Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! (x 2)

Austria and Australia unite again as I team up with my good buddy, Maynard, of the fab Maynard Morrissey's Horror Movie Diary, for a little Beetlejuice fun! So here are a few of my thoughts on this awesome movie, followed by Maynard's review.

I love Beetlejuice! I loved it from the first moment I saw it, which I think was around 1992, as a video rental. I have watched it many times since then, and I never tire of it. It is amongst a handful of my all-time favourite movies. 

Beetlejuice Concept Art

It's hard to overestimate the influence of Beetlejuice. Tim Burton's aesthetic was indelibly stamped upon popular culture with that film and you don't need to look very far to see how it has inspired many artists and designers. In a recent interview with Los Angeles Times Hero Complex, Michael Keaton, who played Betelgeuse himself, described the movie this way:

“From an art perspective, I don’t know how you get better than ‘Beetlejuice.’ In terms of originality and a look, it’s 100% unique. If you consider the process of taking something from someone’s mind — meaning Tim — and putting it on the screen, I think that movie is incomparable.” 

Even more extraordinary is that Beetlejuice manages to be the very definition of a feel-good movie and yet a sweet, loving couple, desperate to start a family, die in an automobile accident within the first 10 minutes, and it is utterly chock-full of corpses in various states of decay and dismemberment. It is an amazing fusion of darkness, explosive colour, humour, horror, fashion, art and music.

Beetlejuice may have some very '80s elements like big hair, Laura Ashley prints, and high-end Japanese designer fashion, but somehow the mix of the Maitland's rustic wardrobe with the avant-garde pretensions of Delia's clothes, and Lydia's goth ensembles, create a visual potpourri that transcends the decade it was made. Even the choice of Harry Belafonte's infectiously joyful calypso tunes for the movie soundtrack add to its timeless quality. I recently read some criticism of Beetlejuice suggesting the special effects were terribly dated now. In fact, Tim Burton intended the special effects to resemble the style of the B movies he grew up with:

"I wanted to make them look cheap and purposely fake-looking."

With the proliferation of slick CGI effects today, the crude stop-motion animation, prosthetic makeup and puppetry in Beetlejuice take on an even greater charm.

But I think what ultimately makes Beetlejuice an enduring classic is its theme of tolerance and acceptance. In reality, the worlds of people like the Maitlands and the Deetzes would hardly be likely to overlap. Delia and her decorator, Otho, are openly contemptuous about what they perceive as the Maitland's complete lack of style, while the deceased, yet houseproud, Barbara and Adam, are in turn horrified by the transformation of their cosy New England home into a piece of modern art. Attitudes begin to change, however, as the Maitland's affection grows for neglected and angst-ridden teen, Lydia Deetz. Betelgeuse unwittingly facilitates the eventual accord between the two families, when they are forced to team up against him.

The compromise between the Maitlands and the Deetzes is humorously, and somewhat poignantly, summed up in the closing moments of the film, as Charles Deetz reads the companion literature to the Maitland's, Handbook for the Recently Deceased: The Living and the Dead - Harmonious lifestyles and peaceful co-existence.

For me, Beetlejuice is not just the ghost with the most, but also the movie with the most!

And now for Maynard's review:


German Title: Lottergeist Beetlejuice

[Lottergeist is a made-up word that is hard to translate. It means something like 'rambling ghost', or 'rascal ghost']

USA, 1988

Director: Tim Burton


It was in 1990 or 1991 when my parents signed up for a membership at one of our local video rental stores for their very first time, and I still remember that day. It was cold and rainy day in Spring when we entered this uber-outstanding world that seemed to consist of millions of VHS covers, a world I completely and utterly fell in love with, a world that became my favorite "hang-out place" during my childhood.

One of the very first movies my parents ever rented was "Beetlejuice", and they only rented it because the owner recommended it to us (Thanks to Mr. Klaus!). The whole family loved it, though my parents weren't as enthusiastic about it as I was. I adored it. "Beetlejuice" blew me away. I didn't understand the whole thing, but that didn't matter because I've never seen so many weird creatures and monsters and ghosts etc, I just HAD to love it.

I remember that me, little motormouth, was constantly talking about it, bugging my parents and my schoolfellows with spontaneous exclamations like "Beetlejuice is the best movie of all time!", "Nothing is better than Beetlejuice!" etc. Forgive me, I was 8-9 years old. ;-D

Unfortunately, for reasons I'm not sure of, I've never seen it again. It was regularly on TV, the VHS was always on the top rear of the rental store until it shut its doors, and over the years I met a few people who were huge Tim-Burton-fans and loved the hell out of that movie - yet, I never got the chance to rewatch it. UNTIL NOW!

Yes, more than 20 years after I first saw it, I finally got the chance to see it again - and guess what? Yup, it still kicks ass! "Beetlejuice" is undoubtedly one of the freakiest, most original and most inventive films in history, and I guess it's also Burton's best film to date (next to "Ed Wood" and "Sweeney Todd"). Who would have thought that the afterlife could be so much fun?

From the first to the last minute, the audience gets overloaded and blown away by shitloads of eye-gougingly awesome images and visuals, stuff that probably came right out of a super-wacky but also pretty genius mind. Tim Burton is an awkward guy, and I've never been a fan of his persona, but hell, he has one hell of an eye for style, colours and wild, weird imagery.

There's the idyllic country home that gets converted into an architectural nightmare, the Dalí-like parallel dimension that is roamed by bizarre giant sandworms, the quite amusing "afterlife waiting room" or the attic with the gorgeous miniature-model of the town.
 We get briefly introduced to many funny ghosts of recently deceased peeps, such as the guy with the shrunken head, the redhead who slit her wrists, the woman who's cut in half, or the "road kill man" who's "feeling a little flat".

The obvious highlight of the movies is "Beetlejuice" (or Betelgeuse) himself. Michael Keaton's performance as the "afterlife's leading Bio-Exorcist" is so fucking awesome, I daresay that it's his best role he ever did. Beetlejuice is a real pain in the ass, an unnerving clown, a whirlwind of tomfoolery, zaniness, rude and crude behavior - and that's exactly why he's so adorable. That, and the fact that he can transform into whatever he wants, such as a huge Beetle-Snake or a "living carousel".

Surprisingly, most of the other actors / characters are equally amazing: Geena Davis (love of my youth) and Alec Baldwin are admirable as the recently deceased and pretty helpless couple, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara are fantastic as uber-odd couple, Winona Ryder (another love of my youth) is simply god-like as angst-ridden teen goth, and Glenn Shadix is outrageous as grumpy interior designer.

Other highlights: Davis / Baldwin transforming into skeletons, the green-light door, the car crash, Dante's Inferno room, every single make-up effect, every single special effect, and the infamous Banana Boat (Day-O) scene.

A wonderful 80s classic, a horror-comedy masterpiece, a movie without equal. Beetlejuice rocks!!

* * * * * * *

If you'd like to see my previous collaboration with Maynard, you can check out our joint post on The Addams Family here and on Maynard's blog, here.

And if you haven't already discovered Maynard Morrissey's Horror Movie Diary... well, what are you waiting for? 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Carolyn Jones!

Carolyn Jones was born on April 28, 1930, in Amarillo, Texas. Although she had early success in her career, including being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Bachelor Party (1957), she is best known as the first screen incarnation of Charles Addams' creation, Morticia, in The Addams Family television series (1964 - 1966).

Carolyn Jones played the much beloved character of Morticia as a dark beauty with poise, elegance and grace. She also exuded warmth, and more often than not, sported a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Her on-screen chemistry with her co-star, John Astin, who played her husband, Gomez, has become the stuff of legend. She died, far too young, on August 3, 1983, after a battle with cancer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoonful of arsenic, then add half a teaspoonful of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide."

This post is inspired by blog buddy, Sandy, who recently renamed her blog Arsenic and Old Lace, thereby inadvertently enticing  me into buying the DVD of the movie of the same name. I had only seen Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) once, years ago, so I decided it was time to revisit it and I definitely wasn't disappointed. Even the Halloween themed illustrations in the opening credits are delightful. 

Directed by Frank Capra, the story takes place on Halloween, and begins with the nuptials between drama critic, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), and the girl he grew up next door to in Brooklyn, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). Things go horribly awry, however, after the  newlyweds make a quick stop home to inform relatives of their marriage before departing on a honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Mortimer stumbles upon a body in the window seat of his old family abode. He soon discovers that the two sweet spinster aunts who raised him, have developed the "very bad habit" of poisoning lonely old men with their homemade elderberry wine.

Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair), who believe they are doing nothing wrong, are aided in performing their little "charities" by Mortimer's delusional brother, Teddy (John Alexander), who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy buries the bodies in the cellar under the impression that he is disposing of yellow fever victims during the digging of the Panama Canal. Add to the mix the unexpected return of Mortimer's other brother, murderous, bad seed Jonathan (Raymond Massey), and his alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre), who are on the run from the police, and you've got a kooky and charmingly macabre farce.

Most of the movie takes place in and around the Brewster's Brooklyn home. The exterior set of the aunts' house, adjacent cemetery, and the church where Elaine grew up with her minster father is stunning. In the background is an incredible painted backdrop of New York with realistic touches like the moving lights of traffic in the distance, smoke coming from chimneys, and even two-dimensional trams/cable cars rolling backwards and forwards.

Karloff [source] and Lugosi [source] playing the role of Jonathan Brewster on stage.

Another aspect of the film that I loved was a running gag about Jonathan Brewster looking like "Boris Karloff". It is explained that Dr. Einstein had performed surgery on Jonathan's face to create a new identity for him. Unfortunately, not only had the doctor been intoxicated at the time, but he had also subconsciously been inspired by a certain famous monster movie he had just seen. Boris Karloff actually played the role of Jonathan Brewster in the original Broadway stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring. As Karloff was the star attraction of the play, however, he was unable to be released to do the movie, leading to Raymond Massey taking on the film role instead. Interestingly, Bela Lugosi also played the role of Jonathan Brewster in later stage productions of Arsenic and Old Lace.

It was surprising and amusing to find that Arsenic and Old Lace makes several references to Australia, and to Melbourne (where I live) in particular. Always ones for quoting films and TV shows, my husband, son and I have taken to regularly making references to the "Melbourne method" (in our best Peter Lorre voices, of course), which according to the movie, is a particularly gruesome and slow form of murder.

Jonathan: Tonight, we are taking care of Mortimer. And just for him we'll have something special. I plan on using the Melbourne method.
Dr. Einstein: [cringing] No! Not the Melbourne method, please! Two hours!

As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Thank you, Sandy, for unintentionally luring me into buying this adorable movie!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Second Annual May Monster Madness Blog Hop

It's time to cater to those cravings for creepiness, which have surely surfaced at this mid-point between Halloween festivities, with a diabolical dose of May Monster Madness!

This blog festival is the brainchild of fiendish fellow blog buddy, Annie, of the Annie Walls blog, and like Winged Monkeys to Annie's, Wicked Witch of the West, Ked, of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I will assist her to make her sinister scheme succeed.

If you'd like to join us in a little monstrous mayhem and macabre merrymaking you can sign up here, or click the May Monster Madness button in the sidebar.