Why The ‘Burbs is the Best Comedy out of the 80’s


It didn’t take long, but we’ve come to that time where I’m going to leave Sci-fi for a moment in order to discuss another topic that is close to my heart: 80’s films (for those of you playing at home, you’ll remember that I warned you that I’m an unashamed 80’s child).

If you’ve never seen The ‘Burbs, then I feel for you. I also question where the hell you have been for the last 26 years that you’ve never managed to catch it on network television. There was a whole period when it was a regular Friday night movie… in fairness that was in the early 90’s, so if you weren’t born, then I guess I forgive you. Anyway, here’s the trailer – just so we’re on the same page:


In the scheme of Tom Hanks films, I think that The ‘Burbs often gets overlooked in favour of other comedic gems, such as Splash or Turner & Hooch, which subsequently make up what I like to think of as the ultimate trilogy of awesome Tom Hanks comedies. Many folks would argue to have Big included, probably over The ‘Burbs or Splash (no one in their right mind is going to argue about Turner & Hooch being included), but I’m going to come out and admit that I hated Big. Also, The ‘Burbs has a far better supporting cast and Splash had John Candy. Big has nothing on either of them.

The best thing about The ‘Burbs is that it’s the kind of movie that probably wouldn’t get made today. There’s no violence, no romantic sub-plot and the closest thing to a heart-throb is Corey Feldman (who was admittedly at the peak of his celebrity in 1989 but by modern standards, isn’t much chop). But more than that, the plot. The plot is so genius! How many other comedy films can you think of where a group of (largely middle aged) neighbours band together and convince themselves that the new family on the block is a group of Satan worshipping cannibals – only to find out that they are! Genius. In the modern world of today, the complete lack of sex scenes and six packs would pretty much put this script into the ‘no chance’ file at any of the big studios, so we should all breathe a sigh of relief that Dana Olsen and Joe Dante came along in the late 80’s and not today. On top of that, I can’t think of anyone who could play these characters today. Sorry, new aged funny guys, but you’ve got nothing on the glory days of 80’s comedians. Possibly Will Ferrell could take on Ray, possibly… but if I open this can of worms we’d pretty much be veering into a totally different post (or rant).

Over the last 25 years or so, Tom Hanks has really become known as a serious actor and in fairness, he is excellent in serious roles (Philadelphia, Forest Gump and so on… we won’t talk about Castaway…) but it’s a real shame that a lot of his comedic work has disappeared into the back ground because, damn it, Tom Hanks was hilarious. Rick Docummun is also highly underrated as an actor, as is Bruce Dern, really. Both of them are funny as hell in this. Plus, you’ve got Carrie Fisher, popping up as Carol, Ray’s long suffering wife and the voice of reason (who frequently gets ignored). We already touched on Corey Feldman, but I’m a fan of his, so I’ll touch on him again. His casting as Ricky isn’t really too far out, since he could be playing himself, but I love him in this role anyway. Finally, there’s Henry Gibson, who, outside of this, I’ve only ever seen in the Blues Brothers, but that alone makes him awesome, because that film is EPIC.

More than the stellar cast, and on a serious note, in retrospect The ‘Burbs says a lot about the decline of the suburban neighbourhood and because of that it’s an interesting film to revisit. In the film, Ray laments about the fact that, as neighbours, the whole street has failed in their duty to be welcoming to the ‘slightly eccentric’ Klopek family and that in this shortcoming they have managed to vilify these innocent people (Ray is not quite on the money about the innocence factor but his heart is in the right place). In the modern world, the idea of a close knit community among neighbours is quickly becoming a thing of the past, well at least in my experience. I’ve noticed an enormous shift away from neighbourhood interaction since the days of my youth, when the cul-de-sac behind my house used to be filled with children and all the parents knew one and other. Maybe it’s because I’m one of those weird 30 year olds with no husband and no kids, but I just don’t see that dynamic illustrated in society any more. People don’t tend to be outside in the yard and it’s almost unsafe to let your children wander, unattended all day, particularly in urban areas. That’s kind of killed off the social neighbourhood lifestyle and that’s really sad. Any how, I guess we’re writing about movies, not the decline of Western society, so moving on…

There really are some hilarious moments in this film. My top 3 would be:

  1. I’m going over that fence, and I’m not coming back until I find a dead body (if only I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that in my life!)
    the burbs 1
  2. The story of skip… ‘Oh, so you think that’s funny, Ricky?’
    Ricky and Ray
  3. Ray’s nightmare (I won’t spoil it)

Oh, and how could I forget?? ‘Ray, this is Walter!!’


Plus – how many other times in your life are you going to see Corey Feldman save the day? (despite his drug abuse during this period – which he discusses at length in Coreography – a great book- he really is on point in his delivery and the comedic timing of his character).

So, as we drive off into the sunset of another glorious Friday afternoon, I’d suggest putting aside 90 minutes this weekend to get re-acquainted with this 80’s classic, or introduce yourself to it if you’ve never seen it before.  I can’t think of many other black comedies that can match in delivery or cast (Heathers might be the exception, maybe Death Becomes Her). It really is a gem for its simplicity and the utter originality of the plot. I can safely say that I’ve seen this movie at least 500 times in my life and to this day, I never get sick of it… even though I can do all the dialogue in every scene, it still makes me laugh. To me, that means it’s a keeper.


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