Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice (1988)

Genre: Horror Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: March 30th, 1988 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Tim Burton Actors: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Glenn Shadix, Annie McEnroe, Sylvia Sidney

 


 

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n vacation, young newlyweds Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) couldn’t be happier or livelier. Even the early morning appearance of overzealous real estate agent and relative Jane Butterfield (Annie McEnroe) can’t stifle their effervescent bliss. Their picturesque Connecticut country house is perhaps too big for just the two of them, but they’re not opposed to trying for a family – especially while they’re enjoying their stay-at-home holiday.

After making a quick stop at a hardware store, their return drive finds them swerving in the road to avoid a stray dog, resulting in their car crashing through a bridge and landing in the water below. Drenched, they arrive home to a toasty fire – that they didn’t light. And they can’t remember what happened after the wreck. Also shockingly, the edge of their porch drops off into a nightmarish oblivion, they have no reflections in the mirror, and a mysterious tome – the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” – lies on an end table. “Barb, honey. We’re dead.”

“Where are all the other dead people in the world?” As the confined, ghostly couple wonder whether they’re in heaven, hell, or some type of purgatory, a new family soon moves into the house: New Yorker Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones); his second wife, abstract sculptor Delia (Catherine O’Hara); and their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), who is obsessed with all things black, dark, and morbid (she’s a self-proclaimed strange-and-unusual girl). And then there’s the eccentric interior designer and supernatural aficionado Otho (Glenn Shadix), who pokes around the place. The undead Maitlands are aghast at the idea that they can’t effectively haunt or scare away the living intruders, who set about remodeling and redecorating their home. But their solution just might come in the form of Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), a bio-exorcist who specializes in these sorts of predicaments.

With Danny Elfman’s alternation of screeching violins, energetic tunes, jazzy numbers, and playful melodies, the stage is set for adventure, fantasy, and comedy as only director Tim Burton can design (though this picture predates and portends the auteur’s unique interpretation of Batman, his gothic take on a love story with “Edward Scissorhands,” and his “Sleepy Hollow” reimagining). Here, the afterlife is a colorful, kaleidoscopic, askew, mutilated environment full of clever grotesqueries and hilariously disfigured puppets (with gruesome makeup and wild animatronics). The character designs are simply superb.

To go with the continually engaging look of the film is a spectacularly creative script, brimming with humor and a buoyant lunacy. It takes more than 45 minutes before the titular persona is properly introduced (a perverted, filthy, hobo-like, clownish troublemaker, not unlike a game-show-host version of Mephistopheles), and yet he’s just another supremely goofy, over-the-top oddball to contribute to the collection of highly cinematic weirdos and their increasingly abnormal behaviors. Just when audiences might think they know where the film is headed, it takes some deliciously bizarre turns. “You’re working with a professional here!”

“Never trust the living!” Amid the unexpected insanity is something incredibly profound, lurking just beneath the vivid surface. Lydia’s obsession with the macabre is something of a cry for help; death is a laughing matter, but only for those already dead – a status that isn’t an easy way out; and love and loss transcend the corporeal world. It’s an exciting, hilarious, extremely outlandish, oftentimes touching, otherworldly adventure that is utterly unlike anything else.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10