Beetlejuice (1988)

15 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Ghostbusters” was a unique piece of work—it mixed comedy with special effects and the macabre. Now comes “Beetlejuice,” an attempt to cash in on the “supernatural comedy” subgenre, but admittedly an amusing, good-looking, eerie horror-comedy with a lot of special effects. It’s a sort-of cartoon look at the way of the afterlife, and I like the energy and originality that was put into this film.

The movie stars Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as a happily married couple named Adam and Barbara Maitland who spend vacation in their idyllic New England country home. They spend a happy life together, until they get in a deadly accident. When they return home, they realize that they no longer have reflections and find a strange book known as the handbook for the recently deceased. They realize that they are ghosts, and when they attempt to leave their house, they find themselves in a strange parallel dimension where giant sand-worms crawl under the ground. So they have nowhere to go.

Adam and Barbara’s peace is destroyed when a New York couple (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) and their Gothic daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) move into the house and redecorate it. As ghosts, Adam and Barbara try to scare off the unwanted guests but they can’t be seen. Desperate for help, they find Betelgeuse (pronounced “beetle juice”), a bio-exorcist who loves to scare people away, but his methods may actually be dangerous and quite deadly.

Betelgeuse is played by Michael Keaton, who is almost unrecognizable behind makeup. It’s a hilarious performance. Although, if the whole movie were about Betelgeuse, it would be a little irritating after a while. This guy is so manic that a little of this guy almost goes a long way. But it’s just so funny and he nearly stops the show.

But the movie isn’t all about that “ghost buster”—it’s about the relationship between two deceased lovers trying to cope with being dead and experiencing the most unbelievable stuff in the afterlife. When trying to scare off their new unwanted guests, they soon befriend Lydia who can see them because she’s “strange and unusual” and she can understand the weird Handbook. I like the energy and originality and gimmicks that were put into this movie. I love the way the afterlife looks, and how Tim Burton creates the illusion of an afterworld with great special effects, amazing set pieces, and dark cinematography.

Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis do terrific jobs as the couple, and Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder are no slouches either as the New York family. And then, Keaton is there to liven—or deaden—up the party with his crazed performance of Betelgeuse.

“Beetlejuice” is crazy but wonderfully so. It’s a nicely-done mixed blend of comedy and horror. I liked the casting, I liked the production design, and I also liked the visual jokes put into the scenes involving the afterworld (a badly burnt ghost is smoking a cigarette, for example). Even if it goes overkill near the end, it’s still a good deal of fun.

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