Beetlejuice (1988): ‘Tim Burton’s Beginnings’ – A Film Review

Beetlejuice Film Still



Tim Burton is a big name of cinema, he’s iconic of a dark but playful style of filmmaking. Winning a cult following and international recognition for his outsider characters and outlandish creatures. One can tell a Tim Burton film just by looking at one. His most famous of films, perhaps, include A Nightmare Before Christmas (though this was his concept and he acted as producer and wasn’t directed by him), Edward Scissorhands and Batman. But there was a time before all these films had a chance to establish his iconic style. He actually started with short films and his first feature was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but a film that really kicked off his sense of style was Beetlejuice. Since it came out it’s been a cult hit and despite the many, many years passing, Warner Brothers are still trying to get a sequel off the ground since 1988!

Beetlejuice Film Still


Setting a Style and Tone

Playing at the Prince Charles Cinema, Beetlejuice, still has a lot of the charm that it once had. Many of the effects had a deliberate other worldliness to them which allows them to hold up even today. Beyond that, they still have that comedic edge. This serves the tone of the story, a rather darkly comic tone when you think about it, of dead people failing to scare people out of their home with dismembered heads and otherwise horror imagery. The ridiculousness and comedy helps keep the effects fresh, as you see what you were meant to see as caricatures and not absolute realism. With this the stop motion, green screens and odd costumes are fitting and world building, and not damaged by the passage of time.

Beetlejuice Film Still


The Characters that maketh the Movie

Beetlejuice is also a brilliant film for spot the actor. Many big names are to be found here, before they became so big or otherwise: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones to name a few. This cast keeps a lot of the events alive, managing the tone and the entertainment and ensuring scenes aren’t laughed at and dismissed as corny or irrelevant. Despite the title’s namesake Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse is both a show-stealer and a small part, but is a good example of how each character is carefully laden to be memorable. Thus they are able to make an impression that sticks with audiences many years later. The silver screen treatment brings things up a notch, but for films like Beetlejuice it’s not much of a big difference to the home screen.

Beetlejuice Film Still



Beetlejuice remains a classic and thoroughly enjoyable example of Tim Burton at his peek. A peek he managed to keep for a good few years of his early career, but certainly started with Beetlejuice. It holds up today with the knowledge of Tim Burton, as you can see so many elements of later films. It also delights in the entertaining tone that never spares a moment to let audiences wonder. Presenting interesting worlds and characters continually throughout. It might be a bit more raw than the glossy CGI work that Tim Burton has stepped into, but his films are no better for this change. The stop motion effects and costumes give a sense of the other, which is very effective. Also, seeing Beetlejuice again, it was surprising to see so many references to Night of the Living Dead, which the central couple seem to be almost direct lifts from: Barbara and Adam.

Beetlejuice Film Still



Barbara and Adam die in a freak accident after settling into their new home and now can’t leave it as ghosts. They are then disturbed when the house is bought by a new family and set out trying (and failing) to get them to leave.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

A Nightmare Before Christmas (d. Henry Selick USA 1993)

Batman (d. Tim Burton USA 1989)

Beetlejuice (d. Tim Burton USA 1988)

Edward Scissorhands (d. Tim Burton USA 1990)

Night of the Living Dead (d. George A. Romero USA 1968)

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (d. Tim Burton USA 1985)


Further Reading

Official Site

Michael Keaton Interview

Tim Burton and Michael Keaton Interview

Cast Interviews

Behind the Scenes


Jack Skellington in Beetlejuice

Alternate Ending

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know

Day-O (Banana Boat Song)

Strip Club Scene

Wedding scene

The Weird Wisdom

Beetlejuice: A Ghostly, Gothed-Out 80s Fairy Tale for the Ages


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This was an analytical review of….


Beetlejuice (d. Tim Burton USA 1988)

Beetlejuice Film Still

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