The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>The 'Burbs</i> (1989) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - The 'Burbs (1989)

Joe Dante's 1989 comedy gets the Arrow BluRay treatment.

Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern , Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun

Back before Tim Burton was the cartoon auteur du jour with the gothic mise en scene, there was Joe Dante, more anarchic, more informed by the works of Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones but both sharing a love of 50s gothic and Forry Ackerman's seminal Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
Dante’s infectious style was up front and present in the early Corman horrors and pairings with writer/director John Sayles, and still managed to fit his chaotic sensibilities  into more mainstream fare such as Gremlins. Unfettered, he is a director to cherish; when restrained by studios, you get tepid fare such as Innerspace and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. The ‘Burbs falls between two stools; for the most part it is the closest Dante has come to a psychological horror movie, albeit one in the guise of a wacky suburban comedy.
Made just as Tom Hanks was becoming a box office draw, but before he become an oscar eating acting machine, Hanks plays Ray Peterson - husband, father, paranoid delusional maniac and ostensibly the voice of reason in an intellectual cul de sac who have taken against new neighbours the Klopeks, a mittel European gaggle of misfits who don’t quite fit the small town template.
Dante makes The Addams Family but from the point of view of the terrified neighbours. It’s a prickly picture. It wants to be nasty, spiteful and small minded, while having to fight studio enforced happy endings (of a sort) and vindication. Whats starts out as a fear of weapons of mass destruction and the insanity it brings, becomes a vindication of that very fear. It plays like a film that has received script notes from Donald Rumsfeld, and makes you root for Ray and his gang in a way that was not originally intended.
There is enough oddness though to have thrown the audience on release. Hanks may be a milquetoast chinless everyman in this, but behind the amiable lazy doofus lies the heart of a paranoid schizophrenic. It’s like finding out that Perry Como is in fact leader of a neo-Nazi sect, one who is egged on by neighbour, conspirator and instigator Art (Ducommun, who is a little broad even for a comedy this baroque). Bruce Dern also brings his irascible kook act out of the closet, sprinkled with a patina of flag waving patriotism.
Dante makes less a film of gags and comedy, more one of escalating mania. The Klopeks' house is an immovable Bugs Bunny to the neighbours' Elmer Fudd, who are always outsmarted and thwarted at every increasingly frustrated turn. He places you in the fear of the unknown, whilst slyly mocking your paranoia, with a weird twisted piece of work that left to its own devices would have been the equal of Blue Velvet. Lynch may have told us that beneath the veneer of small town civility lies corruption, necrosis and perversion. In Dante’s film it is the surface veneer that is the perversion, a need to keep your lawn free of dog poo, allegiance to the flag and cook outs with a bunch of faceless charm free autobots that will eventually unleash incipient madness. Ignore the ending and you have one of the very best in Joe’s varied but always interesting career.
Arrow go to town on this prestige release. The transfer is good, if a little rough and grainy in places, more the fault of 80s film stock than any real issues with the upgrade. Sound is lossless 2:0 with an option to isolate music and sound effects. Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as a commentary from writer Dana Olson.
The two standouts are a rough as a badger's arse workprint that is Dante’s preferred cut, but hard to watch all the way through (the alternative takes, deleted scenes and alternate ending are available separated for those pressed for time). You also get a near feature length documentary that features pretty much everyone apart from Hanks and Ducommun (who apparently didn’t get on) and full of tales of working on the Universal back lot whilst tourists are milling around, and Corey Feldman’s penchant for bringing porn actresses to the set. It's light and gossipy with a sense that no one wants to torch their careers just yet with tales of interference. Whack in the usual high quality booklet, this time from Kenneth J. Souza, and you have one of the key releases of 2014 from Arrow, a label that just keeps getting better.