When I was a kid, there were three movies that I was absolutely obsessed with: Monster Squad, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and Beetlejuice (I guess that really explains a lot about me). Last year, I celebrated Monster Squad’s 25th Birthday, and this year I’m happy to do the same for Beetlejuice.
Tim Burton has had a very interesting career of hits and misses; he started off on an amazing filmmaking streak, but soon fell into a slump of making essentially the same film over and over (and over) again. Of all of the films in his career however, BeetleJuice is my favorite (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is an insanely close second), and also happens to be the most visually interesting.
The story of Beetlejuice begins shortly after the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. While working out a deal to begin production of Batman, Burton was handed various scripts (Including Hot For Trot, the talking horse movie starring John Candy and Bobcat Goldthwait). This is where he discovered an unproduced script by Michael McDowell. Burton took the dark script and made it more humorous; just how dark was this movie you ask?
Well, remember in the beginning of the film, the Maitlands (Geena Davis & Alec Baldwin) car falls off a bridge (with them in it), and that’s it (spoiler alert… c’mon, it’s been 25 years)? In the original script, they graphically hit the water with Barbara’s arm getting crushed and the pair screaming for help as they drown in the river below. Furthermore, Beetlejuice (a winged demon disguised as a Middle-Eastern Man) plans to kill the Deetzes and rape Lydia (Winona Ryder). There are a few films in existence that I wish I could see the original, darker version (1993’s Cool World for example), but Beetlejuice is not one of them.
While Beetlejuice is hardly a kid’s film, it did inspire a children’s cartoon (weirder things have happened; The Toxic Avenger also spawned a children’s cartoon around this same time), as well as a line of toys. Strangely enough, the toys were based on movie characters as opposed to the TV series.
I watched this movie more times than I can even attempt to calculate. While she was a guest on the Mother’s Day episode of my podcast, my mom told the story of when 5 year old me did my “Beetlejuice Impression”, which involved me kicking a nearby tree, grabbing my crotch and yelling “Nice Fucking Model” at the top of my lungs at the playground.
Years have not aged this film even a little bit. It still retains every second of comedy, excitement and entertainment that it had in 1988. When he began making this film, Burton made the decision to only put $1 Million of the budget towards special effects. He believed that lower budget effects (such as stop motion) would give the film a nice B-movie feel with purposely fake looking effects. It’s because of those visual decisions that the movie survives visually, while CGI heavy films from just a few years ago already look weird and dated.
Even more impressive is how little the titular character is actually in the film. We all remember the character vividly because of Michael Keaton’s pitch perfectly over the top performance. He’s so memorable that it’s easy to forget he only has 17 minutes of screen time. Despite this, Keaton has openly stated that BeetleJuice is his favorite film that he’s been in (Not Mutiplicity!).
I can understand why; this movie does not have a ton of influences, since there is nothing else out there that even remotely looks like it (that’s including Tim Burton’s filmography). It did, however, make a fuck-ton of a money (that’s a measurement, right?), and a faithful fanbase all these years later. Just check out what these fine Minecrafters built in celebration!
With the massive success of this truly original picture, the studio desperately wanted to make a sequel; enter Beetlejuice goes Hawaiian. The whole premise being a visual joke that Burton came up with. He thought it’d be hilarious to mash German Expressionism with 50’s Surf movies. The Maitlands would be long gone as the Deetzes have moved to Hawaii and discover that they’re on an ancient burial ground. When a spirit comes from the afterlife and creates trouble, Lydia has no choice but to summon Beetlejuice to save them. Keaton and Ryder agreed to do the film, but Burton was tied up making Batman movies.
Over the years, a few people were approached for rewrites, including Daniel Waters (Heathers) and Kevin Smith (Clerks), but as the years went on the film became less and less likely to get made. The film will most likely never be produced due the fact that Winona is far too old to play Lydia. Well, too old for BeetleJuice Goes Hawaiian anyways. In 2011 Warner Brothers hired Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) to write and produce a sequel. They promised a story worthy of a sequel, Tim Burton directing, and most importantly, Michael Keaton back as Beetlejuice. There has been very little word about it since.
No film has blended comedy, surrealism and horror in the last 25 years even half as uniquely as Beetlejuice successfully did. Maybe the sequel/remake/reboot/whatever will be able to, but I’ll be skeptical until that day comes.
Happy Birthday, BeetleJuice.