Beetlejuice (1988)


“I’m the Ghost with the Most, babe.”

Deneb’s rating: Three out of four delicious, crunchy beetles.

Deneb’s review: It’s a little hard to imagine what modern cult-movie fandom would be like without Tim Burton. Heck, in some ways, it’s difficult to imagine what modern pop culture in general would be like without Tim Burton. He’s one of the forefathers of the modern superhero movie, he more or less gave birth to the Goth subculture (or, at least, was very instrumental in shaping its current form), he launched Johnny Depp’s career in film, and he gave us Michelle Pfeiffer in a skin-tight black kitty-cat outfit (the, er, ramifications of which I will not discuss here). He’s not the most prolific of directors, and he’s made a few less-than-marvelous pictures over the years, but one has to respect the amount of times he’s gotten it juuuust right. He is still the King of Weird.

Ah, but this was not always the case. Back in the late ‘80’s, he was just the guy who’d directed a quirky film starring Pee-Wee Herman. It was pretty nifty and all, but everyone pretty much credited Pee-Wee himself for that – nobody really thought that this Burton fella would go anywhere.

One film changed all that. One film sent him rocketing up from the depths of obscurity and into the rarified status of Grand Poo-Bah of Spirals that he’s inhabited ever since. That film? Beetlejuice, the one I’m reviewing right here and now. So I guess I might as well stop prevaricating all over the place, and get down to it.

Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are a nice young couple who eke out a comfortable existence out in the wilds of Connecticut. They’ve got a nice house, a reliable source of income, and they’re madly in love with each other. (One thing they don’t have is kids, but, y’know, they’re working on that.)

Yessir, they’re livin’ the American dream – right until they get killed in a car accident and find themselves trapped in their dream house as the resident ghosts. That kind of puts a damper on things.

(This is one aspect of the film, by the way, that has never really made sense to me. Why are they trapped in the house if they didn’t die in the house? Surely that goes against all established haunting rules? Home is where the heart is, I guess, but still it’s weird.)

Still, things aren’t too bad – they’ve got each other, they’ve got a nice place to… er, exist in, and hey, they’re dead. What more could they have to worry about?

Enter the Deetzes, a clan of yuppie New Yorkers. Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones) has a case of frazzled nerves, and yearns for peace and quiet – which is why he’s just bought the Maitlands’ house. His wife, Delia (Catherine O’Hara) can’t stand the place, but she’ll live in it as long as she can knock down a few walls and redecorate.

Needless to say, Adam and Barbara don’t care for this state of affairs at all, but what can they do? They’re rookies at this ghost stuff – all they’ve got is a copy of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”, and a strained relationship with Juno (Sylvia Sidney), their cranky afterlife caseworker. They do have a budding friendship with Lydia (Winona Ryder), the Deetzes’ moody proto-Goth teenager – but she’s the only one who can see them, and as a kid, nobody listens to her, so she’s unlikely to be useful in stopping their lovely home from being vandalized by Delia’s tide of ghastly modern art.

All in all, an unpleasant situation. What’s to be done?

Well, there is that Beetlejuice fella they keep hearing about (the film spells it “Betelgeuse”, as in the star, but dagnab it, which version is the title of the film?). He claims to be a “bio-exorcist” who will rid houses of the living – and he doesn’t even charge anything! All they’ve got to do is say his name three times…

Inevitably, they do, and just as inevitably, they get more than they bargained for.

OK, there is one thing that must be discussed about Beetlejuice first and foremost, and that’s, well, Beetlejuice. Not having watched this movie for a while, there are two things (I guess, in the context of BJ himself being a thing – well, no, he’s a person, not a thing, but for the sake of this definition, let’s call him a thing – that would make them… sub-things? Sub-topics? I dunno) that I always seem to forget. One is how little he’s actually in the movie – despite the fact that he’s the title character, he’s only got something like fifteen minutes of screen time. The second is how gross he is. I mean, it’s not like he’s stop-the-movie-I’m-gonna-hurl disgusting or anything, but the guy has mold growing on his skin. This is appropriate enough for someone who’s theoretically some variety of undead, but really, he looks less like he’s been moldering in the grave and more like he hasn’t had a real bath for about a century or so. These things are not emphasized on the movie posters, ya know?

All that aside, BJ kicks ass. While he’s definitely the film’s antagonist, he’s not so much evil as completely out of control – he does what he wants to do when he wants to do it, and damn the torpedoes. Despite his assurances to the Maitlands that he wants to be “real pals” with them, he’s clearly only in it for his own ends – and those are primarily for him to hit on every woman he meets, devour every insect he meets, and satisfy his bizarre sense of humor. For all that, he’s reasonably sympathetic, in a twisted sort of way – one gets the feeling he’d be fun to hang around with if you got on his wavelength, but that might take a long, long time. Like Juno says, “he does not work well with others.”

As for said others? Well, the Maitlands are pretty convincing as the nice young couple who’d invite you over for dinner if they weren’t, y’know, dead. They’re newbies at this ghost stuff, and it shows – they don’t want to hurt anyone, they just want those nasty city folks to leave their precious house alone. The city folks themselves are well-portrayed, if inevitably a bit duller than all the ghosts and craziness going on around them. Jeffery Jones does a good job as the jittery husband who just wants peace and quiet, dammit, even if he can’t quite abandon his shark-of-the-business-world instincts just yet. Catherine O’Hara is clearly having fun as Delia, who’s really the closest thing the film has to a genuine villain – she’s completely self-obsessed, and wants nothing more than to inflict her art-nouveau sensibilities on everyone, whether they want them or not. (She’d come off as hateful if it weren’t quite clear that she’s fueled by her galloping neuroses and perpetually on the edge of a nervous breakdown.) She’s helped in this by Otho (Glenn Shadix), her preening interior decorator/general guru, who never lets a chance for a purring putdown go by, and who is never on top of things, but always thinks he is.

The one everyone remembers best, though, is Lydia, and for good reason. This was Winona Ryder’s breakout role – she nails the part of the moody teenage girl whose only real friends are a pair of ghosts, which she’s totally fine with. She could so easily have been a total stereotype, but her character is given greater depths than that, for which we’re all grateful. Praise be to you, Winona, you kooky little shoplifting weird-girl, you.

Really, though, the main draw of Beetlejuice isn’t the characters – it’s the typically bizarre atmosphere that Burton creates. The afterlife waiting room and its freaky inhabitants, the desert of sandworms, the various hauntings and their aftermaths – this is what we watch Burton movies for, and the film delivers in spades.

Is it perfect? Well, no. I would have liked to have seen a little more of the title character – not much, just a scene or two – the movie drags a bit when it’s focused on the Deetzes and their hoity-toity ways, and the climax, while pretty cool, is over awfully quickly. But hey, for a film made early in a director’s career, it’s pretty freakin’ impressive, especially considering the director in question. Basically, it’s Burton at his Burtoniest, with a side-order of Michael Keaton going nuts. Who could ask for more? Say his name! Say it! SAY IT!

Michael Keaton!

Michael Keaton!

Michael Keaton!

Wrong name.

Andie’s rating: If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.

Andie’s review: Wow, I had forgotten how great a movie Beetlejuice was until I watched it again the other day. This movie has everything. Michael Keaton is wonderful as Beetlejuice, he’s really funny and plays the character just sarcastically enough so that he’s not too scary. It does have some spooky/scary parts to it, like when the main characters discover that they’re dead. And I love the depiction of the afterlife.

For those of you weirdos who haven’t seen Beetlejuice, it is the tale of boring old Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who die in a car accident and are confined to their house for all eternity. The Deitzes, some yucky people from the city, move in and start tearing the house apart. Adam and Barbara want them out of the house, so they try to be scary. They pretty much suck at it, but they do befriend the daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder). When they enlist the help of Beetlejuice, the bio-exorcist, to get the people out of the house, he turns out to be really mean and scary and tries to take Lydia. So the ghosts defeat Beetlejuice and they make peace with the family and everybody’s happy.

Personally, I love the way Tim Burton made the afterlife. It was just weird enough, that I sort of believed it. Like every ghost has a case worker and a handbook for being dead. And I love the lame attempts Adam and Barbara make at scaring the living. They start out in sheets with holes cut out for eyes! That obviously doesn’t work, so they movie up to making a whole dinner party dance to The Banana Boat song (Which is my favorite scene, by the way. It makes me laugh everytime). And I also love Delia Deitz’ little minion Otho. He’s so cynical and pretentious that you can’t help but love him. Beetlejuice is a must have for anybody’s film collection.

Aw, c’mon now, who could resist a face like that? Ain’t he cute?


  • There have been rumors of a possible sequel to this film virtually ever since it was made – the most persistent one being a script called Beetlejuice goes Hawaiian – but at this point, it looks unlikely to be made. Recent gossip seems to indicate that if it ever is made, it may likely be a direct-to-video cheapo with neither Burton or any of the original cast involved – so at this point, we better hope that a sequel does not materialize (although both Keaton and Burton have expressed interest in making one, should the right treatment come along, so there is hope).
  • Most of the clothes Lydia wears in the movie were from Winona Ryder’s personal wardrobe.
  • At the dinner party, Otho makes a barbed comment about people who commit suicide becoming civil servants in the afterlife. He’s joking, but most of the ghosts we see manning desks and so forth in the afterlife are clearly suicide victims of one kind or another. (This is also backed up by Miss Argentina’s mention of her ‘little accident’.)
  • Although Beetlejuice’s black and white striped suit is the iconic look for the character, he only wears it in one scene.
  • In the original version, when Adam and Barbara leave the model, Beetlejuice kicks over a model tree, screams “Wow! Nice F—ing model!” and then makes honking sounds while he yanks himself in an obscene way. In the Disney version he kicks over the tree, spits, and stares up at Adam and Barbara. The scene where the receptionist in the Afterlife Waiting room reveals she killed herself was also removed. A scene during the dance number where the Deitz’s all moon each other was removed as well.
  • Betelgeuse wears 8 different costumes through the course of the movie: convict suit, cowboy clothes, tour bus driver’s uniform, plaid shirt and slacks, 1940′s detective attire, bathrobe, a black and white striped suit, and the pink tuxedo.
  • Looking into the mirror, the ghosts prove that they have no reflections, but are later reflected in the attic windows.
  • Originally planned as a supernatrual drama entitled “The Maitlands” about a deceased couple dealing with the troubles of the afterlife. The scenes were scripted much more morbidly than they appear (most notably the waiting room scenes, which were supposed to be particularly ghoulish), and most of the characters were much darker. Only when Michael Keaton began filming his scenes and asked for creative freedom did Tim Burton realize the potential of a dark comedy.
  • Frustrated with the studio at one point, Tim Burton threatened to submit the film for release under the title “Scared Sheetless.”

Groovy Quotes

Beetlejuice: That is why I won’t do two shows a night anymore, babe. I won’t. I won’t do ‘em.

Delia Deetz: (In reference to the house) A little gasoline, blowtorch – no problem.

Beetlejuice: It’s showtime.

Charles Deetz: I am here to relax and clip coupons, and dammit, I mean to do it.

Beetlejuice: Go ahead – make my millennium!

Adam: What are your qualifications?
Beetlejuice: Ah, well, I attended Juilliard. I’m a graduate of the Harvard Business School, I travel quite extensively, I lived through the Black Plague, and I had a pretty good time during that; I’ve seen The Exorcist about 167 times – an’ it keeps getting’ funnier every single time I see it! Not to mention the fact that you’re talkin’ to a dead guy! NOW WHADDAYOU THINK?… You think I’m qualified?

Otho: You read my mind.
Delia Deetz: I did?
Otho: So few clients are able to read my mind. They’re just not open to the experience.

Otho: Deliver me from L.L Bean.

Beetlejuice: Ahahahahaha! Oh, boy! You two are really a couple o’ spooksters, aren’tcha?

Delia Deetz: I’m here with you. I will live with you in this hellhole. But I must express myself. If you don’t let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane, AND I WILL TAKE YOU WITH ME!

Beetlejuice: Hey, these aren’t my rules. Come to think of it, I don’t have any rules.

Barbara: (referring to Delia) I’m gonna get her.

Beetlejuice: (singing) I’ll eat anything you want me to eat, I’ll swaller anything you want me to swaller! Come on down, an’ I’ll… chew on a dog! Awoooo-hoo!

Lydia Deetz: My whole life is a dark room. One… big… dark… room.

Barbara: Is this what happens when you die?
Miss Argentina: This is what happens when you die. That is what happens when he dies. And that is what happens when they die. It’s all very personal. And I’ll tell you something – if I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.

Beetlejuice: Attention, K-Mart shoppers!

Delia Deetz: (to a workman) If you tell me what you do, I’ll tell you why my husband will fire you.

Beetlejuice: Look! They’ve been to Saturn! Hey, I’ve been to Saturn! Whoa – sandworms. Ya hate ‘em, right? I hate ‘em myself.

Otho: “Hands vermillion,
Start of five.
Bright cotillion,
Ravens dive.
Nightshade’s promise,
Spirits strive.
To the living, let now the dead
Come alive!
As sudden thunder pierces night,
As magic wonder mad affright,
Rise asunder, man’s delight,
Our ghost, our corpse,
And we rise to be.
As flies the lizard
Serpent fell,
As goblin gizzard at the spell,
The buried, dead and slain
Rise again!”

Delia Deetz: This is my art, and it is dangerous!

Beetlejuice: I’m the Ghost with the Most, babe.

Lydia Deetz: Well, I read through that Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It says, “Live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am… strange and unusual.

Beetlejuice: Nice f***in’ model! *Honk honk*

Otho: Don’t mind her – she’s still upset because somebody dropped a house on her sister.

Beetlejuice: Let’s turn on the juice and see what shakes loose!

Charles Deetz: What are you going to do, Otho, viciously rearrange their environment?

Beetlejuice: I gotta tell ya, this dead thing, it’s… (grabs a bug and starts munching on it) …it’s just too creepy.

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