Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


October 30, 2014

Horror for All Seasons

Tim explains the difficulty of choosing a Halloween movie for the whole family.

Before I jump into this topic, let me set the mood:  The temperature has dropped, the days are shorter, and the urge to stay inside watching movies has grown even greater than normal.  If you're like me (if you're reading this, you probably are), then you have those traditional movies, ones you save for special times of the year.  For example, every Thanksgiving, I watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  

However, nothing beats Halloween. In terms of sheer volume and grandeur of movie marathon expectations, this is my most anticipated time of year. I compile a list of the horror and zombie movies that I will eventually indulge in: One night I'll binge watch Return of the Living DeadPoltergeist, Halloween, It, and Hellraiser.  Another I'll marathon Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Daybreakers, Ghostbusters, Alien, and 30 Days of Night.  You get the picture. Whether in my lonesome or with other horror connoisseurs, anything goes on Halloween.

But nowadays, its not just me I have to worry about. Since getting engaged, I find myself struggling to balance my impulse to watch as many Halloween movies as possible with the need to spend good quality time with my fiancée. Simple solution, right?  Just watch those movies I was going to watch alone, but with her! Shell love them! Right? Turns out some people have different opinions about what people shouldnt be watching and whats disgusting and horrible.  And look, I dont fault those people, especially not ones I am about to marry.  Were really having trouble finding middle ground, though. She loves Hocus Pocus, but eventually kooky witch comedies just don't do it for me anymore. I love John Carpenter's The Thing, but if I ever want to see my fiancée again, its just not an option for "couple's night." And so my challenge becomes to find Halloween movies that are not scary; something that will satiate my appetite for gruesome horror without alienating the fairer sex.  First, I tried the ever-popular horror/comedy blends like Shaun of the Dead and Young Frankenstein. Some success there, but we only made it a few minutes into Idle Hands before she lost interest. I came close to considering this all a futile enterprise.

But then I found the one movie that the two of us can watch year in and year out, the perfect blend of comedy and creepiness. Its something Ive seen dozens of times that just keeps getting funnier.  Its something that can only be summoned calling out its name, not once or twice, but thrice. I am talking, of course, about 1988s Beetlejuice

From the trademark Danny Elfman-scored title scene to the Jump in the linedance sequence before the credits roll, I am in love with this movie.  Not only is it my favorite Michael Keaton role, but its hands-down my favorite Tim Burton film. Beetlejuices stylized character and set design lovingly show off the directors trademark environments. Though theyd eventually become parodies of themselves in Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they work perfectly here. More importantly, its something my fiancée and I can both agree on.

The world of Beetlejuice gives us ghost and ghouls, but also the mundane day-to-day life of rural Connecticut.  Some of the humor comes from the recently diseased (I mean deceased) Maitland's inability to scare their new tenants, the Deetzs from New York City.  This numbed family consists of Charles Deetz (the loveable and dopey Jeffrey Jones), Delia Deetz (Catherine OHara doing her best crazy step-mother), and Lydia Deetz (a young and disturbed Winona Ryder).  

Early attempts to ward off the family fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.  The best scares the Maitlands can conjure up at first are your basic holes-in-sheets gags. Not great. Cue the original bio-exorcist himself, Beetlejuice (Keaton). Beetlejuice is essentially the sleezy, used car salesman of the afterlife, all the way down to low-budgetlocal television ad for his services.  And thank God this is the direction Tim Burton went.  Imagine Betelgeuse if he were made as it was originally scripted, as a winged demon that could take many forms and wanted to force himself on Lydia Deetz instead of manipulating their marriage in the final act of the movie.  This dark, violent, and rape-y interpretation was wisely rewritten to lighten to the mood of the film. Beetlejuice works because its a loony haunted house flick from the prospective of the dead instead of a straight monster movie. 

Considering the modest $15 million budget (specifically the paltry $1 million devoted to visual effects), Burton decided to pay homage to the B-movie horror effects of his childhood rather than attempt any realism. The often cartoony claymation allows a viewer like my fiancée to be sucked into the environment, but not so much as to believe what she is seeing on screen as real. Its the key for non-horror movie fans when selecting a Halloween movie.  

So while some movie-goers may enjoy the surface level humor and cool lookof the film, I watch in awe of the beautifully crafted environment.  Burton captures the bland lifestyle of the Maitlands and their town, right down to the octogenarian barber talking aimlessly about customers from who knows how many years before.   

Once moved to the afterlife, the Maitlands find a visually different but still humdrum atmosphere, where stereo-instructionsare provided to teach them all about handling life after death in The Handbook for the Recently Deceased.  Take the excerpt read by Adam Maitland (an almost unrecognizably thin Alec Baldwin): Geographical and temporal perimeters. Functional perimeters vary from manifestation to manifestation.”  Now put yourself in the shoes of the perished and tell me thats not a little funny.  Beetlejuice takes the overdone theme of the afterlife and flips it on its head.  What if after death is just like life before it, same house, same chores, same problems? Heaven, insists Barbara (the endearing Geena Davis), wouldn't be this dusty.

Finally, I cant talk about Beetlejuice without mentioning Michael Keaton. He absolutely steals the show in every scene. He taps into an insanity only briefly shown in films like Batman (You wanna get nuts? Lets get nuts!).  The entire film showcases Keatons unpredictable edge.

Beetlejuice is almost endlessly quotable. Nice fucking model!" Weve come for your daughter, Chuck.” “Learn how to throw your voice!  Fool your friends!  Fun at Parties!” Keaton’s slapstick comedy fits the character perfectly, adds to the ridiculousness, and puts non-horror audiences at ease. Need I say more than DAY-O, DAAAAY-O?

I could go on and on about this movie, but if you've read this far, you probably already like it. Keep the film in mind next time you want to show a Halloween movie to a wide audience. Hosting a Halloween party? This is the movie you want on in the background.  You may be surprised by the number of people that gravitate toward the TV. Finally, if you're like me, and those closest to you do not share your adoration for scare-your-pants-off horror, then Beetlejuice may be the happy medium to keep that relationship intact.  You don't want to end up like Delia and Charles Deetz, do you?

What do you love about Beetlejuice?  Is there a better Halloween movie to show a wide audience? Leave it in the comments!

Tim is a regular contributor to the Ugly club.

1 comment:

  1. Actually Beetlejuice is my least favorite character in the movie. And I'm a Keaton fan. Unlike some. I'm sure I love this film because of the blend of horror and comedy. Which is tricky to pull off but always keeps my attention. Great Choice!