Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton
You have to be careful with who you entrust to do your dirty work. Depending on the task, there’s a reason a particular person revels in providing that service. A lesson learned the hard way by the newly deceased couple in the ambitious and beautifully strange Beetlejuice.
After realizing that they have died and now must reside in their home for the next 125 years, Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) must scare away anyone that moves in. A new family moves in and after their attempts to scare them bears no fruit, they request the services of the vile Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), who has a specialty in this field.
It’s hard to find films that embrace its own bold aesthetic much like Beetlejuice does. The fun and zany nature of the feature shows Tim Burton working at the height of his power before he went fully corporate in the new century. The quality comes from the details in this film and how it depicts the afterlife. Adam and Barbara have no clue about their death until they try to leave the house, only to see the wasteland that awaits them. From there, they learn from a book given to them about how to manage the afterlife. Everything in this process becomes incredibly practical, which creates for its comedy.
The afterlife is not all it’s cracked to be, as shown when Adam and Barbara go to see their caseworker. While in the waiting room, they sit with other recently-deceased folks, who have all perished in very interesting ways. The whole concept of this waiting room and caseworkers is so funny because it makes the afterlife appear to be just like the living world. Long lines, disgruntled customers, and work needed in order to properly sustain yourself. It sucks the air out of the only hope one has when they die.
It all leads to the introduction of the titular character, who is simply vile and portrayed brilliantly by Michael Keaton. It’s hilarious to think that Keaton went from this role to portraying Bruce Wayne in Batman. The casting uproar he must have caused still gives me quite the chuckle. The character of Betelgeuse says all of the inappropriate things and acts in such a disgusting way, which makes him the perfect person to help Adam and Barbara truly scare the new owners of the house. The unlucky couple tries their best but always seems to fail because the family that moved in has their own quirks.
The family consists of Charles (Jeffrey Jones), his daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), and his new wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara). Winona Ryder’s role as Lydia became a goth icon with her love of ghosts and overall aesthetic. She becomes impossible to scare by Adam and Barbara because she thinks they’re so cool for being dead. Then you have the legendary Catherine O’Hara putting in one of the performances that define her exceptional comedic ability and she lets loose as Delia. She’s someone who could care less for Adam and Barbara’s aesthetic and wants to give it her own modern look. It ultimately forced the recently-deceased couple to get someone like Betelgeuse to fix it all.
Beetlejuice shows the apex of Tim Burton’s style in the aesthetics he builds and the strange type of characters he likes to bring to light. The effects get ridiculous but they hold, especially for something made in the 1980s. For a very long time, I went through life having never watched the film but knew so much about it. Whether it be the iconic look of the titular character or the final sequence of “Jump in the Line” that has become a defining feature of the film. Burton manages that balance of good storytelling and the strange little world he has built for these folks in the afterlife. For as scary the story may be at times, it has a good mesh of comedy and ridiculousness that makes it such a fun feature to watch.
Incredibly iconic for a whole generation, especially if anyone shops at Hot Topic, Beetlejuice still holds so much magic and wonder to go along with its unapologetic strangeness. A film that stands on its own and creates some incredibly fun characters that let loose within this incredibly wacky world.