PLOT: Two children left alone at home encounter a human-sized talking cat who leads them on a series of wacky and destructive misadventures.
Shall I spin you a tale of a movie gone wrong?
Of 82 minutes that feel three days long?
Then I’ll tell unto you, just right there where you’ve sat
Of the travesty known as The Cat in the Hat.
‘Twas a gray day in Hollywood, no dreams to dream,
When one junior executive cooked up a scheme:
“What we need’s some IP we can plunder for cash.
It can be mediocre, can even be trash!
All we need is the title; who cares if it’s rank?
They’ll fill up the theaters, and we’ll all make bank.”
“You’re so right,” said his colleagues, “it’s easy as pie.
For familiar content, we won’t even try.”
So those vultures considered what might be of use
And decided to dig up our dear Dr. Seuss.
“We’ve done it before,” they all cried. “It’s a cinch.
We grossed two-sixty mill on that trash heap, The Grinch.
Which proves that we needn’t pretend like we care. No,
That garbage still vacuumed up mucho dinero.”
The honchos began to assemble the parts
That would demonstrate all of their filmmaking smarts.
A novice director? Sure, that’ll be fine.
“We’ll pick some guy known for production design.”
“And a script?” a small voice piped up. “I took a look
And it might be a challenge to translate a book
That’s so short. We’ll get ripped by the Dr. Seuss nerds;
It’s one thousand six hundred and twenty-six words.”
“Damn the length!” came the riposte. “Damn logic and plot.
For those minor objections,” they said, “we care not.
Once we get a big star, we’ll have no cause for worry.
His comedy chops will fix things in a hurry.”
So they looked at the feline displayed on the front
And decided to try an uproarious stunt.
Tall and thin, long of limb, with a wide, gleeful eye…
“Mike Myers!” they cried. “There’s no doubt he’s our guy!”
And perhaps that is how we arrived at this place,
At a movie so lacking in wit and in grace.
PLOT: A milquetoast suburban couple find themselves dead and haunting their own house; when new tenants they can’t stand redecorate the place and prove themselves immune to haunting, they hire a “bio-exorcist.”
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The premise, following a couple of ghosts protagonists along their misadventures in the afterlife, is a good enough foundation, but could have been a ho-hum fantasy in different hands. It took this all-star crew to come up with a desert world populated by sand snakes, a brothel in model train scale, a dinner party becoming a Harry Belafonte singalong, and a million and one creepy/hilarious dead folk to round it up to an eye-popping experience. It’s the happiest movie about death ever made!
COMMENTS: Tim Burton has certainly provoked his share of discussion on our site. Had 366 Weird Movies been around when he started his career, he doubtless would have been keen to make our list. Don’t let him kid for you a minute: Tim Burton knows exactly what weird is. He has Danny Elfman around, he knows about Forbidden Zone. There’s no excuse. He also knows what money is, and the siren song of the almighty buck has proven a stronger lure than prestige as a true artiste and auteur of midnight movies. Hence has he ever aimed his output straight for the suburban outlet mall, right between Hallmark and Hot Topic, making sure he can be equally merchandised in both. It’s clear that his artistic muse struggles to insert weirdness into everything he does, but if the weirdness factor cuts into the box office factor, he’s not about to take a chance on leaving a single empty seat in that theater on opening weekend. He still sobs himself to sleep at night over the lost Happy Meal deal. His saving grace is that he got off a few riskier shots in his wild years before Hollywood tamed him.
Beetlejuice is definitely Tim Burton at his wildest. If you remove his name and the all-star crew from consideration and view Beetlejuice objectively as its own thing, it’s pretty jaw-dropping that it ever got made. It is the blackest of black comedy subjects, getting a laugh out of scenes like suicide cases showing off their slashed wrists. And how would you like to hang yourself, only to find out that in the afterlife you’re condemned to keep dangling from the same noose, which is running around on a track amid office cubicles, so you can deliver memos? And the daughter protagonist—who can see ghosts through her sheer magical goth pixie powers alone—writes her suicide note but ghosts talk her out of it because, basically, death sucks too, kid. And how about Juno, the social worker for our hapless couple, who chainsmokes and exhales through the slash in her throat, and yet the effect is so underplayed that you could blink and miss it?
I once griped about the Imagination Ceiling: writers who bring up supernatural characters with allegedly near-boundless powers, but then the writer can’t think of anything awesome enough for them to do to make it worth the while. Beetlejuice does the Imagination Ceiling right. It’s jam-packed with supernatural characters who warp reality with a thought, pulling off one crazy stunt after another. Beetlejuice, tasked with getting rid of an intruding couple, does so by turning himself into a carnival strong man mallet game topped by a malevolent merry-go-round, for no other reason than that’s the first idea that popped into his head. In the manic hour-and-a-half running time, we never get very much explained, but the fever-dream logic is internally consistent enough that it makes perfect sense for a guy to get munched by a sudden sandworm attack. Right after he got rammed in the foot by a toy car driven by an outraged hobbyist shrunken down and left for stranded in his own model town, of course.
The mortal characters would be hard pressed to match the supernatural ones, but they do a bang-up job regardless. From the impossibly prissy interior decorator turned medium to the hysterically neurotic sculptress who will eventually be held prisoner by one of her own creations, they match the dead half of the cast bonker for bonker. Nobody with more than two lines in this film is forgettable. Only now we can start talking about the cast and crew, a unique blend of quirky careers and offbeat talents. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis stand out by the magnitude of their vanilla Brad and Janet routine, lost in a different kind of Gothic funhouse. Winona Ryder plays the most Winona Rydery role of her career. Danny Elfman’s music is a haunted circus. And all I want is for Glenn Shadix to follow me around all day narrating every mundane thing I do in his dramatic purple ham voice, is that too much to ask?
Beetlejuice is Tim Burton’s weirdest movie, because it ranks four out of five bowls of sugary cereal on the Saturday Morning Cartoon scale of unfettered childhood imagination.
Warner Brothers re-released Beetlejuice in a collectible Blu-ray steelbook package in 2019, giving us the excuse we needed to finally review it. It has the original trailer and the three episodes of the “Beetlejuice” cartoon series that were included on the “20th Anniversary” Blu-ray, but doesn’t come with the isolated score or soundtrack CD bonus disc from that release.