SHE SCREAMS is a monthly series in which Emily Gagne discusses being a girly horror fan.
When I was a toddler, I had two favourite movies: E.T. and Beetlejuice. The former film, which came out quite a few years before I was born, became my first cinematic obsession, in that I would watch it repeatedly and eventually wear out my VHS tape (the E.T. shirt I wore most days is still alive, despite being washed almost every night for a while). The latter film may have been all the more important, however, as it was less of an love affair and more of an instructional manual for years and years to come.
You see, while I definitely was a Gertie, a shy kinda blonde kid with curiosity and love for strange creatures that scared other kids, way back when, the moment I laid eyes on Lydia Deetz, Winona Ryder’s character in Beetlejuice, I knew I had a new lifelong idol. Not only was Lydia awesome in a fashion sense, with her rocking that pale skin and black wardrobe; she was also super cool in her attitude about herself and her preferences. She was, as she says, strange and unusual in every sense and not afraid to admit it to herself, or the friendly ghosts haunting her house. (Heck, her naturally supernatural nature is what let her see the ghosts in the first place!)
I’m not sure I was aware of my own strange and unusual status as a young child, but considering my movie preferences, I may have been classified as such by my peers and even my parents. After all, most of my friends could barely sit through a scene of Beetlejuice, never mind E.T (so many people were afraid of him and I still don’t get it!) at the time. And I continued to be that strange and unusual girl as I grew older and found myself torn between Disney princesses and PG-13 horror queens. But unlike Lydia, sometimes I was afraid to fully own up to it, especially as some of my friends totally wanted to play Spice Girls with me but would run for the hills at the mention of I Know What You Did Last Summer. The only times I’d Lydia it up was with my one likeminded friend (and future horror co-producer!) and … maybe the people working at my favourite videostore (they wouldn’t judge when I rented Creepshow and Clueless on the same day).
Even though I wasn’t channeling Lydia in the ways I wanted to for a lot of my early life, I remained obsessed with her through my high school years, especially as I explored more and more Winona movies (Mermaids would teach even more lessons about repression!). I didn’t even need to watch the movie again and again to feel a kinship with her. Because, hey, I was living that strange and unusual life, right? After all, I was the girl who wanted to watch slasher movies after the sleepover party was over (oh how I hated trying to bring up watching the sequel to that horror flick you watched on a Monday morning and being brutally rebuffed) and who begged her horror-hating mom to let her dress up as “something dead” for Halloween to no avail (thank god I got to be Buffy in Grade 5, a step in the morbidly feminine direction, I suppose). I was, like Lydia, different from anyone and destined to be alone (so alone!) in a lot of my thoughts and tastes for the imminent future (a.k.a. until I died and got my personal copy of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased).
Or so I thought.
I’ve seen Beetlejuice many more times in my post-adolescence, but the last time I watched it was on the big screen (my first time!) at the Royal Cinema in Toronto with my then-new boyfriend, a fellow lover of the “strange and unusual” (his fave Tim Burton movie isn’t mine, but the equally out-there Pee Wee’s Big Adventure). And that time, as I sat next to someone as excited as I was to be there, I realized something I had never really let myself realize (for both superficial and emotional reasons) about Lydia and her journey that almost made me love and understand her more than ever. As I watched the end of the movie, where Lydia arrives home from school wearing an outfit that’s actually not all black (it’s a uniform, but still!) and a new, but genuine smile to greet her ghost friends, the Maitlands, I realized that maybe Lydia and her tastes weren’t all that strange and unusual after all. In fact, she was just a slightly sad, slightly confused teenage girl just waiting to find people who could relate to her brand of normal and she found them in the Maitlands.
In a way, I think I’ve always had my Maitlands around, especially since that one likeminded childhood friend I mentioned earlier remains one of my nearest and dearest, but it’s not until now that I’ve really been able to see them. And it’s not because they were ghosts either. (Although, let’s be honest, I would not be opposed to ghost friends, especially if they acted like Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis.) It’s because I was too caught up with being “the strange and unusual” within a group of friends/peers I could never quite relate to when I could have been focused on spending time with and/or finding the people who shared my interests, whether that’s in terms of love of horror movies or whatever else, or even better, just accepting the fact that nothing is normal to everyone.
The point is, us Lydia Deetz types can live life in a metaphorical dark room, staying secluded and forcing ourselves into “strangeness” by neglecting to share our tastes with others, or we can go outside our caverns of comfort and into the world, where there will be, somewhere, people who feel the same way about the same things. And sometimes that might mean ending up in a new, actually real dark room, one with a larger-than-life screen that’s playing your favourite movie from childhood with your favourite character, alongside a person and/or people who wants to “Jump in the Line” with you.
CONTEST: BEETLEJUICE AT THE TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX!
BEETLEJUICE screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 3:30 p.m and we’re giving away two tickets to the screening. Follow the instructions below to enter! And for ticketing info, CLICK HERE.
- Follow Cinefilles on Twitter (@cinefilles) and RT the pinned tweet featuring She Screams and Beetlejuice.
- Wait for the announcement of the winner on Monday, December 14, 2015!
Beetlejuice screens as a part of TIFF’s Magic Motion: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation programme which runs from October 27 to January 3.