Growing up I saw plenty of ghost stories on late night TV but Beetlejuice was my first experience seeing the story told from the specter’s perspective. I will always have a special place in my heart for Tim Burton’s films, both the good and the bad. They are the dark dusty old blankets that have kept me warm through the long cold nights of life as an outcast. Every one of them is a curious, whimsical celebration of the monster that is humanity and Beetlejuice is no exception to that most excellent tradition.
I have found great fantasy stories to be a carefully measured recipe containing three key ingredients: boos (the supernatural), babes (unconventionally sexy female characters) and bwahahas (dark comedy), all baked on high for an hour an a half and served fresh. Beetlejuice is that perfectly rendered treat. I wasn’t old enough to have seen the Burton movies in order. I, like most, saw his work for the first time in 1989’s Batman. But if I’d watched them in order I’d have seen have see all of the signature elements like the detailed sets, dramatic lighting and b-movie spirit that would define his later work present in here in Beetlejuice. His enthusiasm for stylish absurdity is infectious and surprisingly fully formed considering Beetlejuice is only his second feature after his feature debut with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
I highly suggest reading the original, first rewrite or shooting draft of the “Beetlejuice” script for a look into some of the crazy elements that could have been. The tone was originally leaned a lot heavier towards the horror side and featured a much more sexually threatening Beetlejuice, Charles as a writer not a developer, much more Deelia and Otho banter, a second younger child who could see the ghosts instead of Lydia and a very different collection of interactions and locations. There were lots of great jokes that never made it into the filming as well. For example during the drive into the hardware store in the beginning of the movie instead of saying “How you doing Ernie?” to the man cleaning the lion statue Adam says “Don’t forget the balls” to the statue polishing local. The writers obviously had a good time writing this movie. The characters each have their own rich and distinctive personality and though some of the funny bits got lost during rewrites there are still so many funny lines. My favorites : Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room, one big dark room”, “She’s sleeping with prince valium tonight”, “I told them you were too mean to be afraid”. Adam : “Is this what we’ve been reduced to, sheets? Think of them as death shrouds”, Charles: “What are you going to do Otho? Viciously rearrange their environment?”, Deelia: “I will go insane and I will take you with me!”.
I have often heard the plot and pacing criticized for wandering around a bit and though I do agree that it does, I don’t view that as a negative quality. Life is rarely distilled into its essence, it wanders and drags. They weren’t afraid to take their time and let you get a chance to know the characters and give screen time to the quieter moments. I’ve never understood the trend of packing so much nothing into a movie. Sure, something is always happening but is almost never anything you care about or can remember when the movie ends. Beetlejuice is like all of Burton’s movies, you have to have a love for the strange and unusual to truly enjoy it but since I myself am strange and unusual, I count it up there with my most favorite of flicks. Its one of Tim Burton’s brightest dimly lit moments.