The 'Burbs (Joe Dante / U.S., 1989):

Joe Dante's first gambit has the camera descending from outer space until a maquette of an American cul-de-sac is pinpointed. The "aliens" are new neighbors, whose dilapidated mansion emits a whirring hum at night; Tom Hanks in his jammies steps out to investigate the noise, Bruce Dern watches from across the street as Jerry Goldsmith's score repeats its performance from Patton. It's an idyllic, infernal world, suburbia: Dern, bare-chested and with military shades, raises the flag on his yard and steps on shit, Rick Ducommun is the jovial snoop savoring his wife's absence, Hanks just wants to spend his week of vacation padding around the house. Suburbanites and ignorance don't stay put for long, and the mysterious Klopeks, who only step outside for nocturnal digging sessions, give the fellas many outlets for their frustrated paranoia. Visions of human sacrifice dance in their heads, so it's up to the wives (Carrie Fisher and Wendy Schaal) to get them invited into the mausoleum, where Hanks is given sardines and pretzels to show what he is made of under the redoubtable scrutiny of Brother Theodore and Henry Gibson emerges from the basement in red-soaked duds ("sometimes I get carried away"). Dante's excoriating view of homegrown isolationism is as profound and misunderstood as Spielberg's in 1941, double-edged (the Klopek residence brings on creepy organ music and ravens, yet when "one of the Huns comes out of the cave" the camera adopts his POV as he takes in the tranquil horror of the 'burbs) and self-reflexive (Sergio Leone gets a shout-out along with Rear Window, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Sentinel, Corey Feldman plays the audience and positions his chair on the porch to enjoy the wacky subversion unspooling before him, "better than the movies"). The nexus, finally, is McCarey's splendid Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, which Dante recalls was originally supposed to have been directed by Frank Tashlin -- the richly contradictory ending is noted in the coda, with "normality" restored to the "Jonestown" of 1980s America. With Courtney Gains, Gale Gordon, Dick Miller, and Roberto Picardo.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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