A couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) decide to spend their two weeks vacation at home working on their house, when quite unexpectedly they die in a car crash. They find themselves haunting their home and are tethered to it, unable to leave, and are appalled when new owners move in from New York, intent on renovating the house into a modern art spectacle. The Maitlands seem to have just one option – hire Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a self-confessed bio-exorcist, to help them rid their home of these unwanted inhabitants, but unfortunately he turns out to be a little more than they bargained for.
I’m pretty sure this was my first time seeing Beetlejuice in full. I’ve seen clips here and there, particularly the Banana Boat Song dinner sequence, but this was my first beginning-to-end screening and, I’m afraid to say, I was quite disappointed. I hear a lot of people talk about this film with joy and happiness in their voice, but other than a couple of positives I was largely bored. I don’t think I laughed at all through the entire film, nor did I particularly care for the plight of any character. I almost cared about Adam and Barbara, but there’s so little to their characters that I just couldn’t find anything to latch onto, and was happier spending time with the new family (Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and her stylist, Glenn Shadix) because at least they were entertainingly annoying.
On the plus side, Michael Keaton is fantastic, and absolutely steals the show, despite feeling like he’s only in maybe a third of it. I can’t recall exactly at what point he showed up, but the time before he arrived felt like it really dragged, and when he was on screen it just flew by. The character of Beetlejuice is an anarchic, boisterous, vile and generally dislikeable being, but Keaton makes watching him wreck havoc hugely entertaining. From his western-themed TV commercial to the bit where he turns into a giant bannister-snake, I never knew what he was going to do next, which only made his inevitable decline into predictable antagonism an even greater disappointment. His energy helped buoy the film along and his monologues were a lot of fun (“I lived through the black plague and had a pretty great time, and I’ve seen The Exorcist 176 times and it keeps getting funnier!”) but he was perhaps too much for the rest of this film to take, overpowering and tipping over the boat that was otherwise hardly moving.
The effects are also phenomenal, especially when you consider they’re entirely practical. There’s a nice blend of models, stop-motion and how-the-heck-did-they-do-that weird-ness, all of which was a highlight for me. Whether it’s Alec Baldwin forcing his hand up inside his own mouth to create a chicken-like comb sticking out of his head, Geena Davis sleeping in mid-air or the girl in the waiting room who has been severed in two, there’s some innovative and very effective stuff on display here that should be commended. In fact, the production design in the waiting room makes the film worth watching alone. There’s such a lot going on in these scenes that I have to recommend the film purely just so you can see a guy with a shark on his leg, a team of un-dead football players and a green-skinned, red-haired receptionist laughing about having killed herself.
I can understand why the character of Beetlejuice has ascended into the echelons of popular culture, but I think he is the only part of this film worth remembering, and even then he isn’t a huge part of it. The rest of the film is predominantly lacklustre and, other than a scene or moment here and there I can’t find anything else to enjoy.
Choose Film 5/10