31 October 2013

Maynard + Emma's BURBStastic BURBSarama

Yes, yes, we did it again! 11 months after the "Addams Family Awesomeness" and 6 months after the "Beetlejuice Bewitchement", I once again teamed up with my blog buddy, Halloween buddy, favorite Aussie and one of my best friends EMMA ("Little Gothic Horrors") to create another massive monster-collaboration, this time about Joe Dante's uber-awesome comedy-masterpiece "THE 'BURBS".

An overlong quasi-review from me, and a stunningly detailed write-up from Emma
= trivia and fun for everyone :-) HAPPY HALLOWEEN to you from Austria and Australia!!!


German Title:
Meine teuflischen Nachbarn

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".

[excerpts] 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..."
(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)...it'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 =)

And now, it's time for Emma to take over !

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 Eucalyptus 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 fourth from school each day past a rundown, little dwelling hidden behind a tangle of foliage and overgrown trees. The house was always 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 Klopeks’ 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:

"God, I love this street."

'Burbtastic Bonus:

At this year's /Slash Fimfestival, I (Maynard) got to see an exclusive 35mm screening of The 'Burbs, in attendance of Joe Dante himself who introduced the movie in an entertaining and insightful way. I filmed the introduction with my shitty smartphone. The video quality sucks but the audio is decent. Check it out:

Also, I got the chance to shake Joe Dante's hand [I'll never wash that hand again], and he even signed my German 'Burbs DVD. Yes, my real name is Harry.


  1. Yay us, again! :D Loved collaborating on this "little" post with you, Maynard! ;)

    1. Yay! :D Another absolutely fabulous collaboration. Can't wait for the next one... next year, of course :)

  2. You two created a good post on an enjoyable film.... great job...

    1. Hey, thanks. We tried our best to celebrate it in a totally awesome way :)

  3. I remember this - it was an adorable movie! You two did a great job with review and all the extras. Thanks! :-)

    1. No, thanks to you Lexa ;) And yes, 'Burbs is totally adorable!

  4. What a fantastic post! I've only seen the movie once - in the theater when it was new - and now you two totally make me want to see it again!

    1. Only once??? Dude, what??? Go, re-watch it ASAP!!!

  5. It was fun reading through this again! :D [Danny just said, "Okay, we're gonna have to watch it again now!"]


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