I enjoy watching horror movies most any time of the year, but October gives all of us the perfect excuse to sample all kinds of horrific craziness. The first October Tuesday kicked off my countdown to Halloween with a less than stellar slasher spoof. Before the countdown continues, I’d like to mention that if you’re looking for hardcore horror, I’ve decided to leave those films to our resident horror expert, Jason, and instead tackle other Halloween-worthy features.
Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) and his wife Barbara (Geena Davis) are celebrating their anniversary with what would be called a stay-cation in the parlance of our times. A quick trip into town for supplies ends with the kind couple careening off the town’s covered bridge and into the afterlife. Death seems peaceful until their home’s new residents, the Deetzes, arrive. Charles (Jeffrey Jones) is looking for peace and quiet, but his high-strung, artistic wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara) and her friend Otho (Glenn Shadix) already have their sights on transforming the rustic home into a modern monstrosity. Charles’ strange and unusual daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) befriends the Maitlands despite their attempts to scare the Deetzes away. Exasperated by Lydia’s dad and step-mom, Adam and Barbara ignore the advice of their caseworker Juno (Sylvia Sidney) and summon a shady bio-exorcist by the name of Betelgeuse to handle matters.
Beetlejuice is the sophomore feature from director Tim Burton based on a screenplay written by Michael McDowell and revised by Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren. According to sources, McDowell’s original script was far less funny than the final product. The horror fanatic in me would love to see his gory and violent concept, but I couldn’t imagine not having the fond memories of the Beetlejuice produced.
Michael Keaton deserves much praise for his portrayal of the titular hellion and Kai can attest to that. Though he’s onscreen for less than twenty minutes, Keaton’s zaniness molds the detestable, gruff-voiced ghost into the most memorable character. Beetlejuice became so well-loved he spawned his own animated series which chronicled his misadventures with his friend Lydia with absolutely no mention of the Maitlands. Impressive for the film’s true villain.
I’d love to laud all the credit on Keaton’s hooting, hollering and hocking loogies into his coat, but Beetlejuice entertains even in Keaton’s absence. O’Hara’s shrill, self-absorbed Delia is as hilarious as she is annoying. Jones has a knack for bumbling and emotive reactions; both of which come in handy when dealing with ghosts. It’s one of the few times you’ll see a fair-haired, baby-faced Adam Baldwin convincingly play a wholly upstanding, compassionate guy. Davis is in full-on sweetheart mode and Ryder’s morbid ‘Bride of Isaac’ motif no doubt inspired a whole generation of goth girls.
As Lauren put it, “Burton’s best films are grotesques; celebrations of the weird” and Beetlejuice is a prime example. Burton crafted a macabre world juxtaposed with lively calypso music; the Day-O dinner party possession is proof positive that the strange concept totally works! The surreal afterlife and the waiting room full of the deceased, wisps of cigarette smoke escaping from Juno’s slit throat, and the foam grass and layers of corrugated cardboard the Maitlands dig through to release Beetlejuice are just a few more of the brilliant details that add to the fun energy of Beetlejuice. Whether it’s your first time or about your one-hundred and sixty-seventh time watching Beetlejuice, he’ll always be the ghost with the most.