By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 29, 2013 at 11:00AM
The title for "Beetlejuice" is a play on the character Betelgeuse's name, which in turn based on the Betelgeuse star, which is housed in the infinite blackness of space but in the same constellation as the more famous star Orion. (Screenwriter McDowell was surprised anyone picked up on the reference.) Warner Bros, however, didn't think there was anything clever or funny or interesting about the movie's title, and begged Tim Burton to allow them to change it. He refused.
The alternate title the studio had come up with was "House Ghosts," which, at the very least, beats out "Anonymous Haunted House Story 39480," which more or less conveys the same general mood and aura. Burton, the story goes, suggested "Scared Sheetless" as a joke (a reference to the scene where the Maitlands attempt to scare the Deetzes out of the house by wearing bed sheets – something they consider spooky but comes off as utterly laughable). Much to Burton's horror, the studio actually liked his idea, and tried to rename the movie. Burton finally put his foot down and said that the movie would be called "Beetlejuice." Once and for all.
Some might remember that "Beetlejuice" inspired an animated spin-off series that was snappily (if somewhat crudely) illustrated in the style of the movie, complete with Danny Elfman music serving as the series' theme. In the show, Betelgeuse (who Lydia referred to as BJ) and Lydia would travel between the real world and "The Netherworld" and get into all sorts of creepy/cuddly adventures. What you might not remember is how phenomenally popular the series was.
It ran from 1989 to 1992 and amassed almost a hundred episodes. At one point, new episodes were airing on ABC's Saturday Morning line-up while additional episodes ran during the week on Fox. (Historically, only a handful of shows have aired at the same time on two different broadcast networks.) In other words: it was huge. The show still airs on the AOL channel Toontopia TV, and in May, the entire series will be released on DVD courtesy of Shout Factory. Expect a lot of twenty-somethings to buy the set and say something along the lines of, "Well this was weirder than I remembered it being."
On one of his endless live talks, Kevin Smith recounts his fruitless experiences being wooed by the big studios, post-"Chasing Amy." At one point he was brought to Warner Bros. and given a choice of projects to work on and potentially develop. One, he says, was "Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian." ("Must we go tropical?" Smith wondered in the stand-up special.) The other project was another Tim Burton joint, one that would lead to a long and particularly painful development process for Smith and pretty much everyone involved, millions of dollars being spent on cast members, costumes, and pre-production work that would ultimately never see the light of day. That film was "Superman Lives."
Anyway, back to the "Beetlejuice" sequel. Warner Bros. was pressuring Burton for a sequel to the hit film, and Burton shot back with the idea of letting Betelgeuse unleash his mischief on the Hawaiian islands. They even hired a screenwriter, Jonathan Gems (with "Heathers" scribe Daniel Waters brought on for a polish later on), and formally announced the project for the summer of 1990. Gems later described the thought process as such: "Tim thought it would be funny to match the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism, because they're totally wrong together."
Everything stayed pretty quiet on the sequel front, with a longstanding legal wrangle going on between Warner Bros. and Geffen over who, exactly, owns the rights to the character. In 2011, it was announced that Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and who had just worked with Burton on an adaptation of his own "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and a big screen revamp of "Dark Shadows" for the director, was working on a "Beetlejuice" sequel (last year he said it was still on). It is assumed that the script he's developing is not set in Hawaii.
So, if you haven't watched "Beetlejuice" in a while or this piece has nudged you to revisit it, please leave your thoughts below. Or say Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice and we'll just appear.