Golden Oldies: Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton's outlandish horror-comedy has even had the musical treatment, but the film remains a firm favourite with fans

Rachael McCreanor
2nd March 2021
Image Credit: IMDb

Spoiler warning!

It has been over thirty years since the world was blessed with Tim Burton’s 1988 masterpiece, Beetlejuice, and yet it remains one of the best examples of both Burton’s signature directorial style and the classic 80s horror-comedy genre we have come to know and love. 

Now something of a cult classic, Beetlejuice follows the adventures of Barbara and Adam Maitland, a recently deceased couple who find themselves haunting their home and their fateful employment of Beetlejuice, an obnoxious poltergeist who promises to rid their home of its new inhabitants – the eccentric Deetz family. Along with a brilliant story and Burton’s iconic directorial stylisations, Beetlejuice also benefits from a stellar cast. Featuring the likes of Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Catherine O’Hara, Michael Keaton (I will never look at Spiderman: Homecoming (2019) the same), as well as one of the most legendary actresses of our time – Winona Ryder in only her second, yet perhaps most celebrated, role. 

It is the perfect balance of comedy, horror and outlandish surrealism  

Beetlejuice is a perfect concoction of comedic dialogue – most predominantly from Beetlejuice himself and Catherine O’Hara’s eccentric Delia Deetz – surrealist plot and the aesthetic brilliance we expect from Tim Burton. One of the standout parts of the film is the classic 80s horror FX that punctuate the film’s narrative. From human faces morphing into grotesque beasts made up of ninety percent teeth, to the giant sandworm that crashes through the roof with Barbara on its back, swallowing Beetlejuice whole, there is little the film does not include. It is this bizarreness that maintains Beetlejuice's status as a true comedy-horror classic, even in comparison to more modern-day, sophisticated films. It is the perfect balance of comedy, horror and outlandish surrealism.  

Image Credit: IMDb

At the time of its release, Beetlejuice was hailed as a critical and commercial success, winning three Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Makeup and Best Supporting Actress, as well as a coveted Academy Award for Best Makeup. However, the legacy of the film does not stop there. This success launched video games, an animated television series and even – perhaps most surprisingly - a musical. Is it slightly blasphemous to effectively remake one of the best films of all time? Perhaps. But nothing showcases the lasting legacy of Beetlejuice quite like the incredibly successful stage musical of the same name released in 2018, 30 years after the film’s premiere. Even as a die-hard fan of the film and someone with a questionable view of musicals, I have to admit the soundtrack is pretty good. The success of the musical has introduced a new legion of fans to the story, further solidifying Beetlejuice’s legacy as a cinematic masterpiece that most certainly stands the test of time. Beetlejuice will forever be one of my favourite films.

Despite its slightly outdated special effects and occasional close to the bone jokes, the bizarreness of Burton’s fantastical world will never fail to capture the imaginations of film-lovers and casual viewers alike. I would not be surprised if in another 30 years fans are still raving about its brilliance – I know I will be. 

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AUTHOR: Rachael McCreanor
Deputy Editor 23/24, PGR Student studying for an MLitt in English Literature. she/her.

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