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Film / The 'Burbs

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The 'Burbs is a 1989 Black Comedy film directed by Joe Dante, starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, and Henry Gibson.

It's about a group of "normal" suburbanites who come to suspect that something very sinister is going on in the home of their rarely-seen foreign neighbors.

Contains the following tropes:

  • Accidental Truth: Most of the characters believe that there's something off Klopeks with little evidence. At the end of the movie they are right for different reasons.
  • Actor Allusion: Even though Carrie Fisher doesn't appear in the scene in question, the Klopeks' furnace shorting out sounds just like the Millennium Falcon failing to go to hyperdrive.
  • The Alleged House: The Klopeks house is every bit as derelict as those of those old-school horror movies and stands out like a sore thumb with the other houses on the street. The only thing that the Klopeks seem to care about is making sure that the security system is working correctly and the boiler in the basement. As a result, there's lots of physical comedy that ensues when the protagonists try to sneak in at the climax.
  • 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 Ray after the Klopek's furnace explodes in his face, setting the house on fire.
  • Aside Glance: The last line of the film is Ricky Butler looking right at the camera and saying "God, I love this street" before walking away and enmesh himself in the chaos of the aftermath.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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!":
    • Ray does this when he realizes that the femur is potentially that of Walter's.
    • 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."
  • Comical Angry Face: Reuben, Hans' uncle who is quite the hothead.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Rumsfield, with a dash of Old Soldier thrown in. Probably a Perilous Old Fool too.
  • 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: Of Stepford Suburbia thrillers. Subverted in the end, when after all of the slapstick insanity and the What the Hell, Hero? speech from an ashamed protagonist, it turns out that being suspicious of the Klopeks was the right thing to do.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Carol refuses to let Ray go with Art and Rumsfield, it plays out like two kids asking for a friend to come out and play and being refused.
    • The Klopeks have German names and accents. They murder people and burn their bodies.
  • Evil Is Not Well-Lit: The Klopek's house looks dark and foreboding even during the day.
  • Evil Redhead: Hans has bright red hair and a patchy red beard as part of his weirdly off-putting appearance. Reuben and Dr. Klopek might have been redheads in their youths as well.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Werner Klopek. His brother Reuben is surly and openly hostile and his nephew Hans seems barely capable of speech. In contrast, Werner is outwardly friendly and polite towards his visitors and comes across as an intelligent and cultured man.
  • 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 .
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Ray and the crew break into Walter's house to find out what's happened to him, the camera cuts to a shot of his television at an angle. Sitting on top of his TV are photos of his family, in particular there's one prominently in view of him and his late wife... an attentive watcher might notice that it's actually a photo of Lucille Ball! Gale Gordon and Lucille Ball worked together in many shows including I Love Lucy and Here's Lucy. It's entirely possible that this was actually a production photo from Life With Lucy, which was their last TV show that they both appeared together on.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: At a certain point, behavior and circumstances can be so suspicious and bizarre that "there's probably an innocent explanation" can be dangerously irresponsible (finding actual human remains is probably well past that point). This makes more sense today in the age of "if you see something, say something". Though doing the investigation yourself instead of going to the professionals is a really, really bad idea.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Made of Iron:
    • Art gets zapped with some serious amounts of high voltage and falls through a shed's roof from a high place and all he has to show for it is acting befuddled for a few moments, blackened fingernails and a wallet full of melted cards.
    • Ray survives being at ground zero of a massive gas explosion with nothing more to show for it than minor burns and a lot of soot on his body. He still insists on going to the hospital afterwards, but then he ends up having to fight off an angry Mr. Klopek inside the ambulance.
  • "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.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If the Klopeks didn't try to murder Ray by hijacking the ambulance he's in due to thinking he had actually seen evidence of their serial killing, they would escaped freely with Ray being in prison for all he did to their home.
  • 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 become obsessed with uncovering the Klopeks' secrets in a rare example of this trope being applied to the protagonists. They get an example of their own with Ricky Butler, the teen who spends the whole film watching their bumbling antics from his house as entertainment and even invites his friends to watch as well in the film's climax.
  • Not So Above It All: Ray slowly becomes more obsessed with unmasking the Klopeks than either Art or Rumsfield.
  • Number of the Beast: The Klopeks' house number is 669. The first time Ray and Art go knocking on their door, the vibrations make the number 9 turn upside down, turning the address into 666, until the 9 falls down completely.
  • Obviously Evil: 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Art, when his house is on fire and he realizes that his wife has returned from her vacation.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Ray is on a one-week staycation, but no one else has an excuse for why they're at home all week during the day. Carol and Bonnie might be housewives, and Rumsfield might be old enough to be retired, but Art just doesn't seem to have a job... though, considering the story is set in the summer, perhaps the biggest irony of all: Art might be a teacher.
  • Only Sane Man: Ray and his wife qualify... until Ray gets as paranoid as Art and Rumsfield.
  • "Open!" Says Me: When Ray fails to open the Klopeks’ back door with his Skeleton Key Card, he resorts to smashing the door’s window with a rock and reaching inside to unlock it. Art, who had not only had no problem with trying to jimmy the lock with a credit card but would have tried it himself if his cards weren’t all melted together, asks Ray at that point if the term “breaking and entering” means anything to him.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Ricky Butler spends the whole film watching the chaos Ray and his friends cause with amusement, and even begins a Wild Teen Party for his friends to watch as well during the film's climax. When one of them says aloud that she thought Ricky was going to invite them to watch a movie, Ricky insists that what they are going to see is a whole lot more entertaining.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Satanic Panic: Invoked. The protagonist becomes obsessed with a family that he believes to be Satanists. And he's right.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: 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.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: After all suspicion is thrown off of him, Dr. Klopek decides to kill Ray, which goes horribly awry and leads directly to incriminating himself.
  • 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!
  • Stepford Suburbia: Played with. While the cul-de-sac looks like a pretty nice place to live, Ray constantly points out that the reason his friends are so obsessed with the Klopeks is because they just look different and he denounces them (and himself) for being stupid enough to go and wreck their home because they couldn't leave well enough alone. And then used as straight as a laser beam at the finale when it turns out that the Klopeks are serial killers and every weird thing about them and their house was the "Obviously Evil" trope played straight. Art also talks at one point about a former member of the community, an ice cream man that turned out to be a serial killer and was discovered because his freezing equipment malfunctioned on a very hot day (although it's implied it's just an Urban Legend he heard when he was a kid).
  • Suburban Gothic: Gossipy neighbors in a very middle-America cul de sac deal with the very real possibility that the new neighbors might be a family of serial killers... Or they themselves might be going nuts.
  • Subverted Suspicion Aesop: Turns out that the Klopeks are every bit as monstrous as their freakish appearance makes them out to be and Ray finds this out when Mr. Klopek gets into the ambulance at the finale and tries to kill him. For what's worth, it's the result of a Revised Ending.
  • The Picture Came with the Frame: Hans, after Rumsfeld asks about the pretty girl in the picture.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: After blowing up the Klopeks' house and it turns out that Walter was alive all along, Ray is wrongfully accused of kidnapping Walter's dog Queenie, even though both he and Carol were only temporarily looking after Queenie. What does Carol do about her husband being falsely accused of dog-napping? Absolutely nothing.
  • 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 and tends to wear skimpy outfits at all times.
  • 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! Okay, so they're different, they keep to themselves! Can you blame them?! They live next door to people who break into their house and burn it down while they're gone for the day! 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]
  • Wicked Cultured: Werner Klopek is a good painter and enjoys listening to opera.