A young couple, spiky-haired Alec Baldwin and plump-lipped Geena Davis, get into a car accident and come home depressed and sodden, their vacation off to a bad start. And they don’t know the half of it!
A handbook for the recently deceased mysteriously appears in their home and they get to wondering if maybe they didn’t survive the crash after all.
First rule of death? You can’t leave your house. First rule of real estate? When the previous owners die, a new family will move in (cue: pale and deliciously high-strung Catherine O’Hara, creepy as ever Jeffrey Jones, and strange and unusual Winona Ryder). The ghosts of the old owners plus the thoughtfull new owners makes for a very crowded house. We all know that if you want to rid a house of ghosts, you call an exorcist – but what if the ghosts want to rid a house of the living?
Before he was Birdman, even before he was Batman, Michael Keaton was Beetlejuice, the afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist. Free demon possession with every exorcism! Keaton goes all out in this film, and he’s the absolute stand-out, despite the fact that he’s in all of 17 minutes on-screen. He’s ghoulish and manic and clearly having a lot of fun leaping into improvisations.
Makeup artists Ve Neill, Steve LaPorte, and Robert Short won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Makeup for their work on this film. Watching it now, it feels a little dated, but that’s nothing in comparison to the weird, stop-motion stuff that Burton dreamed up for the afterlife.
I was a kid the first and last time I saw this, and I had to work hard to convince my mom to rent it for my little posse of pony-tailed friends. Beetlejuice was perfect sleepover fare: creepy, with the illusion of the illicit, but overall harmless fun with an inspired Calypso soundtrack perfect for sleeping bag shenanigans all night long. Rewatching it now, I have a new appreciation for how dark and funny it is, and for the formidable Catherine O’Hara, whom I always love, but who rarely looks as stylish as she does in this movie.
The movie ended up being successful enough to spawn a cartoon series and whispers of a sequel that remained in the works for years but seemed to die off until they were recently dusted off for us in 2015. It’s been terribly hush-hush, Burton unwilling to confirm except that he’d only consider it if Keaton is on board – and he is, and so is Winona. Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride & Prejuidice & Zombies) has been working on the script since 2012. Chloe Grace Moretz (rumoured to play Winona’s daughter) and Samuel L. Jackson have reportedly already begun filming.
As for Delia Deetz, style icon, I present you:
She wears mostly Japanese designs by Mitsuhiro Matsuda, Issey Miyake, and Comme des Garçons. James Acheson took home the Oscar that year for Dangerous Liaisons, and I can’t argue that, but I do think it’s a crime Aggie Guerard Rodgers didn’t even get a nomination for her work here.
And while I’m engaging in some movie history revisionism, can we please start a campaign to digitally erase Jeffrey Jones from our favourite movies? You want to know why he was so convincing as Feris Bueller’s creepy principle? Because he’s a real-life pedophile. In 2003 he pled no contest to the felony charge of taking sexually explicit pictures of a minor, and possessing child pornography. He’s a registered sex offender. Can we maybe take him out family movies like this one?