Thursday, July 23, 2015

Will somebody please build the house from Beetlejuice?!

Fans of cinema and history have reconstructed everything from the house in Up to numerous versions of the White House. In the 1990s, FOX and Pepsi built a true-to-life Simpsons house as part of a promotion. Someone even commissioned a nearly identical replica of Grey Gardens, at least its facade, inspired by the HBO movie.

From Psycho to Poltergeist to Christmas in Connecticut, a movie's architecture is as much a character as anyone in its cast. But with some notable exceptions, the houses on the screen are often as fictional as their cast-mates. You'll find the house from People Under the Stairs in Los Angeles a short drive from American Horror Story's "Murder House." But if you were to step inside, you'd find unfamiliar - albeit grandiose - architecture. 

The logistics of filming a feature anything inside a real house are complicated. That is unless you're filming at Biltmore EstateEven greater creative license is taken with sitcoms, especially staged laugh-track sitcoms from the '80s and '90s. I always wanted to know what was on that fourth wall of the Keaton's living room...or the Seaver's, or the Sheffield's, or the Huxtable's. And how many of you only use three sides of your dining room table?

Every "living room" in the '80s and '90s.

Still, we remember those houses as much as we remember the characters that lived in them. Artist Inaki Aliste Lizarralde took this inspiration to an obsessive level by drafting quality floor plans of popular sitcom locales

So that begs the question: if artists are capable of creating blueprints for our favorite fictional homes, why hasn't anyone built the house from Beetlejuice?

For a multitude of reasons, the Maitlands' house - both before and after its bizarre redesign by the Deetz's - is by far my favorite fictional house in every way. For one, it reminded me very much of an aging farm house a few miles from the farm where I was raised. I also had my own miniature town in my parents' basement, complete with little cars and little people. After seeing Beetlejuice in 1988, I reconfigured some of the houses into an uncanny representation of my own home town of Mt. Crawford, VA, similar in size to the fictional Winter River, CT. 

The only things missing were a cathouse, ghosts, and of course, the Maitland's Victorian Gothic perched atop a hill. If I could have fashioned a scaled Otho Fenlock in a kimono, I probably would have made it happen. 

Despite my long running fascination with this fictional home, I only recently discovered the house itself was a set with only three walls. It shouldn't have come as a surprise. The house didn't make a lot of sense. 19th Century farmhouses were usually built on low ground, not atop hills. The home's design was deliberately cartoonish, clearly the playful work of Bo Welch, who also worked with Tim Burton on Edward Scissorhands

"My whole life is a darkroom. One. Big. Dark. Room." -Lydia Deetz

But the 12 year old inside of me, the one who watched Beetlejuice at the Roth 1-2-3 almost 30 years ago, had always held out hope that it was, in fact, a real house. And that I, of course, would someday live in it. 

Perhaps someday someone will. According to Winona Ryder, a sequel is coming. Tim Burton confirmed the rumor. Very little is known about the sequel yet, but the fact that the word "sequel" has been floated means we won't get another worn remake. And let's face it, there is no reason to remake Beetlejuice. Special effects? Why bother? Its Burton-esque effects are part of what made the movie so great. 

Can you imagine Beetlejuice CGIed into Adam Maitland's tiny-town? The scale model's grass was clearly made from household foam padding, dyed green. These details (or un-details) are what make Tim Burton such an artistic genius. Even when special effects are available, he does something playful that forces us to use our imagination to fill in the gaps.

With 2018 marking the film's 30th anniversary, a three-decade gap between the then and now offer plenty of material to play with. How did the Handbook for the Living and the Dead work out? Did Ms. Argentina finally call number 9,998,383,750,000? How will they address the unfortunate loss of Otho's brilliant Glenn Shadix?

Reboots are cheap and easy, and often a downright narcissistic way for a new director to put an unwanted spin on something someone else already perfected. I'm looking at you, Stepford Wives.

But amending long dormant stories is uncommon. In fact, Twin Peaks' Season 3 is the only instance I can think of where writers, directors, and a large chunk of the original cast have agreed to return more than two decades later to reprise their roles. Sure, Carrie 2: The Rage was technically a sequel, but its only veteran might as well have been a cameo, and SPOILER ALERT...

...she's unceremoniously killed off when Carrie's "rage" sends a fire poker through a peephole. Seriously, why do people in movies always look through the wrong side of a peephole? 

But as bad as Rage was, it was an earnest attempt to honor a classic without rewriting it. That kind of blaspheme would have to wait until 2013.

If Peaks and Beetlejuice prove successful, we may see a new trend in cinema revisiting long forgotten story lines rather than simply rebooting them. One can hope.

As for Beetlejuice's three-sided prop that inspired my fantasies and helped fuel my passion for macabre architecture, it will undoubtedly need to be rebuilt. Maybe this time Burton will opt for four walls and plumbing: a real house that can be actioned off to one of Beetlejuice's biggest fanboys.

However it happens, I'll be taking a road-trip to East Corinth, VT during production. "Oh, hey, Winona, nice to meet y -WHOA, THERE'S THE HOUSE!"

1 comment:

  1. I, too, have been downright OBSESSED with this house since I was a kid! If ever I come across a good fortune enough to have this built, it will be my NUMBER ONE priority!! I wish a real architect would even just release a blueprint of this house. Glad to see that I'm not alone!