Review for The 'Burbs
I have this obsessive compulsion to write about what I watch, which is a useful quirk if you write reviews. But when it comes to my own collection it adds a daunting barrier to watching some discs. Most ‘normal’ people would just stick a movie in and watch it, but I take a look at the extras listing, the commentaries, just to see how much time I will have to devote to a disc, and that means some titles remain unwatched years, and years after I bought the things. One day I will watch the Lord of the Rings Blu-rays, but there’s a reason why I haven’t bought the Hobbit trilogy as yet. The ‘Burbs lingered longer on my to-watch pile than I expected. When I bought it, I didn’t realise that it had two versions of the film on the disc, a commentary, and a feature-length making of documentary as well. That’s why I tend to pick the vanilla discs to watch first. Anyway, I’m finally taking a look at The ‘Burbs, a quintessential eighties movie.
Ray Peterson is on vacation, and this year he’s going where all the action is, at home. He has a week of lying around in his pyjamas planned, to recharge his batteries, although that does mean he won’t be getting away from his neighbourhood, his enthusiastic friend Art, the military nut Mark from across the street, Walter with the ‘landmine’ laying dog from the end of the cul-de-sac. Living in this close is a regular soap opera, only it’s one that’s liable to turn into a horror movie. The run down house next door looks like it belongs in Amityville, and the new neighbours, the Klopeks certainly match the decor. Strange things go on in their basement at night, and the conspiracy theories soon force everyone to put aside the usual neighbourly conflicts.
The Burbs gets a 1.85 widescreen 1080p transfer, which coming from a newly minted and director supervised 2k restoration looks excellent. Detail levels are high, colours are strong and consistent, and you get a proper, filmic presentation, with natural film grain present and correct. You get the original stereo audio in PCM 2.0 English form with optional SDH subtitles. The dialogue is clear, and the stereo offers some nice sound design, putting the action across well, helped by a little Prologic magic.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, and the sleeve is reversible. The disc presents its content with an animated menu. Before you play the film, there is a thirty second disclaimer about the film’s restoration.
There are plenty of juicy extras to enjoy, beginning with There Goes the Neighbourhood, a feature-length making of documentary which lasts 66:33, with interviews with the cast and crew.
The Feature Workprint is presented in 1080p widescreen with DD 1.0 mono audio, but rest assured, it’s of VHS quality, as that was the only source available. It presents the film with alternate and deleted scenes, and is an interesting take on the story, which adds a layer to Ray’s ‘vacation’. The audio drifts a little out of sync towards the end, but an interesting pastime is playing a game trying to identify which movies the temp track comes from. This lasts 105:57
If you don’t have the time to watch the workprint, the A Tale of Two ‘Burbs, which lasts 23:37 conveniently collates the difference between the two versions, and you can watch this with optional commentary from Joe Dante.
The Isolated Music & Effects track does just what it says, is presented in PCM 2.0 Stereo, and is for some reason only accessible from the audio setup menu.
The Alternate Ending is almost the same as that in the workprint, albeit with a couple of character beats altered. This lasts 6:38 and is in 1080p HD.
The Theatrical Trailer lasts 1:33, and finally there is an audio commentary on the film from writer Dana Olsen.
The first release version of the film would have had a booklet to accompany the disc, but I missed out.
Back in 2008, the one silver lining I saw with the stock market crash and subsequent recession was that Hollywood budgets would shrink, and creators would have to get creative. In the end, that didn’t happen, and movie budget inflation continued, as did the ongoing deluge of comic book movies. That hope was instigated by the recession of the nineteen eighties. Back then economies were slumping, home video was killing cinema and filmmakers were forced to really get creative. What resulted was my favourite decade of cinema, giving us stories, genres, and styles of film that we had never seen before. The ‘Burbs is a perfect example of such a film, a black comedy that was shot entirely on the Universal backlot, and telling the kind of story that people just hadn’t seen before.
Sure there were and are plenty of comedies set in suburbia, the archetypal US sitcom lives in such surroundings. But The ‘Burbs recognised something that the British always knew, that neighbours seldom like each other, usually only tolerate each other, and that suburban life revolves around keeping up with the Joneses, petty rivalry and grudges, and a whole lot of envy and curtain-twitching, and there’s always one, weird, or obnoxious family on every street who just don’t fit in, or worse, bring the tone down.
That’s what we’re presented with in The ‘Burbs, the kind of neighbourhood where everyone knows each other, and just about tolerate each other. Ray Peterson is introduced as the most reasonable of the characters; an everyman in a slightly crazy street, with his over-enthusiastic moocher of a friend Art living next door. Across the street there is Rumsfield, patriotic veteran who has a feud with the old man at the end of the close whose dog Queenie insists on depositing on his lawn. Enjoying the mayhem in the neighbourhood is teenager Ricky, who lives next door to Rumsfield.
It’s the Klopeks who have just moved into the house on the other side of Ray’s that send the mayhem into a whole other dimension. The run down house looks like something the Munsters live in, and the Klopeks are secretive, keeping to themselves. In the two weeks since they’ve moved in, no one has seen or spoken to them, and every night strange noises come from their basement. That’s enough to unite the rest of the close in curiosity.
Being creepy, kooky, weird or just plain different makes it awkward being friendly, while Art’s imagination is enough to raise everyone’s suspicions about the new neighbours. Just knocking on their front door to say “Hi” becomes a childish game of dare for Art and Ray, and things only downspiral from there. Their curiosity becomes positively sinister when the old man at the top of the close goes missing, and things quickly escalate out of control.
The richness of the characterisations and their interactions makes this film so appealing. Ray’s growing obsession with finding out the ‘truth’ about his new neighbours is brilliantly observed with a deliciously uneasy sense of humour. All the way through the film, there is that sense of persecution growing, the witch-hunt that is implied as the neighbours band together to investigate the Klopeks, and it feels like a relevant story when you consider just how that which is merely different is still treated in modern society.
The ‘Burbs carries this ambiguity through the film remarkably well, keeping the audience on edge while provoking fits of laughter, but it undoes all this hard work with its audience friendly, mainstream sating denouement, which conveniently places the white hats and the black hats on the characters to ensure that the simplicity of the plot is restored. While the ending of the film may disappoint, you won’t be disappointed by Arrow’s presentation of the film on this disc, wonderful AV quality and a host of delightful extra features.