Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton
Release: 30 March 1988
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 82%
You know, I could analyse some of the modern films, and in a way I do, but one of the things that I have discovered while spending too much time watching Youtube videos is that basically everybody does that anyway. Honestly, you really couldn’t believe how many write-ups there are of Tenet when it came out, and that is not to mention other films such as, well, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Yeah, sure, all of the established media companies will have multiple write-ups about them (along with reviews), but so will countless numbers of bloggers and Youtube channels. In a way, it is a crowded marketplace, and I am only one of many.
So, that I why I am looking at some of the older films, though I do come back to some of those newer films down the track when all of the static has died down (and I’ll probably even decide whether it is actually worth doing a write up for them anyway). So, one film that seems to have slipped under the radar is Beetlejuice, a horror/comedy from the master himself – Tim Burton. It was released in 1988, and I can remember when it was being advertised on the radio because the announcers said something along the lines that nobody knew what it was about. At the time I thought they meant that the film was so confusing that it was difficult to understand what was going on, however, those types of films generally don’t turn much of a profit (well, some do, but that is beside the point) and I suspect what they meant was that the plot was being kept well under wraps.
So, with that in mind, let us take a look at the plot. Well, okay, let’s take a look at the trailer first:
Woah, that schlock Eighties trailer really makes me want to watch this film again.
Beetlejuice’s plot is quite different from what you would expect from a horror film, but then again if it was your typical horror, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. The story is about a young couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, who are just about to start a two-week staycation. Adam owns the local hardware store and has decided that he just wants some time with his wife to do some work on the house (as well as the model of the town that he is building in the attic). However, they decide to go for a trip into town to get some supplies, and a stray dog causes them to drive off the edge of the bridge.
The next thing they know is that they are back in the house, however, they also discover that they can’t leave, because whenever they step outside they discover that they are no longer in the town, but rather in some other dimension, with sandworms and everything. Then they locate a handbook that tells them about being dead, and it is then that they realise that they are ghosts.
Meanwhile, the house has been sold, and some city folk move in, the Deetz. This horrifies the Maitlands because the Deetzes want to redo the entire house. Since they are still in the house, they obviously have some attachment to it. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to get much help from the inhabitants of the Netherworld, that is until a ghost (or demon) named Beetlejuice, offers his services as an exorcist of the living.
Oh, I should mention that the daughter, Lydia Deetz, is able to see the Maitlands, and she also discovers the book. In fact, the book is also discovered by this hanger-on, Otho, and he and the Deetzes come to this idea about turning the house into a proper haunted house, and charge people entry to it. One of the reasons is that the Maitlands have discovered the ability to possess the Deetz’s, and instead of scaring them off, they actually think that it is quite fun, and think that people would pay for the experience.
Mind you, that is until Beetlejuice suddenly decides to turn up.
I would say most horror films, but in reality it is pretty much all horror films, deal with the living fighting off the dead (or at least getting tormented by them, if not killed). Burton twists it around and instead of having the living being tormented instead, we have a couple of ghosts, and some particularly nice ones at that, being tormented by the living. Sure, we do have a malevolent spirit, and it Beetlejuice, but in reality, he actually isn’t playing a major part in the film. Actually, most of the time he is trapped in the model village, and it is only when he is released that he causes huge amounts of mischief.
In fact, the film gives us a glimpse into the world of the dead and suggests that maybe it isn’t as bad as what we think it is – that is unless you commit suicide. It is interesting that as a side note somebody makes a comment that if you commit suicide then you are condemned to an eternity of being a bureaucrat. What is cool about this is that when we are taken through the bureaucratic offices of the afterlife we can see that all of the paper pushers have committed suicide.
The idea here is that the Maitlands have put a lot of trouble into creating their perfect house, and it turns out that they get to spend the afterlife in it. The problem is that the house is no longer theirs, in the physical sense that is. The physical world is forever changing, in flux if you will, and as such, they discover that the house has been sold, and the new occupants want to make the house in their image. This is the horror, even if it is somewhat laughable, because they are forced to live in a house that is going from what they wanted to a form that they despise.
This is where the idea of modern art comes in. Like, yeah, it is probably a bit of a joke to say that modern art, in itself, is something horrific. I have lots to say about modern art elsewhere, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole here (and it is certainly a pretty deep rabbit hole). However, in this film, Burton is no doubt taking the idea to the extreme. The house is originally an old-style mansion, but when the Deetzes move in, they want to change it so that it will be in their image, and that involves bringing in modern art.
Okay, it is mainly Deelia Deetz that is the modern artist here, and it seems that her husband just has to put up with it. However, there does seem to be some conflict here because, well, he doesn’t necessarily want the house to be destroyed too much. Charles is actually a former real estate agent, from the city, and has moved to the country to relax. Of course, Deelia brings her eccentricity with her, which is a form of modern art.
It is interesting that during the finale, Beetlejuice brings the sculptures to life, where they proceed to imprison the occupants of the house, further adding to the idea that modern art can be a form of horror. These sculptures become creatures, and they are creatures that end up imprisoning those who brought them into the house, and along with Beetlejuice, need to be brought under control.
City vs Country
This a rather common dichotomy, and it is certainly something that is going to becoming ever more prevalent. The thing is that people who grow up in the city and those who grow up in the country have completely different personalities, and different ways to view their lives. For instance, the pace of life tends to be much slower in the country, which is why many country regions tend to be conservative voters, even if the conservatives really do not have their interests at heart.
We see this with Lydia, who upon arriving at the house, is dressed in mourning, and spends most of the film dressed in mourning. It is reflective of the fact that she has been torn away from that which she knows, from all of her friends, and placed into an area that is the complete opposite to what she is comfortable with. This is the case with many people who live in the city.
Sure, there is this idea that people move to the country because they want a slower pace of life, and this is exactly why Charles has brought his family here. However, they always bring something of the city with them, as is the case with Charles and his family. Mind you, there isn’t much in the way of the reaction from the rest of the town – in fact, we only meet one person from the town, and that is the real estate agent (who was trying to get the Maitlands to sell their house, no doubt because she could make a nice profit off of the sale).
Yet the conflict that arises between the Maitlands and the Deetzes shows the conflict that exists between the city and the country. The Deetzs want to export the city into their new home, and to transform it into something that they appreciate, whereas the Maitlands simply do not want it to change. However, like with all internal conflicts, it is when the external threat arises, that they put aside their differences and learn that in reality, what divided them initially was not all that much and that it is the true threat that they need to confront.
Honestly, this is an absolutely delightful film, and I really never truly appreciated it until I decided, recently, to actually watch it. I’ve seen it a couple of times in the past, but it was only this time that I truly came to appreciate how good Burton is as a director, particularly with his earlier stuff. In a way it is a shame that he has moved on from creating original stories such as this one (and Edward Scissorhands), to remakes and rehashes (such as Batman and Alice in Wonderland). Sure, they do have his own style attached to them, but in the end, it is his creativity in these films that truly make him stand out.
Oh, and there is a fandom wiki devoted to this film.