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Cult Classics
by yo go re

Trouble with the living? Is death a problem and not the solution? Unhappy with eternity? Having difficulty adjusting? Call Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse...

Beetlejuice is an obnoxious freelance "bio-exorcist" hired to scare away the living. Not much is known about him including his age or cause of death. He is vulgar and crude and is trying to scheme his way back to the land of the living.

Made after Tim Burton's big break-through success with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice was an unexpected hit, recouping its budget five times over. It was one of the highest-grossing films of the year, and helped cement Burton's place as a "name" director - which, in turn, helped convince Warner Brothers to greenlight 1989's Batman. The movie walks a fine line between horror and comedy that wouldn't really be equalled unil 2004's Shaun of the Dead. And in his own way, BJ is just as iconic as the "serious" horror stars, like Freddy and Jason, which is why he was chosen for Series 7 of NECA's Cult Classics.

Beetlejuice wore several different outfits during the course of the movie, but for their first figure, NECA went with the big one: the black and white striped suit he wore on the movie posters. Doesn't get much more iconic than that. The physical sculpt of the figure is good - the suit is ill-fitting and his pants bunch up where they're tucked into his army boots. His tie is a separate piece with pips running down the center. Compared to the prototype shots, the figure's waist looks mis-aligned; actually, the sculpt was reworked to better capture Juice's big gut. After all, him being skinny wouldn't be right.

The clothes are nice, but the likeness is what really counts. Jason Frailey is the man responsible for the work, and he accomplished an almost unheard-of feat: you know how we'll often say that a figure doesn't look like the actor, but does look like the character? Not here. Not only can you see "Beetlejuice" when you look at this toy, you can see Michael Keaton wearing Beetlejuice make-up. Things are definitely exaggerated for effect, but it works really well. Being able to pick out distinct likenesses like that on a small figure? Damn impressive.

The articulation is exactly what we've come to expect from NECA: a balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, plain swivel elbows, balljointed wrists, a balljointed waist, then nothing below there except the swivels at the boots. You know, enough to have him flail his arms around, but then just some fine-tuning of the balance. The elbows are as useless as they always are, but overall this is a decent assortment.

So the sculpt and the articulation are both good. However, the paint is where it all goes to pot. From a distance, everything looks fine. When you really look at him, though, the errors just pile up. The stripes on his clothes are, by necessity, an incredibly complex paint app, with black paint tampographed onto the white plastic. However, when the masks are designed to do things like split perfectly over the hem of his pockets, or tuck into the notch of his lapels, the paint has to be applied with great precision, and it definitely wasn't here. Of course, we're talking about a situation where being millimeters off can be a blatant mistake, so you have to cut them a little slack.

Even if you find a figure with good stripes, you still have more to check out. In order to capture Beetlejuice's distinctive pallor, the toy has a slight pink wash over white plastic. In some cases, this wash is too slight, leaving you with an albino action figure. The paint on the watches he wears on his left wrist is incredibly sloppy, and his ring should be gold, not silver. Similarly, the dark circles around his eyes should be more grape than brown. There are shiny splotches on his tie which could either be intentional or be stray glue, but in either case they're not the same on all figures, and the green mold growing on his face and hands is heavy and splotchy.

In the interest of fairness, not all the paint is bad. His face - the eyes, mouth and nose - are crisp and accurate, helping sell the likeness. His fingernails each have multiple tones to make them look filthy, and his boots have a very good combination of matte and gloss paint. There's a gray wash on his clothes that's handled well, and his hair is molded from translucent yellow plastic to give it the appearance of being wild and airy.

Beetlejuice comes with three accessories: a pair of snakes and the Handbook for the Recently Diseased. Er, Deceased. The book is very nice, with a decent reproduction of the cover art seen in the film. It's not exact, since they needed to keep the paint apps down, but it's close enough that you won't notice at this size. Something else you probably won't notice? The name on the spine is spelt "Decaesed." Whoops!

Beetlejuice may seem like an improbable choice to be named one of the most popular horror (or comedy) movies of the '80s, but it's true. Oh, sure, the other guys may have more sequels and a thus be a stronger franchise, but Beetlejuice is still right up there. After all, cite all the sequels and remakes you want: how many of those guys ever got turned into a wildly popular cartoon?

-- 10/11/08

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