“Beetlejuice” (1988), directed by Tim Burton, is a horror-comedy about a couple named Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) who have recently died in a drowning accident. As ghosts, they have to navigate the afterlife while trying to scare off the new owners of their home, Delia and Charles Deetz (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffery Jones) with the help of another ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). Throughout all of this, Barbara and Adam become close with the Deetzs’ teenage daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder).
This film is extremely fun to watch and Tim Burton’s artistic style really shines in this movie. The use of practical effects is extremely well done. To make the odd creatures of the afterlife, they were all stop motion, prosthetics and costumes. All the crazy faces Barbara and Adam make were all done with stop motion practical effects which is extremely refreshing to see in a world that is now dominated by CGI. There truly is something timeless about practical effects in film, for even if they look aged, they still fit into the story. They were tangible. They were there for the actors to interact with. Watching the film, I could see how many of the effects were done but I still was not pulled out of the movie. In fact, I became even more immersed into the film because of the practical effects.
The use of comedy in this film is also incredibly clever. A lot of the jokes are quick, smart and have a small layer of creepiness to them. The crazy faces that the ghosts make have a perfect equilibrium of creepy and goofy. Michael Keaton’s performance as Betelgeuse is the epitome of this symmetry. He is able to balance Betelgeuse’s crude and erratic personality with humor. He is the perfect antagonist for this kind of film.
My favorite part of the film, however, is Barbara and Adam’s relationship with the Deetzs’ daughter, Lydia. Lydia is a lonely goth teenager who is unhappy with the move and with her parents who do not seem to pay a lot of attention to her. Barbara and Adam, a young couple with no kids, form a close bond with her. Barbara becomes the motherly figure Lydia needs and when she expresses her suicidal thoughts, Barbara puts a stop to it telling her that “being dead doesn’t make things any easier.” By the end of the film, Barbara and Adam, who have made their peace with the Deetzs, become Lydia’s second set of parents.
Overall, “Beetlejuice” is an entertaining film for fans of both horror and comedy. The aesthetic is fun, the humor is original and the practical effects blend seamlessly into the film. If you like movies that are fun, spooky and original, you are going to like this one.