’80s Double Bill: The ‘Burbs/April Fools Day

80s,Movies 11 October 2010 | Comments Off

Saturday night we decided to take it easy and enjoy an ’80s movie double-header.  First up was 1989′s The ‘Burbs, followed by 1986′s April Fool’s Day.

The ‘Burbs is one of those movies I’ve always sort of taken for granted.   It’s the movie equivalent of comfort food.  When writing this post, I realized I have owned a copy of this movie for nearly twenty years (!)  And that no matter how many times I watch it, it still holds up.

It’s a movie about nosy neighbors.  Actually, it’s more than that.  For most of its running time, The ‘Burbs is a very on-target satire of suburban paranoia.   It’s about how the irrational fear of people who are ‘different’ (in this case, the new neighbors the Klopeks) can drive ordinarily reasonable people to acts of extreme desperation – in this case, breaking and entering, vandalism, and the ultimate in property damage.  The creators don’t have the courage to see this through, in the end validating the neighbors’ suspicions about the Klopeks.  Which is OK, given that Tom Hanks is the lead and you really don’t want to see Tom Hanks go to jail.   He is as relentlessly likable as he usually is.

Not from around here, are ya?

Given the current political climate, The ‘Burbs would seem like a natural subject for a remake.  The casting would be easy: Paul Rudd as Ray Peterson, the central Tom Hanks role; Vince Vaughn as hyper neighbor Art Weingartner, and Michael Richards as Lt. Rumsfield, the uber-patriotic military vet (played in the original by Bruce Dern.)  Replacing Corey Feldman as stoner teen Ricky would be tougher.  Ricky has always been my favorite character in the movie.  He realizes the absurdity of his neighbors’ actions and watches them as if they are characters in a surrealistic sitcom, even inviting friends over to watch the show.  Ms. Retronaut and I decided that since there is only one Corey Feldman, that they should re-imagine the role and cast Kristen Stewart (if you’ve seen Adventureland, you know she can pull off the wry stoner with little difficulty.)


The ‘Burbs street is on TV every week as Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane.  The Klopeks’ house has a new facade and is now the home of Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross.)  The lot was also used in Leave It to Beaver.

After The ‘Burbs, we decided to watch April Fool’s Day, one of that evening’s new purchases from MovieStop and part of a post-birthday orgy of DVD-buying.  We had heard some good things about this one, but neither one of us had seen before.

AFD opens with a group of college friends gathering to spend Spring Break together at the island home of their friend Muffy St. John (the always lovely Deborah Foreman.)  It’s the weekend leading up to April Fool’s Day, and we find that Muffy has set up plenty of little jokes, which start silly but quickly become disturbing.  The kids take these mostly in stride, until:

1. People start disappearing;

2. They realize the phones are dead and there’s no way to get off the island until Monday.

It’s my party and you’ll die if I want you (to.)

I won’t say any more since the movie is too much fun, and I don’t want to spoil any of it.  It’s better written and acted than other films of the genre, and it has the added benefit of actually being scary.

If I had paid attention during the credits, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the film’s quality.  Director Fred Walton directed two of my favorite thrillers – When A Stranger Calls and its terrific sequel When A Stranger Calls Back.

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