It’s Halloween! I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan. As you know, I do not appreciate being scared and even something as hilarious as Beetlejuice is realllllly cutting it close for me in terms of comfort-ability. That doesn’t mean scary movies don’t have a structure worth studying though. While Beetlejuice may be from the perspective of the ghosts, and therefore a bit different than movies like Halloween and Scream, there is one major thing that they have in common: the heroine.
Beetlejuice premiered in 1988 and was directed by Tim Burton and written by Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren. It follows a recently deceased couple who are in over their heads as ghosts when a devious specter, Beetlejuice, escapes and wreaks havoc on their home’s new inhabitants.
Protagonists: Adam and Barbara Maitland
Want: Get the Deetz’s out of their house
Need: Accept that no man is an island and create a new family
Antagonists: The Deetz’s (Personal), Beetlejuice (Extra Personal)
Pre-Existing Life: The Maitlands are spending their “vacation” at home fixing up their home, cleaning, and working on hobbies. When their family friend Jane comes by and when they run into the town barber, they ignore them or push them away. When they die, they are all alone with no one there to help them and when they return home (now dead), they are seemingly in the perfect situation, isolated in the house.
Inciting Incident: Bored in their purgatory, the pair are angered when a new family, the Deetz’s move in and start changing the house the Maitlands considered their greatest pride and joy.
First Act Decision: The Maitlands use the manual to go visit their caseworker, Juno, where they decide to step up their game to get the Deetz’s out of their house.
Progress: They attempt to wear sheets to spook the family but are caught by Lydia, who it is revealed is able to see them. They now have an ally who help get the family to understand their plight.
Reversal: The Maitlands feel like they may be in over their heads and dig up Beetlejuice but after talking with him they realize it was a terrible mistake and they should work without him.
Midpoint: Delia Deetz throws a dinner party where Adam and Barbara take over the guests bodies and attack them with shrimp. It only excites everyone, who are upset when the ghost won’t show themselves and barge into the attack where Otho steals the ghost manual.
Reversal #2: The Deetz’s are attacked by Beetlejuice in the form of a giant snake-monster and Charles is almost killed. Afterwards, Beetlejuice reveals he has a crush on Lydia and the Maitlands are scolded by Juno for putting Beetlejuice back in his box.
False Climax / Low Point: The Maitlands feel bad for the terrible time they’ve put the Deetz’s through and want to just live together as a family with Lydia. Otho performs a seance that reveals the Maitlands in the flesh, decaying on the dining room table.
3rd Act Decision: Lydia makes a deal with Beetlejuice that she will marry him in order to save the Maitlands. Naturally, the moment the Maitlands are no longer in dire straits they jump to save Lydia.
Climax: As Beetlejuice are in the midst of marrying Lydia, he sends the Maitlands away. Adam is able to stall followed by Barbara riding in on a sandworm that eats Beetlejuice.
Resolution: The Maitlands and Deetzs live together as one big family, with Adam and Barbara acting as the traditional parents that Lydia seemingly always needed and Lydia filling the void of the child the Maitlands never had the chance to have, while Charles gets quiet and Delia can live in her own art center in her own mind.
Horror movies are famous for their female heroines, but they are able to ultimately save the day, they are typically “virginal” character types who spent the bulk of the film running around screaming. If Barbara Maitland were ten years younger, this would be her to a T. She even says as much when they first converse with Lydia, saying “if I had seen a ghost at your age I would’ve been scared out of my wits.” Lydia is not the typical movie heroine. She’s “strange and unusual,” not because the world has forced her to be mature but because she’s had to entertain herself and knows no different than the city life she was raised in.
In one of the first scenes in the film, Jane makes a comment to Barbara about how the house is to big for Adam and Barbara. The couple later laugh while talking about trying to have a child again. Lydia and Barabara are yin and yang and they need one another.
And yeah, Adam too. He and Barbara are a clear set. So are Charles and Delia though. While Delia gives the appearance of being a “handful”in the beginning and a professional complainer, we later on see Charles and Delia having a private moment and when Charles is beating himself up for moving to the sticks, Delia is willing to sacrifice her own wants and ego to quickly build him back up by saying he’s “never had a bad idea.” It’s interesting to look at the two couples side-by-side. There is so much going on in the film but you never doubt for a moment that these people are stronger with their significant others and in the end, Lydia needs both pairs. She wouldn’t be the person she is at the beginning without her father and stepmother and she wouldn’t be able to regain the traditional childhood she needed if it weren’t for the Maitlands. Her father knew Lydia needed out of the city, he just needed guides to help him out once the Deetzs arrived.
While horror movies are all about taking an innocent female and putting her through traumatic events, Beetlejuice did the reverse by making that innocent woman the terror (along with her husband) and challenged those who, like Lydia, watch horror movies with excitement. It’s an interesting and subtle twist that makes you wonder how you could twist another beloved genre, without parody, to present a predictable genre in a new way.