The ‘Burbs (1989) Review (Arrow Video Blu-ray)

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Written by Dana Olsen (Going Berserk) and directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling), The ‘Burbs is a comedy-horror hybrid that, for me, was a staple film of my childhood, a movie I was probably too young to be watching, yet couldn’t get enough of. I was very excited to hear that Arrow, a company I am a fan of, were bringing out The ‘Burbs on Blu-ray, for the first time in the UK, with a director’s cut, and a smorgasbord of extras.

A stellar cast, featuring heavyweight acting talent like Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Henry Gibson, this is a beautifully dark, hilarious and addictive film that deals with themes like Cannibalism, Satanism, Sacrifice, Kidnapping, Murder, Arson and Criminal Damage in such a way that you don’t quite feel like such repugnant and gloomy subjects are being discussed.

We begin our tale by entering suburbia. White picket-fences, freshly mowed lawns, flap poles donning the star-spangled-banner. It’s middle-class America in a neighbourhood where everybody knows one-another, and they don’t take too kindly to something appearing “out of place”. The thing is, a new family has moved in to the neighbourhood. They don’t leave the house, the paint is chipping from their porch, their garden is a mess, oh… and they dig in their back yard at night and drive giant bags of garbage from their garage to the street when the sun has gone down. Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) along with his wife, Carol (Carrie Fisher), son and their dog, live a quiet life, but when these new neighbours cause a stir in the ‘burbs and the gossip and rumours begin to circulate. Ray, along with his neighbours Art (Rick Ducommun) and Mark (Bruce Dern) start to snoop. When an old man who lives on their block, Walter (Gale Gordon), goes missing, all eyes are on these weird new neighbours. It’s time for the suburbanites to figure out just what’s going on in their nice quiet street.

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With a fantastic musical score composed by Jerry Goldsmith that mixes chirpy and upbeat melodies with an almost funeral procession sound, it works brilliantly and remains one of my favourite film scores of the 1980’s. The whole look of the film is very Joe Dante. If you’re familiar with Gremlins and other Dante films, he obviously has a lot of fun toying with the concept of something horrific invading a quiet, happy suburbia. The ‘Burbs is just that. Something bad has come to town, and the run-of-the-mill townsfolk are going to deal with it, or fall on their khaki’s trying. The comedy and horror mesh wonderfully and seamlessly, with a sinister tone and giant question mark over this curious family of strange looking new neighbours always hovering while our protagonists break the law, commit dozens of violations, and turn their street into an episode of Law & Order: Suburban Edition.

Hanks is great as Ray, a normal guy who is on vacation and just wants a quiet week at home, smoking the odd cigar, drinking a few hundred beers and watching the ball-game. His descent into paranoia and obsession is disturbingly hilarious to observe, and Dern, as Mark as well as Ducommun, as Art, offer the perfect complement to Ray’s laid-back and conflicted lead. Art loves the drama and seemingly wants to see something bad happen, just so he can be a part of it. Mark, a former military-man, is a character that, while seriously played, is comical due to the fact that he uses military tactics in such unnecessary places, and silly circumstances. Feldman, as Ricky, the street’s youthful narrator, who often gives observations about what’s going on and has his friends over to watch the street like it’s a television show, is a fun addition to the cast too. Along with The Lost Boys, this is the best thing, in my view, that Feldman has done in his career. With the additions of Carrie Fisher as the level-headed Carol, Wendy Schaal (American Dad) as Mark’s wife, Bonnie, and Henry Gibson (Magnolia), Brother Theodore (The Last Unicorn) and Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn) as the peculiar Klopek family, the cast is one of the best assembled for a horror comedy, it just clicks magnificently.

Arrow have done a wonderful job, once again, with this release. It looks fantastic, sounds even better, and the special features are bloody brilliant. With a commentary from writer Dana Olsen, a new feature-length documentary in which stars of the film, including Feldman, Gains and Schaal, as well as Joe Dante, give their thoughts and recall memories of their time with the film, the original workprint cut of the film from Joe Dante’s own hands, an alternate ending, trailers, featurettes as well as beautiful new cover art designed by Graham Humpreys and a collectors booklet. The new transfer of this wonderful film alone would have been enough for me to spend my money on this release, but with these top notch features that have had such care and time put into them, this is surely one of the premier Arrow releases to date.

As a film, this is one that I have a hard time finding wrong with. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I think it is the perfect blend of macabre horror and laugh-out-loud comedy. The cast is great, the music is great, and now, with this release it can be experienced fully, and with lots of titbit’s to enjoy afterwards. A must-buy.

The ‘Burbs is out on Blu-ray, through Arrow Video, on September 15th 2014.

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