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Still from "Beetlejuice"
Thirty years on, perhaps Beetlejuice has moved up in the queue?via YouTube

Here’s how not to ruin Beetlejuice

If you’re going to resurrect the ‘ghost with the most’ 30 years later, this is how to do it

Tim Burton ignored you the first time, he pretended not to hear the second time, but on third command, he’s powerless to resist your wish: Beetlejuice 2 is really happening, with Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder reprising their respective roles of Betelgeuse and Lydia Deetz from the 1988 deranged classic. Confirming the news to Seth Meyers, Ryder added, “I don’t know much more than anybody.” So… what’s it actually going to be about?

Talk of a Beetlejuice sequel has been spooking the rumour mill since the early 90s in the form of Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian (at the climax, Betelgeuse wins a surfing competition), but thankfully – or hopefully – something more inspired is in store. Otherwise, it’s just the Hollywood #TBT dream-killing machine at work again. If they’re gonna resurrect the “ghost with the most”, here’s how the sequel can more than equal the original.


Lydia’s unscientific explanation of how she sees ghosts also sums up the film’s cult appeal: “I, myself, am strange and unusual.” Whether dressing like a witch or chatting to the dead, Lydia confirms it’s cool to express your inner weirdo, so why not take advantage of her ghoul-detecting powers? Now an adult paranormal detective, she visits haunted houses but, as a morbid oddball herself, she secretly sympathises with the deceased – they’re just ordinary, quirky and whoever’s the 21st century equivalent of a young Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis.

Heathers 2 is still a pipe dream and Ryder hasn’t had a proper role in ages. But Beetlejuice 2 can be her comeback, especially if it readdresses Ghostbusters gender politics. To quote Johnny Depp’s tattoo: WINO FOREVER.


In 2017 (or whenever it comes out), ghosts aren’t scary anymore because, at worse, they teach you how to sing and dance to Belafonte. They look just like your elderly relatives, and they probably are your elderly relatives. Lydia, now a bio-exorcist, can no longer scare yuppie homeowners, so calls in Betelgeuse to workshop new methods of terrorising the neighbourhood – and then it’s showtime, in all its grotesque, gothic glory.

If that sounds a little Jurassic World, it’s not. Firstly, Lydia doesn’t own heels. Secondly, an outrageously disturbed, family-unfriendly sequel would align with the first film’s original screenplay – Betelgeuse was supposed to be a murderous maniac – before it was rewritten to appease financiers. There probably won’t be a Beetlejuice 3, so Burton may as well go all out in morbid style.


The last we saw of Betelgeuse is in the afterlife’s reception room, 9,998,383,750,000th in the queue – which would explain the three-decade gap between films. It’ll be worth the wait because, as a playground for Burton’s imagination, the netherworld is an expressionist painting of shrunken heads, severed torsos and stop-motion artistry. A tragic but necessary death for Lydia would allow her to explore the surprisingly Kafkaesque ghost world.

Also teased in the first film is the Lost Souls Room (Burton’s version of Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge) and the dusty moon of Saturn where sandworms reign. In the infinite possibilities of claymation, puppetry and tiny doses of green screen lies an abstract wonderland more worthy of exploring than yet another creaky mansion. For a plot hook, Lydia just needs someone to say her name three times – surname as well, or else it’ll just sound farfetched.


Beetlejuice 2 may never top the original’s ending of Lydia levitating and lip-syncing to Harry Belafonte, but Burton should try, especially with Danny Elfman on his speed dial. Evident in the dinner party possession sequence, Belafonte’s crooning shapes the film’s playfulness, and holds more of a satirical edge now than in 1987. After all, it’s the old-fashioned nature of Elfman’s scores – including his orchestral contribution to Beetlejuice – that supports Burton’s obsession with outsiders resisting cultural movements.

Perhaps Lydia becomes a pop star whose gimmick is soaring through the air while mouthing golden oldies. For conflict, Betelgeuse is the ultimate rock ’n’ roll ghost, an outlandish rebel whose spirit lives beyond the grave. Twenty-seven years stuck in the afterlife is long enough to learn a few guitar riffs.


In resurrecting a 1988 movie, Burton can draw a door on the wall and step into an inconceivable world where excess CGI isn’t compulsory for a fantasy blockbuster. Much of the original’s enduring charm belongs to its B-movie aesthetics, displayed in stop-motion and props that literally bear the fingerprints of crew members. For the sequel to recreate the magic, it can’t embody the computerised 3D mess of Alice in Wonderland.

In Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, when Pee-wee observes his life story at the drive-thru cinema, it summarises what’s so special about Burton’s earliest, most beloved period: the unlikely eccentrics bestowed with the big screen treatment. That’s why Beetlejuice 2 must be shot in 35mm to retain the original’s grandiose juxtaposition – an obnoxious, foul-mouthed slob captured on a dying method of filming.


Despite how Beetlejuice is remembered, packaged and titled, Betelgeuse barely appears until the second half – and even then, his screen time is minimal. A more prominent role is likely (and necessary) for Keaton, who at the time was a failed stand-up and little-known comedy actor. Now, he’s an Oscar winner capable of adding pathos or extra layers of despicability to his breakthrough character. And it can be shot in a single take like Birdman, just for the hell of it.

In January, Seth Grahame-Smith admitted his Burton-approved script was written to star Keaton, not a new figure, and is set in the present day. With key personnel on board, the sequel’s already on the right track. Let’s just hope it answers all our lingering questions – like, what happens if you say his name... four times?