When it comes to the movies that get replayed frequently in my house, Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs is easily amongst the top five on that list. A darkly comedic send-up of suburban horror and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, similar to many other great films of its time, The ‘Burbs was vastly overlooked during its release, only to find vindication in the decades that followed, as fans have continually caught up with its brilliant hilarity. Shout Factory recently put together a gorgeous Collector’s Edition for The ‘Burbs and while I’m grateful for how wonderful it looks, I must say the real treat here for longtime fans is the workprint version of the film, which is endlessly fascinating for those of us who know the theatrical version inside and out. And that’s what I’m going to be digging into for most of this review just because there’s quite a bit to unpack here, so to speak.
One of my first memories after moving to Los Angeles was that there was a screening of the Gremlins workprint, so I have to tip my hat to Dante right off the bat for his willingness to share these rare cinematic treasures with his devotees. Not only is it a really fun way to experience a well-known movie, but it can also provide clues as to the filmmaking process as whole, which is something I’m very much interested in as well. And with The ‘Burbs, there are a lot of really interesting differences between the theatrical version and the workprint, with the biggest being the fact that the film ends up ditching an entire subplot about Ray (Tom Hanks) actually losing his job right before his “staycation,” which ultimately becomes a triggering event that no doubt contributes to his character’s descent in madness.
The dynamic between Ray and Carol (Carrie Fisher) seems much more combative as well in the workprint, with their characters bickering even more, and a scene where Ray is trying to talk to Carol about some of his suspicions and she’s completely tuning him out as she types away on a word processor. Both Hanks and Fisher have such a natural chemistry in The ‘Burbs (the scenes where they go back-and-forth with each other, often in the kitchen during breakfast, feel so realistic), I’m glad that Dante decided to tone down their marital conflicts in the theatrical release, because it just feels like they barely like each other in this alternate version.
Numerous scenes are much longer in this iteration of The ‘Burbs too, particularly Ray’s nightmare about being BBQ’ed by a bunch of Satanists, which has a few more beats to it, including Ray watching his family eating dinner, his boss – played by the legendary Kevin McCarthy! – popping in torture Ray’s poor psyche even more, and some banter provided by the equally legendary Bruce Dern and Wendy Schaal, who portrays Dern’s wife Bonnie (there’s also no Walter or Queenie in there either). And speaking of Schaal (who voices Francine in American Dad, for those of you who know I can’t resist bringing up Seth MacFarlane produced cartoons), the workprint shows just how much her character ends up being cut down in the released version of The ‘Burbs, and that made me a little bit sad because Schaal’s sweetly understated performance balances out the more bombastic nature of Dern’s delivery in this, and I just think they’re so great together here, so I hate that their chemistry was diminished in any capacity.
There are quite a few more differences between these two versions of The ‘Burbs which I really geeked out over: an entirely different ending (the theatrical being the much stronger conclusion, as it leans way more into the film’s sometimes slapstick nature which is just way more fun) where we don’t even get the payoff of Art’s (Rick Ducommun) wife coming home, more time is spent with neighborhood looky-loo Ricky (Corey Feldman) and his rag tag group of pizza-craving buddies, we never enter the absentee Walter’s (Gale Gordon) house, and probably the most relatable scene in The ‘Burbs isn’t in the workprint version either – Ray and Carol playing Jeopardy – because I’m old and that’s what we do every night now during dinner. We also don’t get to hear Jerry Goldsmith’s charming score for The ‘Burbs in the workprint either (because, obviously, why would you score a film that’s not finished?), but the bits of Ennio Morricone music are still in there, so it’s pretty rad that Dante was able to use music he was inspired by in the final version of The ‘Burbs (it doesn’t always work out that way).
As a whole though, for those of you who consider yourself to be something of a ‘Burbs enthusiast, Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is worth picking up just for the workprint version alone (I probably only dipped into about half of the differences I spotted during this initial viewing for this write-up). Thankfully, because the folks over at Shout are just real salt-of-the-earth people, there’s even more to dive into with their Blu-ray, including an in-depth “Making Of” featurette that seems to be a carryover from the UK Blu-ray that came out a few years back (since I never picked that one up, I did enjoy finally being able to dig into it here), and several other interviews that were done specifically for this release that I also really had a great time with (I could listen to Dante talk movies for hours). I’m not sure how the video quality exactly stacks up between the UK Blu-ray and Shout’s Blu-ray, I just know its eons better-looking than the Uni Blu-ray that preceded both of these special releases.
Now, if you don’t mind, I have to go and call the Pizza Dude.
Movie Rating: 4.5/5, Disc Rating: 4.5/5