Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Ghost with the Most

Everyone praises Ghostbusters as THE paranormal comedy of the last thirty years. It's the best of the best and nobody can top it. It's got the best jokes, the spookiest looking monsters, the most likeable characters. Everyone talks about it all the time. And I agree, it's a perfect example of a paranormal comedy. But, I will also admit, it's not my absolute favorite freaky funny movie. There was one movie that I watched practically daily as a kid. A movie that my grandmother thought would shatter my poor young mind because I watched it so much. A movie about ghosts, exorcisms, a giant mutant snake monster, and Harry Belafonte. I'm sure you all remember Beetlejuice.

Now, this isn't a review, really. I tried reviewing it once toward the beginning of my blogging career and it turned out as me basically bowing to the greatness of each person in the film. And that's not what The Haunted Drive-In is all about. Instead, allow me to reminisce a little.

Ghost stories are pretty much a staple in the horror genre, the haunted house being one of many sub-genres within it. We've all seen a movie about a haunted house at least once. Beetlejuice did something that I can honestly say I don't remember anyone doing before: A haunted house from the ghosts' perspectives. From the beginning of the movie, we got to know the original couple that owned the house, we saw them die, we followed their ghosts home, and we developed sympathy for them. We saw the devastation the ghosts felt when their home was being invaded and changed for another family. We wanted that family gone. And the ghosts became the heroes, even when ghosts are terrifying in other films. And certain ghosts are definitely terrifying in this film. Such as the film's namesake.

Beetlejuice is a menace, yes. The most he truly does is pester and humiliate a few people. The worst he does is almost kill one of the people living in the house by dropping him down a flight of stairs. However, the backstory of Beetlejuice is what makes him a terrifying ghost, in that we know absolutely nothing about him. We know he's a ghost. We know he's been banished to some kind of sub-dimension within the Netherworld. But we don't know why. What did Beetlejuice actually do to get himself banished? Why was the case worker terrified of what might happen if he were to get out? Why does he look so grotesque when all other ghosts just look as they did when they died? How does he have powers to appear to the living, morph himself into snakes and carnival games, and basically screw with reality? These questions, my fellow fiends, are what haunt this movie. Not the ghosts. The WHY of Beetlejuice. Ironically, the self-titled “ghost with the most” is the ghost with the least, which makes him all the more frightening.

One more thing that makes this movie scary is the knowledge of what might have been. Many of you may not know this, but before the movie was turned into a comedy, it had a much more serious take. A few notable differences would have been as such: a much more detailed and horrifying scene of the ghost couple... well, becoming a ghost couple, and Beetlejuice would have been a rapist and murderer. See, originally, Beetlejuice was a winged demon, who wanted to murder the family and rape their daughter. And while a rewrite completely changed the tone, it's still terrifying to think of Beetlejuice as a horrible demon who wants nothing more than to rape and kill.

On that chilling note, you may have noticed I've used no names other than Beetlejuice in this post. This is because I would like to test your knowledge. Without using the net, try to name the various characters. Everyone knows Egon, Ray, Venkman, and Winston. But how many of you truly remember this movie?

I would talk about the cartoon spin-off, but I'm afraid I've run out of time. The ghosts are rattling their chains outside my door. Perhaps I'll take a look at it later. For now, I leave you with the funniest possession scene this side of Limbo.


  1. I could name every character without using the net, but I have seen this movie well in excess of 140 times. Yes, I've been counting.

    Fantastic review/reminiscence/whatever Daffy! I can't imagine what it would have been like if they'd gone with the original, darker script. I suppose all the Harry Belafonte songs would be out.

    The thing that amazes me is how much of an impression Beetlejuice makes on the viewer when he's onscreen for less than twenty minutes. And that's AFTER they added new scenes featuring him due to positive feedback in test screenings!

  2. I can name all the actors in "Beetlejuice" without using the net to look them up but, you know what, I don't know any of their character names. I'll just guess and see how many I get:

    Geena Davis = Susan
    Alec Balwin = Steve
    Winona Ryder = Lucretia

    ...ok, I give up. I have no idea. :(