Since the horror comedy ‘Beetlejuice’ was released back in 1988 it has become a definite cult classic and director Tim Burton’s career has since gone from strength to strength; with successful projects such as ‘Batman’, ‘Batman Returns’, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, ‘Mars Attacks!’ and ‘Corpse Bride’. The plot follows the exploits of the grotesque, ghoulish and outrageous bio-exorcist Betelgeuse (played memorably by Michael Keaton in his iconic Beetlejuice costume of bold black and white striped suit, deathly face paint and voluminous electrified grey hair) as he is hired by a recently deceased couple to scare away the new inhabitants of their home. The movie is in turns creepy, surreal and hilarious and boasts and impressive cast including Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder, a superb soundtrack, a tight plot and fantastic dialogue all woven together into a weird and wonderful tapestry by Burton.
If you’re a fan of the movie, here follow ten interesting facts which will amuse and amaze you- just like Betelgeuse himself!
10. Voodoo hints of a future ‘Nightmare’
At the conclusion of ‘Beetlejuice’, Betelgeuse transmogrifies into a grotesque figure with a carnival merry go round substituted for his famously hirsute head. Eagle-eyed viewers can spot a grinning skull on the roof of the carousel that later developed into Jack Skellington from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, which was released five years later. The concept for the latter movie began with a poem Burton wrote when he was an animator for Disney in the early 1980s and Disney had considered developing the project as a short film or TV special but none of these plans immediately came to fruition. However, Burton never lost hope in his pet project and the stop motion children’s musical fantasy horror was finally released in 1993 and became a huge critical and commercial success
9. From ‘Mr Bojangles’ to ‘Beetlejuice’
Tim Burton has been a massive Sammy Davis Jr. Fan since he was a child and originally wanted him to play the role of Betelgeuse. However, producer David Geffen vetoed Burton’s choice and suggested Michael Keaton for the role instead. Although Burton was unfamiliar with Keaton, he soon realised that he was the perfect choice, stating that as soon as he met him he could imagine him playing the outrageous character because of his eccentric and wild personality. However, Burton’s admiration for the former Rat Pack star remains undiminished and according to Johnny Depp, he is “the finest Sammy Davis Jr. Impersonator on the planet”!8.
8. Afterlife Miss Argentina
The green skinned receptionist in the afterlife waiting room wears a ‘Miss Argentina’ sash and ironically displays her scarred wrists whilst stating that if she had known the type of hellish bureaucratic personal limbo she would be trapped within after her death, she wouldn’t have had her “little accident”! Miss Argentina was played by US actress Patrice Martinez, who also starred in ‘The Three Amigos’ and TV series ‘Magnum P.I.’ alongside Tom Selleck.
Soundtrack composer Danny Elfman inserted a self-vocalized stanza of the famous Harry Belafonte song ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ into the title sequence in post-production and this can also be heard clearly on the official movie soundtrack. However, although this song is famously included in the dinner table spiritual possession scene, Burton and Elfman decided to use it at the last minute and the entire scene was actually almost resigned to the cutting room floor due to pressures from the studio!
6. Casting Conundrums
Despite the fact that the movie became a huge success and was vital to the careers of many actors involved, Tim Burton could initially only convince Geena Davis to commit to her role straight away. Indeed, Silvia Sydney, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder and even Michael Keaton all refused their roles at least once. However, once David Geffen convinced Michael Keaton to meet with Tim Burton, Keaton eventually accepted, Burton was convinced that he had the perfect actor for the lead role (despite his penchant for Sammy Davis!) and then determinedly pursued Sylvia Sidney and Catherine O’Hara once more and secured them for their respective roles alongside Ryder in order to form the backbone of the movie’s famous cast.
5. ‘Scared Sheetless’ in the Stars!
Although the movie is of course called ‘Beetlejuice’ , the main character is ‘Betelgeuse’ and is named after the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion and the eighth brightest star of all in the night sky. It has a red colouration, is 10 million years old and is 640 light years away. Movie executives initially rejected the title and preferred the much more mundane ‘House Ghosts’, which a frustrated Burton countered with his own humorous title suggestion; ‘Scared Sheetless’ and reacted incredulously when the studio.
4. The Perfect Banana Boat Dinner Party
At the famous dinner party possession scene, it was originally planned that guests would dance to a song by The Ink Spots, but Catherine O’Hara suggested that a Calypso tune would generate more enthusiasm and Jeffrey Jones suggested Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ with its famous ‘Day-O’ chorus. The dance sequence was choreographed for a week prior to shooting and actors played Belafonte’s tune on a cassette recorder hundreds of times until they absorbed it. Shooting for this single scene took five days to complete and involved six puppeteers who powered the reincarnated shrimp dinners from underneath the tables as well as the dancing actors and is now rightly regarded as a hilarious cinema classic!
3. A match made in mayhem!
Actress Catherine O’Hara was a replacement for the role of Delia in Beetlejuice and was introduced to her future husband, ‘Beetlejuice’ Production Designer Bo Welch on set by actor Glenn Shadix, who played Otho. The pair got married in 1992 and have two sons.
2. Betelgeuse captures ‘The Fly’
There is a scene in the movie wherein Betelgeuse uses a Zagnut snack bar to lure a fly towards him before snatching it and cruelly eating it alive! This scene was inspired by an in-joke during production, and refers to Jeff Goldblum; star of the remake of horror classic ‘The Fly’ and then husband of Geena Davis. A zagnut bar also features in the movie ’48 Hours’ and the snacks are popular with US troops on duty in hot locations because they contain no chocolate and therefore don’t melt!
1. Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian?
Due to the movie’s massive popularity, demands for a sequel remain high and at one point a tropical sequel was planned entitled ‘Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian’ with Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton both initially keen to get back on board. However, Tim Burton eventually lost interest and moved on to direct his two contributions to the Batman cinematic canon and movies such as ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. Nevertheless, both Keaton and Burton have recently hinted that a sequel may indeed see the light of day, so watch this supernatural space!