Tagged Dead

Beetlejuice: The Afterlife and Raunchy Ghosts

Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★★★1/2
beetlejuice-posterTim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
beetlejuice-beetlejuice-the-movie-30941820-1920-1080After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
tumblr_npbu2xlhfu1uq538fo9_1280So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
winona-ryder-beetlejuice-2Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.
BEETLEJUICEWhat I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
vlcsnap-2013-11-14-04h25m48s120 391ccd14f69e49feacc3502aa1857b63 393689There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
BeetlejuiceBeetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.

Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
lbf-bettlejuice-jambeTotally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.

American Horror Story – Murder House, Episode 12: “Afterbirth”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 12: “Afterbirth”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (GleeThe New Normal)
Written by Jessica Sharzer

* For a review of the previous episode, “Birth” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-11-57-01-pmWe start off this finale, “Afterbirth”, with a flashback to a time when there seemed to be hope for Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott/Connie Britton). They’re trying somehow to make it work, obviously after he has pissed all over their marriage vows. Ben shows her the house – dear ole Murder House – saying they ought to give it a chance, it might be the way to find their groove again. He says he could see it like a movie, they were all there, around the fire, together once more as a true family. It’s one of those excellent scenes done in hindsight; we’re able to look back at all the horrible, terrifying events of Season 1 and say “Yeah okay Ben” when he says that it feels as if there is hope for them in the house. Tragically funny.
screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-11-57-51-pmWith the baby around now, Vivien dead, Ben Harmon is left to himself. He’s trying to take care of the baby, but clearly Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) does not want the child to go back into the wretched Murder House. While I don’t necessarily think the baby is going to turn out all right no matter where it goes – being a child of Tate (Evan Peters) after all – there’s part of Constance which does care for the child. Things went so awfully wrong with Tate, she only wants another child, another chance, in order to not raise a monster; ultimately, it’s all about how she feels her child and his actions reflect on her, not how much she cares about Tate. She is a selfish woman. Many of her intentions are spot on and righteous, however, the way she goes about putting them into action leave a lot to be desired.
At the same time, Ben now becomes aware of Tate being Constance’s son. Further and further his reality is beginning to slip away and become something of a memory. All around him are the ghosts of the house, which now include his own wife and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
I love the smeared lens style look so many shots have, as the ghosts are around Ben and he’s sort of wandering through their garden, so to speak. This really makes things look surreal and the atmosphere takes on an eerie feel simply from the perspective itself. We feel disoriented watching all of this, but it’s meant in an effective way to produce a required feeling; not meant to make us turn away or feel uncomfortable, it’s disorienting in the way we’re drawn into that surreal world. This technique is a classic by now in the universe of American Horror Story, one of those staples of the series, so I think that’s something which works incredibly well. So many psychological horrors will use that style, yet it isn’t overplayed or anything. Used correctly, it puts us into that shaky emotional space where psychologically strange scenes often need to play out.
There is a ton of tragedy in “Afterbirth”. While Vivien and Violet make their own amends with Ben, and decides not to kill himself to be with his family as originally planned, Hayden (Kate Mara) has other plans. Along with Dallas (Kyle Davis) and Fiona (Azura Skye) – the serial killer enthusiasts from “Home Invasion” – she strings Ben up via noose and hangs him until dead from the chandelier.
Just as everything seemed to be going right for Ben, maybe a turning point in his life somehow, there come the ghosts to keep him stuck within the walls.


It’s funny because I’d honestly thought after “Birth”, the season could’ve ended with a bit more time; maybe add another 15 minutes to that penultimate episode and there was the season finale.
But then in “Afterbirth”, we get a really great episode. A new family comes to move in as Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the sly real estate agent she is, doesn’t disclose the ENTIRE history of Murder House; only the recent tragedy of the Harmons. This gives us an interesting chapter for the season’s close.
Super cool aspect to this finale is how we’re seeing the crowded ghosts bumping up against one another. While Violet meets the new teenage boy in the house, Gabriel Ramos (Brennan Mejia), in the background we see Tate – jealous and hateful as ever – watching her with him, no doubt probably plotting whatever his next murderous move might be in the depths of Murder House.
Then there’s a chilling moment where Miguel and Stacy Ramos (Anthony Ruivivar/Lisa Vidal) say they may want a baby, to make the place less lonely after their teenage son moves off to college. Ben and Vivien watch on, unnoticed by the living, and realize this nice couple ought not to have a child in that place. AMAZING SCENE! So visually excellent, as the Ramos couple begins to heavy pet and makeout, almost near sex, and Moira (Frances Conroy) stands over them in the kitchen to tell the Harmons they’ll need some help in getting the Ramos family out of there; other ghosts are vengeful, hateful entities.
Before, the house was trying hard to get a baby, now that the Harmons are newly ghosted on the property they’re more concerned with trying to help another family get away from Murder House.
The spirits are all trying to drive this new family out. Even Tate – he’s no longer concerned with impregnating the wife of the house, he wants to get the teenage boy out so Violet won’t stray away. Although Violet wants nothing to do with Tate, he is constantly misguided in the afterlife.


Even Beau (Sam Kinsey) gets in on the action, scaring Mrs. Ramos in the hallway, as Ben Harmon suits up in the Rubber Man outfit and tries to crawl on top of her in the bedroom. Incredibly well executed sequence, as almost every one of the Murder House ghosts appears to the Ramos family in an attempt to scare them away forever. Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari) also materializes, Glasgow Smile and all, cut in half and bleeding all over the place. Macabre bunch of nastiness! Phil Critter (W. Earl Brown) bumps into the Ramos husband in the hallway. In the basement, Vivien tears Ben’s guts out in front of the Ramos family, before Ben shoots his deceased wife in the forehead, each exclaiming “You dont know how long Ive been waiting to do that.”
Another thing about the finale that hit me right in the excellent horror nerve is how they circled back to the Pilot, using that initial song the saucy twins were prancing around to at the beginning. I always love those circular motions in films and television shows. Especially with a series, because we’re harkening back a good ways to revisit things that sometimes we might even forget. Such is the case with the scene where the Ramos family speedily runs out of the house, not worried about their belongings, and the Harmons stand on the porch, lamenting that another family will only move on in eventually; the whole we’re listening to that strange, eerily unsettling song from the Pilot directed by Ryan Murphy, it’s called “Tonight, You Belong To Me” by Patience and Prudence. Effective moment that always gets me when I watch it.


Still, above all else in this episode, I think the best moment of “Afterbirth” is the very finish. Obviously nobody thought the baby – Michael – was going to turn out all right in the end, but what we’re able to see is how as he grows up he becomes more and more like his evil father Tate.
When Constance goes to check on Michael in the final scene, the boy is now slightly older. We’ve flashed forward three years. He is also now starting to grow into his skin, as the true son of his father. The bloody handprints on the rocking chair, Constance’s face as she sees the dead woman on the bedroom floor – it’s so creepy and shocking at once. Really nice horror movie reveal and it works incredibly for the last thing we see in Season 1.
screen-shot-2016-11-12-at-12-04-14-amSo much of what happened in the house boils down to Constance and Tate, and so I find it’s only fitting she is the last character we see before the season closes. A great way to show how the violence and madness and depravity of Murder House will never fade, as long as there is a child or offspring of some sort related to the house still breathing and living. Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve score, previously played as Tate massacred his high school classmates, comes in eerily just as the scene comes to a close and it’s like echoes of Michael’s father are literally in our ears. Beautifully macabre piece to finish.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow”
Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen (Armadillo)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Down Will Come” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.13.38 PMAs many of us predicted, this week found Detective Ray Velcoro [resilient Irish bastard Colin Farrell] alive and well after seemingly meeting the heavy end of two shotgun blasts – one at midrange, the other close range in the gut and chest. I thought he was wearing a vest, but to my surprise he was not; the rounds were riot shells, the non-lethal sort police use. Velcoro smiles slightly out of the side of his face as he relates that last part to his new partner Detective Ani Bezzerides [Rachel McAdams].
The opening of the episode was perfect. A lot of people are saying today that it was campy. Yeah, right. It’s a dreamy sequence, which happens between the time Ray is shot in the last episode and when he wakes up in this one. This scene shows how Twin Peaks is absolutely a running influence on both Nic Pizzolatto since the first season and the directors of the show in this new season.
Things are slowly heating up for Ray. He meets with Frank Semyon [Vince Vaughn] to discuss the recent events. Ray drinks a glass of water instead of the usual booze and cocaine cocktail. When Frank asks about the water, Ray replies: “Booze tends to take the edge off, I wanna stay angry.” There’s a shift happening in Ray Velcoro, as if he is now truly realizing the forces with which he is dealing, even after all the terrible things I’m sure he has seen, and done. The change is evident as Frank gets ready to head out and the bartender asks what happened to Ray. “Somebody murdered him,” Frank tells her as he pays up and leaves.
Velcoro is experiencing further aggravation in his family life, as his ex-wife offers him money to essentially walk away and not contest the custody of their boy. This, of course, as we’ve already seen is certainly not an option Ray even cares to think about.
I’m really interested in Ray generally, especially when it comes to his whole personal situation, because it’s absolutely wild, and it is such a tough situation all over that I can’t imagine where things will lead by the end of the season.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.15.56 PMMeanwhile, poor Frank is having troubles with his wife Jordan [Kelly Reilly]. She tries her best to help him get a bit of semen into a plastic cup, but ole Frank just can’t get the job done. The tension of Frank’s business life is clearly working its way into him, every way possible. Later in the episode, one of Frank’s cronies is found dead, his eyes wrecked like the dead catalyst of the season Ben Caspere. This seems to really set Frank off. One thing is for sure – he is getting deeper and deeper into the criminal mud than ever, no telling whether he’ll sink or crawl out on top. I just see the fire simmering low under the surface of Frank and his poised exterior, like he is trying hard to wear a certain mask even if it doesn’t fit quite right.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.16.15 PM I’m not sure if there’s anything really interesting going on with Vaughn’s character, though, I am still interested. Mainly it’s the way Vaught plays Frank Semyon with a quiet sort of demeanour that intrigues me, and I’m anticipating down the road we’ll end up seeing some intense moments that will pay off; I see something explosive in Frank, waiting, brewing to a head. Or who knows – maybe Semyon will be disappointing in the end as a character, someone cliched and stereotypical of the businessman-turned-gangster we’ve seen so many times around before.
We do get a glimpse into Frank’s physical aggression, as he faces off fist-to-fist with Danny Santos, a gold toothed gangster associate. Frank not only beats the hell out of Danny, and fairly quick, he then proceeds to pull out the gold fronts in Danny’s mouth. Vicious. Yet I feel there is only more to come on that front.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.17.04 PM“Maybe Tomorrow” brought a new bit of mix with the characters, as Detective Ani Bezzerides and Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] went out on the job together, questioning people in connection to their case, which in turn really gets under the Mayor of Vinci’s skin. I liked their exchanges, especially in the car early on. Ani starts to ask Paul about the case which took him off the bike – the young lady and her ‘offer’ from the First Episode – which sets Paul off a little. She goes on to assure him it was only brought up because Ani wondered if it would affect him doing street reconnaissance. I liked this moment particularly because it paints Ani again in a light that doesn’t always go for female characters; from the beginning, she is a take charge woman but does not suffer from being portrayed as uptight or hung up in any way. Whereas other shows might have Ani chastise Paul or make a snide comment now that they are saddled up together, Nic Pizzolatto opts to have her either be slightly understanding or not really caring at all and only worried about the job in front of her. I don’t think Pizzolatto is pushing towards having McAdams play a female character such as Bezzerides simply to pander to those who say there were no good, strong female characters/roles in the first season – I think he is genuinely writing a solid character. Ani could’ve worked as a male character, easily, however, it adds a better dimension having her as a female police detective here. I think it really flows well with the other personalities of the characters involved in the investigation.
Also, I think the small portions of the relationship between Ani and Steve is good stuff. She is a tough woman, not without flaws, and putting Steve in the position of being the inferior is interesting. The first season we got enough of the women flinging themselves after the men, desperately looking for love; this time around Pizzolatto opts to show the other side of the coin where the men get their feelings hurt and they lash out. And that’s part of why I’m enjoying the second season – it has those existential elements, slightly less than in the first, but it stands on its own, and offers a different perspective than we got in the first. I didn’t want a repeat, I wanted something different, and Pizzolatto has enacted enough change so far that I’m pleased. Ani is one of the best parts of those changes, I think adding a female detective, or any female lead character such as her, is really a benefit to the whole season.
75There’s a great scene with Officer Woodrugh and a soldier friend of from their “time in the desert”. It offered enough insight into Paul as a character to confirm everything that has been setup in the first two episodes. Clearly we already knew Woodrugh was wrestling with his sexuality at some point, and still is, and this became even more clear with the scene involving his friend – a friend who is more than that, someone who still thinks about “those three days”. They have a small altercation and Paul leaves.
What piqued my interest even more was the end of the scene where Detective Teague Dixon [W. Earl Brown] – the other cop on the case who already seemed to catch a vibe off Woodrugh in the Second Episode – can be seen watching Woodrugh walk away from the confrontation with his friend. I’m waiting to see where this development goes. Either Dixon might be interested in Paul, long shot, or he may be interested in the blackmail opportunities that could arise should he discover anything concrete about his fellow lawman. We shall see.
Plus, a great little bump in a club between Frank Semyon and Officer Woodrugh, who is there trying to collect information, which doesn’t really foreshadow anything, I just like that the cops and the criminals are sort of navigating a world where they literally bump shoulders. You can never really tell where the edges of the law begin, where they end, like a big cesspool where everything touches and everybody wades in up to their waists. Very cool moment.
true-detective-2-03-paul-bumps-into-frankBasically, for those who have been complaining the second season is slow, that it doesn’t really have much story, “Maybe Tomorrow” truly delivers. We get some more secrets, little chunks of backstory and character/plot development falling out here and there. It was really a piñata-like episode, packing a good punch for the naysayers. Sure, I’ve no doubt they are still out there and will continue to be. I just think season two is giving the goods. It is a different beast than the first. We really seeing the beasts inside everyone, not only the criminals, but all the people in the city of Vinci from the cops to the criminals, the men, the women, and it’s like humanity spilling its guts. The first season of True Detective was all about the dirty side of humanity, however, the main characters of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were good guys ultimately, even with all the skeletons in their personal closets; they were on the right side of the law, even when they were on the wrong side of it trying to find justice near the end of the season. This new season is all about what happens when the detectives on the case aren’t exactly good, honourable people, or at least it’s about the bad, sometimes terrible, choices good people make when the chips are down.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.13.11 PMThere are no bells and whistles on this season, so far, like there were in the first. I think that helps. Rust Cohle was awesome – so damn cool – but we have great characters developing here, especially in the three lead cops Bezzerrides, Woodrugh, and Velcoro. The end of this episode was not near as crazy as “Night Finds You“, but the whole thing was stellar, and I’m looking forward to more progression in the next, along with plenty other secrets and who knows what else. I feel certain things were settled in this episode – Frank and his need to release some form of aggression whether through fists or sex – and some things have only started – the budding situation between Paul and Teague – and the titular line of the episode near the end when Frank says, “Maybe tomorrow”, to his wife only hints at something big for the next one titled “Down Will Come”.
See you next Sunday!