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Choosing which two movies I wanted to talk about for my Drive-In Double Feature wasn’t easy. As all the entries this past month have shown, there are endless combinations — none of them wrong, each one utterly singular and wonderfully creative. I had a couple ideas bouncing around (ones I’ll save for next year, or maybe before then) but I finally decided on Beetlejuice and The Frighteners since Beetlejuice — more specifically, its potential sequel — has been in the news lately.
See, for years now, people have been clamoring for a Beetlejuice sequel — but what they don’t realize is they’ve had a Beetlejuice sequel for years already: The Frighteners. Let’s look at some of the obvious comparisons:
- Both are about the dead interacting with the living, specifically the dead helping the living accomplish a goal.
- Both are about a living person using the dead to dupe other living people.
- Both feature smart-assed ghosts.
- Both prove that even the dead can still die again.
- And perhaps most damning of all: both were scored by Danny Elfman! I mean, c’mon people!
The similarities don’t end there.
The catalyst in both films is a car wreck: in Beetlejuice, a car accident kills the Maitlands, which allows them to interact with the dead. In The Frighteners, Michael J. Fox and his wife are also in a car accident; the crash kills the wife, but near-death experience allows Fox to — you guessed it — communicate with the dead.
Plus, look at this car chase from The Frighteners. Everything is very lush and green, hills are winding, homes are painted white and almost look like models. Tell me these locations don’t look exactly like the model set Adam Maitland builds of the little town in Beetlejuice! The car crash at the end of Beetlejuice (the one that takes place on the miniature model) looks identical to the one that happens in The Frighteners. Hell, they even both involve antique model vehicles!
Both also have interesting MPAA ratings: Despite the violence being comical in nature or happening offscreen entirely, The Frighteners was deemed far too violent, and the board forced an R-rating on an unhappy Peter Jackson despite him making as many cuts as he possibly could. Yet Beetlejuice — which features a perverted ghost marrying an underage girl, corpses who talk about suicide, one crotch grab, and one use of “fuck” — snuck by with a harmless PG.
And there is one more loose, tenuous parallel: in The Frighteners, Michael J. Fox lives in an home he never finished building, and it’s in need of major repairs; in Beetlejuice, after the Maitlands die, the Deetzes move in and make major repairs and changes. The homelife in both films, the disarray — it’s too blatant to ignore.
But despite their numerous similarities, the reception to either film couldn’t have been any different. While Beetlejuice became a smash hit and an 80s classic, and probably the most memorable film production for all those involved, The Frighteners failed at the box office and became a mere footnote in Peter Jackson’s filmography. It was also Fox’s last leading role in a live-action feature film. However, in recent years, people seem to be coming to their senses and have now realized what a goddamn gem The Frighteners is, and it has developed, as the cool kids say, a “cult following”.
I remember seeing The Frighteners in the theater with my folks when I was 12 years old. It blew me away. I’ve always been into two things: scary stuff and funny stuff; The Frighteners knocked it out of the goddamned park with both! Aside from just being incredibly fun and well written and beautifully shot, it has tons of incredible special effects. In fact, it required more digital effects shots than almost any movie made up until that time (thanks, Wikipedia!)
I originally saw Beetlejuice as a small child, most likely from a video store rental. I don’t remember when I saw it I just remember being so young that stuff about the film didn’t make sense to me until years later. Like when the Maitlands drown; I didn’t realize they were dead. When Geena Davis trots the horse statue in front of the mirror to show she has no reflection, I had no goddamned idea what was going on. When the Maitlands possess the Deetzes and force them to dance to calypso music, I couldn’t have been more lost — but damn if that wasn’t a great scene to a toddler!
A double feature of Beetlejuice and The Frighteners makes more sense the longer I sit here and type (also, the more beer I drink.) Beetlejuice is a wonderful ode to the practical effects of 80s horror — even utilizing ‘old-school’ stop motion animation in several scenes. The Frighteners shows the turning of the tide, blending both practical effects and digital effects but leaning more on the latter. Both films would be nominated for and win several Saturn awards. Beetlejuice would even win an Academy Award for best make-up!
Both films also have huge, colorful supporting casts — Beetlejuice with Sylvia Sydney and Dick Cavett; The Frighteners with Dee Wallace, John Astin, and Jeffrey Combs!
It feels silly summarizing both films, especially Beetlejuice since it has become so embedded in the pop culture collective consciousness — so I’ll skip the summations. But trust me: these movies are the perfect double feature, not simply because they compliment each other, but because one feels like an extension of the other. Go watch both…now!
This review originally appeared on Letterboxd.
If 60s-era Roman Polanksi and 80s-era Tim Burton had a baby (and lord knows, Roman would try), the resultant drooling beast would be this film.
And I mean that in the best way possible.
Beautifully shot, great set design, and truly terrifying. It lives up to all the hype it’s been receiving.