Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Neighbor of the Beast

We continue to delve into the Joe Dante oeuvre with The Burbs (1989). It stars Tom Hanks as an ordinary guy who wants to spend his vacation week at home in his little cul-de-sac. His wife (Carrie Fisher) thinks he should go to the lake, but his obnoxious slob of a neighbor, Rick Ducommum, is happy to hang out with him and raid his pantry.

The neighborhood seems like a nice place - the worst menace might be the old guy (Gale Gordon!) who lets his poodle poop on other people's lawn. There's survivalist gun-nut Bruce Dern and his hot wife Wendy Schall and stoner Corey Feldman who is sort of painting his family's house while they are away. Oh yes - then there's that house at 669 Mayfield that is kind of run-down, dark and menacing, with the funny noises and lights in the basement. Nobody knows who lives there - they never come out. But Hanks' son has seen them, late at night, in the rain, digging in the backyard...

It is kind of a comedy of manners mixed with horror. The neighbors all speculate about the creepy family like kids talking about a haunted house, then start daring each other to ring the doorbell. It goes on from there. The only hint as to what they find that I will give you is that it involves Henry Gibson.

This is all very Joe Dante - the look is very stylized, all on one studio lot. The script is clever and layered, with a nice mix of normalcy and doom. There's even a Dick Miller role. Some people consider this one of his best.

I wouldn't go that far. It's good, but not best. I loved it while watching, but I'm not sure it's as rich or deep as it could have been, or as biting. It reminds me a lot of the Belushi-Ackroyd Neighbors from 1981, which I also liked but didn't love. The same kind of suburbia disturbed comedy.

In conclusion, the Corey Feldman character, who treats the whole disaster as a spectacle, is my favorite.

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