Tim Burton has always been a trailblazer of the fantastical and macabre with a directorial style that is instantly recognisable, so when plans for an official sequel of his breakthrough hit Beetlejuice were revealed after spending almost twenty years in development, old school fans cheered with ghoulish delight. As Michael Keaton hops on board to reprise his role as the sleazy bio-exorcist, we recall why you should never say his name three times…
Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) are a couple living happily in their gothic New England country house until one day, when driving home, they swerve across a bridge to avoid a dog and plummet into the river below. After waking in their living room, they suspect that they did not survive the crash when they discover a Handbook For The Recently Deceased. The Maitlands then struggle to come to terms with their inability to leave their home, for stepping off the porch causes them to vanish into a desert landscape inhabited by giant sand worms. However when The Deetzes, a family of yuppies from New York move in and butcher the house with some ghastly modern décor, the couple become desperate.
As they attempt to haunt the Deetzes out to no avail, their teenage daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), a goth with a penchant for ‘the strange and unusual’, realises that she can see the Maitlands and befriends them. Meanwhile a troublesome, untrustworthy bio-exorcist named Betelgeuse has other ideas and persuades the Maitlands to call upon him in order to ‘exorcise’ the living from the home. For those uninitiated, saying his name three times means he can crossover into the realm of the living and cause a tonne of supernatural mayhem.
Whilst Keaton’s character switches inconsistently from being a figure of comedic relief to a sinister entity, Beetlejuice is an original, quirky tale of spooks and spectres that fuses horror and comedy in one big ball of fun. Burton develops his own wacky ghost-mythology that makes the afterlife look like a fairground ride in a vivid world where shrunken heads, calypso and zombified football teams are the norm.
While a young Winona Ryder gets some amusingly woeful one-liners as the brooding Lydia, Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin give the film some genuine heart with their pitiful attempts at frightening off the Deetzes – failing because they’re too damn nice. The supporting cast of Burton regulars such as Glenn Shadix, Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones are equally as impressive though the real star is unquestionably Keaton, despite his mere 17 minutes on screen. The crass, perverted, mouldy-faced ghoul is one of Universal Studios’ most iconic exports with Keaton hamming it up for what he describes as his favourite role of his career.
Those who are fans of Burton’s earlier work will revel in the signature creepy art direction, poker faced dark humour and a score by Danny Elfman. Though the special effects at the time of release weren’t exactly state-of-the-art, Burton’s insistence upon using old fashioned stop-motion animation and stage make up techniques of yore make Beetlejuice a unique homage to the B-Movies that Burton loved as a child.
Despite being over twenty years old, Beetlejuice is relatively ageless in the Burton universe and shows his roots in black comedy. This film is a great twist on the old ‘haunted house’ tale and each character is allowed a moment to shine but not before Keaton storms in and steals the scene. Some great effects and gruesome jokes make Beetlejuice a classic that will survive beyond the grave as one of Burton’s finest moments.
Best bit: A tough choice between Barbara and Adam’s first visit to the afterlife waiting room and the dinner party ‘Banana Boat’ scene.
Best line: ‘You can’t scare her. She’s sleeping with Prince Valium tonight’. – Lydia