March 30, 2018 Beetlejuice – 30 Years Of The Ghost With The Most
Thirty years ago, on Wednesday, March 30, 1988, Beetlejuice was released to American audiences, and the rest is a piece of (Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!) unusual film history.
If you are one of the two people who have not seen Beetlejuice, it is the tale of the strange and unusual Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder: Edward Scissorhands 1990, Girl, Interrupted 1999) whose uptight, rich parents – Delia (Catherine O’Hara: Home Alone 1990, Frankenweenie 2012) and Charles (Jeffrey Jones: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1986, Ed Wood 1994) – move the family into a new Connecticut home.
Unbeknownst to the Deetz family, however, is the fact that this property is already occupied by a couple – Adam (Alec Baldwin: Glengarry Glen Ross 1992, The Departed 2006) and Barbara (Geena Davis: The Fly 1986, Thelma & Louise 1991) Maitland – who are regrettably deceased. Dead and trying to find a way to save their home from these new intruders, the couple turn to the obnoxiously flamboyant spirit Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton: Batman 1989, The Founder 2016) for aid in rescuing their property from possession by the living. What follows is one banana boat of a good time!
Riding on the coattails of his success with 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands 1990, Corpse Bride 2005) was growing disheartened in his search for a truly unique, imaginative and original script. When David Geffen handed him Michael McDowell’s script for Beetlejuice, everything clicked into place for the young director. Of course, there would be rewrites, but the end result was a film that did phenomenally well, grossing over $70-million on a budget of $15-million (with $1-million of that going to the film’s special effects). In fact, Beetlejuice would even go on to win the Oscar for Best Makeup, as well as three Saturn Awards.
What many people do not know about the making of Beetlejuice is that, initially, Director Burton had wanted to cast Sammy Davis, Jr., in the titular role; Geffen would suggest Keaton for the part. It is said that many of the films other cast members were slow to come on-board, thanks in part to the quirky script. Additionally, unhappy with the odd title “Beetlejuice,” Warner Bros. suggested naming the film “House Ghosts.” Rumor has it that, as a somewhat smarmy counter-joke, Burton quipped that they could name the film “Scared Sheetless,” and the studio, clearly failing to get the humor, actually considered this proposal.
McDowell’s original script was also hugely different from the film we all know and love, a much darker and less comedic affair. Contained inside were graphic depictions of the Maitland’s life-halting car crash, along with Betelgeuse the winged-demon who is out to rape Lydia and murder the Deetz family. Furthermore, there was a fifth member of the Deetz family, a nine-year-old daughter, who was the only person that could see and communicate with the Maitlands. In the culmination of this version of the script, this little girl ends up mutilated by a squirrel-shaped Betelgeuse.
When the Beetlejuice we all know and love opened to U.S. theaters on Wednesday, March 30, 1988, the reception was more than anyone could have hoped: the film grossed over $8-million in its opening weekend alone, and would go on to gross over $73-million in North America. With these box office numbers, the film was the 10th highest grossing film of 1988, and would go on to be referred to as a Comedy classic. In fact, in 2000, the American Film Institute placed the film on its 100 Years…100 Laughs list.
The surprising success of the film would spawn an animated TV series – that ran for four seasons, first on ABC then on Fox – and a legion of die-hard fans. Beetlejuice-themed shows have appeared at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal Studios Japan, and Beetlejuice has been featured as a part of the popular Halloween Horror Nights attraction at Universal Orlando. Additionally, there are several Beetlejuice video games, and a soundtrack featuring that infamous Danny Elfman score along with Harry Belafonte’s two original tracks (“The Banana Boat Song” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)”) that brought some of the film’s best scenes to life. Rumors of Beetlejuice: The Musical have even circulated.
These days, who does not know Lydia’s relatable, now classic motto for the Goth kids of the world: “Live people ignore the strange and unusual. I myself am strange and unusual.” A legion of children and teens grew up on the film, finding solace in knowing that there were others who deemed themselves unusual, wearing their uniqueness as a badge of pride. This embrace of weirdness has gone on to taint Pop Culture at every turn, with t-shirts, journals, and prints available everywhere these days (just look at IG!) echoing Lydia’s immortal words. Hell, there is even an oddities shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, called The Strange and Unusual!
This undying love for Beetlejuice and all things Tim Burton has led to several serious discussions of a sequel, but, to date, there is no projected filming date and nothing firm to speak of. Perhaps with thirty years now passed and the love for the strange and unusual only growing ever-stronger, the time is finally ripe for crowds to once again have the chance to cheer: “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!”