Listen to our Death Becomes Her episode on:
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With Death Becomes Her, Robert Zemeckis officially becomes the most featured director ever on Beyond The Box Set – an honour we’re sure he’ll cherish just as fondly as his Oscar win. While he’s never quite achieved the iconic status of a Spielberg, a Kubrick or a Scorsese, over the years he’s established himself as one of Hollywood’s most reliable idea men. From the doctored historical footage of Forrest Gump to the marriage of live action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the common thread in his movies is a willingness to push the envelope in terms of what can be achieved technically in service of telling a great story.
In Death Becomes Her, Zemeckis employs his passion for special effects to gleefully grotesque ends, as Oscar winning grand dames Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn are transformed into warring zombies by a magical potion with some highly unwelcome side-effects. Classic horror stories such as Frankenstein and Tales From The Crypt are given a distinctly 90s Hollywood twist, as the two stars chase eternal youth and beauty at any cost.
As impressive as the effects are, it’s the script and a trio of gloriously over the top performances that really elevate Death Becomes Her to the level of camp catnip. Streep gives one of her best comic turns as the talentless and narcissistic actress Madeline Ashton, while Goldie Hawn subverts her glamorous image with a dowdy makeover and one of the most ridiculous fat suits ever seen on the big screen.
As the henpecked husband the pair are ostensibly warring over – one reason Death Becomes Her holds up surprisingly well is the way the male love interest is clearly incidental at best to their eternal rivalry – Bruce Willis could have relegated himself to playing the straight man, but instead he plays the pathetic Ernest Menville as a sort of doleful Looney Tune, all comedy double-takes and flailing limbs. It’s totally against type and strangely brilliant – a reminder of the highs Willis is capable of when he’s actually enjoying himself onscreen.
There’s also a parade of memorable supporting turns, from a flamboyantly panto villain performance from Isabella Rossellini as the immortal Lisle Von Rhoman to Sydney Pollack’s cameo as a dumbfounded doctor. While the plot may be thin and the characterisation fairly broad, practically every scene sets up and delivers an excellent gag, a memorable line or a weird background joke. No wonder fans have been coming back to it for years.
In this week’s edition of Beyond The Box Set, we thoroughly dissect our many favourite moments from this movie, before pitching our own sequel ideas to bring it back from the dead. We also come up with a very fruitful round of potential drinking games and share some of our favourite listener submissions.
You can find the episode on all good podcasting apps; use the links at the top of this blog post or search Beyond The Box Set on your preferred podcatcher. If you want to hear more, check out our Patreon page for a raft of exclusive bonus content available for as little as $2 per month. You can also reach out to us personally by leaving a comment underneath this blog post, or by finding us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Next week, we’ll be attempting our first double-guest crossover episode – and we’ve picked a doozy of a movie to mark the occasion. See you then, and remember… be careful with your body. Especially around deceptively long staircases and drunken plastic surgeons.