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USA 1988
Directed by
Tim Burton
92 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Tim Burton’s first grown up feature film (his very first feature, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, 1985, has a certain cult cachet although more for its star, Paul Rubens, than anything that Burton did) is an energetic and inventive film that contain the seeds this subsequent masterworks, Batman (1989) and Edward Scissorhands (1990).

The story concerns Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), happily married couple living in a quaint little Connecticut town. After they are killed in a car accident they find that they are ghosts and their happy home has been sold to a crass couple (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones) and their daughter (Winona Ryder) the latter a crypto-Goth who is the only one who can see them. The Maitlands try to scare the Deitzes off but fail miserably and in desperation, call on the help of a self-styled the bio-exorcist Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton).

If Michael Keaton’s performance looks forward to The Joker of Batman, Winona Ryder and the dinky little town setting looks forward to Edward Scissorhands, whilst of course the ghost world thing reappears in Sleepy Hollow (1999). This is technically a much less sophisticated film than any of those subsequent efforts but this actually suits the gimcrack afterlife the Maitlands find themselves in. Whilst Burton gives full rein to his sense of the absurd and the grotesque the film’s real kicker is Michael Keaton’s unrecognizably manic performance, his Beetle Juice being a kind of Tom Waits on crack cocaine. As is so often the case with mad-cap comedies, a satisfying resolution is very difficult to bring off and Burton and his writers, Michael McDowall and Warren Skaaren don’t manage it, but for the most part the film is entertainingly eccentric.




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