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Wayback Wednesday: Beetlejuice (1988)

“I myself am strange and unusual.” Put that on my fucking tombstone.

You guys, it is finally October and let me tell you, I am fully reveling in the glory and majesty of the Autumnal season. I’m wearing flannel, I’m walking on crunchy leaves, I’m communing with the spirits of the dead…you know, just typical Fall activities. And of course, I’ve been watching a ton of horror and horror-adjacent movies, even more so than usual. When I think of horror-adjacent, no director’s movies come to mind more so than Tim Burton. If you haven’t been simultaneously charmed and creeped out by one of his movie’s before, than there’s something seriously wrong with you. One of Burton’s most charming and creepy movies is Beetlejuice (1988), a movie so beloved and celebrated that it’s spawned an animated series, a Broadway musical and a highly-anticipated sequel that is allegedly soon to start production! While I don’t think we need more unnecessary sequels to spectacularly made movies, I’m not mad at the idea of getting to revisit this world and these characters again. Oh damn is this movie entertaining. 

Credit: imdb.com / Warner Bros.

Beetlejuice follows Adam and Barbara Maitland, a married couple who having just recently died, have their spirits confined to their house. When the unbearable Deetz family moves in, the Maitlands do whatever they can to scare them away. In desperation the Maitlands turn to Betelgeuse, a chaotic and unpredictable spirit to drive the Deetz’s out. 

It is absolutely mind-boggling to me that Beetlejuice is only Burton’s SECOND movie. Isn’t that wild? From the very beginning of his career he had such a unique style and tone so different from what anyone else was doing at the time. I cannot imagine how hard he had to fight to get all of these bizarre visuals and concepts approved by a major studio like Warner Bros. Thankfully he did though because it’s impossible to comprehend the world of Beetlejuice as envisioned by anyone else. This movie really is an introductory to all things Burton. From the campy costumes, to the zany practical effects, to the wild production design, everything about Beetlejuice is dripping with the director’s signature style. I mean, look no further than his interpretation of the afterlife. Everything about the afterlife and its bureaucracy are so well thought out and imaginative. It somehow manages to be creepy, hilarious and delightful all at the same time which I think best sums up the multilayered talents of Burton. The hunter with the shrunken head slays me every time. 

The whole story really is quite macabre when you think about it but it’s wrapped in such a colourful, charming, cheeky package that it’s not nearly as grim as it could have been. Adam and Barbara, a couple that are so cute and wholesome, die a tragic death within the first 10 minutes and yet that tragedy never fully hits you because of how silly this movie is. Silly in the best way, of course. Everything about Beetlejuice is playfully spooky, creating an entertaining blend of comedy and horror. There’s a reason this movie was always played on the kid’s TV channel every October! It is incredible what kind of fantastical marvels the production team was able to accomplish through the use of practical effects, makeup and stop-motion. It’s fucking remarkable. Movies just don’t blow you away anymore with their inventiveness and wackiness like Burton at the height of his career. Beetlejuice is a movie that isn’ afraid to let its freak flag fly and the result is a movie that means so much to so many people. Especially anyone who has creepiness in their hearts. Lydia Deetz is an iconic goth girlie and we who are ourselves, “strange and unusual,” salute her. 

It’s funny to think that Beetlejuice was not only early on in Burton’s career, but an early entry in the filmography of pretty much everyone in this cast! Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder…It’s amazing that all of these somewhat up-and-coming actors starred in this wacky, bizarre second movie from a virtually unknown director and then it not only became a cultural milestone, but they all became major stars. Every one of the main characters are so damn good in this movie. Each actor understands their part perfectly and it’s almost impossible to think of anyone else playing these characters. Davis and Baldwin have the cutest most charming chemistry together as Barbara and Adam and Ryder’s deadpan sass should be studied by any child actor. 

O’Hara is fucking amazing and I can’t put into words how fun it is to watch her in every performance she gives. A comedic powerhouse, her range knows no bounds. It’s amazing how O’Hara can easily play the most loving mother in the world in Home Alone (1990) – check out my review, here – to one of the worst in this, to someone who is delightfully clueless in Schitt’s Creek (2015 – 2020). Of course, the MVP of Beetlejuice is Keaton as the titular character. I think the only other person who could have played the part of Betelgeuse is Robin Williams. That’s the type of unbridled energy and zaniness that Keaton brings to the role, only much darker and sadistic. Keaton delivers an utterly memorable performance, one that is darkly comedic and twisted. Keaton is an actor capable of disappearing fully into a role and Beetlejuice is no exception. 

I love Beetlejuice. I love Tim Burton. I love Halloween. There’s nothing better for a spooky season movie night than this cherished and wonderful movie. Although as I recently found out, it’s only available for streaming on Crave. But thankfully I have a copy on DVD! So if you don’t have a Crave subscription, you can borrow my copy. All you have to do is say “Luke” three times and I’ll show up with the DVD and a bottle of wine.

Have you seen Beetlejuice? What’s your favourite Tim Burton movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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