Event Report: BBQ Films’ Immersive “BEETLEJUICE” ExperienceMovies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
For those in the Brooklyn area, the House of YES is better known as one of the premiere event venues in New York. An art-chic locale home to myriad musical and live performances, there’s guaranteed to be something exciting going on each weekend at House of YES. However, for one weekend in 2016, House of YES was transformed into the House of Deetz for an event unlike any other the venue had ever seen: a real-life immersive BEETLEJUICE screening and wedding reception, complete with an afterparty, interactive theater and creepy treats throughout.
Last weekend, House of YES was overrun by the fine folks over at BBQ Films, a production company whose main drive is not to just screen films, but to experience them firsthand. In past events, they’ve reunited Ethan Embry with GWAR for an EMPIRE RECORDS event, partied with Terry Kiser at a WEEKEND AT BERNIE’s shindig, and rained blood over the New York Comic Con crowd while reenacting the rave from BLADE. But for Gabriel Rhoads and his creepy collaborators over at BBQ Films, this BEETLEJUICE event took their innovative strategy to the next level, not only bringing Tim Burton’s wicked vision to life but providing a platform for real-life couples to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.
“BLADE rave was a horror show about a horror movie,” Rhoads said. “We rained blood on nearly 1,000 people, and speaking as someone who watched that from the stage, it was terrifying. It’s a sight your readers have seen in pictures. But one of the most amazing moments for me in BLADE rave was right when the blood dropped: people did two things that surprised us all. First, they put their phones away. They enjoyed it. The entire thing looked like a 90’s rave; people just dancing, not documenting. The second thing the crowd did was to get physical. People bumped, jostled, and kissed each other. The entire thing looked terrifying, but you could feel the love in the room, and that is one of the things about being a fan that really strikes me. You can be in this objectively horrifying moment, but that opportunity to play in a world, such as BLADE, that has been so celebrated, is just transcendent. It’s fun, and our guests actually love it.”
“So, when we were making a call about what to do next, we decided that it was time to replicate that feeling of love,” Rhoads added. “Now, Betelguese the character is a campy, but he is also a 3000 year old ghost, a character many of us were terrified of as children. But the story of the film BEETLEJUICE is really one of love as well. There is an (albeit scary) wedding, there is a story of two couples living (and dying) in the same house, there is a story of familial caring. So, in the midst of the horror, in the midst of creating this world, we are also celebrating love for these films, and in the case of the couples that got married or renewed their vows, love for each other”
Indeed, upon stepping into the House of YES last Sunday, there was an air of shared excitement and passion floating about the premises. It’s hard not to crack a smile at those in costume, whether they be staff or attendee alike, and it’s even harder not to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that went into crafting a BEETLEJUICE world you can see with your own two eyes. But above all, even among the drinks, exotic dancers, and performers mingling with unassuming guests, there’s an oddly emotional atmosphere as chatter erupts that not only were vows being renewed by those who bought VIP passes, but one couple- Luis Latorre and his bride-to-be Ryoko- would actually tie the knot in front of hundreds of strangers, in full BEETLEJUICE make-up provided by a team of FACE/OFF veterans including Stella Sensel, Meg Wilbur, Libby Rose, Ricky Vitus, Anthony Reyes, Bethany Serpico, and Mel Licata.
“[The wedding] was actually a suggestion that arose from an offhand comment,” said Rhoads. “When the venue learned we were planning a theatrical wedding for Betelguese, they made a joke about Betelguese being the first to be married at the venue as no weddings had been booked since it opened. That started the ball rolling, leading to us offering a ticket tier for wedding guests and vow renewals. We offered that tier initially just to test interest, but it sold out immediately, and then we started getting additional requests. That is how we found Luis and Ryoko, and their beautiful 2 1/2 year old daughter Thursday Next, who drove in from Pennsylvania to get married at the event on Sunday in full costume makeup in front of 350 friends family and strangers. Unsurprisingly, there are now several more wedding booked at the venue for upcoming months!”
But before the epic wedding ceremony, BBQ Films put on a party that fright fans would never forget: live art, interactive exhibits and even a live Dante’s Inferno dance room were all just appetizers until the ghost with the most stormed the stage, flying through the air on wires and dropping one liners left and right. And after a pre-amble (which also brought to attention that the show was donating proceeds to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), our BBQ Films iteration of Betelgeuse kicked off a screening of the horror comedy classic, complete with spooky surprises in between.
“If we do our jobs well, the event is transcendent,” Rhoads exclaimed. “Our guests feel that they have stepped into another world. Some of our guests describe this moment of walking through the door of a BBQ Films event as leaving NYC for an evening. It takes big and small details to make that happen. Everything from venue selection (does it feel like the movie?), to costuming and props (does it look like the movie?) to the music (does it sound like the movie?) Then, we take one step beyond. We ask, what would be happening behind the screen in the scenes you can’t see? How can we update this narrative, and make it relevant for someone stepping off of the streets of 2016 NYC?”
“It’s not just about replication; it’s about the art of experience, of story, of immersion,” Rhoads added. “And that story starts when you are getting dressed for the evening preparing for your journey into (in the case of BEETLEJUICE), the afterlife… So, in sum, we are most proud when we have curated all of those various disparate elements (venue, props, food, drink, music, actors, narrative) into a cohesive whole. Then you have transcendent cinema.”
In the midst of mingling with the enthusiastic crowd and the BBQ Films crew, this writer took the opportunity to sneak out to a trailer across from the building, in which the aforementioned artists were hard at work turning Luis and Ryoko into monsters of matrimony. With Betelgeuse and Co. accounted for in terms of performers, the FACE/OFF vets decided to transform the pair into the BEETLEJUICE: THE ANIMATED SERIES versions of Betelgeuse and Lydia. And though the people inside the venue might have been riding high on the surreal thrill of it all, they had nothing on the excitement running like electric through those in that FX trailer.
“We had been engaged for nine years when we learned of this, and we knew there wouldn’t be any other time to [get married],” Luis Lattore said. “We only would have waited longer for something cool to come along, so this was just perfect timing. And when I was speaking to the BBQ Films crew, I was joking around and saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we got the FACE/OFF people to do my make-up?’ So I looked up Stella [Sensel] and she was the first person I reached out to, and she was accessible. When she got back to me, I could only think, ‘Holy shit, this is really happening!’ And there was no discussion needed with Ryoko; she loves BEETLEJUICE as much as I do so and the chance to do this was just awesome.”
“When he reached out, he actually thought I wouldn’t be available because I would be too busy and I was like, ‘Um…’,” Sensel interjected, garnering a big, almost strangely synchronized wave of laughter from her FX team. “All they had to say was BEETLEJUICE wedding, and even if I was busy or pre-booked, I would have gotten this team together anyways.”
“Obviously, this is going to be an insane story to tell, and I’ll be telling it to death, for sure,” added Lattore. “There’s a little bit of intimidation with getting married in front of strangers, but at the same time, you don’t know ‘em, so you don’t really give a shit! I just think it’s cool that people are coming out for something like this; when I broke it to my friends, they thought I was just playing around, and my family was just like, ‘Yeah, leave it to Lou.’ They figured I’d be doing something crazy and they were all on board because, you know, it was time. This whole process has been surreal, but working with this team, it feels like I’ve known these people for so long. It’s really been a trip.”
Upon returning to the venue, the BEETLEJUICE event only descended further into fantastic and frightful: the film’s “Day-O” sequence turned into a full-out dance party, with performers and the audience alike dancing to the iconic scene as sheet-adorning artists swung from cables above us. Then, the moment we all were waiting for as a guitar-carrying ghoul hopped upon the bar and played “Here Comes The Bride”: vows were renewed with the legally-ironclad Beetlejuice presiding over the ceremony, and then Luis & Ryoko’s wedding ceremony, in which cheers and tears swept over the legitimately emotional moment. And as the screening resumed and came to a close, the BBQ Films’ Lydia Deetz ignited yet another dance party, never missing a beat as she floated above us and danced to the closing credits sequence.
As the screening room cleared out and the afterparty began, the scene in the House of YES was unlike any I’d ever seen. Even the partygoers completely decked out in make-up and costume couldn’t hide that they’d been a part of something special, and whether it was selfies with the living exhibits, their complimentary BBQ Films poster or just the bragging rights of being at the single most eccentric wedding of the year, nobody left without something to remember the occasion. While BBQ Films have yet to pull the curtain on what wickedness they’ll be up to next, following this immersive BEETLEJUICE experience will certainly be an otherworldly task, especially considering the legitimately life-changing results for the Lattore family that night, who certainly found a whole new meaning behind ‘Til Death Do You Part.