The macabre Beetlejuice is a reminder of the dazzling Tim Burton of old
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The Tim Burton name has been synonymous with tired self-parody for so long that it can be easy to forget what a dazzling original he was at the beginning of his career. Before Burton committed himself wholeheartedly to delivering the most Tim Burton-y of projects using the most Tim Burton-y of visual signatures and the most Tim Burton-y of actors, the influential filmmaker made his reputation with 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a blast of pure childlike joy in cinematic form, and the even more ambitious and accomplished 1988 horror-comedy Beetlejuice.
Beetlejuice presents the afterlife as a cross between soul-crushing bureaucracy and the worst real-estate market this side of lower Manhattan. The macabre dark comedy follows the travails of a dead, ghostly yuppie couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin, in one of his earliest comedy roles) that recruits a demented bio-exorcist (Michael Keaton) to scare away the obnoxious couple (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) now occupying their former home. Beetlejuice represents the perfect marriage of Burton’s pop-gothic aesthetic and the anarchic comedy and bold satire of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. A never-better Keaton reinvigorated his flagging career playing the title character as a rancid and repellent yet strangely irresistible untethered id run amok. For years, rumors have persisted of a tropical-themed sequel, but it’s foolish to mess with perfection—though heaven knows that’s never kept Hollywood from trying, especially if there’s money to be made in the effort. Just don’t hire Burton to direct.
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