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Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Matinee: Beetlejuice

Good morning, people! And if you're reading this blog from the great country known as Canada, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! I hope that you have a safe and happy holiday, and that you have lots of great food to eat at all of your dinners.

While today is technically Thanksgiving day, I imagine that a lot of you probably had your Thanksgiving dinners on the weekend, and that's fine. My family usually hosts their Thanksgiving dinners on the Sunday before. But if you're having your dinner tonight, may it be just as memorable as the video of this feast that I posted below.

Well, okay, so maybe your dinner wasn't quite as...dysfunctional and weird as the example I posted, but it does provide a nice transition to today's blog subject.

I think the first time I saw Beetlejuice was right around Halloween 1989. The movie itself had come out in the movie theaters a year and a half earlier at the end of March 1988, but by 1989 had been put on both video cassettes and I believe laserdisc format (both of which are obsolete in today's world). I remember that my sister was planning on having some sort of Halloween party at the time, and she wanted to rent some scary movies for her guests to watch upstairs in our attic (the area of the house where the party was being held). She walked over to the video store around the corner (which given the closings of Jumbo Video and Blockbuster Video in Canada is also becoming obsolete), and rented a few tapes. One of which was the Beetlejuice movie, which was a fairly new release at the time (our video store had a limited selection of movies available back in 1989).

Of course, being that there was a nine year age gap between myself and my sister, I was not invited to attend the party. I was only eight years old after all. But, what she didn't realize was that at the age of eight, I was one of the only ones in the family who knew how to program the VCR and operate it. Just because she had kept all the party supplies up in the attic didn't mean that she had the foresight to lock the attic door.

(Not that she could anyways, as our attic door never had a lock on it in the first place.)

But anyway, one day when she was out on a date (this was a couple of days before the party), I snuck up to the attic, found the Beetlejuice movie, and put it inside the VCR to watch.

And I loved it!

Sure, the movie wasn't meant for kids to watch, but it wasn't overly gory or violent. Just a couple of swear words and a couple of not overly disturbing scenes. I didn't even have any nightmares after watching it.

(Which may not have ended the same way had I selected one of the other movies my sister had rented, which were Pet Semetary and Nightmare On Elm Street respectively.)
At any rate, Beetlejuice was such a classic movie. With such big named stars as Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, and Catherine O'Hara all having roles in the film, is it any wonder why the film did so well at the box office? The film was made on a $13 million dollar budget, and made almost five times that amount in profits when originally released in theaters.

The film was so successful that it spawned a cartoon remake of the movie, produced by the director, Tim Burton. It ran from 1989-1991. Below is the opening of the animated cartoon, which differs slightly from the film, but we'll get to that later.

For now, let's talk a little bit about the general plot of the film version.

The film opens with a panoramic view of a small New England town (in the cartoon, it is given the name of Peaceful Pines). It is here where we first meet Adam and Barbara Maitland (Baldwin and Davis). The young, married couple are on vacation and decided to use this time to redecorate their country home, located on the outskirts of town. The couple are really excited about the project, and look forward to having a place to relax away from the stresses of work and the big city.
Unfortunately, fate has a nasty way of interfering in the lives of the young couple. When returning back to their house from shopping in town, Barbara almost runs over a dog. When she swerves out of the way, she ends up driving the car off of a covered bridge, sending the car into the bottom of the river below. Adam and Barbara lost their lives in the accident.

Or, did they?

Unbeknownst to either of them that their physical bodies have died, their spirits somehow manage to find a way back to their country house, where they think that everything is fine, and that the only problem that they have is that they would need to buy a new car.

But then they notice that their reflections are invisible as they pass by any sort of reflective surface, such as a mirror, or a windowpane. And, then Adam finds a red covered book that had not existed before with the title 'A Handbook For The Recently Deceased'. It then dawns on both Adam and Barbara that maybe they really were dead. It was all but confirmed when Adam tried to leave the house and ended up in a strange world filled with sand and giant sandworms.

Of course, Adam and Barbara are left feeling very confused about what has happened, but at the very least, they still had their home, and they still had each other, so all they could do was sit and read their new book, trying to figure out what their next move was.

But, alas, fate decided to play around with the Maitland couple in death as well as in life. Because the Maitlands were considered dead and gone in body, this meant that the house they owned in life was put up for sale. The home was eventually bought by a family that was originally based in Manhattan. The Deetz family could best be described as loud, obnoxious, and somewhat on the snobbish side. Well, at least in a few of its members. Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones), a former real estate developer recovering from a nervous breakdown buys the property, and moves his family in. The family includes his second wife, Delia (O'Hara), an artist and sculptor with a rather stuck-up attitude about her, and Charles' daughter from his first marriage, Lydia (Ryder), a teenager who is in a gothic phase, dressing entirely in black.

Immediately upon moving into the house, Delia decides that the country motif that the Maitlands had decorated the house in before their demise isn't sophisticated enough for her, so she hires an interior decorator named Otho (Glenn Shadix) to transform the house from cottage cozy to a modern art project on acid. No, seriously, the house looked like the love child of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. The dinner scene I posted up above showcases just one of the many rooms that Delia wrecked redecorated.

The Maitlands are not happy with this latest development at all, and it becomes no secret that Barbara is not amused by Delia's attitude and disgusting taste. And for a ghost to critique the d├ęcor of a home negatively, you know it has to be absolutely tasteless.

They discover that they need to seek some help in getting the Deetz family out of their home once and for all. But when they contact their afterlife case worker, Juno (Sylvia Sidney) for assistance, all she'll tell them is that they are responsible for scaring the Deetz family out themselves, as the handbook states clearly that they have to remain in the home for 125 years after they pass away. In short, Juno wasn't much help.

And honestly, Adam and Barbara needed help to scare the family away. Lots of help. They couldn't even scare a bird away. That's how pathetic they were as scary ghosts.

Here's the kicker though. In their attempts to scare the family away, they actually managed to find a way to communicate with one of the family members. Turns out that the teenage goth Lydia was the only one who could see Adam and Barbara, and that Lydia called them out on how terrible they were at scaring people. But, Lydia wasn't as screwed-up as Charles and Delia were. In fact, she actually began to like the Maitlands. And, this is something that I kind of want to talk about in detail.

The reason why Lydia feels a bond with the Maitlands is because she secretly wants to be a ghost herself. Naturally, this sparks concern in both Adam and Barbara, who try to convince Lydia that she should not want to be like them, as being a ghost isn't as grand as she thinks it is. Yet, Lydia seems to believe that she would be happier as a ghost. That she would believe that in order to be happy, she would have to be dead. It's definitely a terrible way to think about life, but at the same time, I can totally get why Lydia feels that way. Considering that her stepmother is a shrieking harpy who seems to care more about herself than anyone else, and that her father gets consistently treated as a doormat by Delia, I can see why she would feel as though she hasn't got a friend in the world.

By befriending Adam and Barbara, it ironically gave Lydia a sense of belonging. Lydia couldn't talk to her parents about her problems because she felt as though they didn't care about her at all. But she COULD talk to Adam and Barbara, because they were always there to listen to her. I mean, they were dead. Where were they going to go?

The feelings were reciprocated by Adam and Barbara as well. Barbara especially took Lydia under her wing, telling Adam that she didn't want Lydia to get hurt or scared. One has to wonder if the Maitlands had survived the crash if they would have had children of their own. If they had, I bet they would've made great parents.

But even though they had developed a friendship with Lydia, the Maitlands knew that it wasn't enough to have the Deetz family leave entirely. So, against their better judgment (and against the warnings that Juno had provided them), they decided to contact a freelance bio-exorcist ghost who goes by the name of 'Betelgeuse' (Keaton) to get the Deetz family out of the house once and for all. The way they can contact Betelgeuse is by saying his name three times. When Adam and Barbara do this, they are warped into the miniature model of the town that Adam was working on prior to his death, where they come face to face with the grotesque looking Betelgeuse. (And, I add that this clip does contain some adult language, so be warned)

Certainly a character, isn't he? Or, rather, I guess I should say wasn't he? Betelgeuse was just as dead as the Maitlands. It's unknown exactly just how Betelgeuse died, or even how long ago he died, though he did mention that he witnessed the Black Death plague, so it's assumed that he was alive a long, long time ago.

Betelgeuse does agree to help the Maitlands out, but there is a catch. Apparently, Betelgeuse knows that there is a possibility that he could re-enter the land of the living, but in order to do this, he would have to marry a living person.

Enter Lydia Deetz.

When Betelguese goes a little too far in his efforts to scare the Deetz family away, Lydia mistakenly believed that Adam and Barbara had turned on her, and she was really hurt. She retreats up to the attic where Adam's miniature model was kept, and it is here that she meets Betelgeuse, who plays mind games with Lydia, which causes her to release him back out into the Deetz house.

By the last half hour of the film, the Maitlands realize that Betelgeuse has double-crossed them, and their mission is to save Lydia from marrying Betelgeuse and to protect the Deetz family from being his next victims. Again, I won't reveal what happens at the end, but let's just say that a sandworm, a shrunken head, and Harry Belafonte music is a huge part of the ending. Believe me, you'll love it.

And part of the main reason why you'll love it is because of the rich character development that occurs in Lydia Deetz.

When Lydia is first introduced in the film, she's an angsty young woman who feels completely alone, and believes that she would be happier if she weren't alive, as she felt neglected by her family. From the moment that the Maitlands came into her life, she felt as though she had a kindred spirit (literally), and because she found people she could confide in, she began to open up, and let down her guard. By the end of the movie, she's virtually unrecognizable in a good way.

It's just a shame that the Maitlands were not brought into the cartoon version. Weirdly enough, in the cartoon, Lydia befriends Betelgeuse (whom she calls Beetlejuice at this point), and the cartoon episodes switch back and forth from the town of Peaceful Pines to the Neitherworld where they have adventures in both. But, you know...I'm sure that in the movie version, Lydia will never forget the Maitlands, for they were the ones who offered an ear of sympathy and a guiding hand when everyone else seemed to turn away from her.

I guess the lesson to be learned is not to dismiss someone as being just moody or depressing just because they dress all in black or rarely say a word. Maybe they just need someone to talk to, and they're afraid to speak out because they feel that nobody is listening to them.

Maybe all they want is for someone, anyone, regardless of whether they may be dead or alive to show that they really do care about their well being. That they are worth something.

It's a message that Lydia finally managed to learn...even if it did come from a most unusual place.  Now, let's listen to a little Harry Belafonte, and end this blog entry just like the movie itself.

1 comment:

  1. Beetlejuice is one of my all time fave movies! Saw it in the cinema when it first came out. Thanks for the re-live! I might watch it today on my iPad!