Director Tim Burton is well known for his quirky, caricature-piece films. His 1988 comic-horror Beetlejuice starred Michael Keaton as the eponymous expert in frightening pesky humans away from ghosts’ homes.
At 30, the film is as entertaining now as it was then, the physical effects and Academy Award winning makeup effects standing up well in today’s world of CG-laden blockbusters, and the story, though chaotic, is still good enough to compete with many a style-over-substance cinema offering.
The film tells the story of gentle newly-deads Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who find their home invaded by brash city types Delia and Charles Deetz (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones).
The only saving grace of the Deetzes is their gothy, outsider daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder). Lydia finds her way into the attic, where the Maitlands have retreated to avoid Lydia’s parents. There she discovers Adam’s beautifully detailed model of their beloved town, and gets to know the ghostly couple – who share her exasperation with her stepmother Delia.
The Maitlands try to scare the Deetzes away, but the unbearable incomers are oblivious to them. As a last resort they call in the obnoxious Beetlejuice (actually Betelgeuse, just pronounced Beetlejuice), who promises to rid their home of the invading humans.
Unfortunately, his supernatural shenanigans persuade Charles Deetz it’s a tourism opportunity, so he contacts his boss and sets up a dinner party at which Otho (Glenn Shadix), Delia’s interior designer, tries to perform a séance to show off the ghosts.
Otho accidentally performs an exorcism instead, and Adam and Barbara are summoned and begin to die. Lydia calls Betelgeuse to rescue them, but he demands Lydia marry him as payment. Betelgeuse sees off Charles’s boss and Otho, saving Adam and Barbara from eternal torment as exorcised souls.
Just as Betelgeuse is forcing Lydia to go through with the wedding, the Maitlands appear and rescue her.
The families come to an arrangement and the film ends with Lydia living with Adam and Barbara in their own part of the house, separate from Charles and Delia.
But producer Larry Wilson said, in a recent interview, that there was a slightly different ending planned. In a suitably Tim Burton turn of events, the ‘happy’ ending was to have included Lydia dying in a fire, so she could stay with Adam and Barbara forever in the afterlife.
Wilson went on to say; “a couple of people said to us, ‘Do you really think that’s a good idea? Is that really the message you want to be sending to the teenagers of the world? Die in a fire?’ So, yeah, it probably was darker.”
So thankfully the end was rewritten to make it less morbid, and the rest is history.