For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Dark Comedies, here’s a review of Beetlejuice (1988) by SG of Rhyme and Reason
Thanks again to Reut of Sweet Archive. for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film We will be reviewing our favorite B&W films prior to 1990. Please get me your submissions by the 25th of August by sending them to email@example.com Try to think out of the box! Great choice Steven!
Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:
I know you’ve been waiting; don’t head for the door.
You’re number nine trillion five million and four.
I hear that you died; well, that happens a lot.
Just handle death daily and try not to rot.
I’m sorry to hear that the house that you haunt
Is full of New Yorkers no spirit would want.
I’m sorry as well that I can’t do a thing;
Just scare them yourself and be terrifying.
Just don’t call my old competition; he’s nuts,
The king of macabre and the smuttiest smuts.
You don’t need his help to engender some dread.
How hard can it be to be scary? You’re dead!
Rating: PG (for creepy violence and one F bomb)
Long before Tim Burton felt the need to weirdify beloved franchises like Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows, he weirdified original properties and adaptations, gaining brownie points for creativity rather than trampling someone else’s grave. Burton has had a long, bizarre, and highly mixed career, but one of his biggest early successes was 1988’s Beetlejuice, a dark comedy if ever there was one. With lines like “Come on down, and I’ll chew on a dog,” there’s no doubt it’s meant to be funny, and as a committed non-fan of typical dark humor, I still am surprised at the number of laughs I get from a film with faces pulled off and squished ghosts making flat jokes.
When the friendly Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) have an accident that (along with Funny Farm) might make people nervous around covered bridges, they find themselves trapped in their house, doomed to be ghosts in their own love nest. When the Deetzes (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara) move in with their urban, eclectic tastes, the Maitlands just want to get rid of the intruders, possibly with the help of a bio-exorcist named Betelgeuse (not Beetlejuice; go figure).
This comical view of the afterlife is hardly positive, but the ghostly gags are many, what with handbooks for the recently deceased and sandworms from Venus and time-warping waiting rooms where people’s appearances depend on how they died. (Apparently, drowning is the best way to go.) Despite the potential hell in which they’re trapped, the Maitlands do connect with Goth daughter Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder, whom I always confuse with Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club). Lydia gives them reason to work something out with their new tenants, but impatience drives them to consider “the ghost with the most” Betelgeuse, played with utter abandon by Michael Keaton.
The rest of the characters and situations are funny in their own way, but Keaton steals the show with every scene. Though he’s a lecherous, murderous weirdo, he’s so off-the-wall that he ranks up there with Aladdin’s genie for frantic comedy and pop culture references. He’s also so different from Keaton’s serious roles (Burton’s Batman, Jack Frost, Birdman) that his versatility is evident with every crazy mannerism.
With spectral visual tricks and some strangely iconic Harry Belafonte music, Beetlejuice manages to retain Tim Burton’s usual macabre sensibilities while still drawing plenty of entertainment, even for non-dark-comedy fans. It bears an amusing visual style, as if much of the house is one giant model, is effectively weird, and has that 1980s knack for quotability. My VC’s first exposure to it was waking up one night in front of the TV to the scene where those bizarre sculptures come to life; you can guess her reaction. While he’s a skilled filmmaker, Tim Burton’s work rarely appeals to me, but Beetlejuice is one of the wacky exceptions.
Best line: (Delia Deetz, to her husband upon moving in) “I’m here with you. I will live with you in this hellhole, but I must express myself. If you don’t let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane, and I will take you with me!”
Rating: List Runner-Up
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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