The horror comedy film The ‘Burbs has slowly but steadily garnered a cult following since its release in 1989, but like a fine wine it has only gotten better with age. Retro re-release masters Shout Factory are giving fans of the Joe Dante-directed classic (like me) more of what they crave with a special “Shout Select” collector’s edition Blu-ray release Tuesday, March 20th. Not only do you get a better quality release of the film with a new 2017 2K scan of the interpositive (Whatever that means. But, hey, it looks nice!), but this release also comes packed with several hours of bonus content including a making-of featurette, interviews with the director, photographer, and editor, alternate ending, and even the director’s working print.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve seen The ‘Burbs countless times, so learning anything new is like digging for gold. However, if for some reason you’ve never seen the film, here’s the synopsis:
Tom Hanks stars in The ‘Burbs, a comedy about a suburbanite whose plans for a peaceful vacation at home are disturbed by a creepy new family on the block. Much to the disappointment of his wife (Carrie Fisher), Ray Peterson (Hanks) and his three neighbors set out to investigate the next-door residence after they begin to observe strange happenings. Set in an average neighborhood that is anything but ordinary, The ‘Burbs blends slapstick comedy and spine-thrilling mystery and is superbly directed by cult filmmaker Joe Dante (Piranha, Gremlins, Matinee, The Howling).
If you don’t want to be spoiled on either the special features or the movie itself, read no further. However, if you want to know some pretty cool tidbits about the seminal black comedy, here’s ten facts I learned:
1. Big Firsts
Joe Dante has the distinct honor of directing the first film from two major production companies. Gremlins was the very first movie released under Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment while The ‘Burbs kicked off Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.
2. No Writer? No Problem
The ‘Burbs was filmed during the middle of a writer’s strike. In order to capture the best story they could they filmed the movie in sequence which let them to fix the story on the fly and allowed for some great improvisation along the way. An example of an ad-libbed line is when Bruce Dern’s character Mark Rumsfield calls out to Hans Klopek, “Hey, Where you goin’, Pinnochio?” Additionally, the film’s writer, Dana Olsen was hired as an actor (he plays a cop holding the crowd at bay at the end of the film) so he could be on set and help out as needed.
3. A Ghost Town
The movie was filmed on the Universal back lot, and because of the writer’s strike, the only other film that was in production on the lot at the same time was Fletch 2. Actor Courtney Gaines (Hans Klopek) said of the studio shoot, “It was a ghost town.”
4. Constant Interruptions
The production population may have been slim, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t other activity on set. The ‘Burbs’ production frequently had to halt shooting to allow for the tour group trams to pass through every 20 minutes since the backlot tours were a big moneymaker for Universal Studios. Just behind the set was the Jaws tour exhibit which meant occasional cries of “Help! Help!” from the ride’s audio can be heard distantly in the final release of The ‘Burbs adding to the movie’s creep factor.
5. Mayfield Place, et. al
The set’s fictional street name of Mayfield Place is a call back to another time and production. If the set looks familiar, that’s because it has been used for numerous other productions over the course of several decades including The Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, and more recently as Desperate Housewives‘ Wisteria Lane.
6. Mr. Hollywood
Tom Hanks went from star to superstar during production. The movie Big was released in theaters during filming and Hanks graced the cover of Rolling Stone. Although he was ultimately shot down by director Joe Dante, Hanks originally didn’t want his character to have a son, which he felt jeopardized his newly-minted leading man status.
7. ‘Burbs Fans in High Places
Wendy Schaal, who portrayed Bonnie Rumsfield and had previously worked with Joe Dante on Inner Space has now provided her voice for over 260 episodes of American Dad as Francine Smith whom show creator Seth MacFarlane hired based on her work on The ‘Burbs.
8. “Say What?”
Brother Theodore, whose gruff demeanor boosted his portrayal of Reuben Klopek, had witnessed unspeakable horror in real life as a Holocaust survivor. He wasn’t nearly as prickly as his character however, but working with him on set was difficult since he was extremely hard of hearing and numerous takes were scrapped when the cast had to shout their lines for him to react.
9. Almost, but Not Quite
The music for The ‘Burbs was brilliantly scored by Jerry Goldsmith, however, there was one section of music that Joe Dante needed a very distinct sound, but Goldsmith couldn’t provide after many attempts. Fortunately, Dante was able to license the audio he needed from a Sergio Leone Western directly from Universal. (You can hear the music Dante plugged in place to guide Goldsmith throughout the work print in this Blu-ray release)
10. The End(ings)
They filmed multiple endings including one where they find Cheerleaders in the trunk, and another with the two garbage men (Robert Picardo and Dick Miller) in the trunk instead of the skulls and bones we’re used to. Also, in the original ending, Ray Peterson’s character was supposed to be killed by the Klopeks, but that ending was immediately scrapped once Tom Hanks was cast.
Some of these facts may have been known by diehard fans for some time, but there are plenty of others you learn while watching the special features of The ‘Burbs on the collector’s edition Blu-ray. This was a huge upgrade from my DVD copy I picked up years ago, and offers far more special features than the previous Blu-ray release. It retails for $24.99 from Shout Factory and is worth every penny. Don’t hesitate to add this one to your collection, you won’t be sorry.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the Blu-ray for review purposes, but opinions are my own.