The ‘Burbs Turns 30

This quintessential Suburban Gothic tale lampooned middle class fears in the 1980s, but remains refreshingly relevant.

Yesterday, my favorite comedy horror film from the 1980s, The ‘Burbs, turned 30. It premiered in theaters on February 17, 1989 and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend, ultimately raking in over $36 million. Though panned by clueless critics who couldn’t see past its campy premise, The ‘Burbs has since become something of a cult classic.

This film had a profound effect on me as a kid. While on the surface a lighthearted satire of ’80s horror, The ‘Burbs delved deep into the American psyche. It stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Rick Ducommun as three friends who suspect an eccentric and reclusive family is up to no good in their neighborhood. Carrie Fisher and Corey Feldman also play prominent roles.

The ‘Burbs was written by Dana Olsen and directed by Joe Dante. Olsen, who is usually known for sillier comedies like George of the Jungle (1997) and Inspector Gadget (1999), was inspired to write the script after hearing about gruesome crimes in his own hometown. Joe Dante directed Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2 (1990), and the TV series Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), Witches of East End (2013-2014), and Salem (2015-2016). Eerie, Indiana was also about the strange and unusual underbelly of a quaint, unassuming town.

Welcome to Mayfield Place

Ray and Carol Peterson (Hanks and Fisher) live in a picturesque home on Mayfield Place, a cul-de-sac in suburban Hinkley Hills with their son, Dave (Cory Danziger) and their dog, Vince. The Petersons live next door to a dilapidated house owned by a reclusive family named the Klopeks. Dr. Werner Klopek (Henry Gibson), his son, Hans (Courtney Gains), and his brother, Reuben (Brother Theodore), quietly moved into the old Victorian home, which used to be owned by Mr. and Mrs. Knapp.

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Five Things You Didn’t Notice in The ‘Burbs

From obscure film references to subliminal messages, this ’80s dark comedy has it all.

The ‘Burbs, my favorite comedy horror film from the 1980s, turns 30 today. It premiered in theaters on February 17, 1989 and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend, though it was panned by critics who couldn’t see past its campy premise. While on the surface a lighthearted satire of ’80s horror, The ‘Burbs delved deep into the American psyche.

This film had a profound effect on me as a kid, and every time I watch it I discover something new. Have you spotted these subtle hints and references?

Breakfast at the Peterson’s

Ray and Carol Peterson (Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher) live in a quaint home on Mayfield Place in suburban Hinkley Hills with their son, Dave (Cory Danziger) and their dog, Vince. The Petersons live next door to a dilapidated house owned by a reclusive family named the Klopeks. When Ray looks out the kitchen window to comment on the Klopek’s barren yard, you can see a box of Gremlins Cereal sitting on the counter. Joe Dante, director of The ‘Burbs, also directed Gremlins (1984).

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Great Tales of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

The Old Ones awake! H. P. Lovecraft: Great Tales of Horror (2012) is a collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft published by Fall River Press, with an introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island and although obscure in his own time, he had an enormous influence on American horror films, music, art, games, and literature. This anthology represents a collection of tales spanning Lovecraft’s literary career.

The hardcover edition is 600 pages and contains twenty assorted tales, which represents a small portion of his dozens of published stories. Most of these fall into what has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos”. Lovecraft’s mythos concerns pre-historic beings from space that once ruled earth and have fallen into a deep slumber. They inspired ancient gods and cults of worship that continue in secret to the present day. Together, they represent his most popular and well-known tales.

Some writers use their craft to explore different genres and settings, while others focus on a specific subject matter and never stray far from their wheelhouse. H.P. Lovecraft is the latter, but the richness with which he fleshed out his literary world is what appeals to people. His unique mythology, anchored in a particular place and time, holds his readers’ interest from story to story. We are eager to gobble up new details.

Still, slogging through this many stories threatens to become tedious and repetitive. The mystery loses its impact when you can easily guess the solution. This is Lovecraft’s greatest shortcoming. At worst, you’re left with tedious and rambling exposition that meanders its way toward a foreseen conclusion. But Lovecraft’s stories are more than that.

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Summer of 84: A Suburb Can be a Dangerous Place

A gang of bicycle-riding teen boys try to track down a neighborhood serial killer in this suburban Gothic send up to 1980s horror.

Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith and directed by a trio known for their 1980s-style films, casual viewers will undoubtedly accuse Summer of 84 (2018) of ripping off the Netflix series Stranger Things, but it is far more subtle in its nostalgia and grounded in reality. There are no supernatural elements here, only the real-life horror inflicted by unassuming suburban dwellers like John Wayne Gacy and William Bonin.

The year is 1984, and a serial killer stalks the fictional county of Cape May, Oregon. Fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), an avid follower of conspiracy theories and reader of the Weekly World News, becomes convinced his neighbor, police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), is the “Cape May Slayer” after seeing a photo on the back of a milk carton of a missing boy he previously noticed inside Mackey’s house.

He enlists the help of his skeptical friends, Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis) to spy on Mackey. They follow him on his nightly jog to a storage unit, where they find several suspicious items, including the missing boy’s bloodstained shirt. Davey presents their evidence to his parents (played by Jason Gray-Stanford and Shauna Johannesen), but his plan backfires when they become angry and force him to apologize to Mackey.

Davey’s friend and former babysitter, Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye), also tries to convince Davey to abandon his pursuit, but after several strange interactions with Mackey, Davey convinces his friends to give him one last chance to prove Mackey is the killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is sickeningly real and terrifying. Summer of 84 pulls no punches when it comes to delivering an emotionally impactful climax.

Summer of 84‘s undercurrent of child abductions and neighborhood pedophiles is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who grew up during the 1980s. The only thing missing is a creepy white van and rumors of Satanic cults. High profile cases of missing kids in the late 1970s and early ’80s led to the “Stranger Danger” panic, and the use of milk cartons to spread photos of missing children. Before the Internet, a photo on a milk carton was the most assured way of reaching every home in America.

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Tragedy Girls: A Fresh, Trendy Take on the Horror Genre

Two teen girls set social media on fire by kidnapping and unleashing a pet serial killer. Will they—or their friendship—survive this newfound notoriety?

Written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre with contributions by Chris Lee Hill, Tragedy Girls (2017) is a fresh, contemporary take on the genre. MacIntyre and Hill also collaborated on several other projects, including the horror-comedy Patchwork (2015), and the film undoubtedly benefited from their rapport.

Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are high school cheerleaders who run an unpopular true crime blog. They hatch a plan to kidnap local serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) and convince him to work together. He refuses, so Sadie and McKayla opt for plan B: commit sensational murders and blame them on Lowell, all while increasing their readership with exclusive inside information on the crimes.

The plan goes awry when Lowell convinces McKayla that Sadie wants to take all the fame and notoriety for herself. He eventually escapes and tracks Sadie to her friend Jordan’s house. Jordan (Jack Quaid) is son of Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He has a crush on Sadie but suspects McKayla is really the serial killer. Lowell stabs Jordan, but Sadie wakes Sheriff Welch and he chases Lowell off.

The girls’ rift deepens as Sadie and Jordan fall in love and McKayla continues her life of crime with Lowell. I won’t spoil the ending, but Tragedy Girls concludes with a fiery prom night that will make anyone sensitive to the topic of school violence cringe. The film’s ending reinforces the notion that attractive, popular girls are perceived as incapable of being vicious killers.

Tragedy Girls tries to upend the traditional horror movie trope of male killers attacking female victims. Here, the killers are teen girls and their victims are predominantly men. Coupled with the relationship between two best friends, it’s stylistically similar to films like Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Ginger Snaps (2000), but without the supernatural elements. However, it shares with Ingrid Goes West (2017) the theme of social media triggering insanity.

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Jessabelle: Mediocrity Lurks in the Bayou

A woman torments her wheelchair-bound daughter from beyond the grave with VHS tapes in this voodoo-themed supernatural thriller. Written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Kevin Greutert, Jessabelle (2014) keeps you guessing until the end, but an engaging mystery and attractive lead isn’t enough to save this mediocre horror film from Blumhouse Productions.

Tragedy strikes pregnant Jessabelle “Jessie” Laurent (Sarah Snook) when her fiancé Mark is killed in a car accident, which also causes her to miscarry and become paralyzed from the waist down. Now wheelchair-bound, she returns home to Louisiana to live with her father, Leon (David Andrews). For some reason Leon has kept her mother, Kate’s (Joelle Carter) old bedroom sealed and reopens it for Jessie. Neither Jessie nor their housekeeper seem to think this is odd.

Jessie, who believes her mother died of a brain tumor, discovers tapes her mother recorded as a message for her eighteenth birthday. This instigates several disturbing encounters with a dark-haired phantom (Amber Stevens West). Leon tries to destroy the tapes but ends up burning to death. At his funeral, Jessie reunites with her childhood sweetheart, Preston Sanders (Mark Webber).

Together, Jessie and Preston investigate the strange events and their connection to a local voodoo church. They discover a baby’s skeleton buried in the bayou with the same name and birth date as Jessie. The local sheriff (Chris Ellis) discovers the child’s origin too late to save Jessie, who is attacked by the ghost of Kate and a voodoo priest named Moses (Vaughn Wilson). I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a crazy plot twist that might have been interesting if it was developed a bit more.

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter

A young girl’s isolation at a Catholic boarding school in Upstate New York leads to increasingly disturbing behavior, while a psych-ward escapee drifts closer, in the nail-biting supernatural thriller, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015). Originally titled February, writer/director Oz Perkins intended this film to be a meditation on loneliness. He crafted a creepy and disturbing tale that has all the elements of a good horror movie.

The film is essentially divided into two stories that progressively come together in a surprise ending. In the first, a freshman girl named Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is staying at her Catholic boarding school over winter break because her parents have failed to pick her up. Rose (Lucy Boynton), a senior, told her parents the wrong date to buy time so she could find out whether she was pregnant. They are watched by two nuns. Rose receives several phone calls from a mysterious voice she calls “Dad,” and her behavior becomes more disturbing with each phone call.

In the second story, a man named Bill (James Remar) picks up a young hitchhiker named Joan (Emma Roberts) over the objections of his wife, Linda (Lauren Holly). It’s implied Joan escaped from a hospital, but Bill believes she reminds him of his daughter, Rose, who was brutally murdered several years earlier. Bill and Linda are traveling to their daughter’s former school to lay flowers. Bill tries to emotionally connect with Joan, believing God brought them together. Joan replies that she doesn’t believe in God.

**Spoilers** At the school, Kat brutally murders Rose and the nuns, decapitates them, and offers them up to Satan in a macabre ritual in the boiler room. A police officer confronts her and fires a shot. Later, in the hospital, a priest exorcises the demon from Kat, and she sees a shadowy figure disappear. In the present, Joan (now revealed to be a grown-up Kat) kills both Bill and Holly, steals their car, and completes her journey back to the boiler room, only to find it unlit and silent.

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