John Belushi died 30 years ago yesterday with Neighbors as the last film he completed. Savaged by critics and confounding audiences who had just flocked to The Blues Brothers the year before, the movie didn’t have a chance. That’s really too bad, because Neighbors is not only the best work done by Belushi and Dan Aykroyd together, it also predates certain pitch dark suburban comedies by many years. And some of those movies (I’m thinking, for instance, Running with Scissors) failed miserably. Great credit to this belongs to screenwriter Larry Gelbart (the master behind the TV series M*A*S*H)
The premise was pretty simple: Belushi and Kathryn Walker play Earle and Enid Keese, a suburban couple living quietly until new neighbors Vic and Ramona (Aykroyd and the wonderful Cathy Moriarty) move in next door and make Earle’s life unbearable.
The movie went through production problems. Apparently, there was friction between the actors and director John G. Avildsen, between Avildsen and the producers, and a failed attempt by the drug-spiraling Belushi to have John Landis sit in the director’s chair.
What you come up with is a very dark–even in appearance–comedy with a great deal of tension riding all the way through it. It threw audiences and critics for a loop with Belushi taking on a mostly straight role, playing a very repressed man who probably secretly admires Vic and Ramona’s extroversion. Watching Belushi go from no-holds-barred destructive anarchistic roles in Animal House and The Blues Brothers to a tightly-wound, middle-aged suburban man in mid-life crisis had to be hard for many fans to take.
Thankfully, the movie has cult fans and deservedly so. I still remember admiring how much this comedy challenged me in a good way. It had one release on VHS. I don’t ever remember it being offered on TV recently, and it only made a digital release on an “archive” DV-R in January of this year, which means this complex film gets no extras, no commentary, nothing. The film deserves much better.