A young couple ride their station wagon through the streets of their sleepy, home town in suburban Connecticut. Talk of infertility quiets between them. As they turn to take the bridge home, a dog dashes in front of their car, and forces them to swerve off the deck, and then crash into the river.
Adam and Barbara Maitland appear cold and dripping back in their home. But something’s changed. They feel different. They have no memory of how they got back. Barbara notices their reflections no longer cast on mirrors. A hardbound copy of a strange manual that reads more like stereo instructions sits near the fire, The Handbook of the Recently Deceased. The Maitlands slowly come to realize that they didn’t survive the crash. They are dead. Ghosts. Their spirits are trapped in their old home, a gothic revival looming over the idyllic village of Winter River.
The Maitland’s happy afterlife together is cut short after a family of gentrifying Manhattanites move into their house. After failing to scare them away, Adam and Barbara journey to the other side for help, but are only met by an uncaring bureaucracy. They decide to get rid of the intruders themselves. The Maitlands take matters into their own hands, say his name three times, and summon a dark spirit to scare the Deetz’s out their house. Betelgeuse.
Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice only slowly came together as a perfect blend of comedy and horror. The original script intended a violent film, focused on a murderous, reptilian demon. But the story kept changing, and the final draft found just the right balance, shaping a dark, comedic fantasy that remained firmly grounded in the horror genre.
Tim Burton’s visual style dominates the film, and gives it that haunting, gloomy portrayal characteristic to the director. Horror is about environment, setting a scene, lowering the lights, and letting your basic instincts take over.
The world of Beetlejuice is populated by misfits, monsters, rejects, and spirits that don’t feel comfortable in the world they inhabit. One way or another, they are all freaks: from the skeleton receptionists to the whorehouse demonesses, from the Deetz’s to Betelgeuse himself, they all share a level of alienation. You have a burned-out yuppie, a neurotic sculptor and her dangerous artwork, a gay paranormal investigator, a suicidal teen decked in black chiffon, and a childless dead couple ready to embrace her into their unconventional family.
Watching all of these characters come together got me hooked. This was a world that I wanted to visit, and then inhabit, and make my home. These were characters that I identified with. These freaks, monsters, and reanimated corpses were my people. As a gay kid, I didn’t feel sufficiently represented in media, but in these type of films and fiction I was able to find greater inclusion. The thing about horror, and other forms of speculative fiction, is that they can accommodate LGBT, minority, and other non-traditional sections of the community, and create a space for these fans to gather together knowing that they are not alone, and that there are others out there just like them.
With Coffin Riders, I wanted to recreate a similar sensibility to Burton’s Beetlejuice, and make a gloomy underworld that celebrated the macabre with a hint of humor. Bloom, a modern day Dante, gets double-crossed into killing himself, and going to hell by his ex-girlfriend, Lorraine. Down in the belly of the underworld, he becomes a coffin rider, and journeys through the nine known hells to find a way out, and get his revenge.