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Vibrant to the point of being garish, warm and generous, with a spiky sense of satire, this supernatural comedy is one of Tim Burton’s best. It is a time capsule of the 1980s, both in its absurd stylings and its parable of Reagan-era commodification culture. And what a cast. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play the Maitlands, a meek, childless couple whose contented existence is disrupted by their unfortunate deaths in a road accident. Back home, it takes them a while to realise they are dead, though the Handbook for the Recently Deceased and the surreal Technicolor hellscape outside the front door are strong clues.
But the Maitlands are to suffer a fate worse than their recent demises. Their cherished hilltop house is sold to the Deetzes, a family of New York yuppies (including Winona Ryder as the black-sheep teenage daughter), who set about giving it a vulgar postmodern makeover, aided by their odious interior designer, Otho. The Maitlands’ attempts to scare the newcomers away fall flat – they’re far too nice. Besides which, the money-minded Deetzes see the presence of ghosts as a marketing opportunity. Which is where Betelgeuse, the undead “bio-exorcist”, comes in. Played with scene-stealing gusto by Michael Keaton, he is a bundle of scuzzy, lecherous, manic energy – somewhere between Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson and Krusty the Clown.
The story almost comes off the rails, but Beetlejuice’s charm lies more in the execution. The movie is crammed with visual invention and snappy comedy. The afterlife is richly imagined as a macabre bureaucracy. The living world is no less outlandish, especially with those eye-popping interiors and costumes (for me, the film’s only flaw is that the house actually looks better after its remodelling). Burton was a bracing new talent with a headful of ideas here. His now-familiar Dr Seuss gothic sensibility was a novelty, and crucially, it was still tethered to the real world.
Source: The Guardian
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