Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1988, Tim Burton released Beetlejuice which starred Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Sylvia Sydney, Robert Goulet, Maree Cheatham, Dick Cavett, Susan Kellermann, Adelle Lutz, Simmy Bow, Carmen Flipi, Patrice Martinez, Tony Cox, and Jack Angel and grossed $73.7 million at the box office. The film won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Visual Effects and the British Academy Film Award for Best Makeup. Its success spawned an animated television series with the same name and production started on a sequel in 2012.
When young couple Barbara and Adam Maitland run into town for an errand, their car crashes through a covered bridge and falls into the river. They return home not knowing how and discover that they’ve become ghosts and can’t leave without falling into a weird wasteland. At the same time, their home has been sold to the yuppie Deetz family who want to overhaul the entire house. Now, they must try and get rid of the new owners, even if it means summoning the bio-exorcist, Betelgeuse.
An incredibly weird film that fits Burton’s style, Beetlejuice is pretty decent and enjoyable. Interestingly, despite his name being the title of the film, Betelgeuse doesn’t have that large of a part. Instead, after a couple teases in the beginning portions of the film, he shows up halfway through to antagonize everyone and try to get the Maitlands, who are the film’s protagonists, to hire him for his services. Notable about the character is that even though he’s very obnoxious and rude in his dealings, with his bio-exorcism services going very over the top, Betelgeuse is actually a pretty dependable character. He does exactly what he promises to do after being released, which is saving Adam and Barbara from an exorcism. He may be a terrorizing pain, but he at least keeps his word.
Yet, even though his role in the film isn’t very big, Keaton’s acting is one of the most memorable parts of the film, making to so that he practically stole the show as Betelgeuse. In the beginning, when he’s teased and the audience can only see his hands, he makes the scene feel like the character is going to be a suave businessman, but ends up subverting expectations when he finally does show up and Keaton actually gives so much vibrant energy to the character that he comes off as a charismatically loathsome used car salesman that won’t only not take no for an answer, but will keep finding ways to interrupt lives and get the sale. There’s also the ending, where Keaton is really able to shine with the character, demonstrating that the charisma he gave the character when making his promises could be carried through and it really shows that Keaton had quite a lot of fun with the role.
As for the film as a whole, it’s notable in that it treats death as a mind-numbingly boring bureaucracy filled with red tape and confusing instructions. The deceased who need help in the afterlife are forced to wait in a waiting room with an assorted staff who are either annoyed with them or can’t stop making badly forced jokes. There’s also how those who commit suicide are the ones to end up working the bureaucracy, forced to endure with the problems of everyone else who have died. What’s more is that everyone who’s dead vastly preferred living and even Betelgeuse doesn’t quite get why Lydia wants to be dead. If Betelgeuse would rather be alive, even with all the crazy things he can do while dead, it fascinatingly shows that life is much more preferable than death, even when bad things happen in life.
Even with the message of how life is worth living, this dark comedy does deliver quite a lot of laughs. One very notable example is when Betelgeuse is trying to marry Lydia, with him stopping the preacher from saying his name, walking away for a few moments to go through all the motions he should consider when said preacher asks if he takes Lydia and then speaking for Lydia in her own voice. Another great moment is one that doesn’t even use dark humor. It’s the dinner scene when everyone at the table, except for Lydia, starts singing “The Banana Boat Song.”
There is a sequel coming, yes and it’s very possible that it could be terrible, considering how other attempted sequels that have been released decades after the initial film have turned out. However, if it keeps the same tone and style, mixing a lot of black comedy with a lot of silly humor around a plot that continues to crescendo until the end, it could work.