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The Tom Hanks Horror Comedy That You Forgot Existed

There was a time in the late '80s and early '90s when Tom Hanks was a movie star but not one of the most beloved and famous cultural icons in the world. It was after Big established him as a major leading man, but before his back-to-back Oscar wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump gave him the clout to do anything he wanted in Hollywood for the rest of his life.

During this time, after Big but before the twin smashes of A League of Their Own and Sleepless in Seattle, he starred in a trio of dark comedy films that weren't big financial and/or critical successes: The 'Burbs, Joe Versus the Volcano, and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Joe Versus the Volcano became a cult hit, and The Bonfire of the Vanities was such a famous fiasco that a book was written about its troubled production, so those two both remembered well, if not necessarily fondly. The least well-known of these films is The 'Burbs, a satirical, horror-inflected dark comedy from 1989 about the anxieties and interpersonal conflicts of suburban life.

Hanks plays Ray Peterson, a homeowner on what is now called a "staycation" in his suburban cul-de-sac. He's bored, so he starts obsessing about his weird new neighbors, the Klopeks, who only come out at night and do suspicious things, like digging in their backyard. Ray and his paranoid neighbors Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) and Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) begin to suspect that the Klopeks are Satanic ritual murderers, a big fear in America in the '80s. And they may actually be right. 

The 'Burbs is currently available to stream for free on IMDb TV, which is accessible through Amazon Prime Video.

The 'Burbs is a fun dark comedy

The 'Burbs was directed by Joe Dante, who explored similar satirical themes of darkness below the surface of seemingly idyllic parts of American life in his films Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The film has a 53 percent "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics saying the film is less than the sum of its parts. "It's hard to put your finger on exactly what's missing from the movie," Roger Ebert wrote in his review. "The actors do what they can with the material and the special effects are ambitious, but somehow the film fails to rouse itself into any real conviction. It's cut and dried; we anticipate the major events in the story and we're right. And when the explanation for the strange family's behavior finally arrives, it's not much of a surprise."

The film is much more popular with audiences, however, with a 71 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes from over 50,000 ratings. So plenty of people do fondly remember the film, even if it doesn't get talked about very much.

The cast also includes Carrie Fisher as Ray's wife Carol, who is not happy with Ray's paranoid behavior; Henry Gibson as the Dr. Werner Klopek, the family's creepy patriarch; and Corey Feldman as lunkheaded neighbor kid Ricky Butler.

The 'Burbs isn't exactly an undiscovered classic, but it is an underrated and entertaining early Tom Hanks film that's worth watching if only as a historical document tracking Hanks' evolution into America's Dad.