Dark, irreverent, and wildly funny; Beetlejuice was Tim Burton’s second feature film. The story, if it can be said to have one, revolves around a quaint, quiet, all-American house, the two families that inhabit it, and a Bio-Exorcist by the name of Betelgeuse. The film and its characters are basically excuses to spring one-liner after one-liner and sight gag after sight gag, (which would have been a problem for the film had they fallen flat) all wrapped up in a strange yet enormously entertaining package.
If Pee-wee’s Big Adventure saw Burton grow as a storyteller, than Beetlejuice was the film that hailed Burton as a true visual stylist in Hollywood with his own unique voice. Working with acclaimed production designer (later turned director) Bo Welch, Burton created one of the most visually distinct films of all time. The filmmakers used the obviously shoe-string budget to their advantage, designing a world that revelled in all its low-budget glory. This technique could have very easily plunged the film into the dreaded world of camp and self-parody. However, because the storytelling and direction were so confident in the tone of the film, it all came together in a most surprising and ceaselessly inventive way.
A special mention has to go to the performances in the film; particularly that of Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse. His is absolutely one of the most iconic characters and performances in modern American film, tearing through cliché and subtlety to create a one-man house party. The exquisite make-up work on the character could have very easily intimidated another actor into delivering a dialed-down performance, however Keaton went all out for the role, and amazingly it’s his persona and not the make-up effects that leave the biggest impression on the audience.
Over 15 years after its release, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice remains a revered comedy classic and an important film in the career of a young filmmaker who was only beginning to wow us with his distinct way of looking at life (…or the after-life) and making films.
Joe Cortez 2004
You can discuss the film with other Burton fans in our Beetlejuice forum.
Entrance to the Netherworld – a site about the cartoon series