Speaking as a fan first, I don’t think that it’s much of a stretch to say that the horror genre is one partially defined by personal milestones. For the most part, any horrorhead can remember the first time Freddy Krueger kept us awake at night, or the first time JAWS made us second guess going into the ocean. But while we can often detail our inaugural exposures to the particularly scary, gory and unshakeable horror films we hold so dear, there’s one fright film that feels so culturally omnipresent that I just can’t nail down how, when or why it’d crossed my path: Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE.
Perhaps it might have been the film’s somewhat consistent presence on cable television or because of the many associated tie-ins that caught my eye (including the stage show at Universal Studios or the animated series that re-ran somewhat perpetually during daytime television in the ‘90s), but BEETLEJUICE feels as if has always been a part of my cultural lexicon. Effortlessly quotable, visually breathtaking and risque without necessarily being offensive, BEETLEJUICE is the rare kind of imaginative foray into horror comedy that has a bona fide universal appeal among filmgoers, even those who rarely dip their toes into the genre. Yet even as rumors rise and fall of a potential sequel with every passing year, there’s been little movement on anything BEETLEJUICE related as of late, outside of the occasional toy adaptation or HD upgrade.
That was until two weeks ago, when the fine folks at the NY-based immersive theater/event organization BBQ Films decided to dedicate one weekend in Brooklyn to bring the “Ghost with the Most” to life. Now, for the sake of transparency, this was not my first rodeo with BBQ Films: I had initially become exposed to the fledgling company during their BLADE rave back in October of 2015, where they poured gallons of faux blood on partygoers while the Crystal Method played the iconic New Order track from the beginning of the macabre Marvel movie. But while it would be easy for any company to throw blood on an audience and call it a BLADE event with a licensing surcharge, BBQ Films did much, much more: with live interstitial performances by “Blade” and Co., carefully curated music, live sword-fighting demonstrations and free FX make-up appliance for VIP members, that was the definitive interactive BLADE experience… and it certainly raised the bar for what would come next.
(All photo credits: Christopher Gregory)
So when I learned the next BBQ Films event would be set around the ‘wedding’ of Lydia Deetz and Betelgeuse, I was certainly excited to see what they would pull off. And sure enough, upon arriving at Brooklyn’s House of YES on one cloudy Sunday in March, that excitement paid off nearly upon arrival: actors portraying the Maitland’s were entertaining the line outside the venue by attempting to scare them (sheets and all) while the venue’s resident ‘Lydia’ would occasionally take a polaroid of unsuspecting people in the queue. Shortly afterwards, I made my way towards the press entrance, where I was greeted by the BBQ staff and given a DOA toe-tag wristband as well as a pamphlet stylized as ‘The Handbook for the Recently Deceased’; good omens, indeed.
“Our art is crafting unique live experiences,” said BBQ Films’ mastermind Gabriel Rhoads in a post-event chat. “It is a fundamentally social art form, relying on the relationship of people to stories that they love, the relationship we have to the world around us, and ultimately the relationship of people to each other.”
Wandering around the venue, the immersive aspect was captured in every room in the swanky venue, from a life-sized BEETLEJUICE grave-stone nearby a guitar-playing demon to interactive art exhibits featuring the film’s most recognizable ghouls. Yet I couldn’t help but smile like a cheshire cat at the pièce de résistance: the main showroom, designed and decked out as the Dante’s Inferno brothel, with exotic dancers above us doing their thing to Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party.” And then there were the fans, themselves: the sold-out event offered an array of sharp-dressed partygoers as well as Brooklynites in full, impressive BEETLEJUICE cosplay, all of which came with a shared enthusiasm that was damn near palpable.
But then, the chatter began to arise as to what was really going to make this a worthwhile occasion: aside from a ceremony in which people would have their vows renewed by ‘Betelgeuse’ himself, a couple that had been engaged for nearly a decade would be tying the knot in front of hundreds of strangers in full costume and make-up, professionally applied by FACE/OFF veterans Stella Sensel, Ricky Vitus, Meg Wilbur, Bethany Serpico, Libby Rose, Mel Licata, and Anthony Reyes. In this sense, this mock-wedding party transformed into an actual wedding party, and suddenly, a tangible reason to celebrate beyond BEETLEJUICE gave every attendee this new wind of excitement.
One particularly great aspect about BBQ Films events is that the show doesn’t just begin when the lights go down; instead, you’re thrown into the world of that film as soon as you enter the venue. Actors in full costume and character (one of whom was current QUANTICO star Lenny Platt) traversed the venue to interact with the guests directly, leading to some legitimately fantastic moments of spontaneity. Whether it be with the Deetz family trying to incorporate you into their art-chic discussions or Betelgeuse cracking wise about your attire, these personalized moments went a long way for making you feel like you were part of the presentation itself.
Yet when the show did kick off, ushered in by Rhoads (in costume as the Coach who survived the unseen bus crash), the showroom filled up real quickly with as many people wanting to see BEETLEJUICE as much as they wanted to be apart of it. After summoning him with the three magic words, Betelgeuse made himself known, flying out on wires and offering a hilarious introduction before announcing “It’s Showtime!” The film then rolled, and man, if that didn’t convince you to stay for the flick itself, the iconic opening score from Danny Elfman certainly does the trick.
From there, the show went to the next level, with the first intermission coming during the ‘Day-O’ dance scene, which kicked-off a dance party in the venue itself. The actors’ took to the stage to mimic the scene- which was given an impromptu remix video-, and to top it all off, wire-bound acrobats in ghost sheets twirled in the sky above us. Eat your heart out, Cirque de Soleil!
Following that intermission, the next time the film stopped was for- you guessed it- the wedding sequence. As the cast of characters made it to the stage, a path was cleared for the brides and grooms to make their way to the stage, all of whom are scored by a guitar-wielding ghost, wailing out “Here Comes the Bride” atop of the bar. Betelgeuse made his way back to the stage, and with an official badge of certification, introduced the crowd to the couples renewing their vows in front of all to see.
But after that short ceremony, the actual wedding ceremony began, with fright fans Luis and Ryoko Lattore coming out looking like the BEETLEJUICE: THE ANIMATED SERIES counterparts of Betelgeuse and Lydia. It was a legitimately exciting, emotional moment that had the room cheering when the ‘I do’s’ were all said and done, and when Luis kissed his bride, the curtains closed and the film’s finale played out to a crowd with an excitable second wind.
Thankfully, that second wind came in handy, as the film’s finale brought on one last performance: the show’s residential Lydia took the stage once more, getting onto the wires to dance alongside her cinematic counterpart to “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte, kicking off yet another dance party that was too infectious to resist. And with an after-party raging on in which many of the guests got to meet the newlyweds themselves, there was no doubting that anyone who had yet to be a BBQ Films’ fan was a tried-and-true convert.
“These events grow out of love for the stories that make us who we are,” said Rhoads. “The most special moment for me, personally, was watching the wedding of Luis and Ryoko unfold. The entire room was brought together by their love for each other, and everyone’s love for this story. It was truly special. While we won’t be doing a wedding again anytime soon, that was a moment I will never forget. And as we look to the next events, we will continue to strive to create transcendent experiences that bring us all into these stories we love.”
So, now with BEETLEJUICE added to their roster of interactive cinematic experiences (which also includes EMPIRE RECORDS, BACK TO THE FUTURE and AMERICAN PSYCHO), what’s next for BBQ Films? Will the NY-based company expand to cities outside of the East Coast? While the people in charge were coy about expansion and evolution, you can be sure that events like this that catch fire are likely to spread elsewhere, in one form or another.
But for the meantime, the cultural omnipresence of BEETLEJUICE, from quotes to iconography, will be take on a whole different meaning for those who took time out of their weekend to live in that world. Whether you had your vows renewed, you took a selfie with Betelgeuse or, in the case of Luis and Ryoko, had a life-changing moment, BBQ Films did what we all asked them to: they went ahead and made our millennium.
Please check out ur slideshow below for more pics: