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On March 30, 1988, Warner Bros. unveiled Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice in theaters. The cult hit film later claimed an Oscar win for makeup at the 61st Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
There’s inspired lunacy to be found in the Geffen Company’s Beetlejuice, a stylized comic fantasy about a freelance “bio-exorcist” hired by ghosts to evict a family who moves into their home. Box office will depend largely on how Warner Bros. markets this thoroughly original visual bonanza, which is sure to baffle moviegoers who favor films with a conventional narrative.
Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as Adam and Barbara Maitland, a happily married young couple living an idyllic life in the postcard-perfect New England town of Winter River, Connecticut. Like Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in Topper, their life together on earth is cut short by an accident. It is with some reluctance they finally accept the fact they are stone-cold dead.
As if being ghosts weren’t bad enough, Adam and Barbara discover their real estate agent has sold their house to the mundo bizarro Deetz family. Dad (Jeffrey Jones, effectively understated) is a nerve-wracked New York businessman who hungers for peace and quiet; wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara) is a quasi-artist who professes to be truly happy only when she’s sculpting. While their death-obsessed daughter (Winona Ryder of Square Dance) slinks about in varying shades of black, Delia and her pompous SoHo interior designer, Otho (Glenn Ryder), raize the Maitlands‘ beloved property, redecorating it in the garish style of a junk culture museum.
Guided by a a Handbook for the Recently Deceased, the Maitlands pay a visit to their other-worldly case worker, Juno (Sylvia Sidney), who informs them they’re stuck with these urban misfits for 125 years unless they can scare them into vacating the premises. But Adam and Barbara are flops at inducing heebie-jeebies; it’s going to take an expert in the field of spirit housecleaning to send the Deetzes packing.
Enter Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, under mountains of special makeup), named after a star in the constellation of Orion, a grandstanding do-badder who shamelessly promotes himself as “the afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist.” While he’s sleazy looking and has all the finesse of a supernatural snake oil salesman, there’s no question that he’s got a bag of tricks that would send shivers up Rod Serling’s spine.
What happens next is as eye-popping as it is impossible to describe. And that’s what makes Beetlejuice such a delight; it’s an experience, rather than another helping of the same old thing. There isn’t much to it, storywise (Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson conceived the idea), but it brilliantly creates a sense of wonder missing from so many current Hollywood films. Driven by director Tim Burton (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) and his fanciful imagination, the film is colorful, delightfully deranged and endlessly inventive — a grand-scale funhouse that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
Technical credits are superior, a virtual who’s-who of the filmmaking community. Ted Rae, Doug Beswick, Peter Kuran and Robert Short all make valuable contributions in the area of special effects and work by Thomas Ackerman (camera), Bo Welch (production design) and Danny Elfman (music) is similarly inspired. Burton’s cast (Dick Cavett’s weak cameo excepted) is excellent, too, with the nuthouse Keaton not-so-surprisingly stealing the show in his field-day performance as the rootin’-tootin Beetlejuice. Finally, a pop-culture antihero even Joe Dante can love. — Kyle Counts, originally published on March 30, 1988.
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