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From “Beetlejuice” to “Corpse Bride,” it Wouldn’t be Halloween Without Tim Burton

October 31, 2011

By John C.

Every year for Halloween, entertainment writers always talk about their favourite scary movies.  This year I decided to do things a little differently and use the opportunity to discuss a selection of the work from a specific director.  The director in question is Tim Burton.  Not his entire filmography, just a handful of films he directed that I feel are most appropriate for Halloween.

I decided to write about Tim Burton because he is a director who usually delivers a bizarre and sometimes even disturbing vision, but he is also an artist who seems to be getting a lot of enjoyment out of his own material.  For me, this sense of fun that is lost in most modern horror movies perfectly exemplifies what I personally believe to be the true feeling that should be felt around this time.

The first title on this list is actually the director’s second feature film.  Beetlejuice is a strange and sometimes manic ghost story, with a memorably bizarre performance from Michael Keaton in the title role.  Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin play a young couple who are killed, only to find themselves trying to scare away the new owners of their house.  Even in 1988, Tim Burton’s unique vision was already fully formed.  But even more important to his lasting pop culture status was the 1990 fairy tale of sorts, Edward Scissorhands.  Not only is it a personal favourite of many audiences, it was also the first of many collaborations between Burton and Johnny Depp.  Over twenty years later, the film still remains a classic.

In 1994, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaborated again on Ed Wood.  A biopic of the infamous schlock horror movie director, this stylish black and white film features excellent performances, including a brilliant turn from Martin Landau as the legendary Bela Lugosi.  Watch Ed Wood alongside the incredibly cheesy Plan 9 From Outer Space for a particularly excellent double feature.  In 1999, Burton and Depp teamed up for a third time with Sleepy Hollow.  An exceedingly violent retelling of the legend of the Headless Horseman, this stylized and sometimes terrifying film boasts stunning art direction and fits in perfectly with all of the other Halloween programming.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp wouldn’t work together again until 2005, when they delivered an entirely different type of film that was appropriate for a much wider audience.  In adapting Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the director assembled a pitch-perfect cast of child actors and smartly gave Depp the leading role of eccentric candy maker Willy Wonka.  With brilliant special effects and spectacular production design, this is a true wonder to behold.  Although some might not agree with me when I say this, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a remake that actually manages to improve on the 1971 original with Gene Wilder.

Later in 2005, Tim Burton delivered an equally stunning vision with the superb animated film Corpse Bride.  Painstakingly created through stop motion animation, this darkly beautiful film tells the story of the shy Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp).  But before his arranged marriage to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), he runs off into the woods to practise his vows only to find himself sucked into the land of the dead and married to a mysterious corpse bride (Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter).  With an awesome soundtrack from frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman and a few touches of the macabre, this is the perfect animated film for those who enjoy the director’s signature style.  Based on a story by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, the brilliant 1993 animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas is also worth watching between now and December.

The bloody bursts of violence in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street were offset by faithful renditions of Stephen Sondheim’s beloved songs.  With his 2007 adaptation of the hit broadway musical about an infamous barber getting revenge on those who have wronged his family, Tim Burton made a singer out of Johnny Depp and delivered a darkly atmospheric film that would go on to be honoured with a much deserved Academy Award for Best Art Direction.  Along with Sleepy Hollow, this remains one of the darkest and most disturbing collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

Next year, Tim Burton will be releasing two films that are more than likely to garner a spot on the annual October roster.  First up is the vampire tale Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp next May, followed by the animated big screen retelling of his classic short film Frankenweenie in October.  Tim Burton creates worlds that are filled with wonderful production designs, even throughout their darkest and most disturbing themes.  His best films are unique visions that are totally true to themselves, and these are the perfect ones to watch in honour of Halloween.

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