‘Beetlejuice’ At 35: Still The Ghost With The Most

"Beetlejuice" is driven by Michael Keaton's performance and Tim Burton's visual style. At 35, it's still strikingly original. / Photo courtesy Warner Brothers

“Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice”, the words ring out.

Goth girl Lydia’s desperately summons the ghost with the most. Chaos and destruction ensue. All bets are off. It’s showtime. 

Tim Burton’s off-kilter horror comedy has been a cultural icon since the day it first haunted our screens. Beetlejuice turns 35 in March, celebrating its impact, influence, and all things strange and unusual. 

There probably isn’t a single Halloween store that doesn’t offer the iconic black and white Beetlejuice suit. Micheal Keaton’s eccentricity, raunch, grit, grime, and power as the freelance bio-exorcist who helps a newly dead couple try to scare away the new residents of their house has stuck with audiences since the film’s release, leading it to a cult status that hinged entirely on his bringing this undead being to life. And Burton fills the film with a stellar cast of Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, and Catherine O’Hara.

Burton’s larger-than-life visuals, art style, and humor serve as the backbone for a delightfully chaotic narrative, including the wayward structure of the Netherworld, Lydia’s bright red wedding dress, the horrifying forms the Maitlands take to scare the Deetzs, and Beetlejuice’s decomposing form and electrified hair. 

Creatures of the Netherworld take on absurd proportions and forms, reinforcing Burton’s distinctive surreal visual style. The only films that could hold a candle to such visuals grounded in the odd and macabre are those of Burton’s himself. 

Beetlejuice is as campy as it gets, with incredible comedic moments to juxtapose the darker ones. At the heart of this humor is Beetlejuice, with his slapstick and crude humor providing a break from the dreary realities of death and darkness the film deals with. This contrast is masterfully done, creating an environment in which even the darkest of themes can be explored in a lighthearted way. 

At 35, Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice” is still strikingly original. / Photo courtesy Warner Brothers

The film’s success went on to inspire an animated series that ran for four seasons from 1989-1991 on ABC. It followed Lydia and Beetlejuice on their ghostly adventures in both the mortal world and the Netherworld. A stage musical of the film was also created, which opened at the Winter Garden Theater in 2019, and after an interruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, returned for a Broadway run from April 2022 to January 2023. The show is now on its first National Tour of North America.  

The film’s impact on pop culture is evident. From its immovable spot on Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween lineup, to its Broadway production creating a new generation of fans, Burton’s cult classic has its roots in all things spooky and paranormal. As the ghost with the most would say, “Let’s turn on the juice and see what shakes loose!