Inside The Quirky Weirdness Of Tim Burton’s ‘Beetlejuice’

Beetlejuice’s unique mix of comedy and horror became a hallmark for then-unknown director Tim Burton, who went on to craft some of the most visually unique and utterly bizarre blockbuster hits of all time. Most of us forget that Beetlejuice helped pave the way for major talents like Burton, who hadn’t yet hit it big with The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Winona Rider, who would only become a household name after Heathers was released later that year. Beetlejuice crafted a 25-year-long legacy, but the “Ghost with the Most” was almost a whole lot different than you ever imagined.

Here are some little-known facts and trivia from the making of Beetlejuice.

Betelgeuse Was Originally A Winged Middle Eastern Man

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According to The Playlist, Betelgeuse originally looked a whole lot different. In original drafts of the screenplay, “he was envisioned as leather-winged demon whose humanoid form is that of a squat Middle Eastern man (subsequent drafts had him talking in a kind of African American pidgin dialect).”

The Script Was Originally Way Darker

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Beetlejuice is undeniably dark – it deals largely with ghosts and the afterlife. It also has some pretty silly – but definitely graphic – scenes. No matter how graphic, the special effects border more on craft store whimsy than intense, realistic gore. As it turns out, the original screenplay was a whole lot darker. It was seriously, seriously grim.

According to The Playlist, the original script had way more graphic violence than the Beetlejuice we know and love. This was particularly evident in the scene where Bee tries to marry Lydia. Instead of the lovelorn climax, Betelgeuse was originally supposed to rape Winona Ryder’s character.

The Cast Originally Thought The Script Was “Too Weird” And Declined To Be Part Of The Movie

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Beetlejuice is undeniably weird, but it’s also exactly the kind of production that shows Tim Burton’s genius. When Tim Burton was unknown in the late 1980’s, his genius wasn’t always as apparent. Originally, most of the cast thought the film was way too weird to be a part of. Geena Davis was the only person who initially committed to the project. Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Sylvia Sidney all originally said no until film producer David Geffen begged Michael Keaton’s manager to set up a meeting between Burton and Keaton. Keaton signed on after the meeting, and the rest followed (but only after Burton flew out to convince them face-to-face).

Molly Ringwald And Sarah Jessica Parker Turned Down The Role Of Lydia Deetz

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Most of us can’t imagine Lydia Deetz as anyone other than the then-17-year-old Winona Ryder. The truth is, Winona almost didn’t happen (and not just because she said no a ton of times). Juliette Lewis originally auditioned for the role of Lydia, after numerous actresses declined. Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Justine Bateman, Molly Ringwald and Jennifer Connelly all turned down the role. Let’s be real though – who would Lydia have been if she was Sarah Jessica Parker? Molly Ringwald could’ve probably brought in a slapstick bratty teen aesthetic, but would she have been able to be dark enough?

Lydia Deetz Was Almost Played By Alyssa Milano

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In the late 1980s, teen actor Alyssa Milano was just getting her start. The actress nabbed roles in a number of TV movies, but had yet to make the transition onto the silver screen. Beetlejuice was almost her chance, if only Winona Ryder wasn’t so darn perfect for the part.

After a litany of actresses turned down the role of Lydia (largely because the film was pretty weird and really dark), Alyssa Milano became a frontrunner for the part. It came down to just 16-year-old Milano and 17-year-old Winona Ryder. The part ultimately went to Winona, who later became one of Burton’s muses and starred in Edward Scissorhands.

Winona Ryder Nabbed The Part Of Lydia Because Of Her Role In Lucas

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You may have not heard about Lucas, but the 1986 tragicomedy actually paved the way for Winona Ryder’s personal brand or quirky cool. If she didn’t have a killer supporting role, she would have never nabbed the (not-so-coveted) part of Lydia Deetz.

Lucas was ranked as number 16 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of 50 Best High School Movies, even though it wasn’t considered a box office success (though it grossed over $8 million). Still, the film focused on young love, injuries and terminal illness. It was dark but comedic and definitely lent itself to the same bizarrely tragic-yet-funny aesthetic of Beetlejuice. Because of this, Tim Burton favored Winona for Lydia rather than Alyssa Milano.

Anjelica Houston Originally Played Delia Deetz

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Anjelica Houston, who’s possibly best known for her quirky role in The Royal Tenenbaums, was actually originally cast as Delia Deetz. At this point, Houston already had a decades-long career with mostly small roles and TV cameos. Starring in a blockbuster hit would have been just the thing she needed to launch herself into some sort of career security, and she even got the part. The only problem was that she fell ill and needed to bow out. Thankfully, Houston did end up getting her big break a little later in Mr. North where played a supporting role alongside Lauren Bacall.

The Production Team Actually Dammed Up A Lake For Filming

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It’s pretty strange to think about a production actually seriously altering nature to make magic happen on set, but that’s just what happened while filming Beetlejuice. The flick was set in Connecticut but filmed in East Corinth, Vermont. To create the covered bridge scene, the small creek that ran through the town was dammed up. The bridge was built on Chicken Farm Road just outside of the center of the village and the front of the Maitland’s house was built on a farm just a hundred yards from the bridge. The rooms you see inside the home are actually shot elsewhere.

In The Original Script, Betelgeuse Was Destroyed By An Exorcism And The Maitlands Got A New Home

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Beetlejuice originally had a vastly different ending that saw Lydia being abandoned by her family and raised by the Maitlands in Connecticut. Originally, Betelgeuse was destroyed during an exorcism. After the exorcism, in a scene out of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, the Maitlands’ home shrunk down to the size of Adam’s model town. The Maitland’s then moved into one of the model houses and renovated it to look just like their original, full-sized house. The Deetz family didn’t stay with Maitlands in Connecticut, and ended up moving to New York, leaving their teen daughter behind.

Michael Keaton Only Spent Two Weeks Filming His Parts

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Though the film is called Beetlejuice, the eponymous character doesn’t actually have a whole lot of screen time. Betelgeuse is in the film for a paltry 17 minutes, which is exceedingly small considering the fact that the film is over an hour and a half long. Though Keaton was the second actor to agree to film the project and nabs a starring credit, it actually wasn’t a very big commitment for him at all. Unlike productions that require their stars to spend months (and sometimes even years) filming, Keaton spent just two weeks on set.

A Strange Deleted Scene Showed The World Between The Living And The Dead

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Like most productions, there were scenes cut out of the final film we saw in theaters. One of these scenes depicted limbo, the world between the living and the dead, as giant gears that literally tear up the ground as they turn. Here’s how it’s written out in the original script:

“The size of a man — rolls by, tearing up the unseamed ground. Something pours up out of the tear — ooze or stuffing. Adam runs forward and stares after the wheel, which is now out of sight. Looking very much like components of a giant watch — spin along behind him. One of them veers suddenly toward him, and though Adam jumps out of the way, the gear snags his trouser leg and shreds it. LOUD TICKING. A perfectly enormous gear comes barreling toward him. Adam leaps out of its way. The gear turns, fish-tailing, kicking up ooze and stuffing. Adam flings himself suddenly to the right, but trips into the path of the gear. As he’s about to be crushed, he’s suddenly jerked up to safety.”

Warren Skaaren Changed The Music To Make The Film More Playful

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Film producer and screenwriter Warren Skaaren wasn’t a stranger to horror films when he was brought on to edit Beetlejuice. The writer had a personal financial stake in the iconic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and acted as the driving force behind the film’s distribution. The success of Texas Chainsaw allowed Skaaren to pursue a career in the film industry. Beetlejuice was one of his first films, and he was brought in by Burton to help make the film more playful.

Skaaren’s rewrites included important music suggestions that really altered the tone of the film (like the light-hearted scene where Lydia lip-synchs to “When a Man Loves a Woman”). Skaaren also swapped out the film’s R&B tracks for quirky calypso tunes, adding Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora).”

Sammy Davis Jr. Was Supposed To Be Betelgeuse

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Michael Keaton flawlessly plays Betelgeuse – he’s disgusting, creepy and in a weird way, sort of lovable. His role in the film is perhaps a disappointment that worked in Burton’s favor. Originally, Tim Burton wanted Rat Pack all-star Sammy Davis Jr. to play Betelgeuse. Davis Jr. didn’t work out (it was a reach considering how big of a name he was) and instead, the part went to Keaton.

Keaton was nearly 20 years younger than Davis Jr. – old enough to pursue Lydia without being completely unbelievable, but still middle-aged enough that the thought was utterly disgusting. Sammy Davis Jr. was 63 years old at the time.

Catherine O’Hara Met Her Future Husband On Set

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To think: Catherine O’Hara almost never met the love of her life. O’Hara, who played Delia Deetz, originally declined Burton’s offer for the part. It was only after Burton flew out to meet with O’Hara personally that he successfully convinced her to sign on. Some things are just absolutely meant to be because O’Hara met her future husband Bo Welch on the set.

Welch was a production designer on Beetlejuice. The pair met on set in 1988 and married in 1992. Though celebrity marriages typically fizzle out rather quickly, the couple is still going strong in 2017.

Executives Hated The Name Beetlejuice

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Beetlejuice is definitely a strange name, but it’s taken from astronomy. The name is based on Betelgeuse, the ninth brightest star in the sky which rests inside the Orion constellation. This has almost nothing to do with the film, so it’s not surprising that Warner Bros executives hated the name. Originally, execs pushed for the title House Ghosts, which doesn’t really have the same ring to it (doesn’t it sound like an off-shoot of the Burton film Box Trolls?).

At one point, Burton grew pretty fed up with Warner Bros. title suggestions and joked that the film should be called Scared Sheetless. The company actually considered it, and Burton was rightly horrified. Beetlejuice just works.

Michael Keaton Largely Improvised The Role Of Betelgeuse

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Keaton only took two weeks to film his part, and maybe that’s because he didn’t have a gigantic script to learn. The actor largely improvised his performance. One of the most notable scenes was when Betelgeuse is having a conversation with Barbara and Adam. He’s asked about his qualifications and breaks out of Betelgeuse’s signature voice into his normal speaking voice. He lists off major accomplishments like graduating from Harvard business school, attending Julliard and traveling the world. This was a quirky, off-hand moment that almost broke the fourth wall. These are actually Keaton’s real-life achievements, and he was speaking as himself rather than the character.

Some Argue Jack Skellington Was Created During Beetlejuice Filming

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The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of Tim Burton’s most renowned works, but it didn’t come until a couple years after Beetlejuice had already been in theaters. Many people believe that the idea of Nightmare’s iconic lead Jack Skellington was created – or in the very least surfaced to the public – during the filming of Beetlejuice. Burton had been drawing a skeleton character since 1982, which made an appearance on the top of Betelgeuse’s Merry-Go-Round in 1988. It was later transformed into the Jack Skellington we know and love a year later when Burton started filming The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Lydia’s Dress In The Wedding Scene Was Red Because Of An Old Victorian-Era Superstition

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Marriage has a whole lot of superstitions. Brides have to wear something borrowed, something blue, something old and something new. If a bride nabs an opal engagement ring from their soon-to-be hubby, their marriage is doomed. A wedding dress always has to be white – and it certainly can’t be red. So why was Lydia’s dress red in Beetlejuice’s marriage scene? There’s an old rhyme from the Victorian era that goes “Married in red, better off dead.” Sometimes it’s recalled as “Married in red, you will wish yourself dead.” That’s kind of fitting, is it not?

The Snake Scene Was Totally Reshot After Keaton Signed On

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The snake scene is one of the most visually interesting moments in Beetlejuice, and exemplifies Tim Burton’s signature stop-motion animation. Originally, the snake scene was a lot different. The snake was animatronic and didn’t resemble Betelgeuse at all. When Michael Keaton signed onto the role, the scene was reshot with a stop-motion snake. The snake was made to look like Keaton. This little touch really added to the aesthetics of the film. Any film can do an animatronic snake, but not every film can have a creepy, stop-motion snake that looks like their lead. Without moments like this, Beetlejuice would not be Beetlejuice.

Test Audiences Hated Beetlejuice’s Ending

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Test audiences weren’t thrilled with the original ending of Beetlejuice (which saw him destroyed in an exorcism and the Maitlands being banished to a sandworm-plagued model town). The thing test audiences really, really loved was Keaton’s portrayal of the title character. Burton needed to do Betelgeuse justice, so they nixed the original ending. Instead, they filmed an upbeat epilogue where, before being hexed by a witch doctor, Betelgeuse hassled a woman who was sawed in half. The rethinking of the ending pleased audiences because it really gave audiences more closure about the character’s demise. You can’t just do your title character dirty without audiences noticing.