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
|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
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
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, Peter Sauder, Mike Keyes, Evelyn A-R Gabai, Eric Lewald, Doug Molitor, Therese Naugle, J.D. Smith, Michael Edens, Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir, Tony Marino, Pamela Hickey, Dennys McCoy, Janis Diamond, John Halfpenny, Alan Bunce, Julianne Klemm, Alan Willert, Chris Hubbell, Sam Graham, Gordon Kent, Katherine Lawrence, Larry Parr, Terrence McDonnell, Jeff Abel, Steve Cudden, Sandy Sceany, Stephen Sustarsic, Patricia
Goldstone, Michael Reid,
Lester P. Lester, David Finley,
Dan DiStefano, John Antoniou, Tom Johnstone, Jim Carlson and David Silverman, with Edens,
Smith, 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
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. In 2024, in
anticipation of the sequel, The
Nacelle Company and Culturefly
set of retro clingers based on the show.
|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.
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,
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.
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 2024.