Young married couple Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are still very much in love, exchanging gifts to celebrate their vacation even as their estate agent Jane (Annie McEnroe) tells them their large house would be better suited to a family. They just have to get something at the store, so drive into town but on their way back a little dog wanders in front of the car, causing them to swerve to avoid it on the covered bridge over the river. Suddenly they are plunging into the water, though what follows is unclear as soon they are home, wondering what happened. They couldn't have survived, could they?
The short answer is no, they didn't survive, and so begins a neat twist on all those well worn benign ghost stories that occasionally pop up in the movies. Here it's Adam and Barbara who are the phantoms, and with director Tim Burton making his mark with something far more Gothic than Pee Wee's Big Adventure we could see where his imagination was going to take him, and us for that matter. Working on the script were horror novelist Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren and Larry Wilson, but really this was a Burton work all the way.
What most people recall about Beetle Juice was the title character, essayed by Michael Keaton in a role which reminds you what a talented comic actor he could be when given the opportunity, but what you might not remember is that he's actually hardly in this, with just over fifteen minutes of screen time. Nevertheless, it's an indication of a fine performance that even in this impressive ensemble cast Keaton dominates, although he doesn't properly enter the story until the film is around halfway over, as if Burton is reluctant to show his hand too soon.
Luckily, there is plenty more to occupy our minds, and after a while it becomes clear this is in fact a lightly handled anti-suicide tale, for the afterlife is simply a grotesque version of the living world, with all the bureaucracy and boredom that entails. Not the best state to voluntarily arrive in, but that's the lesson that teenage Lydia (Winona Ryder with the worst hairdo of her career) must learn. She is the daughter of ex-business hotshot and his artist wife the Deitzes (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara), who are moving out to Connecticut for Lydia's father's peace of mind, something that does little for Adam and Barbara's peace of mind.
What the recently departed, but still hanging around, couple decide to do is work out a way of exorcising their new "guests", but their afterlife handbook does not offer them much help, so they discover they can see someone in authority (Sylvia Sidney) who might be able to assist. Of course, the spirit they must not ask is Bettlejuice, but he is itching to get his foot in the door of the real world and naturally the couple grow impatient waiting for their plans to work - making a dinner party descend into a rendition of "The Banana Boat Song" does not have the desired effect, so the anarchic "bio-exorcist" is called in (by saying his name three times). It's odd, but while things get complicated perhaps they don't get complicated enough, and the plot turns into an excuse for the next off the wall gag, so the level of invention may be high, yet you do pretty much get the idea of the film in the first twenty minutes, leaving the rest as rather constrained variations on a theme. Music by Danny Elfman.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.