Beetlejuice - Production - Story Development

Story Development

Michael McDowell's original script is far less comedic and much more violent; the Maitlands' car crash is depicted graphically, with Barbara's arm being crushed and the couple screaming for help as they slowly drown in the river. A reference to this remained in all versions of the script, as Barbara remarks that her arm feels cold upon returning home as a ghost. Instead of possessing the Deetzes and forcing them to dance during dinner, the Maitlands cause a vine-patterned carpet to come to life and attack the Deetzes by tangling them to their chairs. The character of Betelgeuse — envisioned by McDowell as a winged demon who takes on the form of a short Middle Eastern man — is also intent on killing the Deetzes rather than scaring them, and wants to rape Lydia instead of marry her. In this version of the script, Betelgeuse only needs to be exhumed from his grave to be summoned, after which he is free to wreak havoc; he cannot be summoned or controlled by saying his name three times, and wanders the world freely, appearing to torment different characters in different manifestations. McDowell's script also featured a second Deetz child, nine-year-old Cathy, the only person able to see the Maitlands and the subject of Betelgeuse's homicidal wrath in the film's climax, during which he mutilates her while in the form of a rabid squirrel before revealing his true form. The film was to have concluded with the Maitlands, Deetzes, and Otho conducting an exorcism ritual that destroys Betelgeuse, and the Maitlands transforming into miniature versions of themselves and moving into Adam's model of their home, which they refurbish to look like their house before the Deetzes moved in.

Warren Skaaren's rewrite drastically shifted the film's tone, indicating the graphic nature of the Maitlands' deaths while depicting the afterlife as a complex bureaucracy. Skaaren's rewrite also altered McDowell's depiction of the limbo that keeps Barbara and Adam trapped inside of their home; in McDowell's script, it takes the form of a massive, empty void filled with giant clock gears that shred the fabric of time and space as they move. Skaaren had Barbara and Adam encounter different limbos every time they leave their home, including the "clock world", and the Sandworm's world, identified as Saturn's moon Titan. Skaaren also introduced the leitmotif of music accompanying Barbara and Adam's ghostly hijinks, although his script specified Motown tunes instead of Harry Belafonte, and was to have concluded with Lydia dancing to "When a Man Loves a Woman". Skaaren's first draft retained some of the more sinister characteristics of McDowell's Betelgeuse, but toned down the character to make him a troublesome pervert rather than blatantly murderous. Betelgeuse's true form was that of the Middle Eastern man, and much of his dialogue was written in African American Vernacular English. This version concluded with the Deetzes returning to New York and leaving Lydia in the care of the Maitlands, who, with Lydia's help, transform the exterior of their home into a stereotypical haunted house while returning the interior to its previous state. Retrospectively, McDowell was impressed at how many people made the connection between the film's title and the star Betelgeuse. He added they had received a suggestion the sequel be named Sanduleak-69 202 after the former star of SN 1987A.

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