We shouldn't be surprised since Beetlejuice was directed by the King of Weird, Tim Burton. He started his career as an animator for Disney, an unusual pairing to say the least. When he finished his first feature, the popular live-action Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Burton discovered that he was suddenly in demand. "It was a case of, you do a bad comedy, you get offered all the bad comedies," says Burton. "I even got offered Hot to Trot, a talking horse movie!" He finally found an imaginative, unusual script called Beetlejuice, written by Michael McDowell, a horror novelist, Alabama native and Brandeis PhD graduate. (McDowell -- who passed away this past December -- had an unusual start in screenwriting: George Romero called to ask him to contribute to the TV series Tales from the Darkside, only to discover that the books he had read were by a *different* Michael McDowell. Romero quickly read the right books and McDowell was hired.)
The tricky part was then casting the film. The wrong person in the part of Beetlejuice and all the cleverness in the world wouldn't be able to save it. As Burton puts it, "Michael Keaton was actually [producer David] Geffen's idea. I hadn't seen him in anything, which was good, because I don't like seeing people in other things. I prefer to just meet them. I met Michael and that's when I started to see the character of Betelgeuse. I didn't know him that well, I didn't know his work, but he's crazy." (According to Premiere magazine, Burton had wanted Sammy Davis Jr. to play Beetlejuice but the studio wouldn't hear of it. Johnny Depp even claims that Burton is "the finest Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator on the planet"!)
It's hard to imagine anybody else as the dressed-in-black daughter but future "Girl, Interrupted" star Winona Ryder. Perhaps this was just meant to be. "Tim talks my language, you know?" says Ryder. "We have the same sensibility; we think the same things are funny." In fact, Ryder said the role of Lydia was one she felt close to and that even the strange and unusual clothes she wears in the film are her own. How could he not cast such a big Night Of The Living Dead fan?
The rest of the cast clicked into place: as the ghostly Barbara was Geena Davis, who would win the Best Actress Oscar for another film she made that same year,The Accidental Tourist; SCTV graduate Catherine O'Hara is the artsy wife, and the wonderfully befuddled Jeffrey Jones as the dad. But the best casting story is hands down that of Glenn Shadix (who plays Otho, the psychic interior decorator). Another Alabama native, Shadix was playing Gertrude Stein (!) in an L.A. play when McDowell saw him. The writer convinced Burton to come take a look. A couple of screen tests were done and Shadix thought they'd forgotten him until January 1987, when he got the notice he was hired.
That was only two months before filming started in March. The production lasted until June, mostly in Culver City, California, except for brief work in East Corinth, Vermont, where the village scenes and some exteriors were shot. For all the strange magical goings-on, Burton had definite ideas about how to present them. "We wanted the effects to be kind of cheesy, and they were," he says. "Growing up watching the kinds of movies that I did, like Harryhausen, The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and Baron Munchausen, I always found the effects to be a little more human."
The final capper to Beetlejuice was one of Danny Elfman's best scores. Elfman, former lead singer for Oingo Boingo, has proved to be one of Hollywood's most inventive composers and his quirky ideas work so well with Burton's that he's done all but one of Burton's films. (And also, oddly enough, "Hot to Trot" which Burton had declined.) Few people who see Beetlejuice ever forget the use of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song" (aka Day-O), especially in the uproarious dinner party scene, which alone took five days to film. Originally this was to have been something by the Ink Spots but Catherine O'Hara of "Home Alone" suggested they use the calypso song instead.
There were anxious moments when test screenings were lukewarm but Beetlejuice proved to be a huge and deserved smash hit, grossing an astounding $73 million and even winning an Oscar for the amazing makeup. Naturally, work was started on a sequel with one script called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, another, Beetlejuice in Love, but nothing has come of those efforts so far. Maybe that's for the best -- how can you improve on perfection?
Read on as Joe Bob delivers your personal horrorscope and explains why Tim Burton wears black.
Aries: Today someone at your office will say "Where'd you get that hickey on your lip?" There's an excellent chance that you will die soon.
Taurus: You've been evasive lately and people are noticing. Enter the Federal Witness Protection Program. Your chart promises excitement, but only when nude in public.
Gemini: Your attention centers on a person of the opposite sex. Look for some excitement and changes in your life. You are probably a homosexual.
Cancer: All of those money problems will be solved soon. Time to make that decision about your dwelling place and your legal affairs. If you feel nauseous any day this week, you have cancer.
Leo: Don't be surprised if you feel like you woke up in a sitcom. CBS is about to offer a contract! You are perceived as powerful, secure, and in control. They're suckers, aren't they?
Virgo: On the inside you feel like Jell-O. On the outside you LOOK like Jell-O. Go to the health spa for a facial and body wrap.
Libra: Lunar aspects highlight sensuality, travel, a stranger with a mole on his or her inner thigh, and a non-alcoholic pina colada. Your friends will start saying things behind your back and you'll have to be a jerk about it.
Scorpio: Time for a fresh start and a new look. Refuse to bathe today and dye your hair a pastel color. A former teacher will come back into your life and laugh at your britches.
Sagittarius: You must get to the heart of the matter today. Pay attention to anyone who has a Japanese name, especially if they seem real stupid. At the office, no one will be watching the petty cash fund.
Capricorn: Plant yourself on the couch for a day and imitate a garden vegetable.
Aquarius: You have lost the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Nyah nyah nyah. Good day to cancel the magazine subscriptions that didn't do you a damn bit of good.
Pisces: Moon in your sign corresponds to a deep secret about THAT THING that you did as a kid. EVERYONE is going to find out. You can't avoid it. The whole WORLD is going to know. You'll be HUMILIATED. Good day to start a hobby.
Okay, let's start "Beetlejuice." I'll do the drive-in totals at the first break. Roll it. [fading] So far none of the papers will buy my horoscopes. I don't know why.
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #1
Well, it's geeky, isn't it? It's a geek movie, and we love geek movies here at "MonsterVision." Did you know that all these amazingly huge superstars, like Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis and Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton, who we haven't seen yet, weren't superstars at all. Alec Baldwin was relatively unknown at this point. Geena Davis was best known for The Fly. Michael Keaton was just starting to break through after Night Shift and "Mr. Mom." And Winona Ryder hadn't even started HIGH SCHOOL yet in San Francisco. And the only thing Tim Burton had directed before this was Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which, of course, we've shown here. No "Batman," no Edward Scissorhands, and no Nightmare Before Christmas. Just "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." Okay, let's do the drive-in totals like I promised. We have:
Thirty-four undead bodies.
One motor-vehicle crash.
Dancing around the dinner table possessed by Harry Belafonte.
Attack by ugly sculptures.
Gratuitous Robert Goulet.
Gratuitous Dick Cavett.
[fading] I always get a lot of flack when I complain about "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." Geena Davis claims to have seen it 20 times. Have you guys seen ANY movie twenty times? I can't think of any movie I've seen 20 times. Well, "Behind the Green Door," that's the only one. And "Insatiable 2."
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #2
All right, you know who Winona Ryder represents in this flick? She's the alter-ego of . . . Tim Burton! Wearing black is kinda Tim's trademark, he's got the black hair, and he was quite the morbid little kid. I think what mighta kicked it off was that, when he was growing up, he had these two windows in his room, nice windows that looked out on the lawn of his suburban Burbank home, and for some reason his parents walled em up and gave him this little slit window that he had to climb up on his desk to see out of. So he felt like he was in that Edgar Allen Poe story where the guy is walled in and buried alive. That's what he claims, anyway. I'd like to talk to his parents to see what was really goin on. Okay, commercials and then back to "Beetlejuice."
[fading] One time in junior high, he had to do a 20-page book report, but instead he made a Super-8 movie called "Houdini," where he filmed himself escaping from railroad tracks and being dumped in a pool and escaping again -- all these stupid film tricks. He didn't read any book, it was just him jumping around in his backyard, and he got an A on it. In high school he did one for psychology class where he took pictures from books and played them to Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare," and ended it by shooting his bean bag chair in stop-motion attacking him in his sleep. Got another A. If I was his teacher, I'd give him an A, too. "That boy's just not right." Can't you hear em talking about it? "Give him an A. I don't want any trouble later."
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #3
You guys recognize Jeffrey Jones as Charles Deetz, right? Best known for trying to bust Matthew Broderick for two hours in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And on the phone, of course, the great Robert Goulet. Best known for dreaming the impossible dream. "To dream . . . the impossible dream . . . " I always liked the Jim Nabors version. I love that waiting room scene with all the dead people. Very inspired. Okay, you're gonna start noticing that the story gets a little incoherent as this baby goes on -- I've said before that story has never been one of Tim Burton's strong suits. But he claims to have purposely picked this script, which was written by Michael McDowell, because it HAD no story, it was anti-Hollywood formula, it was like a stream of consciousness kinda thing. So when David Geffen offered to let him direct it, he jumped on it. And Geffen wanted Michael Keaton to play Betelgeuse, but Keaton turned it down cause he didn't like the part. So then Burton told Keaton that he wanted to change the tone and let him come up with his own shtick, and Keaton starts walking around his house, coming up with the voice, and the hair, and smash-cut to Pauline Kael of the New Yorker calling it a comedy classic. And on that note, let's get the ads out of the way and get back to the flick.
[fading] Michael Keaton is not his real name. His real name is Michael Douglas, so he had to change it when he joined the Screen Actors Guild. He saw a nice picture of Diane Keaton that day, so he temporarily picked Keaton, and it stuck. Ironically, Diane Keaton isn't HER real name, either. Her real name is Tom Cruise. Little known fact.
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #4
Finally some decent screen-time for Michael Keaton. Tim Burton originally wanted to cast Sammy Davis Jr. as Betelgeuse, but the studio said no way Jose. I can definitely see Sammy in the role, though, can't you? Hey, they found a spot for Bob Goulet! And speaking of perfect casting, [enters] the best Mail Girl in Hollywood is here to assist me in "Joe Bob's Advice to the Hopeless," Rusty.
RUSTY: You know who I like in this movie is Catherine O'Hara.
J.B.: Yeah, she's pretty hot for a comedian.
RUSTY: I mean I like her performance.
J.B.: Whatever. What do you got for me?
RUSTY: I have an e-mail from Dave Livingston of Mansfield, Ohio. Actually, he sent it to TNT, and they forwarded it to you.
J.B.: "In this day of computer technology the term 'artificial intelligence' has become the norm. Everything in the computer world is based on artificial intelligence. This allows one to arrive at the question 'where did you find a host for MonsterVision with less mental capacity than a Commodore 64?' You have a really good program going then Joe Bob's memory chip shorts out. Go figure! I'm sure that you could upgrade the quality if you'd just add a pollock and a couple of blonde chips to your system."
J.B.: What's a "pollock"? What is that, some kinda fish?
RUSTY: I think he means . . . you know, that slur for Polish people.
J.B.: I can't believe I'm being insulted by someone who doesn't know how to spell "Polak."
RUSTY: How DO you spell it?
J.B.: P-O-L . . . Well, never mind that.
"Thanks for the opportunity to assist you in the upgrade of your system.
It's all in the hard drive, bud. All in the hard drive. Until it goes floppy, of course. All right, let's give out those addresses for whoever else wants to slam me with misspelled slang. You can write me care of TNT, 1010 Techwood Drive, Atlanta, Georgia, 30318, or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RUSTY: Or you can reach us through the new website, at JoeBobBriggs.com.
J.B.: Yes. So how come YOU never get insulting letters?
RUSTY: Cause I'm a nice person?
J.B.: Honey, somehow I don't think that's it.
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #5
The great Sylvia Sidney, as the old lady Juno in the underworld. A great leading lady in, what?, the thirties? She turns up again in Tim's demented Mars Attacks! as the little old lady who watches Congress getting blown up on Tee-Vee. And there's nothing like a demonic calypso production number to get MY leg a-twitchin. Took em five days to shoot that scene, not counting choreographing the thing during rehearsals, before shooting started. To put it in perspective for you, Michael Keaton only worked two weeks during the entire production. Two action-packed weeks. We haven't talked about Winona Ryder yet, have we? What the heck, let's use her real name. Little Noni Horowitz. The "little" isn't part of it. Actually she's a big producer now, with "Girl, Interrupted." You guys know Noni actually checked herself into a mental institution once? It turns out she was having insomnia, and she thought she was gonna lose it when they started construction on the building next door, so she called her doctor and got three very good nights' sleep in a plain white room with the bed chained to the wall. So, no lobotomies or shock therapies for Noni. Hate to let you down. Okay, commercials and back to "Beetlejuice."
[fading] Why is it called "Beetlejuice"? Betelgeuse is a star, right? The right shoulder in the Orion constellation, I believe. Astrologically speaking, that's the star that governs orgasm, the ability to divide by 12, and your propensity for quilt-making. I've read the books.
"BEETLEJUICE" Commercial Break #6
See what I mean about this story being a little sketchy? Why is Betelgeuse in the model? Why is he eating bugs? I have no idea. They did test screenings of the movie -- that's where they show it to audiences and have em fill out these little score cards -- and when they showed the movie without the music, people hated it. Then they showed it WITH the music and people loved it. I imagine that was a good day for Danny Elfman, who does the music for all of Tim Burton's movies. But then according to Tim Burton, someone at the studio said the music was too dark, which was weird, since those guys live and breathe by those test screenings. Then they said they wanted to call it "House Ghosts" instead of "Beetlejuice," because "Beetlejuice" didn't test. So Tim Burton says, why don't you just call it "Scared Sheetless," and they actually considered it till he threatened to jump out the window. All right, let's wrap it up here. The exciting, if confusing, finale to "Scared Sheetless." I mean "Beetlejuice." Roll it.
[fading] TNT occasionally does test screenings of my show. They get four or five people in a room, and if one guy doesn't like my shoes, it's hasta la vista to those babies. You know why I don't wear bolo ties anymore? Gal in Metuchen, New Jersey, said she didn't care for them. Wham, all new accessories.
Dead-football-team calypso -- my favorite part. That part at the end where Michael Keaton gets his head shrunk was added at the last minute, because the after-life waiting room scenes were such a hit at the test screenings. Tim Burton sold out. Good movie, though.
Okay, next week we're showing Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the penultimate film in the "Planet of the Apes" series. You like that? Penultimate? I couldn't wait to say that. By the way, guess who's directing the re-make of Planet of the Apes? Tim Burton! Ten bucks says his buxom girlfriend Lisa Marie plays Nova, the girl in the cage.
That's it for me, Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you when the blind leadeth the blind, get out of the way.
You guys hear this one? A pair of Irish ditch-diggers are repairing some roadside damage across the street from a house of ill repute when they see a Protestant reverend lurking about and then ducking into the house. Pat the ditch-digger says, "Would ye look at that, Darby! What a shameful disgrace, those Protestant reverends sinning in a house the likes of that place!" They both shake their heads in disgust and continue working. Little while later, they see a Jewish rabbi look around cautiously and then dart into the house. Pat says, "Did ya see that, Darby?! Is nothing holy to these Jewish people? I just can't understand what the world is coming to these days. A man of the cloth indulging himself in sins of the flesh. Tis a shame, I tell ya!" Soon they see a third man, a Catholic priest, lurking around the house to see if anyone's watching, and then sneaking in the door. Pat removes his cap and says, "Oh, no, Darby, look! One of the poor girls musta died."
Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that the drive-in will never die.
Did you hear about the man who was hurt when he fell into a reupholstering machine? He's totally recovered.
"Beetlejuice" is copyright Geffen Pictures, and produced by Tim Burton Inc.
Click here to again hear the Movie's themesong again (midi)
In the words of Beetlejuice, go ahead, make my millennium!
Hey wait a minute, didn't he steal that from Clint Eastwood?