klopek (“NO!”), and Courtney Gains as the super-weird Hans Klopek (“Sardine?”). Plus: Carrie “Leia” Fisher as Ray’s wife Carol (“Yoo Hoo!”), Wendy Schaal as Rumsfield’s wife Bonnie (“I’m trying to cut back.”), and Dante-regular Dick Miller as garbageman (“I hate cul-de-sacs.”).

The amount of scenes that are unbe-fucking-lievably amazing is very, very high and I won’t mention them all, although... well, you’re not able to stop me, even if I’m overdoing it ;P
Here are my absolute fave scenes:

~ The paperboy’s throwing a newspaper at Tom Hanks, which ‘forces’ him to immediately toss his coffee in the direction of the paperboy.

~ Hans comes out of the mansion and everyone in the neighborhood freezes. When Hans goes back in, Ray and Art walk towards the mansion (to the music of Ennio Morricone) and knock on the door. Result: the house number 669 becomes 666, and a swarm of bees rushes out of a hole and hunts them down the street.

~ Art tells the story of ice cream man Skip who suddenly snapped (“El Snappo!”) and butchered his whole family and left their bodies in his house until they started to decompose.

~ Bizarre lights and loud noises come from the Klopeks’ cellar. Then, the garage opens, and a car moves out slowly to the end of the driveway. Hans gets out, carrying a huge and bulging garbage bag, throws it into a garbage can and bangs the hell out of it with a stick.

“I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen anybody drive their garbage down to the street and bang the hell out of it with a stick. I’ve never seen that.”

~ Art and Rumsfield (with shaving foam in his face) in a garbage truck, rifling through all the garbage, while Dick Miller and Robert Picardo talking about paraphysical seminars and cul-de-sacs.

~ The incredible, INCREDIBLE dialog scene in the basement where Art shows Ray a weird book called “The Theory and Practice of Demonology”.


Art: “I’m telling you these people are Satanists. As I sit here, they are satanists. Look, look, the world is full of these kind of things. Look at this: black masses, mutilations. Mutilations! The incubus, the succubus - I’m telling you: Walter was a human sacrifice.” (...)
Art: “We gotta go down to the religious supply store. We gotta get ourselves a couple of gallons of holy water. My cousin Jerry is a priest. He can get us a deal!
Ray: “No, I’m not going to listen to this. I don’t wanna hear this! I’m not going to listen to this.” (...)
Art: “We gotta get ourselves a couple of those big strings of Garlic. We gotta get ourselves some fresh lamb’s blood...”
Ray: (chanting) “I’m not going to listen to this, I’m not going to hear this now.” (...)
Art: “Ray, you’re chanting. Ray. Ray, look. (points to book) Ray, unconscious chanting! You’re chanting!
Ray: (continues chanting, fingers in ears)

Art: (chanting) I wanna Kill everyone. Satan is good. Satan is our pal.
Ray: (stops)

Art: Ray. Ray! You’re chanting! Hey, once they get in here... (points to Ray’s head)’s over, pal!

~ Ray flips through a couple of horror films on TV (“Race with the Devil”, “The Exorcist” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”). Later at night, he dreams of getting barbecued by his neighbors.

~ The hilariously amazing ‘smash zoom’.
“Ray... this is Walter... AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!”

~ The indescribably outstanding scene where Ray, Rumsfield, Carol and Bonnie go visit the Klopeks, incl. the evil-looking candle cluster (“For the ladies.”), yummy sardines and pretzels, cuckoo clocks, bloody paintings and ‘horses in the basement’
+ Rumsfield delivering a few of the movie’s absolute best lines:

“There go the goddamn brownies!”

“Here you go, sonny. A little something for the old sweet tooth.”

“Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny? - “Hans.” - “Hans? Oh-ho-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! Hehe!
What are you, Catholic?”

“What’d you say, we all sit down for a little of the old face-to-face.
Eh, what Reub?”

“Klopek. What is that, Slavic?” - “No!” - “Ho-ho, about a nine on the tension scale, Reub.”

“Got somebody tied up in the old cellar, have you, Reub?”
“What have you got in the cellar, Herr Klopek!?”

~ Last, but not least:
The scene where Rumsfield falls from the roof =)


Maynard recently went to the /Slash Film Festival in Austria and was lucky enough to attend a screening of The 'Burbs with an introduction, Q&A, and signing with the movie's director, Joe Dante. Hop on over to Maynard's blog, Horror Movie Diary, to see his video and photos of the event.


  1. "The Pizza Guy is here"... as he crashes into the house... Great movie and an enjoyable post....

    1. Thank you, Dr. Theda! Yes, it's such a funny movie!

  2. The Burbs is one of my all time FAVORITE movies! I just watched it the other day, because I can't pass it up when I see it on TV.

    1. Yes, it's one of my all-time faves too, LG! I start laughing out loud just looking at screenshots. In my household, this movie is quoted constantly. :D

  3. It was a pleasure and honor to work with you a third time. Can't wait for #4 next year =)

    1. Right back at you, sweetie! ❤ Once we've recovered sufficiently from number 3, we can start scheming and plotting our fourth installment! ;D

  4. Thanks for reminding me of a movie I have long time forgotten that I saw. It was fun and I have to see it again now. :) Happy halloween!

    1. This movie always makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it, linnea-maria! You definitely must watch it again. It's one the whole family can enjoy too. Happy Halloween! :)

  5. I grew up on the edge of the city, but it was very close to the suburbs and most of my extended family lived in them, so I totally understand the peculiarities of growing up there. Sadly, there were no haunted houses in any of these neighborhoods, but there was an abandoned cemetery in the woods not far from where I lived. So, there was at least something nearby that created a sense of melancholy in me.

    1. If there's anything better than a creepy house, it's an abandoned cemetery in the woods, Nightwind! That's the mother lode in the eeriness department! I'm feeling a little envious. ;)

  6. Omg that movie!! I saw it for the first time when i was little and of course i know why i grow up being the way i am haha :P Beautiful post as always, i hope you had an amazing time during Halloween day/ night ^^

    1. Thank you, Magda! Yes, I had a fun Halloween and I'm still stretching it out for as long as possible! ;D

  7. Gotta make a comment on the eucalyptus trees. I live in California, and we have LOTS of them in the SF Bay Area. They're quite pretty, and they certainly grow well here. There's only one problem... The "brains" who picked the species to import chose the wrong one, and they are totally useless for building! Go figure... ;-)

    1. I know, I read that they attempted to use them for railway sleepers too, Lucretia, which turned out to be another ill-conceived plan. ;)

      This is very un-Australian of me, but I'm not a fan of Eucalyptus trees. They have their own unique beauty, and the koalas definitely need them, but aesthetically speaking, give me a gorgeous Oak tree any day. I think they look ugly and messy in our Aussie suburbs with all the strips of bark that they drop.

  8. That house you found sounds wonderful! I cannot but hope that people will one day regard my own house with the same awe and fear! :P

    1. Hahaha. Indeed, Laura! The Vampire House is the kind of ideal abode that we must all strive for! ;D

  9. I loved hearing about Colonial Street. I guess I'm not one to think about how movies/tv are made so I never thought about the street. That was really interesting. I loved the story of your "vampire house"
    The photos look very familiar but I cannot for the life of me remember seeing this movie. I'm sure I saw it as a kid. I'm going to see if I can find a copy. It looks awesome!

    1. Thank you, Jessie! :) Sadly, The Vampire House was torn down several years ago, and now there's a McMansion standing in its place. I'm sure the people living there now have no idea that their land was once the focus of a suburban legend back in the day.

      I hope you get a chance to watch 'The 'Burbs'! It's such a fun movie!

  10. I think my favourite part is Art's fillings and black fingernails after he gets electrocuted, snipping the wires to the Klopek house. LOL!


  11. First, thanks to you and Maynard for reminding me of this WONDERFUL movie! I've been on a DVD buying kick, ordering from Amazon some of my fave 80s flicks (most recently, Love At First Bite, starring George Hamilton - W00F!). I've added The 'Burbs to my wish list, for my next round of extravagance. :-)

    Second, thanks for that tidbit about the Munster house, I'd no idea.

    Love your story about The Vampire House. I don't think we had anything similar when I was growing up, but in the village my kid and I lived not long ago, there was a creepy store front connected to the local liquor shop which seemed to house the contents of someone's garage/attic. It was never open for sale, but you could see all the old, dusty stuff through the glass. My kid's not freaked out by much, but this used to wig him out. :-D
    Check Out Mina's Resurrection Blogfest II!

    1. Lawd, I ADORE 'Love at First Bite', Mina! I would snap it up on DVD in a heartbeat, but according to the Amazon reviews, the Alicia Bridges song - 'I Love the Nightlife' - has been removed from the dance scene. Sacré Bleu!

      That creepy old store sounds delightfully spooky. Your description brought an old episode of the Boris Karloff 'Thriller' show to mind. It was about a pair of glasses, found in a junk shop, that made the wearer see the unpleasant truth. Naturally, this led to much murder and mayhem. ;)

  12. Love The Burbs! Besides the fact I've never seen Tom Hanks do a bad movie, The Burbs had a great overall cast! Fun fact re the Munster House was repurposed, I'll have to check out the Colonial Street site. Belated Happy halloween Emma!

    1. You'd be amazed at how many times the Colonial Street houses pop up in movies/TV/music videos, Mark! I'm always spotting them. It's become a bit of a game now. ;D

  13. Fun post! I haven't seen this movie yet but it's now on my list. :)

  14. Now I want to spend the night watching movies about creepy houses... yum.

  15. Seen it, but this reminded me of my huge Tom Hanks crush, love a man who makes me laugh (ah Tom, you were so funny before you got so academy) great post, yes and Fight Night, another suburban house a little like your real life vampire house, love that movie too :) great post, feeling nostalgic!

    1. Hi Sunshineshelle,

      Yes, Tom Hanks is certainly a talented serious actor, but I, too, love the funny Tom of yore best! :D

      Interestingly, I'm pretty sure that there are a couple of Colonial Street houses in the original 'Fright Night' as well!

  16. this movie is a damn classic!!! i don´t know, how often i have seen this! great, great, great! ;o)

    1. Thank you, Octapolis! :D I completely agree, a damn classic!!

  17. IF in the 'burbs tom hanks plays that film's wally cleaver, then is bruce dern that film's eddie haskell and Rick Ducommun it's lumpy...or IF tom hanks = the beaver does that make dern it's gilbert and Rick Ducommun it's larry mondello???


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