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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 01, 1988


Tim Burton
Alec Baldwin;
Geena Davis;
Michael Keaton;
Jeffrey Jones;
Catherine O'Hara;
Winona Ryder
Parental guidance suggested

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Meet Betelgeuse, his pasty face bisected by a leer of hideous teeth. He chomps rats and flies, talks like the devil in "The Exorcist" and gropes lasciviously at anything female. He's a scare consultant for the dead.

As played with saturnine relish by Michael Keaton, who has the most fun with a male role since Jack Nicholson's devil in "The Witches of Eastwick," he's one of many wonderfully disgusting inhabitants you'll meet in "Beetlejuice," Tim Burton's hilarious, sardonic comedy about the afterlife of two honeymooners.

Our lovers, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), had a fatal car crash, see. Their spirits return home, only to find they're invisible and their New England home's been overrun by an unpleasant and pretentious family: husband Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones); his obnoxious artist-wife Delia (a delightfully snippy Catherine O'Hara); her nasal, mauve-mongering Soho decorator Otho (Glenn Shadix) and funereal daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), who declares: "My whole life is a dark room. One. Big. Dark. Room."

All the couple's got for guidance is a heavy tome, the Handbook for the Recently Deceased, and cowboy-suited Betelgeuse appearing in an otherworldly TV ad to say: "Unhappy with eternity? Having difficulty adjusting? . . . Weeell, cooome on dooown!"

For the Maitlands, ghastly wonders never cease in Burton's never-never land. There's their "case worker" Juno -- veteran actress Silvia Sydney, exhaling cigarette smoke through a gash in her throat, making the Maitlands wait for their appointment in a room full of other recently dead clients: a woman severed at the torso whose upper body sits next to her lower body; an explorer with a shrunken head that looks like a ping pong ball with eyes (it probably is); and a badly charred man who constantly bums cigarettes.

Betelgeuse tries to spook the Deetzes -- at one point orchestrating a hilarious involuntary group-lip-synch of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" --

but they don't scare easily. How things turn out doesn't much matter, though.

The joy of "Beetlejuice" is its completely bizarre -- but perfectly realized -- view of the world, a` la Gary Larson's "The Far Side," or "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Plaudits go to Burton -- a former Walt Disney animator who also directed the visually adventurous "Pee-wee Herman's Big Adventure" -- and scriptwriters Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren; as well as an able list of professionals, including set designer Bo Welch, makeup and sculptured effects man Robert Short and visual effects coordinator Alan Munro.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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