Happy birthday, Beetlejuice!

The iconic cult movie directed by Tim Burton turns thirty this year. And we decided to celebrate it with a bunch of related Maitland household tattoos…

Beetlejuice’, the original movie, came out in the States on 30th March 1988 directed by Tim Burton.

That was the plot. Adam and Barbara Maitland (a youthful Alec Baldwin and a fantastic Geena Davis) are a young married couple, madly in love, who tragically drown when, swerving to avoid hitting a dog, their car crashes into a river. Not realising that they are in fact dead, the Maitlands return to their lovely house in the Connecticut countryside, and here, they gradually come to realise two unpleasant facts.

Beetlejuice tattoo by Victor Chil, Family Art Tattoo, Barcelona, Spain
Beetlejuice tattoo by Victor Chil, Family Art Tattoo, Barcelona, Spain

The first, obviously, is that they have passed on and from here on will have to live as ghosts. And the second piece of bad news is that their beloved mansion has been sold to an upwardly-mobile radical chic family from New York (the Deetz family played by Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) with a very Goth teenage daughter, an outstanding performance from Winona Ryder who was only sixteen at the time.

The hapless Maitlands are truly doomed: they will have to spend one hundred and twenty-five years of limbo in what used to be their house before moving on to the overcrowded Afterlife. A genteel couple who would never do anything to cause a stir (unlike the living who are completely at the mercy of their neuroses), the Maitlands just can’t come to terms with their fate.

After a futile encounter with Juno (their post-mortem consultant), they turn to the obnoxious and devious Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton at his best), a sort of bio-exorcist. Unlike terrestrial exorcists who chase demons out of the bodies of the possessed, his job is, or rather, should be to chase the Deetz out of their ill-gotten real estate!

Which is where the entire comedy of errors begins. There are moments of high comedy, with the Afterlife like a chaotic social welfare office where the public take a number and wait in line, and fabulous forays into that pop-occult, never really that dangerous in comparison with the tragedy that is real life. All of which would make the cinematic fortune of Tim Burton himself.

Beetlejuice tattoo by Nikko Hurtado, Black Anchor Collective, Hesperia, USA
Nikko Hurtado, Black Anchor Collective, Hesperia, USA

Keaton even getting the role was just a fortunate coincidence seeing as how the Burbank director had initially decided on the seasoned Sammy Davies Jr. who was 63 years of age at the time and would die just two years after the film came out. But the legendary member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack was passed over by producer David Geffen who suggested the then emerging actor Keaton who had caught his eye in the delightful comedy ‘Night Shift’.

Inspiration for the name came from a star (Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation) and it was a massive hit earning seventy-three million dollars of the time when it had been made on a budget of just fifteen. It won an Oscar for Best Makeup in 1989, and was turned into an animated series of ninety-four episodes broadcast between ’89 and ’91 and gave rise to endless rumours of a possible sequel or spin-off which has so far failed to see the light. Better this way. A cult have to remain a cult!