If you were like me growing up, at a certain point, Disney’s Halloween line-up got a little repetitive and predictable. I mean, no disrespect to Hocus Pocus (1993) or the Halloweentown (1998) series (although only 1 and half of the films were good), but eventually I craved something just one notch above to get my dose of the super weird and mildly frightening. Horror movies weren’t, and still aren’t, my thing, so if you’re looking for something right in between this Halloween weekend, check out Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988). Just don’t say it three times.
Newlyweds Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin respectively—one was the mom in the Stuart Little series  and the other you’d know from anywhere, especially 30 Rock) decide to spend their honeymoon sprucing up their quaint and unassuming country home. As fate would have it, while driving back from town, the couple swerve off the road to avoid a dog and end up drowning. The do-it-yourself go-getters aren’t about to give up their freshly minted lives and even more precious home so easily, so they return as ghosts to live in a kind of limbo for another 125 years. And as is the nature of the ghosts of people not quite ready to leave the world (Harry Potter, anyone?), the Maitlands decide to stick around when their home is sold to the ultra-modern and super-uptight Delia and Charles Deetz (played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones—the former played the mom in the Macaulay Caulkin Home Alone’s  and Jones was the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ). They bring with them Charles’ daughter Lydia, played by Winona Ryder (the one with black hair), a morbid girl who couldn’t be more disgusted with her upper class snob parents. Fortunately for Lydia, who’s into the supernatural, the Maitlands aren’t thrilled either, and they enlist the help of Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to enhance their ghostliness to scare the Maitlands into leaving. The lengths they’re willing to go to reclaim their home border on the ridiculous and weird—including exposing inner body parts and turning a dinner party into an outer body experience. Whether or not the Deetzes can stomach a taste of the afterlife is for you to find out in this horromedy (that’s horror and comedy combined. I made it up).
The movie is well made for a 1988 Tim Burton film. If you don’t know the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Corpse Bride (2005), and Frankenweenie (2012)—he’s really weird. But in a good way. You’ve never seen anything like a Tim Burton film before, because they are often geniusly twisted. His movies are truly brilliant in a very demented way, but that’s what makes them really entertaining. There’s a novelty factor in watching something that is in no way predictable or logical. He’s also a big fan of Johnny Depp and is married to Helena Bonham Carter (most notably Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter) if that’s any testament to his dark persona. If you’re very familiar with Alec Baldwin, it might take you a few seconds to recognize the svelte man with big, round glasses. He and Davis are really just puppets in this movie, their only serious acting occurring in the first few minutes of the film. The real stars are Michael Keaton as an early version of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight and Catherine O’Hara in her hysterical portrayal of a woman on the verge of losing her carefully crafted fake persona. Beetlejuice only resembles the Joker in appearance. While both are twisted, Beetlejuice is more in the habit of never sparing anyone he can poke fun at, and revels in the weird and disgusting. The coolest part for me as a kid was the model that Adam had in the attic of the neighborhood, detailed down to the correct tree type. Beetlejuice lives in the model, and if you say his name three times, he’ll come out of the woodwork and wreak havoc as a “bioexorcist” expert.
It’s not really the plot or the acting that makes this movie a fun watch for Halloween. It really is the mind of Tim Burton come to work on the big screen, most notably in the dinner scene when the Deetzes and their guests find themselves compelled to do things like dance around to the banana boat song, smush their faces in their seafood, and exhibit early forms of twerking, all at the will of Beetlejuice, who is trying to teach the peaceful Maitlands how to embrace their inner ghost. Frankly it’s a weird movie, but something of an underrated one. As a side note, my sister used to be terrified of it, but she’s since come to embrace its weirdness and even love the film. It’s one of those you-have-to-watch-to-get-it films, but I guarantee it’s one you’ll add to your annual Halloween repertoire and want to watch over again. You know, right after that Disney line-up, but just before A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).