Eye For Film >> Movies >> Beetlejuice (1988) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
The film that really launched Tim Burton's career, before Batman and Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice is a film that fans and detractors alike find difficult to forget. Back in 1988, its splendidly lurid visual aesthetic was unlike anything else around and it made a star of the young Winona Ryder, who would go on to appear in Heathers later that year. At its most basic, its the story of a dead couple who haunt their own house in order to recover it from interlopers - and who, in order to do so, make a pact with a demonic creature, unleashing horrors they had never imagined.
Adam Baldwin and Geena Davis play the couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, who are already finding life as dead people a bit overwhelming at the point when the Deetz family move into their beloved home. Led by condescending, taste-free social climber Delia (Catherine O'Hara) the Deetzes plan to rip up the Laura Ashley wallpaper, repaint everything in hideous colours and fill the house with awful pieces of supposed modern art. Unable to stand it, our heroes look in the Handbook For The Recently Deceased for guidance. It seems the recommended course of action is haunting.
How would you go about haunting a house? The Maitlands are not horror movie buffs and they don't know where to begin. Their attempts are gently ridiculed by Delia's daughter Lydia (Ryder) who can apparently see them just by virtue of being a goth ("Most people fear the strange and unusual. I am strange and unusual.") Clearly they're going to need professional help. Enter Michael Keaton in the most spectacular role of his career as the eponymous monster man, part fiend from the pit and part game show host, who has at his disposal a list of horrors as long as his extensible arms. The question is, can they trust him, and what will he want in return?
Drawing on the grand guignol horror that its creator had loved since his own childhood, Beetlejuice combines gleefully gory special effects with high camp, sharp wit and irreverent humour. There's gentle comedy structured around the Maitlands' social awkwardness in the afterlife, turning into something much darker as they realise what they have unleashed. Yet what stands out most about this film is its sense of fun, perhaps stemming from Burton's awareness that he was inflicting on unprepared audiences something akin to the Maitlands' experience.
Although mainstream cinema has since caught up with it, making it look a little dated, Beetlejuice remains a unique film with plenty of capacity to entertain. For Burton fans, it's a must.Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2014