The first time I saw Beetlejuice was at a 4th grade sleepover at my friend Frida’s house, who had invited all the girls in the class to her party. I was super excited because it was my first sleepover and I imagined gossiping, braiding hair, and eating junk food, and ultimately, fulfilling my job duties as sleepover-e (why isn’t there a proper term for that??). When I arrived, the room was indeed filled with girls smacking on chewing gum and braiding each other’s hair, but what really caught my attention was the movie playing on the huge 15-inch screen TV (hey, it was 1988, okay?!) There, in full creepy and magnificent mode, was the host-est with the most-est, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton, in his most iconic role other than Batman), and Lydia (Wynona Ryder) in all her gothy glam teenage glory, and I was mesmerized from the moment I watched Barbara (Gina Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) drown, but not drown, and become not seemingly dead, but not quite alive, and I was hooked like a fish to their characters’ undead bodies.
What followed, in case you’ve never watched the genius that is director Tim Burton, was Michael Keaton’s weird and whimsical portrayal of Beetlejuice set against a canvas of what looked like a mash-up between a Salvador Dalí painting and an Edgar Allen Poe literary setting. Winona Ryder played the part of moody and quirky Lydia, and the premise was…well, it was strange. Bio-exorcisms? A Handbook for the Recently Deceased? Gawd, I loved it, I loved all of it. I parked myself right in front of that TV so quickly you could practically hear a screech, and ignoring all the girls in the room, I sat glued to my spot until the film ended. I mean, who cares about braids when you can watch people shake their bums to “Day-O” and laugh when shrimp re-animate into hands to grab and push people’s faces during a fancy sit-down dinner?! It was dark! It was hilarious! It was weird! It was awesome! Why didn’t all the girls realize the cinematic history that was set before their eyes, worrying only about choosing between Fritos and Cheetos when there were greater things to ponder?! I don’t remember much of what happened the rest of that night except that I knew I had watched something special, something unique, something strange. And thus I set forth on my path to strangeways.
And in case you didn’t know, the title to this post is a reference to The Smiths’ album Strangeways, Here We Come, and you may be thinking “WHAT’S THE CONNECTION?!” Well, I’ll gladly tell you! When Michael Keaton hosted Saturday Night Live in 1992, the musical guest was none other than the King of Mope himself, Morrissey! *GASP!* It all makes sense now!! You’re welcome.