Beetlejuice gives us the age-old battle of the hipsters versus the yuppies. It plucked the Banana Boat song out of obscurity and made goth mainstream. Burton was restrained; Baldwin was attractive. I still have no idea what the hell either Dick Cavett or Robert Goulet are doing in this film, but it works.
Every time I watch Beetlejuice I notice something different. For instance, tonight I just realized that the pushy realtor was the same lady who played Spalding Grey’s wife in True Stories, and that the janitor was the same guy who explains the legend of Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
Also, it struck me for the first time during this viewing that much of the comedy is derived from the fact that the Maitlands are a little bit stupid, both because, when confronted with two shovels and a grave that reads “here lies Beetlejuice,” they don’t know what to do, and because the things which read to them “like stereo instructions” from the Handbook For the Recently Deceased make perfect sense to me. But then, perhaps the disconnect is that they don’t seem to be horror fans; they don’t even know what Night of the Living Dead is!
There are too many one-liners and zingers to count in this flick. There are great sight gags, like Geena Davis floating off the bed, all the dead folks in the caseworker’s waiting room, and Otho’s horror at being put into a leisure suit. There is situational humor, like making suicides into forced civil servants.
And then there’s Michael Keaton, in the performance that ensures I will not quit campaigning for his return to the A-list until one of us goes off to battle sandworms in 125 years of purgatory. He’s Clint Eastwood, using the phrase “little pards,” and then he’s David Lee Roth in a “guide” hat. He’s Bloody Mary’s horny male counterpart, three years before Candyman. Also, “I’ll eat anything you want me to eat, I’ll swaller anything you want me to swaller, come on down, I’ll chew on the dog” is one of my favorite lines in any movie, ever.
Best of all, there’s no denying that this is not just a comedy but a horror comedy. There’s the room of lost souls, there are various instances of body horror for the Maitlands, and Beetlejuice himself gives us a very menacing undercurrent even as he dominates all his scenes with manic jokes. This is horror, no doubt, but it’s horror the whole family can enjoy. Still, I’m not sure this would get a PG rating if it came out today, although the parents would probably be more disturbed than the kids. When I watch it now I’m glad for the umpteenth time that my dad was a product of the 60s who took me to see sick movies like this.
Beetlejuice even has messages of tolerance and the rewards of self sacrifice. It touts solving your own problems as well as loving your family unit whether blood or blend, dead or alive. It makes the case that love does survive death. It’s a great example of why you should watch plenty of horror movies so you’ll know what to do in a paranormal situation. Finally, it serves as a reminder to study for your math test, because you never know when L.L. Bean-wearing spirits are going to invite you to calypso dance.