So as I was channel surfing earlier this afternoon I came to one of my Favourite channels "Tele-Toon" and it just so happened that they were showing one of my favoutite movies from way back when your old Pal Happy was just a Teenager , ahhh the memories..............Back in 1988, Tim Burton wasn't quite as well known as he is today. But he was starting to make a name for himself. He'd kicked off his career with the delightfully oddball Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985. And it was with that film he showed audiences his flair for unique visuals and madcap surrealism. Before he hit the big time with Batman, in the middle was the wacky afterlife comedy Beetlejuice.
Beetlejuice is a film that's not really about anything. Truthfully when you get down to it, it has no plot whatsoever. But this was the film that introduced me to the world of Tim Burton, and despite the "wafer thin" plot, Burton ties it all together through fantastic performances, eye popping effects, and a continual stream of inventive sight gags.
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are a happily married couple. Until Burton throws a wrench in the works and their lives are cut short when their car goes off the road. They wind up dead, and prisoners in their own home.
With barely enough time to accept their situation, a new family moves in. The quite horrid Deetzes. Charles and Delia Deetze (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara) are a yuppie couple with ideas of their own on how to turn their home into a dream house. Their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) is the only one who can see the Maitlands while the rest of the family fill the house with grotesque modern art and bizarre furniture.
Desperate to be rid of the Deetzes, Adam and Barbara call upon the manic bio-exorcist Beetle Juice (Michael Keaton on fine deranged form). A ghost who specialises in ridding houses of pesky humans, his sick sense of humour leads to all kinds of trouble for all involved. But it proves to be easier said than done putting the genie back in the bottle.
Beetlejuice is one of the craziest, bizarre, insane motion pictures ever to grace cinema screens. The fact that it works at all is down to Burton's keen eye for surreal madness and eccentric set design. Although the film becomes an endless series of sight gags, they're always welcome because of Burton's fantastic imagination.
He gets in some hilarious satirical jabs about the bureaucracy of the afterlife. Waiting rooms, civil servants, mounds of red tape, not to mention the dead people who populate these places like people with shrunken heads, others with obvious slit necks and wrists, and even people who are blackened all over. Burton's creativity knows no bounds.
And then we have stop-motion sandworms, the rings of Saturn, hand-crafted models that become life-size environments, Ooohhhh how I wish they would bring back stop-motion effects,
Fortunately the actors are not buried under all the craziness. Baldwin and Davis make quite a nice couple with an infectious happiness, and Catherine O'Hara has never been better. She is downright hilarious as the so-called avant-garde artist who still believes being a yuppie is a trend. I'm especially partial to the scene where she is exploring the house for the first time balking at what she sees as a hellhole. She opens a cupboard with a hanged Geena Davis inside who pulls her face off. O'Hara recoils in shock...at how small the cupboard is. And who could forget her leading the family to Day-O?
Winona Ryder makes an impression at this early stage in her career. Her greatest scene as Lydia is when she writes a surprisingly amusing suicide note. Substituting words for even more depressing statements.
But naturally it's Michael Keaton who steals the show. And it's all the more impressive since he gets such short screen time. Shouting out phrases faster than his mouth can accommodate and practically bouncing off the walls, Keaton is a one-man variety show: "I attended Julliard, I'm a graduate of the Harvard business school and I travel quite extensively I lived through the Black plague and I had a pretty good time during that I've seen the Exorcist about 167 times and IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT. NOT TO MENTION THE FACT YOU'RE TALKING TO A DEAD GUY WHAT DO YOU THINK?! Do you think I'm qualified?"
As it gets to the end, it has to be said, things start to pile up on top of each other. The effects, what to do with Beetlejuice, the gags, even a wedding to Lydia. It's all quite a mess really. But a wonderfully nutty, ingenious mess.
This will always be a favourite with me, because it dares to do something different with classic ghost stories, it's hard not to get caught up in the whole dizzying whirlpool of madness that is Beetlejuice. I also highly recomend watching the cartoon TV series as well if you can find it, and PLEASE OH PLEASE don't let them remake this classic............