Hello everyone. Well, it’s that time of year, where children get free candy and cult members get another chapter added to their arrest record. This is also the time of year when most arm chair critics make a list of their favorite horror movies. Well, forget that. I am not going to be tricked into making a mawkish list that no one cares about and those who do will disagree with. In the spirit of the holiday, it feels appropriate to at least review some sort of film involving the super natural and the traditional ideas of horror. For that, I turn to Tim Burton’s sophomore effort, Beetlejuice.
Ah, Beetlejuice. The film that dares ask how many random sequences constitute a film in the traditional sense. This is a film in which the only thing linking the many occurrences in the film is that it happens to them, nothing else. It is a sort of surrealist masterpiece by way of B-movie schlock. It is inventive, silly, wonderfully atmospheric, drastically dull, with good and bad special effects. It is everything and nothing. The one thing I have yet to decide is if it’s a good film.
The film is about a recently deceased couple, the Maitlands. These are, unquestionably, the two most boring people in existence. Their idea of a dream vacation is to stay at home and work on models. They listen to Harry Belafonte and dress like they are extras in a fifties sitcom. They are killed in a car crash (not nearly as graphic as it sounds) and become angry when people try to move into their old house. They try various methods to get rid of them, including hiring the titular bio exorcist (who’s name is actually taken from the constellation Betelgeuse). Once this creature gets involved, everything goes wrong.
First, praise for Michael Keaton. I can see why the film was named for his character. He’s the character that keeps the film together. Beetlejuice is exactly what the Maitlands deserve-a bizarre perverted demon who holds nothing sacred and who thinks of nothing but himself. We love him when he goes off on the Maitlands, in the same way we loved Groucho going off on Zeppo. And Keaton is so ferociously energetic he is absolutely lovable.
But the rest of the film is a delightful mess. I say delightful because it is. But it is a lot like The Fifth Element. The right elements are present in the script to make this a hit. But they never link together. Items are introduced, forgotten, reintroduced, and then completely changed.
A few questions I asked myself watching the film: what is the deal with Beetlejuice? OK, I don’t want the character completely explained. But what about the rules governing his behavior? Is he alive or dead? Why does he go back to the waiting room upon his “death?” What exactly does the exorcism of the Maitlands? What plane of existence is the afterlife on? Is it the same as Saturn’s? Why do the Maitlands not look like drowned corpses?
None of those questions are answered. Absolutely none. You cannot show me a fascinating world and then leave it unexplained. It’s like a travel agent giving a brochure to a client before announcing such a trip is out of his price range and snatching it back. The seed is there, my interest is up. Why was there no follow through?
This is not the fault of Tim Burton. Well, alright, it is, but Burton succeeded in creating the world he was called upon to create. But that is actually a failure in and of itself. Why show me this if you are not going to show me more?
I know, I know, this has so far been nothing but a fevered rant about my complaints with the script. And they are deserved. But the other right elements are there. The acting is good, the special effects amazing, and the jokes funny. So why am I not giving this a better review? Many now look upon the film as a camp Halloween classic. Can’t I just have fun?
They key word there is camp. Yes, I can have fun. If this were in the hands of a lesser director, then I would have fun. Burton is not a lesser director. He is more or less the American version of Fellini (with everything that implies). He has created fun before. Don’t chalk this up as a great success. Chalk it up as an above average sophomore effort that was thankfully topped.