tek's rating:

Beetlejuice (PG)
A.V. Club; Dread Central; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TCM; Tim Burton Wiki; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikia; Wikipedia

Caution: spoilers!

I expect this review could go in other categories, like "comedy", "weird", or "quirky", but actually I think "supernatural" is kind of best. It is about ghosts, after all. Um, it came out in 1988, but I'm not sure exactly when I first saw it. On TV, or whatever. I may have seen it a few times over the years, but I finally got the DVD in 2011 (which I feel a bit disappointed doesn't include the "Day-O" music video, but it does include a few episodes of the animated series which was loosely based on the movie). As I watched the movie again, I think I liked it more than I remembered... and I knew I'd always quite liked it. It really is terribly amusing, as well as being an interesting story. I wish we could get to know more about the version of the afterlife that is presented in the movie (surely it bears little if any resemblance to the "Neitherworld" of the cartoon). And in addition to the afterlife itself, I'd like to learn more about the history of the title character. (His name, though pronounced the same way, is actually spelled "Betelgeuse", but the movie's title- which I believe is technically meant to be written as "Beetle Juice"- derives from a game of charades he played at one point, since he's not allowed to tell people his name, apparently.) Another character in the movie, Juno, makes a vague reference to his having gotten in trouble, and that's just one of the things I'd like to know more about. Meanwhile, I have to say I really think all the actors did a great job, often with just fleeting facial expressions. As over-the-top as everything is, I found all the characters believable and likable (even if some of them don't seem likable). At least, they were all interesting. I also enjoyed Danny Elfman's score, and several songs by Harry Belafonte (most notably "Day-O" and "Jump In The Line"). And of course, I'm a fan of Tim Burton's direction. And the special effects are... interesting, if not particularly believable or scary.

Anyway, the film is set in the fictional small town of Winter River, CT. A young married couple named Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are on vacation, though they decide to spend it at home, rather than going on a trip. They just want to be alone together, and relax, I guess. Though they have a friend/relative named Jane, a somewhat intrusive real estate agent who tells them there's been an offer on their house from someone in New York, though they have no interest in selling. Well, Adam has a model of their town, full of little houses and such, which he enjoys working on. He and Barbara go into town at one point to get something for the model, from the hardware store (which bears the name Maitland, so I guess at least Adam must own the place). But on the way home, as they're about to cross a covered bridge over a river, they swerve to avoid hitting a dog in the road, and end up crashing through the bridge's wall, into the river.

A little while later, they find themselves back at their house, with no memory of how they got there from the river. Adam goes outside to retrace his steps, but discovers that beyond the house, everything is a strange, barren wasteland. Which also has giant, monstrous sand worms. (I think it's supposed to be Titan, Saturn's moon. Why this should be is beyond me.) After about a minute, Barbara pulls him back into the house, saying he'd been gone two hours. Meanwhile, she had discovered that they have no reflection in the mirror, and had also found a book that hadn't been there when they went out: the Handbook for the Recently Deceased. They try to read it, but it makes no sense to them. (As Adam says, it reads like stereo instructions.) Anyway, they quickly realize they're dead. And in spite of being understandably freaked out about that, at least it seems to mean they'll finally get to be left alone.

However, now that they're dead, Jane sold their house to the New York buyer, a retired real estate developer named Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones), who wanted to move to the country so he could relax, after a nervous breakdown. With him came his wife, Delia (Catherine O'Hara), and his daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder). Delia, btw, is Lydia's stepmother. (I have no idea if her real mother is dead, or if her parents were just divorced, though I suspect the former. If any clear indication was made in the movie, I missed it.) Delia hates leaving the city and all its culture (she herself is an artist, and the sculptures she creates are quite strange, and don't sell). Lydia, meanwhile, is quite possibly my favorite goth girl ever (which is saying something). Unlike her stepmother, she likes the house. I should say, Delia and Lydia don't seem to get along very well, which is a bit odd; it's hard to believe Delia doesn't have creepy tendencies of her own, given the strangeness of her art. But whatever. Anyway, Delia wants to completely remodel, redecorate, and refurnish the house, more to her tastes. So she brings in an interior designer friend of hers, named Otho (Glenn Shadix). But Charles insists they leave him one room just as it is. And also, they can't get into the attic. This is because Adam and Barbara have locked the door.

The Maitlands don't care for the Deetzes, and definitely don't want them moving into their house and changing everything. So they try to scare them away, but it doesn't work, because no one can see them. So, they learn a way from the Handbook, to ask for help. They manage to get to a waiting room, where there are other dead people awaiting help, and they learn a bit more about their situation from the receptionist, such as that they have to spend 125 years in the house, and in that time they can get up to three interventions from their case worker, Juno. Eventually they meet Juno herself, who tells them they have to get rid of the Deetzes themselves. (So I'm assuming this meeting doesn't count as one of the potential interventions.) They find themselves back in their home, which by now has been totally changed, as they were in the waiting room for three months. (I'm assuming it didn't seem that long to them, considering the different passage of time outside their own house.) But anyway, it was interesting to see just a bit of the bureaucratic nature of the afterlife, which for all its strangeness, doesn't seem to be that different from, you know, life.

Meanwhile, Juno also warns them not to call on the help of another ghost, Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), who had an advertisement they'd previously seen. He was her former assistant, who went out on his own as a "freelance bio-exorcist." That's something which, as I said, I'd like to learn more about, but whatever. Anyway, Juno tells them the way to contact him so he can come into the world is to call his name three times. (Why she'd explain this if she didn't want them to do it is beyond me, but again I say... whatever.) Sometime after the Maitlands return, they meet Lydia, who had once seen them from a distance (she's the only one who can see them). While they were gone, she had received a skeleton key from Jane, which she used to go into the attic, and read the Handbook, which made more sense to her than it did to them. So she befriends the ghosts. But even though they like Lydia, they still want to scare away her family. Which they try to do during a dinner party her parents are holding for some business contacts from New York. Lydia's parents (and Otho) finally believe the house is haunted. (Which, btw, I should have said earlier, Lydia had reason to believe before meeting the ghosts, and she said she couldn't relax in a haunted house, which struck me as odd, considering her general attitude about life and death and all.) But anyway... her parents now send her to talk to the ghosts, who were upset that no one was frightened. (Honestly, though, their stunt was more fun and cool than scary.) The Maitlands refused to serve as "entertainment" after that, though Charles wanted to buy up the town and turn it into a supernatural theme park. Meanwhile, Otho discovers the Handbook, and steals it. (He had been a "paranormal expert" sometime prior to becoming an interior designer.)

Man, I feel like I've spoiled too much already. But I can't help it. And I must continue. Eventually, Otho performs an exorcism, which is more like a seance in form; unfortunately, he doesn't realize until it's too late that the ritual ends up basically "killing" the ghosts, not just summoning them as he apparently intended. So, Lydia contacts Betelgeuse, who agrees to help the Maitlands if she agrees to marry him (so that he can return to the land of the living permanently). Anyway, it's interesting that he has a much better understanding of everything than the Maitlands do, I mean how to use his powers and stuff. Which isn't surprising, considering he's been dead for centuries. But it's still odd that it was so easy for him to reverse the exorcism. (You'd think there'd be other ghosts who specialize in that, whenever necessary.) I should also say it seems a bit odd how many pop culture references Betelgeuse makes (kinda reminds me of Genie from "Aladdin"). But I guess the dead can still watch TV and stuff, somehow. Which I find reassuring, 'cause I wanna do that when I'm dead. But I digress. Anyway, one thing that kind of bothers me about the movie is that, even if he's basically a bad guy, I mean really crude, lecherous, gross, potentially murderous, and all... on top of being the most overtly funny character in the movie... and even if I don't think it's right for Lydia to have to marry him... well, that was the deal she made, and he lived up to his end of the bargain (if I man say "lived up to" when speaking of a ghost), so it's also wrong to renege on the deal.

But whatever! The whole movie is just funny and interesting and weird and cool, and it has a wicked fun ending. And I like the characters and music and stuff. And... I dunno what else to say, except that I don't think there was a single moment of the film that I didn't enjoy.


supernatural & paranormal index
favorite movies
tek's nostalgia