The 'Burbs

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The 'Burbs
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Dante
Produced by
Written byDana Olsen
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyRobert M. Stevens
Edited byMarshall Harvey
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 17, 1989 (1989-02-17)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$49.1 million

The 'Burbs is a 1989 American dark comedy film[1] directed by Joe Dante, starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal and Henry Gibson, and co-starring Gale Gordon. The film was written by Dana Olsen, who also has a cameo in the movie. The film pokes fun at suburban environments and their sometimes eccentric dwellers.[2]


Ray Peterson is home on a week-long vacation. Late one night, he hears strange noises emanating from the basement of his new and rather odd neighbors, the Klopeks. Eventually, Ray, and his neighbors Art Weingartner and Vietnam veteran Mark Rumsfield gradually suspect the Klopeks may be ritualistic murderers.

On another night, Ray, Art, and Rumsfield observe the youngest Klopek carting an over-sized garbage bag from the garage to the curbside garbage can, where he aggressively mashes it down with a hoe. Ray has also seen the Klopeks digging in their back yard during a rainstorm. The following morning, Ray, Rumsfield, and Art search the garbage truck for human remains after the Klopeks' trash can is collected, but find nothing.

Rumsfield's wife, Bonnie, finds their neighbor Walter's dog running loose. Worried about the elderly man, Ray, Art, Mark, and Bonnie, along with Ricky Butler, a teen neighbor whose parents are away, go to Walter's house. Inside, they find overturned kitchen chairs and Walter's toupee, but no Walter. Ray collects the dog and leaves a note in case Walter returns. That night, Ray and Art theorize about Walter's mysterious disappearance, believing the Klopeks may have used him as a human sacrifice. When Ray's dog brings home what looks like a human femur bone, they are further convinced.

Ray's wife, Carol, tired of her husband's and his buddies' behavior, organizes a welcome visit for the Klopeks. Carol, Ray, Rumsfield, and Bonnie meet Hans, Reuben, and Werner Klopek. Meanwhile, Art snoops around the Klopek's backyard. After, Ray reveals to Art and Rumsfield that he found Walter's mail and his toupee at the Klopeks’, proving the Klopeks were inside Walter's house. The trio agree to search for Walter's body in the Klopeks' backyard while they are away the following day.

Ray sends Carol and their son, Dave, to visit Carol's sister, freeing Ray and his buddies to explore the Klopeks' residence. Art and Ray dig for Walter's remains in the backyard, while Rumsfield stands guard. When nothing incriminating is found, Ray and Art break into the basement and discover what appears to be a crematorium.

The Klopeks return home, accompanied by the police after having seen the lights on in their basement. Art goes to fetch Ray, who, digging into the basement's earthen floor, discovers what he believes is a buried crypt. He realizes too late his pick-ax has struck a gas line. Art escapes before the house explodes with Ray still inside. A disheveled and scorched Ray emerges from the flames just as Carol returns home.

Walter arrives home during the commotion. He has been in the hospital and had asked the Klopeks to collect his mail while he was away. After Ray had earlier slipped Walter's toupee into the mail slot after absentmindedly putting it into his pocket, it was mistakenly gathered up with the mail. That is why it was in the Klopeks’ house. Ray declares he and the others were wrong about the Klopeks before climbing into the ambulance to go to the hospital.

Werner Klopek enters the ambulance. Ray apologizes to him, but Werner accuses Ray of having seen the human skull in the basement furnace. He reveals they murdered the previous owners, confirming everyone's suspicions. Werner attempts to lethally inject Ray as Hans drives the ambulance away. As Ray and Werner struggle, the vehicle crashes into the Weingartners' house, ejecting both Werner and Ray, who then makes a citizen's arrest. Ricky uncovers human skeletal remains in the Klopeks' car trunk. The Klopeks are arrested and charges against Ray are dropped. Ray tells Ricky that he and his family are going away for a while and tells him to watch over the neighborhood.



Screenwriter Dana Olsen based the script, under the working title Life in the 'Burbs, on experiences from his own childhood: "I had an ultranormal middle-class upbringing, but our town had its share of psychos. There was a legendary hatchet murder in the thirties, and every once in a while, you'd pick up the local paper and read something like 'LIBRARIAN KILLS FAMILY, SELF'. As a kid, it was fascinating to think that Mr. Flanagan down the street could turn out to be Jack the Ripper. And where there's fear, there's comedy. So I approached The 'Burbs as Ozzie and Harriet Meet Charles Manson."[3]

Olsen's script attracted producer Larry Brezner, who brought it to Imagine Films. It was greeted with a warm reception from Brian Grazer. "I liked the concept of a regular guy taking a vacation in his own neighborhood, plus it was funny and well written. It suddenly dawned on me that Joe Dante would be fantastic [as a director] because it's a mixture of comedy, horror, and reality."[3]

Dante, the director of Gremlins and Innerspace, and his partner, Michael Finnell, were immediately impressed by the concept of the movie. Dante, who specializes in offbeat subject matters, was intrigued by the blending of real-life situations with elements of the supernatural. "When I tell people about the story, a remarkable number say, 'On my grandmother's block, there were people like that. They never mowed their lawn, and they never came out, and they let their mail stack up, and nobody knew who they were'. And I must confess that in my own neighborhood there's a house like that, falling to wrack and ruin. I think this is perhaps a more common event than most people are aware of."[3]

Dante, Brezner and Finnell agreed that Tom Hanks would be the most suitable actor to portray the harried Ray Peterson, a conservative man who tries to introduce excitement into his life by investigating the activities of his strange neighbors. Dante referred to Hanks as "the reigning everyman, a guy that everybody can identify with",[3] comparing Hanks with James Stewart. Brezner echoed the sentiments, saying, "Hanks is an actor capable of acting funny rather than funny acting. He also has no problem with transition from comedy to Pathos, as he showed in Nothing in Common, and he's now proving himself as one of the country's most versatile actors."[3]

Hanks accepted the role of Ray with enthusiasm. "What's so bizarrely interesting about this black psychocomedy is that the stuff that goes on in real life in a regular neighborhood will make your hair stand up on the back of your neck."[3] He was also intrigued by his character with distinctive personality traits. "Sometimes there's more of an opportunity to create than others. Here's a guy with a great life – a nice house, a wife, a beautiful tree, a nice neighborhood – and he's happy. Next day, he hates it all. I thought something must've happened to him offstage. And that's the challenge for me of the part: to communicate Ray's offscreen dilemma. One of the reasons Ray doesn't go away on vacation is because it's another extension of the normalcy he's fallen into. So he thinks he'll try a more Bohemian thing, which is to just hang around the house. With a week's worth of free time on his hands, Ray is drawn into the pre-occupations of his neighbors, who always seem to be at home. But what I did is just back-story embellishment that any actor will do. Perhaps from my repertory experience. I don't ask a director for motivation. If he says, 'Go over to the window', I find the reason myself."[3]

Hanks found admiration for Dante's directorial style, saying "Joe has a stylized, visionary way of looking at the entire movie. It's pure film-making – the story is told from the camera's point of view, and that's a type of movie I haven't made." Dante, in turn, praised his star. "The most impressive thing about Tom Hanks as a comic actor is how effortless he makes it seem. He actually is very diligent about his acting, but his comic sense of what is going to work – and what isn't – is really unparalleled."[3]

The ten-week shoot took place during the summer of 1988, with Dante directing Hanks and the high-profile supporting cast. Dante's laid-back, casual style encouraged improvisation among the actors. He noted, "Tom doesn't like to do scenes the way they're always done. He goes out of his way to put a different spin on everything and his being good as he is and as open as he is encouraged the other actors to do the same. It set a tone for the movie that made it a lot of fun to make."[3]

The set[edit]

The entire movie takes place on Mayfield Place

Filmed entirely at Universal Studios, The 'Burbs presented technical and logistical problems for Dante and the crew. "I can't think of many pictures since Lifeboat that all take place in the same area," Dante said as production got under way. "There was a lot of temptation to broaden it and go outside the neighborhood, but it seemed to violate the spirit of the piece. It's almost the kind of thing that could be a stage play except that you could never do on-stage what we've done in this movie."[3]

Dante used the Colonial Street set on the back lot for the Mayfield Place cul-de-sac. The set had once been used in 1987's Dragnet, also starring Tom Hanks. (Coincidentally, the structure used as the Peterson home in The 'Burbs was used as the home of the character of "the virgin Connie Swail" in Dragnet.) At the time The 'Burbs began production the Colonial Street set was being used as the location for The New Leave It to Beaver television series – the 1980s follow-up to Leave It to Beaver, so the entire area 'reeked' of normalcy. Dante said, "I asked [production designer] James Spencer, a veteran of Poltergeist and Gremlins if he thought he could turn that street into the neighborhood we needed in that period of time. Spencer rose to the challenge, and within a few days they began work on sketching out the proposed designs for the sets. Spencer observed, "We had to be on the spot. Due to the lack of time, it would have been ludicrous to do our drawing elsewhere."[3]

The sacred Beaver household had to be carted away to make room for the dilapidated Klopek home. By the time Spencer was through, the entire street had been reconfigured.

The Klopeks' house was not completely destroyed, and remained almost intact as it appeared in The 'Burbs for a number of years, albeit without the tower. The whole building is visible in a season-two episode of Quantum Leap. The house no longer exists in an easily recognizable form (the Van de Kamp house in Desperate Housewives) but the right façade does still have some features of the original style. The original Klopek garage sits alongside the house, in much the same style as in The 'Burbs.

The other houses (many of which are just façades) have been used in countless television shows, movies and music videos through the years. Perhaps the most notable is The Munsters' house, which is home to the Butler family in The 'Burbs. Due to its recognizability, the house's facade is never completely shown in the film. Two new houses, which were built specifically for the movie, were Walter Seznick's (which is still there to this day) and the Klopeks'. The Munsters House was also used as the Granny Munday home in Dragnet. Connie Swail's home in Dragnet was Art's house. The Rumsfield and Peterson Houses were also used in Deep Impact.

The residents of Mayfield Place[edit]

Mayfield Place.svg

  • 667: Walter Seznick
  • 668: Unspecified
  • 669: The Klopeks
  • 670: The Rumsfields
  • 671: The Petersons
  • 672: Ricky Butler
  • 673: The Weingartners


Box office[edit]

The film opened at number 1 with $11,101,197 in its opening weekend (February 17–20, 1989).[4] Overall, in the US, the film made $36,601,993 and $49,101,993 worldwide.[5]

Critical reaction[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 53% based on 38 reviews, with an average rating of 5.98/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The 'Burbs has an engaging premise, likable cast, and Joe Dante at the helm – so the mixed-up genre exercise they produce can't help but feel like a disappointment."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 45 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times said the film is "as empty as something can be without creating a vacuum".[8] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars and wrote: "The 'Burbs tries to position itself somewhere between Beetlejuice and The Twilight Zone, but it lacks the dementia of the first and the wicked intelligence of the second and turns instead into a long shaggy dog story."[9]

Home media[edit]

The first DVD release of The 'Burbs was Region 1, which contains English and French language. This release includes an alternative ending in which Werner Klopek attempts to kill Ray but is caught in the act by Rumsfield and Carol. While being arrested, he gives a satirical monologue about why he moved to the suburbs.

This was followed in 2004 by the European/Australian Region 2/4 release entitled The 'Burbs Uncut. The 'uncut' in the title refers only to scenes removed from the TV versions which are present on the DVD; there is nothing additional from the theatrical release. However, for the first time, the UK release included the clips from the three films watched by Ray on his TV (namely Race with the Devil, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), which had previously been cut by the BBFC from the original theatrical and VHS versions.

Arrow Video released The 'Burbs on Blu-ray in 2014 in the UK with a new 2K scan of the inter-positive.[10] The edition included a commentary by screenwriter Dana Olsen, a newly commissioned feature-length documentary titled There Goes the Neighborhood: The Making of 'The 'Burbs',[11] and a work print with temp music and deleted scenes provided by Joe Dante himself (who also helped in the restoration of the film). The deleted scenes included, among other things, a Kevin McCarthy cameo, a dropped subplot about Ray's job problems and different versions of some scenes.

In the US, the film was first given a Blu-ray release in 2016 by Universal Studios. However, this release was criticized for poor quality and being a bare bones release.[12] But in 2018, Shout! Factory re-released the film on Blu-ray with the transfer and majority of the special features from the 2014 Arrow release from the UK.[13]



The orchestral soundtrack was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and includes references to his Patton tune for the Rumsfield character.

Joe Dante used Ennio Morricone's "Se Sei Qualcuno è Colpa Mia", from My Name Is Nobody, as a temp track for the scene in which Ray and Art walk up to the Klopeks' house instead of using the cue Goldsmith composed for that scene ("Let's Go").

  1. "Main Title" – 2:23
  2. "Welcome to Mayfield Place" – 2:20
  3. "New Neighbors" – 2:06
  4. "Klopek House" – 2:02
  5. "Storytelling" – 3:20
  6. "Neighborhood Watch" – 2:01
  7. "A Nightmare in the 'Burbs" – 2:30
  8. "Brownies?" – 0:47
  9. "The Assault" – 2:36
  10. "Ray Peterson, Neighbor from Hell" – 1:43
  11. "Runaway Ambulance" – 2:24
  12. "Vacation's End" – 2:12
  13. "End Titles" – 4:10

Total duration: 30:34

Deluxe edition, also by Varèse Sarabande:

  1. "Night Work" (Main Title) – 2:38
  2. "The Window / Home Delivery" – 2:22
  3. "The Raven" – 0:51
  4. "Nocturnal Feeders" – 0:27
  5. "Good Neighbors" – 2:06
  6. "Let's Go" – 2:04
  7. "Bad Karma" – 0:38
  8. "The Sentinel" – 3:22
  9. "My Neighborhood" – 2:04
  10. "The Garage" – 4:24
  11. "Spare Key" – 1:19
  12. "The Note" – 1:00
  13. "Devil Worship" – 1:12
  14. "The Dream" – 2:34
  15. "The Note #2" – 1:28
  16. "This is Walter" – 2:00
  17. "Snooping Around" – 0:50
  18. "I'm O.K." – 1:02
  19. "Ask Him" – 1:24
  20. "What's in the Cellar?" – 1:00
  21. "The Wig" – 2:23
  22. "Hot Wires" – 2:39
  23. "Red Rover, Red Rover" – 1:11
  24. "No Beer" – 3:07
  25. "Home Furnace" – 1:44
  26. "No Lights" – 0:48
  27. "Walter's Home" – 1:58
  28. "Something is Moving" – 1:46
  29. "There's a Body" – 1:04
  30. "My Skull / The Gurney" – 2:24
  31. "The Trunk" – 1:41
  32. "Pack Your Bags" – 2:15
  33. "Square One" (End Credits) – 4:14

The insert of the 2007 album includes a note from Varèse producer Robert Townson:

"Universal Pictures released The 'Burbs in February 1989. No soundtrack album was forthcoming. A mere three years later (although it seemed like a lot longer at the time) the score was rescued in the Varèse Sarabande CD Club. Well, thirty minutes of it was, at any rate. But Jerry Goldsmith's exceptionally inventive and inspired score for The 'Burbs had a lot more to offer. As of 2007, the Musician Union rules have changed in this neighborhood. Though a straight re-issue of our original CD would go against the Club's intent, an expansion of this order (over twice the amount of music) in this new era of soundtrack releases, seemed to warrant a special exception. This expanded edition also returns to Jerry Goldsmith's original track titles, where our previous release featured titles by yours truly. Now over an hour long, this Deluxe Edition of The 'Burbs gives a new generation the chance to discover a comedy classic. It gives those who've been to this neighborhood before the opportunity to revisit the Peterson house, now with a new coat of paint, some new landscaping and a roomy extension that has been added. Hinckley Hills has been refurbished and is all set to weather the next decade or two. It's a great place to raise a family!"[14]

The soundtrack was released in 2018 on vinyl for the first time by Waxwork Records. The expanded and complete score was pressed to 180 gram vinyl in a 2xLP package.[15]


Like the deluxe version of the soundtrack, the score has 33 tracks:

  1. "Main Titles"
  2. "The House"
  3. "Welcome to Mayfield Place"
  4. "Shooting Crows"
  5. "Dave's Story"
  6. "New Neighbors"
  7. "Klopek House"
  8. "Bad Karma"
  9. "Storytelling"
  10. "Neighborhood Watch"
  11. "Garbage Disposal"
  12. "Little Dog Lost"
  13. "A Klopek Watching"
  14. "A Hell of TV"
  15. "A Nightmare in the 'Burbs"
  16. "Leaving the Note"
  17. "The Bone"
  18. "Brownies"
  19. "A Horse in the Basement"
  20. "Planning the Raid"
  21. "The Assault"
  22. "On the Roofs"
  23. "Searching the House"
  24. "The Search Continues"
  25. "The Furnace"
  26. "Walter is Back"
  27. "Ray Peterson, Neighbor from Hell"
  28. "Aftermath"
  29. "Runaway Ambulance"
  30. "Canvas Fight"
  31. "Skulls" / "Catching Pinocchio"
  32. "Vacation's End"
  33. "End Titles"

The music played during the fight scene between Werner and Ray, known as either "Runaway Ambulance" or "My Skull / The Gurney", is also used at a crucial point in Dante's next film, Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Non-original music used in the film[edit]


  1. ^ Erickson, Hal. "The 'Burbs (1989)". AllMovie. RhythmOne. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  2. ^ Thomas, Kevin (February 17, 1989). "'The 'Burbs': There Goes the Neighborhood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Pfeiffer, Lee; Lewis, Michael (1996). The Films of Tom Hanks. Citadel Film. New York: Citadel Press. ISBN 0806517174.
  4. ^ "The 'Burbs (1989) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  5. ^ "The 'Burbs (1989)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  6. ^ "The 'Burbs (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  7. ^ "The 'Burbs Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  8. ^ "Reviews/Film; Suspicious Goings-On Next Door" - New York Times, February 17, 1989.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 17, 1989). "The 'Burbs movie review & film summary (1989)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  10. ^ McKiver, Tony (October 3, 2014). "Hanks For The Memories: The 'Burbs Revisited". The Quietus. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  11. ^ "There Goes the Neighborhood: The Making of 'The 'Burbs' (2014)". IMDb. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  12. ^ "The 'Burbs Blu-ray". Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  13. ^ "The 'Burbs [Collector's Edition]". Shout! Factory. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  14. ^ Clemmensen, Christian (August 2, 1997). "The 'Burbs (Jerry Goldsmith)". Filmtracks. Filmtracks Publications. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  15. ^ Thiessen, Brock (23 October 2018). "Joe Dante's 'The 'Burbs' Gets First-Ever Expanded Vinyl Release". Dead Entertainment. Retrieved 10 August 2020.

External links[edit]