Insomniacs Unite for: Beetlejuice
Review by Bret Dorman
My parents insist that our new (town) house is haunted.
I’ve never had any sort of paranormal experience. Ever. I’ve never had anything of mine go missing that wasn’t explainable by me misplacing it and finding it later. I’ve never seen something float by me as I watch on in horror and curiosity. I’ve never had a conversation with someone and given them a sweater because they were cold only to find out later that they were DEAD THE WHOLE TIME!!! Wha-?!
However, my parents insist that our new (town) house is haunted.
They claim our ghastly guest is a friendly one though. That the ghost will take something from where you left it, only to put it back AFTER you’ve searched for it high and low! Spooky! They claim that sometimes a light will be on even though it was off when they left the room! Jinkies! They even claim to feel a cold rush of air or a cold hand on their shoulders! Zoinks!
This ghost seems perfectly fine pranking my parents, but has not yet pranked me in any way.
My parents INSIST that our new (town) house is haunted.
I think they are just getting older and perhaps a bit more… forgetful.
Besides, if there is one thing I learned from Beetlejuice, it’s that it doesn’t matter how friendly or cool a ghost seems, they can turn deadly at any minute!The Story: Spunky couple Barbara (The always beautiful Geena Davis) and Adam (A thin Alec Baldwin) are recently deceased. They don’t seem to mind the whole being dead thing, until a new couple (comedic machines Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones) moves in to their home. They have trouble scaring them out and only seem to be noticed by their daughter Lydia (a teenage Wynona Ryder), who is more interested in the other side. Things get ugly when they call upon Betelgeuse (A perfect Michael Keaton), a bio-exorcist who legitimately gets his thrills from giving them. Also, I hate sandworms.
There are two vital ingredients you need when making a pure-blooded comedy: simplicity and good casting. I guess good casting is something any movie needs but for a comedy it leads to another essential by-product, good chemistry, which results in good timing. And as we all know good timing is a fundamental basic like kicking in soccer, without it you can’t score (a laugh). By keeping the setting and cast relatively intimate, the relationships between the characters are important for providing the right blend. Adam and Barbara compliment each other well as a couple already in love and comfortable with the other. That and they are perfectly annoyed by Charles and Delia, intimidated by their case worker Juno, and innately protective of Lydia. Lydia is drawn to them because her own parental figures ignore her. Her father and mother (step-mother) tolerate each other but are always at odds. Delia seeks companionship with Otho, who feeds her crazy artistic hunger. Everyone seems annoyed by most others’ presence and the movie really deals with each character desperately trying to find balance. What makes Betelgeuse ultimately the most intriguing character is that fact that he is at his happiest while purposefully throwing everyone else out of whack. And he’s good at it.The danger of a movie like this could be the need to over-explain, which is why the simpler it is, the better. The dialogue is usually concise and characters express themselves very articulately. Within moments of meeting a new character you know exactly how they fit in and they never break. The pacing moves along smoothly as we meet the characters, see how they interact, then see how they conflict. Even when you have no idea what’s going on (Satrun?) you still get the overall tone (Danger!) without needing everything spoon fed.
Having said that… because the foundation of this movie is kept simple, the filmmakers are allowed to play within it more. By keeping their own parameters small, they are able to explore the concepts in the movie more in depth, rather than vaguely going after a ton of broad concepts. Even though the movie keeps the death rules simple for us, opting to show rather than tell, it makes fun of the fact by having the Handbook For The Recently Deceased read like “stereo instructions.” The suicide/case worker joke is a nice reveal then called back upon and the movie even proposes the idea that the dead can ‘green card’ their way into the living realm by marrying in, as if simply crossing a border. Going even finer into the print, there are also the tiniest of details like Dante’s strip club having an inferno room that conveniently has air conditioning.Danny Elfman’s score elevates the movie on every tone. It brings out the sense of dread when the mayhem starts happening, the sense of wonder into the afterlife, helps smooth some of the transitions, and even adds to the comedy: Adam’s line “Book For The Recently Diseased?” gets a scary musical sting and Barbara’s follow up, “Deceased!” gets the same scary musical sting. Elfman’s addition to the movie is meant to be invisible contrary to the biggest musical set piece, the “Day-O” number. While the whole cast is great at awkwardly ‘singing’ and dancing, there’s a good reason why the song starts on and focuses with Catherine O’hara through most of its duration. She nails the tone and body movements as her conscious mind struggles to grasp the fact her body has become a living marionette. This bit relies on her performance to make it or break it and thanks to her, it practically becomes a show stopper.
Speaking of which…
Michael Keaton, man. He created the character Betelgeuse alongside Tim Burton and the makeup/costume department. He’s on screen only around 17 of the 92 minutes, but he makes the argument for quality of quantity. We passively listen in as he reads a paper and catch glimpses of his craziness in a TV commercial, but the big intro scene as Betelgeuse flies out of his coffin and assaults Adam and Barbara with his pitch and wandering hands/eyes/lips is the real show stopper of the movie. Burton wisely lets the scene unfold without many cuts or interruptions, letting Keaton, Davis, and Baldwin verbally dance around each other in a carefully choreographed conversation. He’s too overwhelming and scares the couple off, but luckily we get little reminders of why he’s “the ghost with the most” throughout until his big finale.
Beetlejuice would mark Burton’s first theatrical stab at the visual macabre later to become classic Burton, as his first ‘first’ feature movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure hinted at some of those tones but looked more cartoon-y in nature. But the entirety of Beetlejuice and its slow burn can be summed up in one moment. Not in a scene, or a line, or a gimmick, but in Michael Keaton’s look… right here:
Before this moment we are introduced into scary things like sandworms and the room full of exorcised souls, but nothing is meant to get a true fright. Betelgeuse even shows up to give us a hint at his malicious nature as a railing snake but that moment is cut short as he is called away (love the visual of the ‘silhouetted snap back’). Up until now Betelgeuse has been pretty light hearted about the whole mess despite many warnings from other characters about him, but when Adam and Barbara are in actual trouble Lydia has no choice except to call on him for help. And he knows this. He’s waiting, in his trademark suit, for “showtime.” After this moment as he wreaks havoc he does so light heartedly again. But for one moment, in this PG comedy about ghosts and crazy people, we get one legitimate moment where we experience fear.
Why This Movie Is Perfect For Insomniacs: The Midnight hour carries a lot of spooky weight, representing the unknown, as a whole new day starts in the darkest time of night. I have still yet to have a real live/undead paranormal experience. I know Reston Bowtie just remodeled but I don’t think they uncovered any Indian burial ground, cursed artifacts, or hidden cult passages. Luckily no one on the crew had an unfortunate accident, so there’s no spirit with unfinished business lurking around. But what Reston Bowtie can offer this Friday and Saturday night is a chance to say it once, say it twice, say Beetlejuice three times and give you a cinematic paranormal experience that will have you screaming with laughter!