Dissecting the Macabre: Beetlejuice (1988)

Hey there, Creepy Peeps! Hopefully, you caught my Dissecting the Macabre video on Beetlejuice, if not, I will post it right here:

I thought I would discuss Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) this week as the movie is celebrating its 30th anniversary on March 30th – feel old yet? Now, it goes without saying that Tim Burton has a very distinctive style. You could easily pick out his film from the bunch just based on how they look. I’ve seen the word “Burtonesque” floating around the interwebs as a blanket term to describe Burton’s style, and I think I will adopt it for this post. Probably for life, too.  As Beetlejuice is one of Burton’s earliest works, I thought I would talk about the Burtonesque style in its earliest stages (which would be Beetlejuice).

Burton uses the gothic style very heavily in his costume, makeup, and set design. In Beetlejuice, the Maitlands live in this creepy, old Victorian home. The Maitland home also exemplifies the contrast between light and dark, which is also present in Burton’s films. On one hand, you have the Maitlands home, which is painted white and matches the bright country landscape. Contrast this with the Deetzes who come in with their blacks and dark gray décor. The house is low-lit, making the shadows more pronounced compared to the Maitlands home pre-Deetzes where the natural light made the home seem light and airy.


Burton is also known for creating stories that feature misunderstood outcasts. Lydia Deetz is obviously an outcast among her family and even the Maitlands who she befriends; at one point in the film, she even plans to kill herself just so she can be with them. I would venture to say the Maitlands are outcasts, too. They clearly prefer to stay at home with each other rather than hang out in town or go somewhere else for a vacation. Plus, you have Barbara’s sister who thinks they should sell their big house, as the Maitlands have no children.

Other traits of Burton’s style that are present in Beetlejuice is the use of stop-motion animation, the distortion of limbs and features to fit the gothic style, and a distinct score, which is usually done by Danny Elfman. There’s not a whole lot of stop-motion in Beetlejuice aside from the sandworm, and some effects like the Maitlands scary facial transformation and the entrance of the wedding officiant. The wedding officiant also exemplifies the distortion of limbs and features that we end up seeing later in films like A Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993), Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005), and Frankenweenie (Tim Burton 2012). And of course, the score, Elfman’s work is probably the next most recognizable tings about Burton’s work. Hell, even when it’s not a Burton movie, I can still recognize Elfman’s music.


All these elements, that were present in their early stages in Beetlejuice have become what, apparently, is known as Burtonesque style. One thing is for certain, Burton proves that the auteur theory is not a thing of the past; you can make out his signature in every single film of his.

There you have it, creeps! Let me know in the comments if you’re a fan of the Burton aesthetic or not. I’ll leave a link to Beetlejuice on Amazon Video below, no pressure to watch it there, but if you do and you use this link, it helps my channel out.

Starring Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O'Hara