Horror and comedy don’t often mix well, much like the assortment of pumpkin-infused goodies lining grocery store aisles. When that golden combination occurs however, it’s pure bliss. Growing up in the 90’s, it was impossible to miss “Beetlejuice,” between the regular TV reruns and the oft-recognizable black and white jacket. Tim Burton’s 1988 oddball flick is hilariously ridiculous, and is one of the most unique movies in its genre.
“Beetlejuice” follows a recently deceased couple, Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis). While vacationing at their New England summer home, the pair crashes their car. However instead of dying fully, they find themselves in a limbo of sorts. Eventually, through a series of strange events, such as discovering a book entitled The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, Barbara and Adam realize they are dead.
When the Deetz family, Charles (Jeffrey Jones), Delia (Catherine O’Hara), and Lydia (Winona Ryder) move into the Maitland’s home, Barbara and Adam consult their afterlife case worker Juno (Sylvia Sidney). She informs the couple that they must continue living in their house for 125 years, and ousting the Deetzes is their problem. Barbara and Adam therefore enlist the services of a bio-exorcist, the disreputable Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). Despite being still alive, Lydia meets the dead Maitlands and befriends them, amid Betelgeuse’s entertaining though unsuccessful antics.
Tim Burton’s kooky creation is, similar to his other productions, something of a live action cartoon. This notion pertains to the set, the plot, even Betelgeuse’s stylish black and white striped suit (hint: don’t wear that to the prom). The cast really deliver a phenomenal performance. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are hilarious as the clearly struggling newly-dead, and Winona Ryder is adorable as the rebellious, sweet-natured goth kid. There’s also a particularly enjoyable cameo by Robert Goulet as Charles Deetz’s boss Maxie. Michael Keaton, however, steals each scene, and though he’s not afforded nearly enough screen-time, he’s the obvious star. With his over exaggerated facial expressions, baritone drone, and copious makeup, he’s one part macabre, one part slob, and two parts laughable.
What makes “Beetlejuice” a memorable masterpiece is the incredible balance between horror and comedy. Horror elements feel more twisted funhouse than Overlook Hotel, and the slapstick humor manages to avoid a cliché delivery. There are even a few musical numbers, including a great “Day-O” scene and of course “Shake Senora,” the latter of which deserves inclusion on any Halloween playlist. With its abundance of unique elements, “Beetlejuice” manages to maintain limitless replay value, and isn’t only one of the best Halloween movies, but simply a damn good comedy. The film’s legacy spawned an animated series in 1989, and as recently as February 2014 there were even talks of a sequel. Ultimately, like a hunk of black licorice, “Beetlejuice” is equally parts treat and trick.