Monday, February 9, 2015

Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuice: written by Michael McDowell, Larry Wilson, and Warren Skaaren; directed by Tim Burton; starring Alec Baldwin (Adam), Geena Davis (Brenda), Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse), Catherine O'Hara (Delia), Jeffrey Jones (Charles), Winona Ryder (Lydia), and Glenn Shadix (Otho) (1988): Beetlejuice stands as testimony to the occasional correctness of the original formulation of Auteur Theory: that the Hollywood system allowed directors to be more stylistically themselves by taking away at least some of the decision-making about the manifest content of a film. Tim Burton certainly adds something to the mix, a very good something, but he's controlled in part by a witty, imaginative (and much rewritten) script. The result is one of the ten great horror-comedies of all time, concise yet packed with amusing detail and amusing performances. 

That the afterlife posited by the film is undeniably awful is part of the joke. All the performances sparkle, from Michael Keaton's anarchic Betelgeuse (more Joker than Batman) through skinny Alec Baldwin and young Amazon Geena Davis's bemused recently dead couple all the way to a young, Goth Winona Ryder, her annoying parents (including Catherine O'Hara in a rare film role as her art-world-pretentious mother), and the late, great character actor Glenn Shadix as unctuous hanger-on Otho (!). Cartoony as hell, and spiked throughout with amusingly rubbery stop-motion monsters and real-world monster make-up. The oddball insertion of a whole lot of calypso music just adds to the anarchic weirdness of the enterprise. Highly recommended.

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