Last night I watched “Beetlejuice” again for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long.
Which I guess makes this a good time to let anyone looking at this know: This post may contain spoilers for a movie released 33 years ago. I believe this puts it beyond the spoiler statute of limitations, but if you’re concerned, stop reading now.
When that movie was released in 1988 I was under the age of ten; in the age of videotape I watched it over and over, drawn to the raw, weird imagination on display as well as the somewhat-macabre humor. It’s startling how well I remembered it. I was able to quote along with many of the lines, the imagery still quite fresh in my mind in many places.
…And yet, re-watching as an adult it’s also kind of interesting to see what things I did not remember. What things I didn’t even really register properly at the time, because there are things kids don’t so much think about.
Here are a few of the things that whooshed over my head as a Little Person:
- The casual hurtfulness of the realtor’s eager, benign insistence to Barbara Maitland that “this house is too big for you! It should belong to -” To a family with children, obviously, and the look on Geena Davis’s face says it all. Oof.
- The equally casual hatefulness of yuppies, at least the ones in this film. The status-seeking and the social-climbing and the hankering to turn absolutely everything – everything! – into money haven’t really gone away of course; now these people run tech startups, and instead of weird, cold edgy designs without warmth like those favored by Delia Deetz they favor bland, benign, equally cold designs that are meant to suggest warmth without containing any. (If I were a ghost and one of them moved into my house, I would also be rather peeved.)
- How sleazy Betelgeuse actually is. Little-kid me hadn’t yet been catcalled and had no context in which to be grossed out by his rapacious pursuit of anything remotely female in the vicinity, including Lydia (who has got to be underage, you guys. Ick on a number of levels).
- Why exactly Otho flees screaming into the night after finding himself in a different outfit. Hey, I didn’t know what a leisure suit was back then.
Adult me also appreciates in a way that the younger me did not that the thing about the afterlife that seems to cause the most trouble is that it is a badly-managed bureaucracy, one that doesn’t give the people it supposedly serves good direction and which seems to be strangely low on resources considering that one would presumably not need to pay anyone who works there anything. I wonder if there’s something there that is reflective of the general mistrust of government/the centralization of power that was, I’m pretty sure, building even in 1988. (Admittedly going with a private contractor in this case was a fairly awful plan, too, so maybe the real philosophical underpinning there is something along the lines of “Hey! Fund public services damn it!”)
…then again, who or what exactly would be “funding” the management of the afterlife? Hmm. Clearly I am overthinking this.
It’s an Extremely 80s Movie in a number of ways, though you can definitely feel the beginnings of some of that 90s irony creeping in there. I’m not sure whether you’d be able to get away with making it these days, but I’m going to have this particular infectious little ditty in my head for a good long while, so let’s share: