Comedy or horror: into which genre do you think Beetlejuice fits?
Both! There are arguments for putting Beetlejuice into both the comedy and horror genres. The appearance of the eponymous character is undeniably comedic. After all, a ghost who dresses in a dapper and careful manner, but whose face is moldy and whose teeth are falling out, strikes an ambiguous and comedic tone. The Maitlands' storyline is also rather amusing, and treated lightly; the concept of a ghost who isn't able to spook is a rather comic scenario. Additionally, the lightheartedness with which their death is treated, and the comically outrageous elements of the afterlife, signal to the viewer that this is an irreverent comedy. Finally, the Deetz family, with all their pretensions and cartoonishly snobbish behavior, are comic villains, not nearly as harmless as they appear. All these elements of the film suggest that the film is a comedy.
As comedic as the film is, it's often very scary. Despite his outwardly comic appearance and slapstick antics, the Beetlejuice character is undeniably evil, a smooth talker who will stop at nothing to get his way, has no apparent sense of ethics, and who threatens to kidnap and marry a teenager against her will. In fact, his evil is all the more pronounced precisely because of its juxtaposition with his risible appearance. Lydia Deetz is herself hardly comedic, and much of her storyline is serious and sad. She is depressed, filled with angst and suicidal because she is so alienated by her family and their house's strange paranormal circumstances. Lydia's experience is often quite dark, and she must be convinced of the value of life, ironically, by the Maitlands, who themselves are dead.
How did Michael Keaton create an iconic character in Beetlejuice?
Tim Burton initially created Beetlejuice as a character wearing a pinstripe suit, but beyond this initial idea did not quite know what he wanted from the character. He handed the outline to Michael Keaton and the actor built the iconic paranormal bad guy himself. In fact, his creation was so inspired that it earned the movie's costume department an Oscar for best makeup. Knowing that the character had been dead for some time, Keaton gave Beetlejuice a moldy face and a set of rotten teeth. He also gave him wild and crazy hair that made him look like he had been electrocuted. Keaton also created Beetlejuice's iconic movement, his strange and farcical walk and a manic gestural vocabulary.
How is music used in the film?
The exciting score, written by longtime Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, provides much of the soundtrack for the film. It often strikes the perfect tone—a combination of horrific and humorous. Additionally, the music of Harry Belafonte, the "king of Calypso," plays a prominent role in the film. In the beginning, Adam listens to it while he works on his model. Then later, in an attempt at a show-stopping haunting, the Maitlands fill Delia's dinner party with the sound of Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song" and control the bodies of Delia and her guests so that they lip-sync and dance along to the music. It is a heightened, comic moment: all of the snobby New York art-world people dancing in unison to the exciting, vibrant song. Then, at the end, Lydia levitates and dances to another Harry Belafonte song after she gets an A on the math test. While the visual world of the film is macabre and fantastical, a New England ghost story, the soundtrack is tropical and vibrant, reflecting Belafonte's Jamaican roots. This contrast creates a playful and exciting juxtaposition.
What does the film have to say about death and suicide?
In the middle of the film, Lydia becomes inconsolably depressed, and pens a suicide note. While the movie leaves the reason for her depression somewhat ambiguous, it has something to do with how alienated she feels from her family—her sense that they do not understand her—and her desire to join the Maitlands, warmer and more understanding people, in the afterlife. When she tells Barbara and Adam that she wants to kill herself, they discourage her from suicide, and Barbara tells her, "Being dead really doesn’t make things any easier.” The Maitlands then decide that they want to stay in the house. While the film does not distinguish between life and death particularly (aside from the more fantastical elements of the film, Barbara and Adam are barely changed from their living forms), it communicates that living is preferable to death. By reconciling the world of the living with the world of the dead—bringing together the Deetzes and the Maitlands to live in the same house—Lydia comes to value her own life and find happiness.
What are some unusual visual and design touches that establish Tim Burton's singular style?
Throughout, the visual landscape is very specific and is unmistakably Tim Burton-esque to those familiar with his work. Firstly, the quick changes between the model and the real world create a disorienting, unusual sense of place that shows viewers we are in a fantastical and unusual world filled with opposites and contradictions. Additionally, the film's color palette adds to this uncanny sensibility. Dark shadows turn into bright and sunny landscapes. Outside the Maitlands' house, the sun shines brightly, while by contrast, Beetlejuice lives in a dark underground lair. Contrasts are used to show the differences between the Deetzes and the Maitlands as well; while the Maitlands' version of the house is traditional and homey, the Deetzes refurnish it to make it sleek and "avant-garde." Finally, the animation of the film hearkens back to Burton's background as an animator. The grotesque sandworms on the desert planet that the Maitlands find themselves on outside the house are animated in a distinctive and uncanny style.