Well, after the travesty that was Transylvania 6-5000, you would think that the actors involved would not be very keen to sign up for another horror/comedy flick. And you would be wrong! A mere three years later two of the stars of Transylvania 6-5000 did indeed appear in another horror/comedy. The big difference was that this flick was actually funny.
The Geffen Film Company, 1988, 92 minutes, PG
actors: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffery Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Wynona Ryder, Michael Keaton, Sylvia Sidney, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez.
director: Tim Burton
Taxonomy: Death as humor flick.
Bluntly: Fun early Tim Burton mass market weirdness.
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are a sweet, dorky and hopelessly in love couple living in a small town in Connecticut. Adam’s hobby is building a scale model of his beloved little town in the attic of the old farmhouse in which the couple live. Barbara is his sweet pretty New England country gal wife. On the way home from a trip to the local general store to get supplies for the model, Adam and Barbara die when they try to avoid hitting a stray dog. Their yellow Volvo station wagon tumbles off a covered bridge and into the river. Later that evening, they find themselves at home and slowly come to the realization that they did not in fact survive the crash. Barbara points out that they have no reflections in the mirror and they find a book entitled ‘Handbook for the Recently Deceased.’ The book seems to be hard reading and they don’t pay much attention to it.
The Maitlands soon learn that if they try to leave their house, they end up in a strange desert world with odd purple trees and giant threatening sandworms. They realize that they are trapped in their house. This does not seem like a big deal as they love their old farmhouse anyway.
Well, with the Maitlands dead the house goes up for sale and is bought by Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffery Jones and Catherine O’Hara), an obnoxious yuppie couple from New York. The Deetz’s daughter, Lydia (Wynona Ryder), is a proto-Goth chick who dresses in black, enjoys annoying her stepmother Delia and is an amateur photographer. Charles is an overworked real estate developer who simply wants some peace and quiet in the country. Delia is an pompous shrill who thinks her horrid modern sculpture is actually art.
In addition to the Deetzes, their interior designer Otho (Glenn Shadix) shows up. While Charles thinks the house is charming, Delia and Otho think it is in bad need or redesign and immediately begin spray painting the names of the colors they want on the vintage wallpaper. Soon they are ripping the house apart and turning it into an ugly art nouveau monstrosity.
The Maitlands have locked themselves in the attic, but soon they cannot stand what has become of their farmhouse. They set out to scare the Deetzes away. There follow some great scenes where Barbara is hanging in the closet and pulls her face off when Delia and Otho open the door. Then she is found standing in the den with a knife and Adam’s severed head in her hands while his body stands nonchalantly nearby. Unfortunately, because they are new at this dead thing, no living person can see or hear the Maitlands.
Cut to a scene of a dirty guy reading a newspaper that has a headline announcing that sandworm activity is up 13%. The guy remarks that he needs a job, turns to the obituary section and we see a picture of Adam and Barbara with the caption, ‘Please welcome THE MAITLANDS.’
Adam and Barbara find an ad for Betelgeuse in the handbook and soon see a TV commercial with Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) acting like a used car salesman and claiming to be ‘the afterlifes leading bio-exorcist.’ Betelgeuse tells them all they have to do to get help from him is say his name three times.
Well, Adam and Barbara eventually make it to the waiting room in the afterlife and meet their caseworker Juno (veteran character actress Sylvia Sidney). Juno tells the Maitlands that they must haunt their house for 125 years. When they ask her for some help getting rid of the Deetzes, Juno tells them that everything is covered in the handbook. They mention Betelgeuse and Juno tells them that he used to be her assistant and that he is bad news. They should just scare the Deetzes off by themselves. The scenes in the afterlife waiting room and offices are great! You notice that all the employees seem to be people that have killed themselves. Juno has a huge gash in her throat that her cigarette smoke drifts out of, there is a office worker who glides along a cable lead because he is still hanging from a noose and the receptionist (the lovely Patrice Martinez covered in green make-up) is an ex Miss Argentina who slashed her wrists!
Anyway, the Maitlands get back home to discover the horrible redecoration and try to scare off the Deetzes by putting sheets over themselves (so as to be seen) and moaning! This fails miserably, and we discover that Lydia can see and hear Adam and Barbara! Why? Because she wants to die or some stupid shit like that. She also read a bit of the handbook when she broke into the attic while the Maitlands were in the afterlife.
Frustrated and desperate, Adam and Barbara look to Betelgeuse – which everyone pronounces “Beetlejuice” for help. Well, actually he haunts Adam’s model town and cons them into meeting him. Michael Keaton is great in this role! Beetlejuice is a moldy, crazy, manic and very horny ghost! He kisses and comes on to Barbara several times including lifting her skirt. After a short exchange where Beetlejuice proves how scary he can be, and reveals some lustful feelings for Lydia, the Maitlands decide against his help. When Barbara says home three times, she and Adam are back in the attic looking down at a tiny Beetlejuice who calls then losers.
With Lydia’s help Adam and Barbara come up with a new plan and spring it on Charles and Delia while they are entertaining some artsy fartsy New York friends. Unfortunately, the plan is more silly than scary and Charles comes up with the hair-brained idea to turn the town into a haunted amusement park and resort!
Well! Adam and Barbara try to protect Lydia from Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice tries to trick Lydia into summoning him and all Hell breaks loose when Otho gets his hands on the handbook and uses it during a seance in order to convince Charles’s boss that the house is actually haunted!
Babeage: Geena Davis is more sweet than hot in this one and as I mentioned above the gorgeous Latin actress Patrice Martinez is less than perfectly presented as a dead receptionist. Ah well, can’t have everything.
Sleazeploitation: Beetlejuice’s intentions with Lydia are a bit disturbing, but they are covered with so much humor that the sleaze goes unnoticed. Except by me. Of course.
Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: Wow! A ton of dead folk! Sandworms – now admit it, a movie with sandworms has to be cool! Otho, and of course, Wynona Ryder.
Violence: Beetlejuice munches on a few bugs.
Gore & FX: Plenty! But of a decidedly innocent and silly nature. This was the film that really let folks know how odd Tim Burton could be!
Adam after starting to read the handbook – “I don’t see anything about Heaven or Hell. This book reads like stereo instructions!”
Barbara – “What’s the good of being a ghost if you can’t frighten people away!?”
Lydia when told by Charles that they will build her a darkroom – “My whole life is a darkroom. One…big…dark…room.”
During the dinner party Charles offers this toast – “May all your buildings go condo!”
Charles describes the architect he plans to hire to make the resort – “He’s the genius who gave us the talking Marcel Marceau statue – it was a sensation!”
Otho – “You know what they say about people who commit suicide – in the afterlife they become civil servants!”
Bernard (Dick Cavett), one of the dinner party guests – “Delia you are a flake. You have always been a flake. If you insist on frightening people, do it with your sculpture.”
Juno – “Never trust the living!”
A fly that Beetlejuice is about to eat – “Help me! Help me!”
Beetlejuice – I’m feelin’ a little, ooh, anxious, if ya know what I mean. It’s been about 600 years after all. I wonder where a guy, an everyday Joe like myself, can find a little action!”
Beetlejuice when asked about his qualifications – “Ah. Well, I attended Juilliard. I’m a graduate of the Harvard business school. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time during that. I’ve seen The Exorcist about a hundred and sixty-seven times, and it just keeps getting funnier and funnier every single time I see it!”
Beetlejuice when he is finally summoned – “It’s showtime!”
Moral: Never swerve to avoid running over a little dog.
Beetle Juice is a fun movie. It moves along well and tells the haunted house story from the ghost’s perspective, and it does all that without mentioning religion at all. It would be great to show during a Halloween party. It is family friendly, but some of the effects might scare very young children. This film is sure to spark some discussion about Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and movies in general.
A word about the title; since it is a character’s name, it would make sense for it to be one word, Beetlejuice. This is the way the title appears on the DVD box. However, at the beginning of the film it appears as two words, Beetle Juice. Odd.
If you like the music of Harry Belefonte, then this flick will do ya good!
What kind of beer do you drink while watching a movie full of people with dark eye make-up?
Black Eye Ale
Olde Saratoga Brewing (Mendocino Brewing Company, Hopland, California, USA)
31 Excelsior Ave., Saratoga Springs, New York, USA
Ah the Black and Tan! A true ale lover’s treat. When a bartender makes a Black and Tan he draws half a glass of amber ale and then he “floats” half a glass of stout on top of the amber ale. This often requires the use of a special spoon. Because the stout is less dense than the ale, the result is a glass that is amber (or tan) on the bottom and black on top. Some say you should not try to mix the two brews while you drink, others say that mixing is fine. But all agree, a real Black and Tan is a mixed drink and should always start out as a bi-colored glass.
Because of this, many beer snobs do not think kindly of bottled Black and Tan. There is no way to keep the brews separate in the bottle and therefore what you have is a blended ale. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not a Black and Tan.
That is why I was happy to see that Black Eye Ale is labeled as a blended ale. The brew is a blend of Mendocino’s Black Hawk Stout and Eye of the Hawk Ale.
ABV: 6.50% IBU: I would guess in the 30 – 40 range.
Color: A deep honey amber brown, not quite what I have heard referred to as “mahogany.”
Aroma: Sweet and malty, not overpowering, it only hints at what the taste will reveal.
Head: Small bubbled tight persistent head with the tiny nitrogen bubbles typical of stouts.
Taste: Sweet and rich, silky but not cloying. The nutty slightly spicey start moves into a rich coffeeish middle which leads to a nice clean bitter finish and aftertase on the back of the palate. Not much hop character, but there is a dryness to this brew that helps cut the richness.
Recommendation: Black Eye Ale is a very nice blended ale that shows how good a mixed Black and Tan can taste. This beer would make a good introduction to stout or the Black and Tan for those who have never tried them. However, Black Eye Ale is a seasonal product so you may have to seek it out. Happy hunting! Recommended.
There is also a drink called a Black and Velvet – stout and champagne! Never tried it, but would sure like to! It must be great with oysters!