Beetlejuice – USA, 1988

‘In this house… if you’ve seen one ghost… you haven’t seen them all.’

Beetlejuice is a 1988 American comedy horror feature film directed by Tim Burton (Frankenweenie; Dark Shadows; Sweeney Todd; Sleepy Hollow; Mars Attacks!) from a screenplay by Michael McDowell (Cold Moon; Thinner; Tales from the Darkside) and Warren Skaaren. The Geffen Film Company production stars Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton. It was distributed by Warner Bros.

The film’s soundtrack score was composed by Danny Elfman (Goosebumps; Dark Shadows; The Wolfman; Nightbreed; et al).

Plot:

After Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) die in a car accident, they find themselves stuck haunting their country residence, unable to leave the house.

When the unbearable Deetzes (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones) and teen daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) buy the home, the Maitlands attempt to scare them away without success. Their efforts attract Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a rambunctious spirit whose “help” quickly becomes dangerous…

Reviews:

“While the character is pretty iconic, his hazy characterization leaves us confused as to where Burton wants to take this movie. It’s also a shame that the most developed character here is the title character whose own back story begs for more emphasis over the stale heroes played by Alec Baldwin and Gena Davis. Some scenes and gags make absolutely no sense..” Felix Vasquez, Cinema Crazed

“The uniformly great cast is by turns mournful and affecting, callous and obnoxious, and in the case of Michael Keaton, unforgettably and wonderfully repulsive. In his portrayal of Beetlejuice, Keaton created a screen icon for freaks and weirdos.” The Daily Grindhouse

“Beetlejuice is one of the most original characters of the last 25 years, and one has to wonder why a sequel (which could have explored his past) was never made […] Beetlejuice is in a league of its own. Few films combine ghosts, shrimp-monsters, and conga dancing in the way that this one does, and that’s why it remains a classic it this day.” Mike Long, DVD Sleuth

” …Beetlejuice combines gleefully gory special effects with high camp, sharp wit and irreverent humour. There’s gentle comedy structured around the Maitlands’ social awkwardness in the afterlife, turning into something much darker as they realise what they have unleashed. Yet what stands out most about this film is its sense of fun…” Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

“The story almost comes off the rails, but Beetlejuice’s charm lies more in the execution. The movie is crammed with visual invention and snappy comedy. The afterlife is richly imagined as a macabre bureaucracy. The living world is no less outlandish, especially with those eye-popping interiors and costumes.” Steve Rose, The Guardian

” …a delight; it’s an experience, rather than another helping of the same old thing. There isn’t much to it, storywise (Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson conceived the idea), but it brilliantly creates a sense of wonder missing from so many current Hollywood films […] colorful, delightfully deranged and endlessly inventive — a grand-scale funhouse that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.” The Hollywood Reporter

” …tries anything and everything for effect, and only occasionally manages something marginally funny” Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Off-the-wall humour and some sensational sight gags make the movie, maddenly disjointed though it sometimes is, a truly astonishing piece of work.” Steve Grant, Time Out (London)

“There’s a whole lot of creativity on display here, especially during scenes in the afterlife and all it’s various victims, and the predominantly stop motion effects still look good to this day. The production design is also great balancing Leave It to Beaver with dank underworlds and they’ve thrown in a lot of little touches (like when they’re sucked into the model the grass is turf-like in appearance), which pleased me to no end.” The Video Graveyard

Beetlejuice is a blast the whole way through.  The entire cast is flawless […] The plot gets increasingly sloppy as the film goes on but Burton cranks up the energy so much that you don’t notice it too much.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Beetlejuice: “I’ll eat anything you want me to eat. I’ll swallow anything you want me to swallow. But, come on down and I’ll… chew on a dog! Arroooo!”

Cast and characters:

  • Michael Keaton … Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice”)
  • Alec Baldwin … Adam Maitland
  • Geena Davis … Barbara Maitland
  • Winona Ryder … Lydia Deetz
  • Catherine O’Hara … Delia Deetz
  • Jeffrey Jones … Charles Deetz
  • Annie McEnroe … Jane Butterfield
  • Glenn Shadix … Otho
  • Sylvia Sidney … Juno
  • Robert Goulet … Maxie Dean
  • Maree Cheatham … Sarah Dean
  • Dick Cavett … Bernard
  • Susan Kellermann … Grace
  • Adelle Lutz … Beryl
  • Simmy Bow … Janitor
  • Carmen Filpi … Messenger
  • Patrice Martinez … Receptionist
  • Tony Cox … Preacher
  • Jack Angel … the voice of the Preacher
  • Cindy Daly … the Three-Fingered Typist
  • Rachel Mittelman … Little Jane
  • Douglas Turner … Char Man

Filming locations:

East Corinth, Vermont (General Store and Masonic Hall)
Culver Studios, Culver City, California

Technical credits:

92 minutes | Technicolor | 1.85: 1

Release:

March 30, 1988

Box office:

Beetlejuice took $73,707,461 domestically, against a reported budget of $15 million. Worldwide takings are unavailable.

Other media:

Due to the film’s financial success, ABC created a Beetlejuice animated television series which show ran for four seasons lasting from September 9, 1989 to December 6, 1991. Three tie-in video games were also produced.

Trivia:

Warner Bros. disliked the title Beetlejuice and wanted to call the film House Ghosts. As a joke, Burton allegedly suggested the name Scared Sheetless and was horrified when the studio actually considered using it.

Juliette Lewis auditioned for the role of Lydia. Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Justine Bateman, Molly Ringwald, and Jennifer Connelly all turned down the same role.

More comedy horror

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