Beetlejuice (1988) Movie Review – 31 days of Halloween

Horror, Fantasy, Comedy | 92 Min
Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Actors: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton, Glenn Shadix
  • Writers: Larry Wilson, Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren
  • Producers: Michael Bender, Larry Wilson, Richard Hashimoto
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Mild Peril, Language, Rude Humour, Some Violence
  • Horror, Fantasy, Comedy | 92 Min

The spirits of a deceased couple are harassed by an unbearable family that has moved into their home and hire a malicious spirit to drive them out.

It’s day 23 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and it’s time for another Tim Burton classic. So for those of you who aren’t keeping count, which is likely all of you. That’s three Tim Burton movies in this year’s countdown to Halloween with us previously having reviewed Frankenweenie and Sweeney Todd.

Now that might seem like a lot of Burton but, let’s be real for a minute. What other director epitomises Halloween quite like Tim Burton does? And you are not allowed to say John Carpenter. That’s too easy! So many of his movies are perfect options for October. 

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

I suppose I should have covered a few of them last year really. I did end up reviewing Sleepy Hollow as part of our Fall Horror Feature and The Nightmare Before Christmas as part of our Awful Advent feature. Anyways, on with the review.

A Movie Icon

Beetlejuice follows the story of a pair of recently deceased ghosts (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) attempting to rid their home of an obnoxious family that recently moved in. Unable to scare them away on their own. They enlist the help of “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton). Little do they realise that the obnoxious being has other ideas for them and the youngest member of the house Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder).

I imagine the vast majority of people from the west know Beetlejuice all too well. After all, most of us will have grown up with the movie. Beetlejuice is something of an icon. With the character spawning all kinds of merchandise and even an animated television series produced and developed by Tim Burton himself.

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

Over here in the UK, the movie is often thrown on over Christmas or during October. With cinemas frequently screening it in the run up to Halloween, something that Cineworld are actually doing this year. In fact, the last two times I caught Beetlejuice was Christmas 2021 and Halloween 2018 when my fiancee and I watched it in the cinema.

Fantasy Comedy Horror Fun

I suppose this is another movie that could be classed as cheating just a little bit. I mean, it’s not, strictly speaking, horror is it? It’s more of a fantasy comedy horror adjacent. But that isn’t going to stop us featuring Beetlejuice in our countdown to Halloween because it’s the perfect October movie. Whether it’s the themes of spirits and the afterlife or the quirky horror visuals. Beetlejuice was made for horror fans.

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

Beetlejuice shows off Burton at his most wild and creative. With him taking an eccentric and grandiose character and placing him centre stage to manipulate the world and the people around him like a marionette. Tim Burton has a knack for creating iconic characters and this movie is no exception. Beetlejuice is a detestable person but he somehow manages to almost be second in grotesqueness to the cold and materialistic Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara) and her friends. A group keen to exploit the spirits that live in the house.

Most directors couldn’t pull this type of movie off but Burton makes it look easy. Seamlessly blending the spirit world with the everyday mundane human one and making it, somehow, seem believable. It works on a number of levels thanks to its well formed outsider friendly story and legitimately funny script. And there are even a number of legitimately touching moments. Beetlejuice is a great introduction to horror for older children and a great movie for adults to watch on Halloween as well.

Too Little Beetlejuice?

It is, however, also one of those movies that might take a few viewings to genuinely fall in love with. Despite the promise of bunches of the eponymous character Beetlejuice, he actually features very little. The story is far more concerned with the emotional struggles of our ghostly couple and the disconnection Lydia feels with the family around her. Beetlejuice promises one thing but delivers on something rather different. Which may put a few people off. Especially those that go into the movie expecting 92 minutes of Michael Keaton riffing on the people around him.

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough of Beetlejuice, however. His character steals focus immediately and can actually feel quite out of place given the story of the movie. Keaton delivers his performance loud, vulgar, and in your face and while this is both memorable and fantastically enjoyable. It’s also a lot to take in and each scene that features him changes the flow of the movie dramatically. It’s almost a film of two halves. Both parts could work independently of each other because they both feel very disparate. 

You could make the argument that, when the movie is taken as a whole, Beetlejuice feels a bit shoehorned in. It’s almost as if he was placed there to give the movie a little more bite. A little more punch and a little more attitude. This is, being completely honest, Lydia, Barbara and Adam’s story. And every appearance by Beetlejuice takes something away from that. So the small amount of him that features, in my opinion, turns out to be plenty. 

Hilarious Special Effects

Visuals are a bunch of fun here. I mentioned Beetlejuice in my review of Evil Dead II. The special effects in both of these movies share a lot in common. Much of that is probably down to the fact that only $1 million of the budget here was devoted to special effects. When you consider that the team had to create an entire after life, a whole bunch of various spirits, a massive snake like creature and a bunch of environmental effects. It is no surprise that this movie looks as quirky as it does.

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

Beetlejuice’s special effects are a trip. They have aged terribly and probably didn’t look that good at the time. It all sort of adds to the charm, though. When you combine some of the wonky stop motion and rubbery looking character designs with Tim Burton’s very unique visual style. You are creating something that will be instantly memorable and that’s what Beetlejuice is. It is a movie full of memorable moments. Be it the Deetz family and their friends dancing around the table to Day-O (a scene that is well loved but I absolutely hate for some reason) or Beetlejuice’s hilarious ranting (“I’ve seen the Exorcist about 167 times and it keeps getting funnier each time I see it”). Beetlejuice is full of iconic scenes and quotable lines.

An Iconic Performance

I’ll only briefly go into the acting here as this cast is ridiculous. We have Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Glenn Shadix and even Robert Goulet in a small role. That’s just off the top of my head, as well. A few of these are frequent Burton collaborators and you can tell he has let them run rampant a bit. I am not the world’s biggest O’Hara fan but she is fantastic here. Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are legitimately sympathetic as our soon to be displaced spirits. Winona Ryder is excellent as the young outsider Lydia. And Shadix is a bunch of fun as he always was.

Beetlejuice (1988) Horror Movie Review

This is, obviously, the Michael Keaton show, however, and he is sensational. Keaton was instrumental in creating the look of Beetlejuice and it would be more than fair to say that he made the character. Keaton ad-libbed the majority of his lines and seemingly viewed the script as, at the very least, mostly optional. The result is one of the most memorable cinema characters of the 80’s and an instantly recognisable media icon to this day. The fact that we are still talking about this movie and a potential sequel to this day. Is in no small part down to Michael Keaton’s perfect performance. 

Final Thoughts and Score

Beetlejuice makes you think you are going to be watching a malevolent character getting up to mischief for 90+ minutes only to flip the script on you. It is, in actual fact, a fairly deep story about people feeling displaced and disconnected while trying to hold onto their place in the world. On top of that, it is a viciously funny movie with a whole bunch of memorable moments, some legitimately hilarious scenes and a character that is among the most memorable in cinema. A perfect option for the run up to Halloween. Beetlejuice is a must watch. 

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