It’s Showtime! All the Inside Secrets About Beetlejuice

Thanks to its wacky blend of comedy and horror, Beetlejuice became an instant cult classic when it was released in 1988. The film helped establish Tim Burton’s kooky style that laid the path for generations of iconic movies like Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman. However, the film didn’t start out so great.

Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis / Michael Keaton / Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder / The cast of Beetlejuice
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Starring Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Michael Keaton, and Geena Davis, the behind-the-scenes secrets of Beetlejuice show how challenging it was to bring the ghost with the most to the big screen. Try not to say his name three times as we take a look at everything that went down on the set of Beetlejuice.

A Much Darker Script

The greatest thing about Beetlejuice is that it combines whimsical humor with horror without being too scary. However, the original story written by Michael McDowell was much darker than the final script. Screenwriters Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren had to rewrite it to tone down the horror to fit a broader audience.

Tim Burton and Michael Keaton talk on the set of Beetlejuice.
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Originally, McDowell imagined Betelgeuse as a winged demon whose human form was a small Middle Eastern man. He also planned for the Deetzes to be sexually assaulted and murdered while the Maitlands’ car crash would have been far more gruesome. It probably would’ve been rated R instead of PG-13.

An Alternate Ending

Other than the darker tone, McDowell’s screenplay had a much different ending. In his original version, Beetlejuice is destroyed by an exorcism, and the Maitlands’ house shrinks down to the size of Adam’s (Alec Baldwin) model town. They also wouldn’t have shared their home with the Deetz family.

Keaton as Betelgeuse in a still from the film.
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Instead, McDowell imagined the Maitlands moving into the model house and renovating it to look like the full-scale version before the family arrived. Additionally, the Deetz parents were supposed to move back to New York, leaving Lydia (Winona Ryder) to be raised by the Maitlands in Connecticut. It would have been much different.

It Needs More Playfulness

When Skaaren and Wilson were rewriting the script, they included specific music suggestions such as Lydia lip-syncing to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” In the end, they substituted R&B songs for calypso music like Harry Belafonte’s hits “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora).”

Keaton, Davis, and Baldwin in a still from the film.
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Director Tim Burton wanted Skaaren to bring some more playfulness and music to the script to complete his vision. The funkier music gave that balanced dose of comedy to offset the gorier factors. Burton knows how to walk the narrow line between creepy and whimsically funny, which made the movie a success.

A Different Choice for Betelgeuse

Before Michael Keaton got the role of Betelgeuse, Burton wanted Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. to be the star. Davis Jr. was 63 at the time, and they thought he might have been too old for this specific role. Producer David Geffen had a different actor in mind.

Keaton poses on the set of Beetlejuice.
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Geffen suggested Keaton, who was half Davis Jr.’s age. Keaton was ultimately chosen over the veteran actor, and he went on to appear in other Burton films like Batman and Batman returns. While Keaton was perfect, it would have been interesting to see Davis Jr. as Betelgeuse.

Alec Baldwin Wasn’t Sure

Baldwin, who plays Adam Maitland, told GQ that he was not confident with the film. He had no idea what Beetlejuice was about and thought it would end his career upon its release. However, Burton’s confidence gave Baldwin hope. He thought of Burton as a “crazy professor.”

Baldwin and Davis, as Adam and Barbara Maitland.
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Keaton also encouraged Baldwin because he was so self-assured. It amazed Baldwin, who was an inexperienced actor at the time. He loved Keaton’s method and improvisations that made the film better than Baldwin could have imagined.

They Didn’t Need Convincing

After speaking with Burton, Geena Davis, who plays Barbara Maitland, and Keaton immediately signed on for the film. They loved the idea and knew it would be a great career opportunity. They also liked Burton’s vision and energy when they met him.

Davis, Baldwin, and Sidney in a still from the film.
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Unlike Davis and Keaton, Burton had to beg Sylvia Sidney to play the afterlife detective, Juno. Like Baldwin, Sidney wasn’t convinced about the film’s story and didn’t think it would be a success. However, she finally agreed and worked with Burton again for Mars Attacks!

Many Actors Rejected the Role of Lydia

When casting the role of Lydia, many Hollywood starlets rejected the part. The movie had such a wacky concept; it was so different from the other films of its time. Many actresses couldn’t see themselves playing a role like Lydia because she was strange.

A promo shot of Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz.
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Actresses including Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Justine Bateman, Molly Ringwald, and Jennifer Connelly are among those who turned down the part. Juliette Lewis also auditioned, but Ryder won the part after Burton saw her performance in Lucas.

It Was Almost Called Scared Sheetless

Initially, Warner Bros. executives didn’t like the title Beetlejuice. They brainstormed other names like House Ghosts, but it didn’t seem like the right fit. Burton jokingly suggested Scared Sheetless but didn’t think anyone would take his idea seriously. He was wrong.

The poster art for Beetlejuice.
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Burton was baffled when Warner Bros. actually considered it. But they ended up going with Beetlejuice in the end, which is a much better title than House Ghosts (yawn!) and Scared Sheetless. The name Beetlejuice came from a star called Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation.

Lydia Almost Had a Sister

Many changes were made to the script before the final version was complete. In one of the early versions, Lydia wasn’t an only child. She was supposed to have a strait-laced younger sister named Cathy, who wanted to crush Lydia’s goth vibes.

A portrait of Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz.
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It is strange to read older versions of the story and have Lydia interacting with this character that didn’t make it to the big screen. In one of the removed scenes, the sisters go to see a “death rocker” in New York City before being splattered with blood.

She Was Bullied

Ryder wasn’t the most normal teenager. Her classmates bullied her, and she hoped appearing in Beetlejuice would make her more popular. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on her reputation at school. Her peers bullied her more, calling her a witch because of her character.

Keaton and Ryder in a still from Beetlejuice.
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Beetlejuice was a box-office hit, but Ryder’s classmates didn’t care that she was a big movie star. They kept picking on her even though she was rubbing elbows with some of the greatest actors in Hollywood. Luckily, Ryder got the last laugh.

No Post-Production Effects

Burton had a specific vision for Beetlejuice, which didn’t include post-production effects if he didn’t have to. In many scenes where a special effect was needed, Burton told the crew to figure out how to do it live. That’s a pretty tall task for a movie like this.

Geena Davis holds Alec Baldwin’s head in a still from the film Beetlejuice.
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Art director Tom Duffield shared that they were able to make one of the actors look decapitated using some lighting equipment. When Davis is standing holding Baldwin’s head, he is just kneeling behind a black card cut around his neck.

Michael Keaton Didn’t Get It

When Burton pitched Beetlejuice to Keaton, he didn’t understand the concept. However, Keaton signed on regardless because he liked Burton. He initially turned down the role before meeting with Burton because he wasn’t looking to work. Keaton almost missed out on a career-changing role.

Betelgeuse sits on top of a grave.
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However, Keaton told Rolling Stone that his breakthrough came when Burton mentioned that Betelgeuse, like the star in Orion, existed across time and space. Keaton used that detail as the entry point to create his performance. He was then 100 percent on board.

They Had to Build a Bridge

Scouting locations to find the perfect covered bridge for the beginning of the film wasn’t an easy task. The crew drove all over Vermont to find the right town but ultimately decided to build a bridge of their own. They also had to build a dam to keep the set from washing away.

The location before and after the bridge was placed.
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Duffield said the bridge was a pain for the production team. He shared that “Physically, the hardest project was the bridge. We kept having thunderstorms. We had to build a dam, and a thunderstorm would blow it all away.”

Michael Keaton Wasn’t Around Much

Although the film is called Beetlejuice, Keaton’s character only has about 17 minutes of screen time. Therefore, Keaton only had to be on set for a few weeks to complete his part in the movie. It might have been a short role, but Keaton dedicated himself to the character.

Keaton and Ryder are on the set of Beetlejuice.
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Keaton said, “At some point, you show up on the set and just go f**king nuts. It was rage acting. You rage for 12 or 14 hours; then you go home tired, beat, and exhausted. It was pretty damned cathartic. It was rave and purge acting.”

The Audience Wanted a Different Ending

There were many ideas about how Beetlejuice would end before the writers and director settled on a final script. When they showed the film to test audiences, the people wanted the film to have a happier ending for Betelgeuse because they loved the character.

Betelgeuse is hassling a sawed-in-half woman.
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Burton and his team went back to add an upbeat epilogue that showed Betelgeuse hassling a sawed-in-half woman before being hexed by a witch doctor. The version the test audience saw had Betelgeuse stuck in the Maitlands’ model town and plagued by sandworms.

Lydia’s Alternate Fate

One of Beetlejuice’s many possible conclusions saw Lydia dying in a fire. Lydia talks about suicide throughout the film and asks the Maitlands to help her become a ghost. Her whole storyline is that she’s suicidal but grows to realize she doesn’t want to die.

Winona Ryder, as Deetz, in a still from the film.
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In one version of the script, Lydia got her wish. Ryder’s character was supposed to die in a fire and live in the afterlife with the Maitlands. The producers decided to have a happier ending to keep the film PG-13 and not too heavy for the audience.

It Inspired an Animated Series

While you wouldn’t think of Beetlejuice as being kid-friendly, the film inspired an animated series that ran for 94 episodes. The show reimagined the dynamic between Lydia and Betelgeuse. In the show, he takes her on wild adventures in “Neitherworld.”

The animated TV show for Beetlejuice.
Source: Warner Bros.

The Maitlands were cut out of the animated series, but Lydia gets a cast of classmates and ghoulish friends such as a skeleton bodybuilder and a tap-dancing spider. The producers had to make the plot much more kid-appropriate than the film. The show was cute, nonetheless.

A Different Delia Deetz

Anjelica Huston, known for playing Morticia Addams, was originally cast as Delia Deetz. Sadly, she had to back out due to illness. When Catherine O’Hara was offered the role, she turned down Burton’s first offer. But he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, and Glenn Shadix in a scene from Beetlejuice.
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Burton flew out to meet with O’Hara and convince her to take the role. She agreed to take the role, which was a wise decision. While working on the movie, O’Hara met and eventually married production designer Bo Welch. The film also helped her career.

Award Winner

There were many award-worthy factors about Beetlejuice, but the makeup stood out to the Academy. Makeup artist Ve Neill said she copied a sketch Burton drew of Betelgeuse to create the concept for Keaton’s makeup. She completely transformed Keaton into a different person.

Keaton gets his makeup put on by Ve Neill.
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Neill, Steve LaPorte, and Robert Short made it look like he had moss growing on him and gave him fake, rotting teeth. They also used prosthetic lips to make his nose look broken. As a result of their hard work, the three artists won an Oscar in 1989 for Best Makeup.

A Red Wedding

In the dramatic wedding scene, Lydia is seen wearing a red wedding dress. While traditional wedding dresses are white, Burton wanted to go in a different direction. He was inspired by the rhyme that says, “married in red, better off dead.”

The cast of Beetlejuice poses in costume.
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As we know, Lydia wanted to die throughout the movie, so the red dress is only fitting. Her goth appearance would have looked strange with a white wedding dress. Burton always has a unique vision and never does anything traditional, so it was on-brand for him.

United Flight 409

The film is filled with many small, unique details that viewers often miss. For example, when Adam and Barbara are in the office, a voice on the PA system announces, “Flight 409 is arriving at Gate 3.” The announcement has a dark meaning behind it.

A man is pictured beside the plane wreckage.
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United Airlines flight 409 crashed into a mountain in Wyoming on October 6, 1955, killing everyone on board. It was one of the worst plane crashes in history at the time. It is still unknown why it crashed. Burton added this because everyone on the flight was arriving in the afterlife.

Winona Ryder Has Come a Long Way

When Ryder filmed Beetlejuice, she was 17, and her career was just getting started. She starred in both Beetlejuice and Heather in 1988, which put her on a path to stardom. Although she spent much of the 2000s out of the spotlight, Ryder rebounded in a big way.

Winona Ryder attends a photocall for Netflix’s “Stranger Things” Season 3.
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Ryder made her big comeback playing Joyce Byers in the Netflix hit series Stranger Things. In 2017, she won a SAG award for best outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series with the rest of her castmates. The show is returning for Season 4.

Michael Keaton Is an Icon

After transforming into the devious ghost Betelgeuse, Keaton opened many doors in his career. He went on to star in Batman and Batman Returns, also directed by Burton. Keaton has taken on various roles that showcase his versatile acting skills.

Michael Keaton attends the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards
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Keaton got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Birdman and recently joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He also played a reporter in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. Keaton has done well for himself over the years and has become one of Hollywood’s best actors.

Alec Baldwin Was a Newbie

When Baldwin filmed Beetlejuice, he was still fresh in the acting world. He didn’t have much experience, but the film boosted his career. Although he looks back on it as one of his worst performances, Baldwin has come a long way.

Alec Baldwin attends Sundance.
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Baldwin has had a successful career since the ‘80s. When he wasn’t stopping by Saturday Night Live to impersonate a former president, Baldwin worked hard on films like Mission: Impossible-Fallout and The Boss Baby 2. He also had a short-lived talk show in 2018 called The Alec Baldwin Show.

Geena Davis Is on Fire

Who could forget the iconic scene where Davis’s character has flames emerge from her fingertips? Davis was easily convinced to do the film, and her career has only done well since then. In 1991, she starred alongside Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise, cementing her as a Hollywood A-lister.

Geena Davis attends
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In recent years, Davis has dabbled in different realms of entertainment. She had a recurring role in Grey’s Anatomy and joined the cast of Netflix’s Glow as Sandy Devereaux St. Clair. Davis has no plans to slow down, with many projects in the works.

Catherine O’Hara Revived Her Star Power

Although O’Hara was reluctant to play Delia Deetz, her portrayal was incredible. Shortly after Beetlejuice, O’Hara joined the cast of Home Alone, which became a blockbuster hit. She worked with Ryder and Burton again in 2012, voicing Mrs. Frankenstein in Frankenweenie.

Catherine O'Hara attends the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
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However, most people know O’Hara today for playing the iconic Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek. She made everyone laugh with her outlandish outfits and hilarious quotes. Since Schitt’s Creek, O’Hara has been in The Last Kids on Earth and Central Park. She also has a TV series and movie coming out this year.

Jeffrey Jones Struggled

Known for playing the former real estate developer and husband of O’Hara’s character, Jeffrey Jones also played the uptight principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Since the ‘80s, Jones’s career has struggled as he dealt with a few legal issues over the years.

Jeffrey Jones attends The Hollywood Show
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In 2010, Jones was sentenced to 250 hours of community service for failing to update his information on the sex offender’s registry. Jones pleaded no contest in 2003 after being accused of making an underaged boy pose for explicit pictures. It definitely hurt his career.

There’s a Beetlejuice Sequel

Beetlejuice was such a huge success that it inspired the 1990 sequel, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. At the time, Burton was focused on making Batman Returns, so the sequel was postponed. The idea went cold until 2011 when Warner Bros hired Seth Grahame-Smith.

Keaton as Betelgeuse.
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Grahame-Smith was brought in to give new life to Beetlejuice 2, with Keaton, Ryder, and Burton all in talks to be involved in the sequel. Unfortunately, years went by, and the project wasn’t discussed again until 2014. Burton restarted the rumor mill when he said there was a script.

So, What Happened?

In 2014, Burton told IGN, “I would love to work with Michael Keaton again. I think there is now a better chance than ever. I miss that character. There’s something that’s cathartic and amazing about it. I think it’s closer than ever.” However, the sequel wasn’t close at all.

A still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Then, in 2014, Ryder told Seth Meyers, “I think I can confirm it [the sequel].” While fans were excited to see Ryder bring Lydia back to life, there hasn’t been much movement. As of now, it is supposed to be released in 2025, starring Keaton, Ryder, and Johnny Depp.

Glenn Shadix Was Honored

Although his role wasn’t big in Beetlejuice, Glenn Shadix played an interior designer who accidentally caused Adam and Barbara to decay and die. Shadix went on to work with Burton again, voicing the mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas. He was mainly a voice actor.

Tim Burton, Catherine O'Hara, and Glenn Shadix pose together.
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Shadix was the voice behind characters in Teen Titans and the Kingdom Hearts video games. Sadly, he passed away in 2010 at age 58. When he died, the last song performed at his memorial service was “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” which was used in the dinner party scene.

Various Ways to Die

When Adam and Barbara die in their car crash, they go to a waiting room with other ghosts. Interestingly, Burton filled the waiting room with ghosts who died oddly. There is a camper who died from a rattlesnake bite and a magician’s assistant who was sawed in half.

Adam and Barbara sit in the waiting room with the other ghosts.
Source: Warner Bros.

There was also a surfer who was attacked by a shark. Depending on how the person died, they have different journeys in the afterlife. At the dinner party, Otho says those who committed suicide end up as civil servants in the afterlife.

Keaton Was Inspired

When Keaton got the role of Betelgeuse, he used the character Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as the basis for his performance. He wanted to have the creepy factor without going too far. Additionally, the crew pumped him up for the performance.

Betelgeuse sits in a graveyard.
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The crew chanted “Juice! Juice! Juice!” when Keaton showed up to the set. The cheers inspired him to do a lot of improvisation while filming. According to some reports, Keaton ad-libbed 90 percent of his lines. Whatever he did, it worked well.

A Small Budget

Beetlejuice only had a small budget of $15 million. Therefore, Burton decided to rely on cheap B-movie-style effects. For example, the space scenes and the sandworms were the only visual effects added in post-production. The visual effects budget was a slim $1 million.

Keaton and Burton are talking on set.
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Burton leaned into the tacky, cheap-looking effects as an intentional aesthetic. It ended up working with his wacky style. It also added some lightness to balance out the horror in the storyline. In the end, the film grossed over $74 million, so the hard work paid off.

He Solved a Special Effects Problem

In the dinner party scene where the shrimp jump off the plates and attack the guests, Burton struggled to get it just right. He tried using stagehands under the table to throw the shrimp, but it didn’t look right. One of the actors actually helped solve the problem.

Dinner Guests get attacked by shrimps in a still from the film.
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Dick Cavett, who played Bernard, came up with the idea to place the shrimp down on their faces, shooting their fall and playing the film in reverse. The simple editing solution worked like a charm, and Burton was impressed with Cavett’s concept.

Lydia Had a Unique Inspiration

When Larry Wilson was rewriting the script, he gathered inspiration for Lydia through an interesting experience. Wilson told CBC Radio that he was inspired while attending The Cure’s concert. However, it wasn’t the band’s goth look that gave him the idea of Lydia.

A portrait of Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz.
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When Wilson looked around at the crowd, it was mostly young women with rebellious attitudes and a sense of style that spoke to him. He loved this vibe and used it to mold Lydia into the goth and dark character brought to life by Ryder.

The Afterlife Suggestion

When Wilson shared the oral history of Beetlejuice with CBC Radio, he shared how they came up with the unique depiction of the afterlife. He shared that Keaton contributed to the idea, saying the afterlife should look like an unemployment office.

Betelgeuse and others are sitting in the afterlife waiting room.
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Keaton said that there should be “endless bureaucracy from which you’ll never get what you need.” That seems like the worst punishment in the afterlife, and the dreary setting was something that resonated with everyone because it just seemed awful. Keaton must have been speaking from personal experience.

Someone’s Watching

In many films from the ‘80s, directors broke the fourth wall. Burton creatively included a moment in Beetlejuice where the dead are shown watching the same movie as the audience. During the scene in Juno’s office, there is a movie theater filled with dead characters.

Baldwin and Davis in a still from the film.
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The idea was that the deceased were watching the ongoing events as they would in real-life while attending a movie theater. Burton added a red and green skeleton, which he later used in the film Mars Attacks! There was also a nod to the Blues Brothers.

Easter Eggs

Burton is a fan of putting easter eggs in his films. Besides the skeleton from Mars Attacks! there was also a special skull on top of Betelgeuse’s merry-go-round. The skull resembled Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton had been drawing the character since 1982.

The Jack Skellington easter egg from Beetlejuice.
Source: Reddit

Burton loved the design and always wanted to put the character in one of his movies. He eventually used his beloved drawing as the main character in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Most viewers missed this small detail because the two films were made many years apart.

Polar Opposites

When viewers are introduced to the Deetz family, it’s natural to think that Delia and Chuck are an awful couple. In true Burton fashion, the two were attracted to each other because they are polar opposites. Burton shows this throughout the film in memorable ways.

A group photo of The Deetz family.
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The funniest incident is when Chuck wears a red sweater in a normal fashion, and Delia wears the same sweater as pants with suspenders. The two express themselves in unique ways. Delia wears black gloves as a headband, and her sculptures are just as bizarre as her style.

Not a Fan

No one denies that Burton is a true visionary. However, famed critic Roger Ebert wasn’t a fan of Beetlejuice. He gave the film two out of four stars, saying the romance between the Maitlands should have been expanded on rather than the “slapstick” dark humor.

Adam and Barbara in a still from the film.
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Ebert also didn’t like Keaton’s performance. He claimed the actor was “unrecognizable behind pounds of makeup” and “his scenes didn’t fit with the other action.” Whatever Ebert had to say didn’t matter. Many movies use makeup and special effects to transform actors.

The Snake Was Changed

Before Burton had a full cast, he started shooting what he could with the actors he had. Keaton signed on a little later than others, but one of the first scenes Burton shot was the snake incident. Initially, the snake looked nothing like Keaton, so it had to be re-shot.

The Snake from Beetlejuice.
Source: YouTube

Keaton’s character had wild hair and distinct makeup, so the snake had to be remade. Still, it looked nothing like Betelgeuse. There were also a few mistakes in the scene. For example, Betelgeuse turns into a snake from the railing, but the railing returns a few moments later.

All Things Come in Threes

Burton references the number three throughout Beetlejuice. When people say Betelgeuse’s name three times, it activates a curse or removes it. When Barbara says home three times, it gets her and Adam out of his model home. They also had to knock three times on the door.

A still of Keaton from the film Beetlejuice.
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Delia also throws a fit when she sees there are only three sculptures instead of four. The Maitlands’ house also has three floors. In the world of Betelgeuse, three is the unluckiest number. Burton never explained why he chose the number three.

There’s a Curse Word

Despite its dark theme, Beetlejuice is rated PG. The ‘80s were a different time regarding censorship and rating, meaning if directors were creative, they could get away with many things. Burton was a master of this and managed to slip a curse word into Beetlejuice.

A poses photo of Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse
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In the scene where Betelgeuse is mad at the Maitlands, he takes his anger out on Adam’s model of the town. He says, “Nice f**kin’ model,” as he kicks over a tree and then grabs himself to the sound of a clown horn. The moment has the desired shock effect.

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