Ask a bunch of movie goers what their favorite Tim Burton movie from the 1980s is, I would guess most would say Batman – the one with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Myself? I would have to go with Bettlejuice which also features Michael Keaton. The film is such a bizarre take on ghosts and the afterlife and can actually be pretty damn funny at the same time. In fact, to this day Beetlejuice remains one of Michael Keaton’s favorite characters which is particularly ironic because he was initially inclined to turn down this role.
Adam and Barbara Maitland (played by Alec Bladwin and Geena Davis) are a fairly nondescript married couple who are enjoying the process of restoring their home. Adam is also very proud of a model of their town that he has built and keeps in their attic. I normally would not comment on the town model but it is strangely prominent throughout the movie. On their way back home after a trip into town, the Maitlands are killed when their vehicle goes off a bridge and into the river. Believe me, I am not giving away any key spoilers here – all of this takes place less than 9 minutes into the movie.
The house is eventually purchased by another couple played by Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone). Their daughter, Lydia, is played by a very young Winona Ryder and is quite emo – long before “emo” was a thing. The Maitlands do not like this other family in their home and do their best to frighten them away to no avail.
Despite their best efforts, Adam and Barbara cannot get any living people to even notice them. Even worse, any attempts to leave the house sends the ghostly couple to Saturn (don’t ask). They eventually notice advertisements for a spirit named Betelgeuse who promotes himself as a bio-exorcist – a spirit who terrifies the living.
What comes next is one of the film’s highlights. Adam and Barbara find their way to the afterlife equivalent of Social Services. Here we see other people who have passed away and the office is staffed by the spirits of those who committed suicide (if you kill yourself you become a civil servant).
After finding little help at the office, Adam and Barbara take Betegeuse up on his offer but promptly change their minds when they realize he is just too violent. After befriending young Lydia, the ghostly couple decides to simply share their house but one crafty human has realized the place is haunted and begins a plan that could be dangerous for Adam and Barbara. I won’t share anymore of the story here but I hope you check out the film for yourself.
Interestingly enough, Beetlejuice was originally intended to be a very scary movie with the titular character being a winged demon that attempts to rape Lydia. I think it was probably for the best that the movie was ultimately changed to a bizarre comedy instead. Even though it ranks among Michael Keaton’s favorites from his filmography Alec Baldwin is said to hate it. That is partly understandable since Adam is a pretty bland character.
With that said, Beetlejuice is a fine film for your Halloween get-togethers – particularly if you have younger people in the family and don’t want to play something that is too scary.