35 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Beetlejuice’ for Its 35th Anniversary
It’s the 1980s movie that caused Tim Burton’s gothic film style to go mainstream. It’s the one where Michael Keaton looks like Joker on meth while playing the horniest character of his career. It’s the 1988 cult-classic Beetlejuice, and to celebrate its 35 years of keeping “Day-O” alive, here are 35 trivia tidbits about good ghosts, bad people and a deviant spirit who sounds like he died of emphysema...
It Was Originally Going to Be Super Violent
The Maitlands’ death scene was “graphic and traumatic” in its original form. It would’ve shown Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) severing her arm and screaming in fear while drowning with her husband, Adam (Alec Baldwin). Instead of looking like a stripe-suited clown who stuck his pinky in a plug, Betelgeuse would’ve had leather wings like a demon dragon, and the original critter would’ve literally tried to murder the Deetz and sexually assault Lydia before “tearing her apart.” So, you know, pretty light on the comedy.
The Inspiration Behind the Netherworld Door
Larry Wilson told The Independent that he and his co-writer Michael McDowell couldn’t figure out how to get the Maitlands (in ghost form) out of the house and into the Netherworld. “I kept coming up with more convoluted ways they could escape the house, and Michael would just sit there and say, ‘No. No. No.’ I finally got really mad and said, ‘Well, what do you want them to do? Draw an effing door?!’ We just started laughing because it was absolutely perfect.”
Those Legs Sticking Out of the Couch Belonged to Tim Burton’ s Girlfriend at the Time
The production crew revealed that the magician’s apprentice, who got cut in half and was seen sitting in the afterlife’s waiting room, was played by Burton’s significant other. Well, the leggy part, to be exact.
The Production Team Found the Right Town on a Postcard
Production designer Bo Welch explained that during those pre-Google days, you couldn’t just search for “cute little towns in Vermont” on the internet and get a hundred hits like you would today. “So, we just drove aimlessly from one end of Vermont to the other,” he remembers. “Eventually, we went into a couple of bookstores or gas stations and kept seeing this postcard over and over for this little town called East Corinth, Vermont. We saw it enough times where we thought, ‘Well, that one looks great.’ These pictures are exactly what we’re looking for. So, by looking at postcards in gas stations and stores, we actually found our location after driving all over Vermont.”
Bad Neighbors Led the Writers to Create ‘Beetlejuice’
At the time, co-writer Michael McDowell was caught up in the supernatural movies of the 1980s (Poltergeist and Ghostbusters) and wanted to write one himself. While at home one day with his partner Laurence Senelick, they came up with the idea of annoying neighbors based on some insufferable folks living on their street. This led to them flipping the cliché of good people being haunted by bad ghosts, and the basic plot of Beetlejuice was born.
Betelgeuse Was Almost Middle Eastern
In the script’s original form, the winged demon fiend would’ve been a stocky Middle Eastern man for some inexplicable reason. Some drafts also had the devilish character speaking in some sort of pidgin dialect.
Winona Ryder Was Called a Witch For Playing Lydia Deetz
The actress told Marie Claire that she was bullied at school and that she thought the movie might change all that. “I remember thinking, ‘Ooh, it’s like the number-one movie. This is going to make things great at school,’” Ryder said. “But it made things worse. They called me a witch.”
The Studio Didn’t Dig the Title
Co-writer Larry Wilson said that Warner Bros.’ marketing department did not care for the title and suggested the movie be called House Ghost instead because no one would know what a “Beetlejuice” was. Burton retaliated by sarcastically suggesting the title Scared Sheetless and was reportedly shocked when the studio actually considered it.
Burton Brought in a Script Doctor
In his book Burton on Burton, the director said that Wilson and McDowell were burnt out after a year of rewrites, so he got script doctor Warren Skaaren to come in and work on revisions. Skaaren co-wrote Beverly Hills Cop II, Top Gun, and later, that little 1989 movie called Batman.
The Dinner Song Was Originally Something Else
Before the Deetz family had themselves a calypso dinner party, script fixer Skaaren wrote the sequence featuring pop group and early R&B outfit The Ink Spots’ 1939 song, “If I Didn’t Care.”
Lydia Deetz Was Based on a Concert by The Cure
Larry Wilson loved the iconic 1980s band and once saw them perform at the Rose Bowl. “A huge concert, maybe 50,000 people. And it felt to me that it was 50,000 teenage girls in black! And the Winona Ryder character, Lydia, came out of that.”
How ‘Day-O’ Became Part of the Movie
Jeffrey Jones (who played Charles Deetz) said that Catherine O'Hara proposed adding a calypso number to the dinner scene. Jones then suggested a couple of songs he knew, including Harry Belafonte’s famous song, and the studio cleared it.
The Original Ending Saw Winona Ryder Die in a Fire
Wilson said that the original ending saw Lydia perish in a fire and then live on as a ghost. Other folks weren’t too keen on this ending, contemplating whether it would be wise to advise teenagers to “die in a fire.” (A concern that was soon to be abandoned by modern social media.)
The Original Inspiration Behind the Beetlejuice Character
While Keaton made the character his own, Betelgeuse was largely based on Groucho Marx. “The first thing I remember writing about the character or saying to (Keaton) about the character was, ‘He’s Groucho Marx from hell,’” Wilson told Yahoo!. “Groucho Marx was the fastest, wittiest, most sardonic absurdist person in the room, always.”
It Was Burton’s Second Feature Film
Lydia Was Almost Played by Alyssa Milano
Milano told Huffington Post that she came pretty close to securing the role of Lydia, with it ultimately coming down to her and Winona Ryder. The actress said she “really, really wanted” the part and felt gutted when she didn’t get it.
The Inspiration Behind the Brothel
According to McDowell's partner Senelick, the brothel Betelgeuse visits was “based on a series of 19th-century French stereograph cards of devils doing various things in hell.” When McDowell was alive, he collected many similar death-related artifacts.
Baldwin Worried That the Movie Might Tank His Career
He told GQ that he was positive that the film would prove disastrous for everyone involved. “When we did Beetlejuice, I had no idea what it was about,” Baldwin remembers. “I thought my, all of our, careers are going to end with the release of this film. Maybe we’re all going to be dead.”
It Almost Starred Sammy Davis Jr.
Keaton Didn’t Get the Concept Either
Keaton told Charlie Rose that he didn’t understand Burton’s concept for a while. “But I liked him. I went, ‘Oh, well, this guy’s something,’” Keaton remembered. “And so I said, ‘I wish I could do it; you seem like a really nice guy. I know you’re creative, but I don’t get it.’” Burton convinced him to meet again, but Keaton still didn’t get it and declined for a second time. It took three meetings to finally get the actor on board and excited about playing the horny ghost.
Anjelica Huston Was Going to Play Delia Deetz
Before Catherine O’Hara came on board to play Mother Deetz, Anjelica Huston was cast for the part. However, Huston, unfortunately, fell ill and had to pull out of the project.
Lydia Deetz Originally Had a Sister
Before Skaaren was brought on to do some rewrites, Lydia had a sister who was quite the opposite of her. “She (Lydia) was the goth; the sister was the straight one,” Wilson said. “Warren got rid of the sister, and what a good decision because then it all became about Lydia.”
The No-Reflection Film Trick
Most of the effects in the movie were done in camera, except for the sandworms and the little planet on Jupiter. In the scene following the Maitlands’ demise, where they look into the mirror and can’t see their own reflections, art director Tom Duffield explained, “What we did is we took their fireplace, pulled the glass up, turned it around, faced it into the room, had them on the opposite side, and so you’re looking into the set, but the fireplace had been turned around, and the mirror had been taken out. Really simple.”
O’ Hara Met Her Husband While Making the Movie Together
The actress met her husband, Bo Welch, while he served as the movie’s production designer. She revealed that Burton set the two of them up on a date. Welch also told his version of the story: “Toward the end of the movie, Tim told me, we were shooting in Vermont, ‘You should ask Catherine out.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you should ask her out.’ It didn’t even occur to me that I was even supposed to talk to actors. But since Tim told me to, I did, and then we dated, and we’re married, and here we are today.”
The Calypso Song Played at One of the Actor’ s Funerals
“Day-O” was played during the funeral of Glenn Shadix, who played Otho.
Burton Allowed His Actors to Improvise
Burton encouraged improvisation during filming, a direction Keaton took to heart. “At some point, you show up on the set and just go fuckin’ nuts,” Keaton told Rolling Stones. “It was rave acting. You rage for 12 or 14 hours; then you go home tired and beat and exhausted. It was pretty damned cathartic. It was rave and purge acting.”
Burton Was More Interested in German Expressionism Than Realism
Welch, who later worked with Burton on Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, said that, at the time, everyone in the industry was obsessed with realism and literalism. “Production design for movies in the context of the world I was working in, people were pretty hung up on literalism and realism, and ‘that door doesn’t match that interior,’” Welch told Uproxx. “Stupid stuff. When I met Tim, it was like a breath of fresh air in terms of liberating me from dreary realism. He would push me toward German Expressionism and reference other movies. He was always a fan of old horror movies. But he would view them with a sense of humor.”
On Casting Ryder
Everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Juliette Lewis auditioned for the part of Lydia, but Ryder ultimately got the role of the goth teenager after Burton saw her in the 1986 movie Lucas.
Burton Started Shooting the Film Before Knowing What Betelgeuse Was Going to Look Like
During a discussion at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2015, Keaton said that Burton had already started filming while Keaton was figuring out what to do with his character. Burton knew that he wanted Keaton in a striped suit, but that was it. With the help of makeup artist Ve Neill — who was responsible for suggesting those dark-circled eyes — they figured out what the spirited ghoul should look like.
The Crew Chanted When Keaton First Appeared on Set
Keaton said that when he first walked out on set in full makeup and costume, the crew started chanting, “Juice! Juice! Juice!” He said he didn’t understand why. Maybe they should have gone with “Geuse! Geuse! Geuse!”
One of the Writers Was Yelled at By an Executive Producer
When Larry Wilson took the script to Universal Studios, an executive apparently asked him what the hell he was doing with his life. “This piece of weirdness, this is what you’re going out into the world with?” Wilson remembered the exec telling him. “You’re developing into a very good executive. You’ve got great taste in material. Why are you going to squander all that for this piece of shit?” Not long after, Wilson sold the script to Geffen Pictures.
Burton Chose the Script Because Hollywood was Trying to Shoehorn Him
The director said that back then, the studios wanted him to do conventional movies. “Bad comedies,” as he put it. “The script for Beetlejuice was completely anti all that: It had no real story, it didn’t make any sense, it was more like a stream of consciousness,” Burton remembers. “In life, there’s nothing that’s just funny, just dramatic or just scary. It’s all mixed together.”
The Hawaiian Sequel Idea Was Pitched to Fail
Apparently, Burton wasn't feeling a Beetlejuice sequel, so when Warner Bros. started poking him for one, he pitched what he thought would surely get thrown out the window — the Deetz fam going on a Hawaiian adventure with the miscreant that tried to force their daughter to marry him. The studio, however, thought this a great idea and even developed a script filled with Hawaiian splendor and Beetlejuice summoning the native spirits of the ancient burial ground underneath the family’s holiday resort.
The Screenwriter’s Original Idea for a Sequel
Wilson said that he had a sequel idea of his own, albeit nothing as wild as the one Burton came up with. “I had an idea for a sequel right away, and it would have been a continuation of the story,” Wilson said. “Mr. Deetz would have developed a crush on Geena Davis’ character. That would have been my idea. It would have been driven by character and not driven by a premise.”
It’s the Only Film Keaton Has Said He Would Like to Do Again
Back in 2016, Keaton told The Independent that while he didn’t know whether a sequel would ever happen, he would totally be down to play Betelgeuse again. “That’s the only film I ever mentioned, going back 15, 20 years ago, where I said, ‘That one I’d like to try and do again, I really enjoyed that,’ and no one ever did anything about it.”
Given that we might get a long-awaited sequel after all, we sincerely hope Keaton keeps to his word.