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The 'Burbs is a 1989 black comedy directed by Joe Dante starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, and Bruce Dern. The film was written by Dana Olsen, who also has a cameo in the movie. The film pokes fun at suburban environments and their eccentric dwellers.


The movie opens at night, on Mayfield Place, a cul-de-sac in the fictional suburban town of Hinckley Hills, Iowamarker. Ray (Tom Hanks) awakens to strange noises coming from his mysterious new neighbors' house and goes outside to investigate. On his way back inside, he sees the cigar-smoking ex-soldier Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) watching the Klopeks' house from his bedroom window. The following morning, Ray watches Queenie, Walter Seznik's (Gale Gordon) dog, defecate on Rumsfield's lawn. Moments later, Rumsfield comes out and accidentally steps on it, causing a scene with Walter. Later, Art (Rick Ducommun) almost kills Ray while attempting to shoot some crows, then invites himself into Ray's home for breakfast. Ray and Art attempt to speak with their new neighbors, the Klopeks, but are thwarted by an attack of bees.

That evening, Art and Ray spy on the Klopeks. They, together with Rumsfield, watch Hans (Courtney Gains) drive his car from the garage to the curb, then pull a large, heavy garbage bag from the car, place it in a garbage can and bang it with a stick. During the night, Ray watches the Klopeks digging in their back yard with pick-axes in the middle of a rainstorm. The following morning, Art runs out to check the contents of the garbage truck as it is collecting the Klopek's can from the previous night. He is soon joined by Rumsfield and Ray, but their search in the hope of finding human remains is futile.

Bonnie (Wendy Schaal), Rumsfield's wife, finds Queenie running loose and wonders if Walter went away and forgot to feed her. Ray, Art, Bonnie and Ricky (Corey Feldman) go to Walter's house and Rumsfield lets them in. Inside, they find Walter's toupee. Noting that the television was left on and a chair was turned over, Art and Rumsfield begin to worry. Ray collects Queenie and leaves a note for Walter explaining that he has his dog. The following night, Ray and Art have a meeting in the Petersons' basement and theorize about Walter's disappearance.

The following morning, Rumsfield and Art write a note to the Klopeks and slip it under their door. Art goes next door to tell Ray of the deed, which upsets him. As Ray talks to Art, Ray's dog Vince brings to them a bone he dug up from under the fence. Art identifies the bone as a femur, and believes it to belong to Walter. At the request of Carol (Carrie Fisher), Ray's wife, she, Ray, Rumsfield and Bonnie pay the Klopeks a visit. Art, intentionally not invited, snoops around in the Klopeks' back yard while the visitors meet Hans, Reuben (Brother Theodore) and Werner (Henry Gibson) inside. Later that evening, Ray has a meeting with Art and Rumsfield and reveals that he found Walter's toupee in the Klopeks' basement the previous day after he had earlier slipped it back through Walter's mailbox. The trio agree to investigate the contents of the Klopeks' back yard when the owners leave in the morning.

As the Klopeks leave for a meeting at the university, Carol and her son Dave (Cory Danziger) go to visit Carol's sister, Evelyn, leaving Ray free to explore the Klopeks' back yard. Their first order of business is to disable the Klopeks' security system. The result ends up almost electrocuting Art, but ends up disabling the alarm while also cutting off the power to the entire neighborhood. Art and Ray then jump over their fence into the Klopeks' yard while Rumsfield watches the proceedings from the roof of his house. After hours of digging and finding nothing incriminating, Ray and Art venture into the Klopek house, where they discover in the basement a furnace with a capability of reaching a temperature of 5,000 degrees. Ray then begins to dig into the loose soil that constitutes the basement floor, believing there may be dead bodies buried there.

That evening, the Klopeks drive back to their home, only to reverse out when they see lights on in the basement. Not long after, Rumsfield, Art and Ricky are perturbed to see Walter return home. Then the Klopeks return with the police and Art tells Ricky to delay them while he goes into the Klopeks' home and rescues Ray. Ray hits a gas line with his pick-axe while continuing to dig out the basement floor. He yells for Art to flee right before the house explodes into flames with Ray still inside. A few minutes later, a disheveled Ray emerges from the flames just as his wife returns from dropping Dave at her sister's house.

Art talks to an officer, who explains that Walter had a medical problem and his family took him to the hospital. While away, Walter had made arrangements for the Klopeks to pick up his mail. When Ray had previously slipped the toupee back through the mail slot, it got picked up with the mail and newspapers. Ray is read the charges against him and ignores them in favor of admiring Carol's new hairstyle. Ray then snaps at Art and gives his "We're the lunatics, not them" speech, before lunging at Art and then throwing himself into an ambulance on a gurney.

As Ray is about to conclude that he and the neighbors were wrong about the Klopeks, Werner Klopek joins Ray in the ambulance a short while later. Werner, thinking Ray must have seen the skull of one of his former neighbors in the basement, attempts to murder Ray to collect his skull too, revealing that Art was right all along about the Klopeks. Hans assumes the role of the ambulance driver, but crashes into the Weingartners' house during the three-way struggle. The gurney, with Ray and Werner aboard, rolls out of the ambulance and down the street. Ray makes a citizen's arrest on his would-be murderer as Ricky uncovers a large selection of bones in the Klopeks' trunk. The Klopeks are then arrested and the charges against Ray are dropped.

Alternative ending

Werner Klopek attempts to kill Ray while wearing a sinister white coat, but he is caught in the act by Rumsfield and Carol. While being arrested, he gives a satirical monologue about why he moved to the suburbs for "quiet... the good life", but says "if you do anything different, people say 'Oh look, there goes the weirdo.'"

Scenes from the original ending involving Rumsfield speaking to the police as well as talking to Ray remain, but are filmed in different locations. Also a brief scene of a befuddled Hans being questioned by one of the two detectives is included in the alternate ending.


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."

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."

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 even than most people are aware of."

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" and went on to give the umpteenth comparison between Hanks and 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."

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." 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."

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."

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."

The set

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."

Dante used the Colonial Streetmarker set on the back lot for the Mayfield Place cul-de-sac. The set was being used at the time as the location for the Still the 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."

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 can be clearly seen 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, see Desperate Housewives) and the Klopeks'.

The residents of Mayfield Place

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


The first DVD release of The 'Burbs was Region 1, which contains English and French languages since it was sold in North America and Canada. 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 are present on the DVD; there is nothing additional from the theatrical release.

On UK terrestrial TV, The 'Burbs has traditionally been shown late at night, uncut, on BBC One but ITV have since bought the rights to show it and it has enjoyed Sunday mid-afternoon showings on ITV 1 and late-night showings on ITV 3.



The extremely rare thirteen-track orchestral soundtrack was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and in some places parodies some of his other work, or well-known signature tunes, from other movies (Patton and Once Upon a Time in the West, for example).

  1. Main Title - 2:23
  2. Welcome to Mayfield Place - 2.20
  3. New Neighbours - 2:06
  4. Klopek House - 2:02
  5. Storytelling - 3:20
  6. Neighbourhood Watch - 2:01
  7. A Nightmare in the 'Burbs - 2:30
  8. Brownies? - 0:47
  9. The Assault - 2:36
  10. Ray Peterson, Neighbour 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 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.

Incidental music

  • "Machine" by Circus of Power (to which Ricky Butler plays air guitar when he is about to paint his house)
  • "Bloodstone" by Jetboy ("No tan lines this morning — looks nice.")
  • "Questa o Quella" by Enrico Caruso ("I thought the candles would be romantic for the ladies.")
  • "Locked in a Cage" by Jetboy (when the car lights go on to illuminate Ricky and his friends' pizza-eating)
  • "Make Some Noise" by Jetboy
  • "The Showdown" by Ennio Morricone
  • "My Fault" by Ennio Morricone. This is the theme that plays as Ray and Art first walk up to the Klopeks' house (16:31 into the movie), and ends as the camera zooms out of Queenie's face. It is a Western-ish style theme and appears in the 1973 movie My Name is Nobody.


  1. Pfeiffer, Lee and Lewis, Michael (1996), The Films of Tom Hanks (ISBN 0806517174)
  2. Pfeiffer, Lee and Lewis, Michael (1996), The Films of Tom Hanks

External links

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