Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

US movie (1988). Warner Bros/Geffen. Pr Michael Bender, Richard Hashimoto, Larry Wilson. Dir Tim Burton. Spfx Chuck Gaspar, Robert Short. Screenplay Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren. Starring Alec Baldwin (Adam Maitland), Geena Davis (Barbara Maitland), Jeffrey Jones (Charles Deetz), Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse), Catherine O'Hara (Delia Deetz), Winona Ryder (Lydia Deetz), Glenn Shadix (Otho), Sylvia Sidney (Juno). 92 mins. Colour.

After dying in an accident a young couple, the Maitlands, find themselves bound (see Bondage) to their much-loved home as Ghosts: through its doors, for them, lie the desert wastes of Saturn, where Worms roam and Time plays tricks. When the appalling Deetzes buy the house and start "improving" it the Maitlands try Haunting it hideously, but only the daughter, Lydia, can see them. They seek aid in the Afterlife, a sort of civil-service office; crusty case-worker Juno tells them they must fend for themselves for the first 125 years, and warns them against hiring the services of Trickster Betelgeuse, whose ostensible trade is Exorcism of the living. But they fall into the trap; only the guile and courage of the Maitlands and Lydia avert terminal disaster. In the new status quo all coexist, the ghosts becoming Lydia's surrogate parents and the Deetzes, in effect, the house's ghosts.

Superb spfx and brilliant performances by Davis, O'Hara and Ryder cannot disguise the fact that this comedy, although it touches almost all the right bases, finally fails to satisfy. There is too much of a presumption that Keaton's firecracker, scatological Betelgeuse (with a smidgen of Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz [1939]) will carry the movie. Burton might have been wise not to focus so much attention on the model village built by Adam Maitland, thereby emphasizing the fact that here, as in most of his movies – e.g., Batman (1989) (see Batman Movies) and Edward Scissorhands (1990) – there is an uncomfortable feeling that he is directing model people in model villages.

Spun off from the movie was an animated tv series, Beetlejuice (from 1989). [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.