Nobody ever said it was easy to be dead. But, no matter how exasperating eternal life might be, a recently deceased couple learned the hard way that one should be careful of what they wish for – they just might get it. Such was the plight of the Maitland family in Tim Burton’s wonderfully quirky and decidedly dark 1988 comedy, Beetlejuice.
Things are going great for Barbara and Adam Maitland until they are both killed in a car wreck. While that might seem like an end to a movie, it was only the beginning for these recently deceased lovebirds. They remain in denial of their fate until a visit to an undead social worker confirms their demise. Even worse, they discover that they are bound to their lovely New England home for the next 153 years. While that might not seem so terrible at first, they now have to share their beloved abode with an annoying new-age artsy couple, the Deetzes. Escape is futile, as the world outside their home is now a barren desert patrolled by enormous, and apparently carnivorous, sandworms.
A haunting seems in order but the Maitlands just don’t have the heart necessary to pull it off. Rather than frighten off the new owners, they instead become a sort of sideshow attraction, one that the Deetzes hope to share with the world. The only ally to the undead duo is the introverted teenaged daughter, Lydia – who not only is the single soul who can communicate with her spiritual roommates (whom she is unafraid of), but also sympathizes with their plight.
The Maitlands eventually learn that there is one force that might be able to get rid of these idiotic occupants, although they are warned to avoid him at all costs. His name is Betelgeuse (pronounced: Beetlejuice) and if one says his name aloud three times, he will appear. Going against the advice they have been given, they say the magic words and the wisecracking demon appears. The soon learn, however, that once the genie is out of the bottle, getting him back in is nearly impossible. Betelgeuse has his own devious plans, including marrying Lydia. He does manage to give the Deetzes and their dinner guests a might good scare, however, in a memorable scene that has the whole crew singing Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” and being attacked by the crustaceans on their dinner plate, as well as a decidedly scary serpent.
Michael Keaton gave a delightfully memorable performance in the starring role as the demented and often hilarious demon – one that would help propel him to major stardom. An all-star cast included Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the undead couple, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara as the Deetzes and Winona Rider as the sullen teen, Lydia. Composer Danny Elfman perfectly accentuated the unusual look of the film with a playfully sinister score. Beetlejuice would go on to win an Oscar for Best Makeup and delight moviegoers in droves, quickly becoming a box office hit. As one might expect, the movie would eventually lead to an animated Saturday morning spin-off series from 1989-1991. not to mention a whole herd of people dressing up like the main character for the following Halloween. Suffice to say, Beetlejuice left its mark on pop culture.
If you have fond memories of this frightfully funny 80s film, we’d love for you to share your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Tim Burton for another quirky masterpiece.