Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) Maitland were living the perfect life in their dream home. That is until the day they drove their car off the bridge and died. Forced to haunt their house as ghosts, the real terror began when it was sold to the Deetz family from New York City. Charles (Jeffrey Jones) was a real estate developer who needed some peace and quiet in his life; his second wife, Delia (Catherine O’Hara), fancied herself an artist and promptly set about turning the house into one of her projects; and Charles’ daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), was a goth who loathed the move to the countryside.
Unable to get rid of the Deetzes on their own, Barbara and Adam turned to a self-proclaimed “bio-exorcist” that revealed himself to them: Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). The Maitlands freed Betelgeuse from Adam’s model of the town, but quickly sent him back when he almost killed Charles. Betelgeuse was freed again by Lydia, who had befriended the Maitlands and was trying to save them from an exorcism being conducted by her family. Betelgeuse agreed to help if Lydia would marry him in exchange. The Maitlands, restored, helped to send Betelgeuse away and rescue Lydia. From that moment on, the Maitland and Deetz families learned to live together, while Betelgeuse was getting into more mischief in the netherworld (aka the afterlife).
|Beetlejuice is beside himself.|
Michael McDowell came up with the original story and script, which took on a much darker tone than the final product. In McDowell’s treatment, the Maitlands’ deaths were far more graphic and their attempts to scare the Deetzes were more malicious. The limbo that kept the Maitlands in their house was depicted as a void full of giant clock gears shredding the fabric of space and time, instead of the vast abstract desert inhabited by vicious giant sandworms it ended up being. Betelgeuse (named after the star) needed to only be dug up to be freed rather than summoned by reciting his name three times, and was envisioned as a demon that did horrific things to the Deetzes. The Deetzes would have had another daughter that Betelgeuse would harm, and the Maitlands and Deetzes would work together to exorcise Betelgeuse while the Maitlands would move into the model version of their house.
McDowell was joined by Larry Wilson on rewrites to the script, and Wilson presented it to an executive at Universal Studios who hated it. They ended up selling the script to The Geffen Company. David Geffen, in turn, presented the script to Tim Burton. Burton had gained notoriety in Hollywood after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and was looking for his next film to direct while he and Sam Hamm worked on a treatment for a Batman movie to present to Warner Bros. Burton loved the script and signed on to direct it. Warren Skaaren was brought in to do additional rewrites, toning down many of McDowell’s concepts and bringing it closer to the dark comedy it ended up being, and frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman was brought on to conduct the score. Burton made the film reminiscent of the B-Movies he grew up with, keeping the effects intentionally fake-looking. It was released by Warner Bros. on April 1, 1988 with the phonetic title of Beetlejuice and it became the 10th highest grossing film of the year while netting several award nominations and wins.
|Beetlejuice undergoing some grooming.|
With popularity riding high--particularly with a younger demographic--it was decided to bring the concept to television with an animated series executive produced by Burton and Geffen. The transition from film to screen meant a number of changes had to be made to make the concept more kid-friendly. Beetlejuice (Stephen Ouimette) in particular had to be changed from a letch into more of a malicious prankster and con-man who had his own twisted set of morals. However, they kept him as gross as possible by having him deal often in random body odors, frequent references to his poor hygiene, and his indulgence in eating live beetles (usually off-camera represented by a CRUNCH! and the disgusted faces of onlookers). Beetlejuice (B.J. or Beej to his friends) resided in a roadhouse in a twisted alternate dimension called the Neitherworld--which replaced the bureaucratic version of the afterlife featured in the film--and featured buildings and structures that defied all known laws of physics. Beej’s magic seemingly had no limits except for his inability to function when any of his body parts were severed (without blood) and his reflexive instinct to transform himself and his surroundings into a literal representation of a phrase spoken.
|Wardrobe changes made easy.|
The Maitlands were eliminated entirely and their roles were instead filled by Beetlejuice, who was now the best friend of Lydia (called either “Lyds” or “babes” by him, voiced by Alyson Court). While he could still be summoned to the real world by saying his name three times, Lydia would recite a chant to bring herself to his home:
“Though I know I should be wary/Still I venture someplace scary/Ghostly hauntings I turn loose…/Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!”
That chant would transform Lydia’s room into a Neitherworld version of itself and changed her clothing to include a red spider-web poncho over black tights. Her personality and fashion choices often left her standing out in the small town she lived in, and she was often at odds with bullying classmate Claire Brewster (Tara Strong). At some point, Lydia joined a version of the Girl Scouts called Happy Face Girls and a band named The Bride of Funkenstein (based on The Bride of Frankenstein, an idea that was submitted by a then-teenaged fan for which she was paid $250). Both Lydia and Beej broke the fourth wall, and even knew they were on a show. Beej would also often transport himself to the real world and interact with others besides Lydia in a “human” disguise, such as Mr. Beetleman, Cousin B.J., and Denmother MacCree.
|Charles and Lydia.|
Lydia’s parents, Charles (Roger Dunn) and Delia (Elizabeth Hanna), returned as well. Delia’s eccentricities were toned down and she became oblivious to everything except what she called art; unaware of any strange goings on around the house. Charles, however, saw everything and could explain none of it. Unlike the film, his nerves were a lot more easily frazzled and he was just a push away from a mental breakdown. Lydia also addressed Delia as “mother” rather than by her name, and their non-biological relationship was never firmly established. They also gained a family cat, Percy (Susan Roman), who was even more high-strung than Charles and the frequent victim of Beej’s pranks (although Percy managed to get in a few licks of his own here and there).
The Neitherworld offered a host of new characters to populate the show. Living with Beej in the roadhouse were his roommates, Jacques LaLean (after fitness guru Jack LaLanne, voiced by Charles Kerr), a French skeleton obsessed with working out, and Ginger (alluding to Ginger Rogers, voiced by Tabitha St. Germain), a tap-dancing spider who was about as good at her craft as Delia was at art. Across the street lived the aptly-named The Monster Across the Street (Len Carlson), a giant, hairy monster with a Texan accent, cowboy boots and hat with a very short temper and very high disdain of Beej. He lived with his wife, The Monstress Across the Street, and his beloved dog, Poopsie (both Roman). The second season saw the introduction of Doomie (Keith Hampshire), the sentient car Beej built with Lydia ala Frankenstein. By using an abnormal carburetor, every time the normally sweet Doomie was in the presence of a dog, angry, or frightened, he would transform into a hairy and savage monster. Sandworms also appeared frequently to cause a little havoc and add extra trouble to a situation.
|The Monster Across the Street.|
Beetlejuice debuted on ABC on September 9, 1989 and became a huge hit for the network. It ran for three seasons, alternating between single and double stories each episode. Despite drawing the usual parental protests over concerns about harmful content such as violence, the series managed to win the 1990 Daytime Emmy for “Outstanding Animated Program,” shared with fellow ABC show The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The series’ theme was taken directly from Elfman’s score of the film, but the rest of the series’ music was handled by Tom Szczesniak. The series also featured one of the earliest uses of CGI combined with puppetry; mostly for Neitherworld television programs, as well as the beginning of the series’ second opening. Those effects were handled by Calibre Digital Designs.
ABC had no intentions of continuing the series beyond its third season. With the Fox Kids block entering its second year of existence, FOX decided to acquire the weekday rights and order an additional 65 episodes of the series from Nelvana. As a result, the series’ third season continued simultaneously on ABC Saturdays alongside its fourth during FOX weekdays, bringing the entire show up to a grand total of 94 episodes and making it one of the few to air concurrently on two networks. The FOX season changed things up a bit from the rest of the series’ run. Beej was more reactionary to things that happened in stories instead of being the direct cause of them. Many episodes also dealt heavily with direct parodies to popular movies, such as The Wizard of Oz. Writers for the series included Tedd Anasti, Patsy Cameron, Evelyn Gabai, Eric Lewald, Doug Molitor, Therese Naugle, J.D. Smith, Michael Edens, Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir, and Tony Marino, amongst others, with Edens, Smith, Dan DiStefano and Dan Hennessey serving as story editors.
As with the movie, a merchandising blitz followed the success of the series. Dart Flipcards produced a series of trading cards; Panini released a sticker album and activity book; Golden Books made both puzzles and coloring books; Thermos a lunchbox; Party Creations a centerpiece; and a set of Valentines. Burger King offered a set of six PVC figurines with their Kids’ Meals, which featured the main characters (besides Ginger) and a Sandworm, and had the added bonus of another figure on their backs. Kenner, who had produced figures for the movie, had planned a line for the show that never came to fruition beyond a prototype head for Jacques that eventually resurfaced on the internet.
|Doomie chasing Poopsie.|
Only two video games were made for the show. In 1990, Riedel Software Productions, Inc. and Hi-Tech Expressions, Inc. released Skeletons in the Closet for DOS which had Beej going up against a legion of skeletons using a variety of weapons. In 1992, Rare, Ltd. and LJN Toys, Ltd. released Horrific Hijinx from the Neitherworld for the Nintendo Game Boy, which this time had Beej evicting all the ghosts he invited to Lydia’s house before having to save Lydia herself. In 1991, Harvey Comics began publishing a series of Beetlejuice comics. They released Beeltejuice and Beetlejuice in the Neitherworld their debut year, followed by Crimebusters on the Haunt and a Holiday Special in 1992.
|Beetlejuice on VHS.|
Warner Bros. Home Video released most of the first season across six VHS tapes. When the 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD for the film was released in 2008, the episodes “Skeletons in the Closet,” Spooky Boo-Tique,” and “A-Ha” were included as bonus features. In 2013, Shout! Factory released the complete series to DVD as an Amazon exclusive, while season one was released to retail stores on the same day. In 2013 Shout! released A Halloween Spooktacular, a compilation of Halloween-themed episodes, and seasons two and three combined in 2014.
|Excitement over a new movie builds.|
Talk of a sequel had been ongoing since at least 1990, when Burton hired Jonathan Gems to write Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. However, the project soon became forgotten as Burton went to work on Batman Returns. Both Burton and Keaton had a strong love for the movie, and consistently expressed interest in a sequel whenever it was brought up. By 2015, a sequel was finally in pre-production with Keaton and Ryder set to reprise their roles. In the interim, Beetlejuice was kept alive (so to speak) at various Universal Studios theme parks in live-action shows. The show opened in 1992 and underwent several revisions and names, the latest being Beeltejuice’s Graveyard Mash-Up. The last American version of the show closed in August of 2015 in favor of an attraction based on The Fast and the Furious franchise, although it still currently runs in Japan. Beetlejuice was also part of the defunct Extreme Ghostbusters: The Great Fright Way! and Halloween Horror Nights. In 2018, Beetlejuice was made into a musical that made its way to Broadway the following year. In 2017, Beetlejuice returned to video games as one of the playable characters and worlds in LEGO Dimensions, voiced by Christopher Swindle, and to animation in 2020 with a guest appearance on Teen Titans Go! voiced by Alex Brightman.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2021.
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