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Burton’s second major project was the supernatural horror comedy Beetlejuice. Winona Ryder plays Lydia Deetz, the goth teenage daughter of a couple who move into a house that happens to be haunted by the ghosts of the recently deceased previous owners, Adam and Barbara Maitland, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. Although remaining invisible to mortals, Lydia is able to see the ghost couple and befriends them. The Maitlands learn that they are unable to leave their house for the next 125 years, and that it’s up to them to scare the Deetz family out of their home. However, their inexperience at being poltergeists means that their attempts to scare the Deetzes are ineffective, therefore leaving them to seek the aid of the infamous freelance ‘bio-exorcist’ Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). This film has been praised for its originality and creativity, and remains both a cult classic and one of the best films in the comedy-horror genre.
Burton’s first high-budget film was an adaptation of the heroic tales of the incredibly successful DC comic book character Batman. Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne, a multi-millionaire in Gotham City, whose secret identity is the masked super-hero Batman. Batman is being reported on by photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) who is later met by Batman’s unmasked alter-ego Bruce Wayne and the two begin a relationship. In the meantime, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), takes over Gotham’s criminal empire after being horribly disfigured following a set-up where his boss intended to murder him. The chalky-white skin, green hair and red grin leave Napier to reinvent himself as ‘the Joker’, who later reaps havoc over Gotham City. Burton’s distinct filmmaking style initiated the dark tone that was imitated in other movies from the same franchise years later, notably Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Edward Scissorhands was the first of Tim Burton’s films to star Johnny Depp, making it the beginning of the formidable, and sometimes less so formidable, filmmaking partnership. Depp plays an artificial man named Edward who lives a secluded life in a dark, gothic mansion because his creator, an old inventor played by Vincent Price, died of a heart-attack before finishing his work, leaving Edward missing one last part of his body: his hands. In place of hands, Edward has long sharp blades resembling scissors, which cause him to hurt himself and potentially those around him. Edward is discovered by a local Avon saleswoman, who then introduces him to society, where he meets Kim Boggs, played by Winona Ryder, who becomes his love interest. Edward Scissorhands is a classic Romeo and Juliet-esque love story that deals with themes of isolation and self-discovery, and shows the development of Burton’s illustrious and unique filmmaking style.
After working as an animator for Disney, Burton dreamed up the idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas in the early 1980s, originally as a poem of the same name, three pages in length. This idea brewed for almost a decade before production started under the direction of Henry Sellick in 1991. This stop-motion animated musical film recounts the story of Jack Skellington, ‘the Pumpkin King’, who is cherished by his fellow ghouls, ghosts and monsters in Halloween Town, where he leads them in organising the annual Halloween holiday. Jack reveals his lack of interest in the monotony of organising Halloween year after year, before stumbling upon the mysterious Christmas Town. This magical story of when Halloween meets Christmas was accompanied by the soundtrack written and composed by Danny Elfman, who worked with Burton on many of his projects.
Sleepy Hollow was Burton’s first film pure horror film, with his other films normally being a mix of both horror and comedy. This film was nominated for almost 60 accolades, of which it won over a third, including the BMI Film Music Award for the score written and produced by Danny Elfman. Sleepy Hollow tells the story of police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) and a series of brutal murders, where the victims are found decapitated, in the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Crane begins the investigation into the murders after being told that an undead soldier from the American Revolutionary War has been committing the killings in search of his own missing head, leaving Crane understandably sceptical until he personally encounters the Headless Horseman.
The story of Sweeney Todd is one that has been told for nearly 200 years in almost every different form of media, from literature to dance, poetry and comic books. Tim Burton’s inspiration for this musical horror-slasher film came long before he started his career as a filmmaker, when he saw the musical by Stephen Sondheim by the same name. This incredibly dark film was adapted from Sondheim’s musical and recounts the chilling history of the barber Benjamin Baker (Johnny Depp) who returns to London under the alias ‘Sweeney Todd’ 15 years after being wrongly convicted by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who was enamoured by Baker’s wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly). Todd plans his revenge and sets up his barber salon above the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), where he starts slitting the throats of his victims, and Lovett then uses the bodies’ meat in her pies, resulting in booming business. Burton was relentless in making this film truly horrific, and yet the juxtaposition between the morbidly dark violence and Sondheim’s beautiful music along with the star-studded cast makes this a must-see.