Beetlejuice (1988)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Beetlejuice

The Name In Laughter
From The Hereafter

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 92 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 30th March 1988 (USA)
UK Release: 19th August 1988
Budget: $15 million
US Gross: $73.7 million

Stars
Michael Keaton (Batman, Birdman)
Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, Glengarry Glen Ross)
Geena Davis (The Fly, Thelma & Louise)
Winona Ryder (Heathers, Edward Scissorhands)

Director
Tim Burton (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands)

Screenwriters
Michael McDowell (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Thinner)
Warren Skaaren (Beverly Hills Cop II, Batman)

Story by
Michael McDowell (see above)
Larry Wilson (The Addams Family, The Little Vampire)


The Story
Adam and Barbara Maitland are living an idyllic life in their lovely small-town house… until they die. What’s worse is that they’re condemned to haunt their old home while a family of city-slickers move in and destroy everything they loved about it. To get them out, Adam and Barbara may be forced to call on disgraced ‘bio-exorcist’ Betelgeuse…

Our Heroes
Adam and Barbara Maitland are a sweet couple living a quite life in a quaint little town, until they’re killed in an accident (swerving their car to avoid a very cute dog, to be fair) and have to cope not only with haunting their old home, but also with the afterlife’s bizarre bureaucracy.

Our Villains
Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse! He may be offering to help the Maitlands, but in the end he’s their biggest problem. Before that, though, there’s Charles and Delia Deetz, the new occupants who seem determined to ruin the Maitlands’ beloved home.

Best Supporting Character
The Deetz’s daughter, little goth Lydia. She’s the only human who can see the Maitlands, and quickly finds she gets on with them better than her own parents.

Memorable Quote
Juno: “What’s wrong?”
Barbara: “We’re very unhappy.”
Juno: “What did you expect? You’re dead!”

Memorable Scene
When the Deetzes hold a dinner party for some of their city friends, Adam and Barbara attempt to frighten them away by puppeteering them into a bizarre rendition of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). As well as the supporting cast gamely engaging in a dance routine (er, kind of), they really sell it by simultaneously looking confused and troubled about what’s going on with their bodies. Unfortunately for Adam and Barbara, however, the stunt backfires…

Memorable Music
The famed collaboration between Tim Burton and Danny Elfman dates right back to the director’s first film, making this their second together. But that recognisable Elfman style — so familiar from, er, every other Tim Burton movie (as well as others, of course) — is already very much in evidence. The main theme almost sounds like a greatest hits package for the composer, which does make you wonder how much it’s style and how much he’s been ripping himself off ever since…

Truly Special Effect
According to IMDb, the visual effects budget was just $1 million, leading Burton to decide to make the effects look “as tacky and B-movie as possible” — which is interesting because a lot of them are pretty good, bearing in mind that the film hails from the late ’80s. Obviously they’ve aged now, therefore, but it’s so packed with creative and varied visual trickery that I assume it once played as a kind of effects showcase. It’s only that in an historical sense now, but there’s still a lot of striking and memorable stuff here.

Letting the Side Down
Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse! Ironically, I’d like the whole film a lot more if the title character wasn’t in it. Okay, I know not everyone’s going to feel this way — I imagine some people love him — but, for me, he’s by far the worst thing about the film. He starts off with just a couple of small appearances that are only a little irritating, but when he enters the story properly… ugh.

Making of
Believe it or not, the original script was a straight horror film. Betelgeuse was a winged demon, only transforming into a man to interact with humans, whose goal was to rape and kill the Deetzes rather than just scare them off. Lydia was a minor character, with a younger sister who could see the Maitlands. I don’t know how exactly it went from that to a comedy, but maybe it was for the best.

Next time…
An animated TV series, which reconfigured Betelgeuse as the hero and teamed him up with Lydia, ran for 94 episodes between 1989 and 1991. Apparently it was a big hit, and aired on both ABC and Fox simultaneously, becoming “one of the few shows in American television history to be aired concurrently on two different broadcast networks.” Aside from that, a sequel movie has long been mooted, and continues to be an on-again-off-again prospect to this day.

Awards
1 Oscar (Makeup)
2 BAFTA nominations (Make Up Artist, Special Effects)
3 Saturn Awards (Horror Film, Supporting Actress (Sylvia Sidney), Make-Up)
5 Saturn Award nominations (Supporting Actor (Michael Keaton), Director, Writing, Music, Special Effects)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

Verdict

I knew that I’d seen Beetlejuice many years ago, but I could barely remember anything about it, other than a general sense that I didn’t like it much. So watching it again now was almost like a first viewing, and was almost a revelation too: it’s a very enjoyable film. Pretty much my only problem with it is Betelgeuse himself (as discussed above); but, in fact, he only makes up a relatively small proportion of the movie: he’s in just 17½ minutes, less than 20% of the film. The good qualities in the remainder keep it up at a 4-star level.

Frankenweenie (2012)

2014 #91
Tim Burton | 83 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

FrankenweenieInspired by two of Burton’s early-’80s shorts (which are most commonly found on Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs), Frankenweenie takes the black-and-white stop-motion visual style from Vincent and the storyline from the live-action Frankenweenie, and expands them out into a feature-length offering.

The story is as simple as one you’d expect from a short: young Victor Frankenstein’s dog dies; for a school science project, he resurrects him. It works surprisingly well stretched to a feature running time, although it goes a little haywire at the climax (what’s the point of all the monsters, really?)

Even if the narrative is no great shakes, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way. The dog, Sparky (ho ho), is very well observed; indeed, all of the animation is naturally top-notch. It retains an indefinable but desirable stop-motion-ness, something I felt Burton’s previous animation, Corpse Bride, lacked — it was so smooth that while watching I began to wonder if I’d misremembered and it was actually CGI. Frankenweenie is attractively shot on the whole, with gorgeous lighting and classy black-and-white designs. Although US funded, I believe it was actually created in the UK, so hurrah us.

There’s lots of fun references for classic horror aficionados… though, actually, they’re not that obscure: they’ll fly past inexperienced youngsters, but be identifiable to anyone who has a passing familiarity with Universal’s classic horror output. For the kiddies, there’s some good moral messages tossed in the mix, though the best — a brief subplot lambasting America’s attitude to science — should be heeded by all.

Boy's best friendSome say it doesn’t have enough of an edge. Well, maybe; but I thought it was surprisingly dark in places. Not so considering it’s a Tim Burton film based on resurrecting the dead, but for a Disney-branded animation, yes. Those edgier bits are here and there rather than consistent, but still, I’m not sure what those critics were expecting from a PG-rated Disney animation. I guess there’s an argument that Burton should have pushed it further and aimed for an adult audience, but can you imagine an American studio agreeing to finance an animation primarily targeted at anyone who’s entered their teens? Because I can’t.

Even if you have to make some allowances for the kid-friendly necessity of Disney animation, I think Burton and co have taken an idea which showed little promise to sustain a full-length feature, and produced a film that’s beautifully made and a lot of fun.

4 out of 5