Film / The 'Burbs

An unusually grim 1989 comedy about a group of "normal" suburbanites who suspect that something very sinister is going on in the home of their rarely-seen foreign neighbors. It's directed by Joe Dante and stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Carrie Fisher.

Contains the following tropes:

  • Adult Fear: In spades. Lampshaded by a long story narrated by Art about a neighbor from the distant past who murdered his whole family and left them in the basement to rot in the middle of a summer heat wave.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The detective listing the charges that Ray is facing at the end of the movie:
    Detective: Destruction of private property, Destruction of PUBLIC property, vandalism, three counts of Criminal Trespass, Assault, and that poor old man claims that you left a note saying that YOU KIDNAPPED HIS DOG!!!
  • Ash Face: Happens to the main character after the Klopek's furnace explodes in his face, setting the house on fire.
  • Aside Glance: "God, I love this street."
  • Astronomic Zoom and Logo Joke: At the very beginning the Universal logo name vanishes but not the globe behind it. Instead the camera zooms down and into it until it hovers right above a Midwestern suburban cul-de-sac and the Klopeks' house.
    • You can tell something is a little off with that logo because it's still the '70s/'80s Universal logo, which isn't CGI in other movies, but this globe obviously is. This is because of another studio (Industrial Light and Magic) doing this particular logo.
      • Also, the typefaces for "Universal" and "An MCA Company" are different.
  • Bad Humor Truck: Skip, if the Urban Legend about him is true; supposedly, he was an ice cream man who snapped after a life of routine, and murdered his family.
  • Badass Boast: Ray's "Nobody knocks off an old man in my neighborhood and gets away with it."
  • Bee Afraid: When Ray and Art attempt first contact with the Klopeks, using the door knocker causes the address plaque to fall and knock the porch light off, releasing a swarm of bees from a hole in the wall that immediately attack both of them. Whether this was because the bees were a Living Weapon / Attack Animal, or just representative of the degree that the house has been neglected is up to's funny either way.
  • Big Eater: The second thing we see Art do is invite himself to two helpings of breakfast with the Petersons, grab several more munchies from their fridge, eat Ray's leftovers, and then, after finishing, ask if Ray wants to go to town to pick up a sandwich. He later snatches some vittles from a bowl Carol was holding that turns out to be the dog's food.
  • Big "NO!": It's not drawn out, but Uncle Reuben gives a very loud and abrupt one to Rumsfield's question:
    Rumsfield: "So, 'Klopek.' Is that a Slavic name?"
    Reuben: "...NO."
  • Black Comedy
  • Crazy Survivalist: Rumsfield, with a dash of Old Soldier thrown in. Probably a Perilous Old Fool too.
  • Comical Angry Face: Reuben, Hans' uncle who is quite the hothead.
  • Cutting the Knot: Several times, including to break into two houses.
    • Rumsfield removes an entire pane of glass to get into Walter's house when they are checking on him after finding his dog running outside and all of the doors are locked.
    • Rather than tangling with the Klopek's alarm system again, Art cuts the power line to the house (which has the collateral effect of blacking out the rest of the neighborhood, as well).
    • After the Skeleton Key Card attempt fails to get Art and Ray into the Klopek's back door, Ray picks up a rock and breaks the window so he can reach in and unlock it from the inside.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Subverted in the end.
  • Evil Is Not Well-Lit: The Klopek's house looks dark and foreboding even during the day.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Doctor Klopek.
  • Floorboard Failure: On the Klopek's porch. Twice (once to Ray during the first contact attempt, one to Rumsfield when they go over with the brownies). Sadly, the brownies don't make it.
  • Foreshadowing: Carol remarks that they should all go over and knock on the Klopeks' door "before someone falls off a roof or sets themselves on fire." Somebody ends up doing both of those things laternote .
  • Harmless Electrocution: When Art cuts the power to the Klopek's house, he gets zapped right off the power pole, but is only a little worse for wear.
  • Heel Realization: Ray towards the end. At least until Dr. Klopek revealed that his suspicions were right all along.
  • Henpecked Husband: Poor Ray is accused of being one by Art and Rumsfield, when Carol is really just trying to keep him from acting like an idiot. He briefly goes along with it to throw her off his scent.
  • Hero Insurance: Once the Klopeks are exposed as killers everything seems to be hunky-dory with the cops, even though a detective was tallying up all the criminal charges the guys were facing just moments before.
  • Herr Doktor: Rumsfield refers to Doctor Klopek in this way, patronizingly insinuating he's conducting activities unfit for a doctor as well as insulting his German qualities.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Art defends leaving a note reading, "I know what you did," on the Klopeks' door by saying, "Now they know that we know that they know that we know!"
  • Idiot Ball: The Klopeks are so terrible at diverting suspicion that it's a wonder it took years for any of their neighbors to ever suspect them. Dr. Klopek grabs the ball even tighter by trying to kill Ray in an ambulance surrounded by police.
    • The biggest idiot ball for Dr.Klopek is if he just kept silent and let Ray get arrested then he would have not only got away with murder he would have had the time to clean up any potential evidence he assumed Ray found.
  • Impact Silhouette: Art leaves one in the roof of a toolshed after he gets zapped trying to cut the power line and falls off the pole.
  • Karma Houdini: Even though Art turned out to be right all along about the Klopeks, he's never punished for all of stress and grievance he causes for his neighbors. At least, he is until his house catches fire.
  • Leitmotif: Rumsfield's is the theme from Patton, for which Jerry Goldsmith also did the score.
  • Lightmare Fuel: The entire theme of the film is predicated on this.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: Ray tells Art to be careful while he's cutting the power, and Art replies that "Safety" is his middle name. See Harmless Electrocution for what happens next.
    Ray: [aside to Rumsfeld] I thought his middle name was "Lewis."
  • Mistaken for Murderer: The theory that Walter was murdered by the Klopeks comes crashing down when Walt comes back home from the hospital. The reason the Klopeks had his toupee and his magazines was because he asked them to retrieve his mail. And the femur they thought was Walter's? Why, that just belonged to someone they DID kill, obviously.
  • Never My Fault: Art was essentially the one who started the whole fiasco about the Klopeks, and came up with wild ideas, negative assumptions, encouraged others to be obsessed as he is, yet he always tries to shift the blame onto someone else.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Cory Feldman's character, who views the neighborhood as a source of warped entertainment.
  • No Mere Windmill: Right about the time you figure that Ray and his fellow snoops are just being paranoid about the Klopek family, it turns out they really are serial killers.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Ray and his friends.
  • Not So Above It All: Ray slowly becomes more obsessed with unmasking the Klopeks than either Art or Rumsfield.
  • Oh, Crap!: Art, when his house is on fire and he realizes that his wife has returned from her vacation.
  • Only Sane Man: Ray and his wife qualify... until Ray gets as paranoid as Art and Rumsfield.
  • Punk in the Trunk: In the trunk of the Klopeks' car are the skeletons of some of their murder victims, it's an accidental opening of the trunk that leads to the Klopeks being outed as serial killers.
  • Rabble Rouser: Art; it's just him and two other guys and it turns out there is something suspicious, but he feeds the paranoia that essentially is the plot.
  • Rare Guns: Rumsfield's M3 Carbine. Yeah, the one with the nightscope. Only about 3,000 were made before the scope was made obsolete by passive night vision devices. Qualifies as a Cool Gun, too.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The entire basis for Ray and his neighbor's suspicions was that Walter suddenly disappeared, thus they automatically assumed that the Klopeks were responsible for murdering him. Turns out that Walter had a medical emergency and had to leave abruptly, and he had the Klopeks take care of the house while he was away. During the climax of the film the Klopeks were proven innocent of harming Walter, however Ricky Butler managed to uncover the trunk of the Klopek car revealing skulls of their previous victims and outing the Klopeks as crazed serial killers with a massive body count.
  • Running Gag: "Yo, Rumsfield!"
    • Also, the garbage in the street for most of the movie after Art and Rumsfield search through the garbage truck.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Subverted. The card breaks in half immediately.
    Ray: It's a shit store anyway.
  • Stealth Insult:
    Carol: He can't come out until he resembles the man I married.
    Art: Carol, we don't have that kind of time!
  • The Picture Came with the Frame: Hans, after Rumsfeld asks about the pretty girl in the picture.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Mr. and Mrs. Rumsfield. He's a wiry, wild-haired Crazy Survivalist and she's a Ms. Fanservice who looks about twenty years younger then him. This is never really even commented on, let alone played for laughs.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After blowing up the Klopek's house, Art is still trying to convince the police that they are serial killers, even though Walter showed back up alive and well. Ray, who got caught in the blast, goes off on him.
    Art: Go ahead, tell him, Ray. We got the goods on them, don't we? You know, some day they're going to dig up the back of that yard and they're gonna find the rest of that skeleton to go with that femur. Oh it might not be Walter but it's gonna be some...
    Ray: Shut up. SHUT UP, ART, SHUT UP! God, you don't know when to quit, do you? Look at me! I'm a shell of a man because of you, Art! Remember what you were saying about people in the 'burbs, Art, people like Skip, people who mow their lawn for the 800th time, and then SNAP?!? WELL, THAT'S US! IT'S NOT THEM, THAT'S US!!! WE'RE the ones who are vaulting over the fences, and peeking in through people's windows! We're the ones who are THROWING GARBAGE IN THE STREET, AND LIGHTING FIRES! WE'RE THE ONES WHO ARE ACTING SUSPICIOUS AND PARANOID, ART! WE'RE THE LUNATICS! US! IT'S NOT THEM! It's us.
    Art: [Beat] I don't know what to say... What, do you want me to move?
    [Ray charges at him]