This supernatural comedy, one of Tim Burton’s finest works, is vibrant and bold, with a sharp wit. It captures the essence of the 1980s, with its ridiculous style and commentary on consumerism during the Reagan era. The cast, including Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the Maitlands, a couple who tragically die in a car accident, is exceptional. As they return home, it takes them some time to come to terms with their death, despite the obvious hints from the Handbook for the Recently Deceased and the bizarre, colorful afterlife just outside their front door.
Unfortunately for the Maitlands, their misfortunes do not end with their recent deaths. Their beloved home on the hill is purchased by the Deetzes, a wealthy New York family (featuring Winona Ryder as the rebellious teenage daughter), who proceed to give it a tasteless, contemporary makeover with the help of their unpleasant interior designer, Otho. The Maitlands’ attempts to frighten the new residents prove ineffective, as they are simply too kind-hearted. In fact, the Deetzes view the presence of ghosts as a profitable gimmick. This is where Betelgeuse, the undead “bio-exorcist”, enters the picture. Portrayed with irresistible enthusiasm by Michael Keaton, he is a wild combination of Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, and Krusty the Clown.
The plot almost derails, but what makes Beetlejuice appealing is its execution. The film is filled with creative visuals and sharp humor. The afterlife is portrayed as a dark, bureaucratic system while the living world is equally eccentric, particularly with its striking set designs and costumes (although, for me, the only flaw is that the house looks even better after its renovation). Burton’s unique talent and imaginative ideas were refreshing at the time. His recognizable Dr. Seuss-inspired gothic style was still grounded in reality.