Archetypal Tim Burton productions like Beetlejuice never fail to put a smile on my face. Starring Michael Keaton (the titular Beetlejuice), Alec Baldwin (Adam Maitland), Geena Davis (Barbara Maitland), Jeffrey Jones (Charles Deetz), Catherine O’Hara (Delia Deetz), Glenn Shadix (Otho) and Winona Ryder (Lydia Deetz) this madcap comedy is a delight.
Adam and Barbara Maitland are a slightly eccentric somewhat old fashioned young couple who buy a ramshackle old house in a small (very small) town. They adore their home and dream of growing old together there. But fate has other plans. On a trip into town to buy supplies they suffer a freak and fatal accident. It takes them some time however to realise that they are dead. They find themselves back home where, gradually, the truth dawns – they are now ghosts. The house is soon sold to Charles and Delia Deetz and their brooding daughter Lydia. While Charles and Lydia like the house just as it is, the ever petulant Delia wants to change everything about it much to the disgust of the ghostly former owners who decide that they must scare the Deetz family away. Despite their best efforts however, nothing works and they have to resort to asking for help from their caseworker in the afterlife ‘Juno’ played by Sylvia Sidney. Juno warns them not to resort to asking for help from Beetlejuice a former assistant of Juno’s now discredited and barred from working in the afterlife. However, when everything else fails to work they do indeed call upon him with hysterical but near disastrous results.
Now, I know that Tim Burton is not everyone’s favourite director but I really admire the man. It takes his unique view of life to be able to pull off a comedy like this with all its bizarre characters and creatures like Beetlejuice himself and the monstrous sandworms inhabiting the strange hinterland which the ghosts enter whenever they try to leave the house. Who else would give us a waiting room in the afterlife filled with dead people waiting to see their case workers? People like the explorer with the shrunken head, the magician’s assistant sawn in half with both halves sitting next to each other, and the flat man crushed to the thickness of a sheet of paper.
The casting of this film is inspired. Winona Ryder (Lydia) is a moody, freakish teenager who is the only human being able to see the resident ghosts and whose pale skin and dark ringed eyes tell you all you need to know. By contrast Geena Davis (Delia) is an arty self-centred spoiled woman whom her own agent calls ‘a flake’ and who is unduly influenced by the unashamedly camp ‘Otho’ (Glenn Shadix). In one scene, which is the highlight of the show for me, the Deetz family and their guests gather round the dinner table where the ghosts decide to play a trick. One by one the dinner party members are made to sing ‘DAY-O’ and to dance around the table. Words can hardly do this scene justice. It is such a brilliant piece of choreography that it has to be seen to be believed.
Beetlejuice is one of those movies which, if you like the genre, will genuinely enrich your life. Michael Keaton plays his role with gusto and with genius and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. The film is crazy, warm, funny and, ultimately, heart-warming. If you haven’t seen it already I can thoroughly recommend it for those nights when you want a film to laugh with.