beetlejuice | tim burton | michael mcdowell | warren skaaren | alec baldwin | geena davis | michael keaton | comedy | fantasy | united states | ghost | ghosts | haunted | haunted house | catherine o'hara | jeffrey jones | winona ryder | glenn shadix | sylvia sidney
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Michael Keaton
This film is one that I remember watching all of the time growing up. My father bought it on VHS and it was one that I always just remember having. The funny thing is, I don’t really remember watching it from the beginning so it must have been a recorded VHS. This was definitely a staple of my sister and my childhood. The synopsis is the spirits of a deceased couple are harassed by an unbearable family that moved into their home. They hire a malicious spirit to drive them out.
We start off getting the lay of the land for a small town in Connecticut. We go to a big house where the married couple of Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) live. They are currently taking a vacation at home for two weeks and that starts today. They’re bothered by their friend Jane Butterfield (Annie McEnroe) who’s a realtor and trying to get them to sell the house as it is too big for them. There’s a touchy moment where the couple wants children, it just hasn’t yet.
They go into town to get some supplies for Adam’s model of the town, but on the way back they avoid hitting a dog and crash into the river. They return home, sopping wet. A fire has started in their fireplace on its own and they use it to warm up. As they do, Barbara’s fingers catch on fire, but she doesn’t feel it. They then realize they’re dead. There’s a handbook entitled ‘Handbook for the Recently Deceased’ that appears in their house. Baldwin tries to read through it, but he states that it reads like stereo instructions. When he goes outside of the door, he is transported to a desert where there are these giant sand worms patrolling.
We then get a quick cut to a man reading a newspaper, his name we will learn is Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). He goes to the obituary page which he calls the classifieds. He sees the welcoming to the afterlife for Adam and Barbara.
Their plan is to live a nice quiet life as dead people, when a family starts to move in. They are from New York. The father is Charles (Jeffrey Jones) and his wife is a sculptor and loves art, Delia (Catherine O’Hara). Charles has an odd and gothic daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder). Delia’s friend also joins them, who’s an interior decorator and later claims to be a paranormal expert Otho (Glenn Shadix). These two go about the rooms deciding what to do to it to renovate. This angers Adam and Barbara who try to scare them. The problem is they don’t see the things they try to do. They try to go into the attic, but Adam’s body runs past to lock the door. While they’re up there, Lydia notices them from the window.
As this couple tries to figure out what to do, a commercial comes on their television from Betelgeuse. He offers to get rid of the family and they consider it. Adam did read in the manual that if they need help to draw a door. This takes them to a different world where it is like going to a social worker. It is there they meet their case manager Juno (Sylvia Sidney). They need to decide to scare them out or to learn to co-exist. She tells them not use Betelgeuse whatever they do and she tells them the truth of him. Adam and Barbara befriend Lydia and have to decide what to do.
Now I’ve already kind of said this, but growing up, I loved watching this film and it’s even more enjoyable now. There were a lot of jokes in this film that went over my head that now cracked me up this time around. I will lead off that there I used to work for a company that was for profit as we did social work for the county. It is interesting that Otho makes an off the cuff comment that if you kill yourself, you become a civil servant in the afterlife. He’s exactly right because Juno and all of her staff seemed to have committed suicide. I never caught on and that’s an interesting punishment.
We also get the issue of clashing lifestyles. Adam and Barbara live a modest lifestyle. He owns the local hardware store and they really have simple things they enjoy. Jane feels their house is too big and wants to sell it. Charles had a breakdown at work, but it seems like he was ruthless and great at what he did. Delia doesn’t want to leave the city, but she will for her husband who was the breadwinner. It is interesting that he wants to relax, yet he can’t turn it off when he thinks he has a gold mine in this new town. He even pitches things to his former boss, Maxie Dean (Robert Goulet).
Going back to the afterlife, there’s just a huge world here. They have a manual, rules and regulations as well as different workers that can help for different things. Since they’re dead, there’s also a lot of waiting. It is funny that Betelgeuse is kind of like a conman we would see in injury lawyers or the like. The amount of back-story here is great.
That will move me to the pacing, which I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen this so many times I thought it was longer. I was shocked to see that it runs 92 minutes. It was through this last viewing I realized there isn’t much filler. We get introduced to our main couple and their tragedy happens pretty quickly. The new family then moves in and it shows Adam and Barbara not only trying to get a hang on being dead, but what to do with them. There’s some really good comedy here, which hurts the overall tension, but it does add to the enjoyment for sure. The ending is cute and actually works for the overall feel the movie is going for.
Which takes me to the acting for this film, which is also really good. Baldwin and Davis work so well together. They’re on similar wave lengths and they really seem like a loving couple. It’s interesting to see in life they don’t really play by the norms and it is fitting for them in death as well. Keaton is absolutely great in this role. It is iconic and he adds his own quirkiness to the role. O’Hara is great as the pretentious art person from New York as well as Shadix. I went through a phase that was similar to Ryder and I think she does a good job here as well. Jones and the rest of the cast work well together to round out this movie as well.
As for the effects, I’m surprised to see how well they still hold up from the late 80’s. We really don’t get much blood, but it isn’t that type of movie. Everything I’m assuming was done practically and it shows. The snake version of Betelgeuse is quite creepy and we really get that Tim Burton feel as he incorporates German Expressionism into real life. The office in the afterlife is great and feels like a distorted version of an office I used to work in. I think the look that Adam and Barbara take on when they think they’re just going to scare the family out as well. It is also shot very well and no complaints there.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. Danny Elfman was in charge and he definitely killed this one. It is funny is that a podcast I listen to used to use the beginning song and I never put it together. It really mixes the creepy vibe into it and it fits for what we are seeing for sure. I actually revisit songs from this film pretty regularly while I’m writing.
Now with that said, this is a film that I have a lot of nostalgia for, but after this last viewing I actually realize there’s a lot of depth I didn’t notice. I think this has a great idea of clashing lifestyles with these two different families and seeing if they can co-exist despite it. It is interesting concept of the afterlife not being too different from what we live in now. It doesn’t waste any time getting into this and the running time flies by. The acting is really good after across the board. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but what we get is practical and there’s a lot in just the aesthetic to the movie. The soundtrack is also great and really fits the feel of the film. I think this is a really good film that you can watch to introduce kids into the genre. There are some things that will go over their head and adults can enjoy for sure. I highly recommend giving this a viewing for sure.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10