Three decades following its 1988 release, Beetlejuice stands out amongst the many weirdly singular and gothic-inspired films from director Tim Burton. Despite Beetlejuice’s March theatrical premiere 30 years ago, its anniversary and viewing have become more of a close and personal friend of Halloween — as most movies do from the eccentrically dark Burton.
Beetlejuice unravels a morbidly bizarre, yet comical story of a young couple, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin), who want nothing more than to enjoy each other’s company in their large New England home. However, their mostly pleasing lives come to a jolting end when they are in a car accident, thrown from a bridge and into the river, where viewers can assume they drown.
Unaware that they have been killed, the couple returns to their home unsure of what had happened. Adam suggests they retrace their steps, but when he opens the front door, he finds that their lawn has been replaced with a vast desert filled with stripped snakes, much like the animation fans would see a few years later in Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Upon his return Barbara tells him he had been gone for two hours and shows him a book she had found called, Handbook for the Recently Deceased.
As time continues in its seemingly distorted fast pace, the Maitlands realize their new physical state isn’t the worst of their problems. A new (living) family wants to move into their home. These New Yorkers with the self-absorbed mother Delia (Catherine O’Hara), the oblivious father Charles (Jeffrey Jones), and the creepy, yet kind daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), become too much for the Maitlands and they try to scare them away. As their efforts continuously fail, the deceased couple takes refuge in the attic, when the television turns on, advertising a bio-exorcist named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). They are advised not to seek help from the wild and hell-bent-on-being-set-free character.
However, Barbara and Adam are soon reduced to calling upon the bio-exorcist, saying his name three times. But the Maitlands, as they were warned, find that Betelgeuse’s tactics are far too dangerous and extreme, as they have grown to care for Lydia, and have no choice but to try to help save the family there were once trying to expel from the house.
Of the many elements that have allowed Beetlejuice to endure, is Burton’s unique pop culture sensibility. Critics continue to praise the iconic director for the bold chances taken and his daring efforts to be “strange and unusual.” In the Sleepy Hollow director’s impressive lineup of films, Beetlejuice stands as the inception to be topped in the now holy grail of the Burton franchise.
Burton’s imaginative innovation is put on full display in Beetlejuice as he creates a never before seen view of the afterlife, told in an often-secondary perspective, the ghosts themselves. With an entirely original implementation of animation, stop-motion elements, and the partnership with the wondrously talented Danny Elfman, Beetlejuice introduces viewers to the now most beloved Burton-isms.
Burton is a large aspect of what makes this film what it is, what with his original story ideas, drawings, etc., but many also tip their hats to star Michael Keaton. When first viewing the film, some questioned the delayed full emergence of Betelgeuse. Although, with Keaton’s commitment to the role, Beetlejuice quickly becomes the stage-stealing villain, who causes complete chaos when he transforms into a large snake and tries to marry Lydia.
Keaton’s performance as the freelance bio-exorcist perfectly compliments the quirkiest elements of the film, including the comic book feel and the cartoon sound effects. 30 years later, some critics suggest that Keaton’s most memorable, successful and iconic role lies in this very Burton classic. While he did go on to work with Burton a year later in Batman, viewers were shown a far less raucous-causing Keaton. He did appear in multiple films that were awarded Best Picture, but for fans of the brasher and darkly comedic performance, Keaton’s resume has since lacked in Beetlejuice-esque characters.
Cue Hollywood’s rumor mill. As the anniversary of Beetlejuice drew nearer, hushed murmurs of a possible sequel to the 1988 film circulated. Reportedly, Burton himself had asked Dark Shadows screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith to pen a sequel to the beloved supernatural-comedy classic. But, according to Time Magazine , the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children director said nothing official is in the works. Burton, a well-known hesitant of sequels, said Beetlejuice is not a film that “cries out for a sequel. (…) it’s not the Beetlejuice trilogy.” The director of the 1988 film said he would only move forward on the idea if everything felt right.
Burton also released that he had spoken with both Ryder and Keaton, who would be an absolute must for any hopes of a successful sequel. However, with both actors from the original film working on large projects such as Keaton’s recent signing with Marvel and Ryder’s award-nominated performance in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, it doesn’t seem like the pair would be available for a reunion onscreen anytime soon.
Besides, maybe as a film so highly praised for its originality, Beetlejuice should simply be left in its original glory.