A Look Back: Beetlejuice

Ted: I think it’s time to play the Beetlejuice card.

John: What?

Ted: No it’ll be fine, he’ll be on our side! Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle…

John: Hey, you are messing with powers you do not understand all right! Cut the shit! –  From “Ted 2”

The Tim Burton-directed “Beetlejuice” answers the question: How would I respond if my spouse and I died, but wound up stuck in our home, with a horrific family living there, who all our attempts to scare away backfire royally? Well, if you’re a nice dorky couple, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, who meet a fatal death in a car accident, and then, after returning home, discover that there is nothing but howling wilderness and sandworms outside the door, you make blunder after blunder before learning a valuable lesson. Since they’ve become traditional ghosts in the sense that they’re invisible (except to “strange and unusual” souls), you might think they could do a lot of psychological damage, but as their new tenants (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) aren’t easily spooked, it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity to get them to leave.

At first, Alec and Geena try various lame things like creeping around in sheets, but that doesn’t work.  The only one who can see them is Winona (playing a typical Winona role as a black-clad, morose troubled teen) who is sympathetic to their plight.  They also go a little more hardcore and play a prank on Jeffrey, Catherine, and their equally obnoxious friends involving the song “Day O,” but even that fails.  (Turns out even pretentious artsy yuppies have a sense of humor.)  Eventually, they make an appointment for help in the afterlife, which is presented as being as annoyingly petty and bureaucratic as any real world institution, and they are told that for now, it’s up to them. Although they’re discouraged from doing it, they wind up contacting an exorcist called Beetlejuice (a bastardization of Betelgeuse, played by Michael Keaton), who agrees to help them – for a price. Michael is what a former teacher of mine used to call rude, crude and socially unacceptable, and he quickly wears out his welcome with his new clients.

After more high jinks, including a séance gone wrong, the two families reach an amicable agreement, and Winona’s character, despite undergoing trauma, gets to keep her new ghost friends.  Most of the adults in the movie learn a valuable lesson about “messing with powers you do not understand,” but then if they had avoided doing so in the first place, there wouldn’t be a movie.





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