Tim Burton caught audiences' attention with Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985), but Beetlejuice established him as film's prominent imaginer of skewed fairytale worlds. Even after several subsequent collaborations with composer Danny Elfman and a couple of this film's stars (Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton), Beetlejuice still exists as the prototypical Burton film, if not actually his best. A veritable wellspring of imagination, the film removes ghosts from the horror realm and puts them in the slapstick world of Keaton's wisecracking title character, a con artist who specializes in expunging the living from the homes of the dead. Keaton's performance is spotty and over-the-top, but Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are nicely understated as the mild-mannered spirits doomed to haunt their bucolic mansion (an architectural creation that's trademark Burton), even though they're more interested in peace and privacy than acting ghoulish. The film also features such hammy icons as Dick Cavett and Robert Goulet, giving a good preview of Burton's knack for oddball casting. The effects are first-rate for their time, and include such wonderful oddities as a snake creature that slithers through the dunes of an afterworld purgatory, and a dead waiting room occupant with a head shrunk to the size of a prune. The film is notable for providing Ryder her breakout role, and it represents one of the only times Jeffrey Jones hasn't played a weaselly villain.
by Derek Armstrong review