The original script was a horror film, and featured Beetlejuice as a winged, reptilian demon who transformed into a small Middle Eastern man to interact with the Maitlands and the Deetzes. Lydia was a minor character, with her six year old sister Cathy being the Deetz child able to see the Maitlands. Beetlejuice's goal was to kill the Deetzs, rather than frighten them away, and included sequences where he mauled Cathy in the form of a rabid squirrel and tried to rape Lydia. Subsequent script rewrites turned the film into a comedy and toned down Beetlejuice's character into the ghost of an wise cracking con-artist rather than a demon.
According to Michael Keaton, the Betelgeuse character was described to him by director Tim Burton as "having lived in every time period but no time period." Keaton used this as the jumping-off point to create the character with such features as a shock hairdo, mold makeup, and large teeth. He said that when he first showed up to the set as Betelgeuse the crew was chanting, "Juice, Juice, Juice." This got Keaton excited to do a lot of improvisation during filming.
When Glenn Shadix (who played Otho) died in September 2010, the last song performed at his memorial service was "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," which was used to great effect in the dinner party scene where everyone around the table is possessed and dances to the music.
All the people in the waiting room and in the office are in the same condition as when they died and the way they died is shown clearly. However, the Maitlands, who were drowned, are not wet. This was done deliberately since the director felt that keeping the actors wet all the time would be too uncomfortable.
The title character of Beetlejuice (1988) is named for a bright red star in the constellation of Orion, Betelgeuse. The studio disliked the title and wanted to call the film "House Ghosts". As a joke, Tim Burton suggested the name "Scared Sheetless" and was horrified when the studio actually considered using it.
When Adam and Barbara are in the office, a voice on the PA systems announces the arrival of Flight 409 ("Flight 409 is arriving at Gate 3"). On October 6, 1955 United Airlines Flight 409 crashed into a mountain over Wyoming killing all passengers and crew aboard. It was the worst crash in history to that point. To this day, no one knows why it crashed.
The snake scene had been filmed before Michael Keaton was cast as Betelgeuse, and the animatronic snake used bore no resemblance to the actor. After Keaton had been cast, some additional film was shot for the scene, using a stop-motion snake that looked more like Betelgeuse. This was suggested by the studio to make sure the audience knows that the snake is actually Betelgeuse and not some random monster from the afterlife.
In the first waiting room scene several methods of death are shown. These include: A camper who was bitten by a rattle snake; a diner who choked on what looks like a chicken bone; a surfer who was attacked by a shark; a girl (evidently a magician's assistant) who was sawed in half at the torso; and a smoker who is a burn victim. In addition to the "New Arrivals" in the room, several "workers" show other causes of death which include: The Receptionist slitting her wrists; a worker who was flattened by a bus or truck; a file clerk who is seen hanging from a noose all while Juno appears to have succumbed to a slit throat. The only deaths we actually see on camera are the Maitlands who show no sign of drowning in the afterlife.
According to Dick Cavett, Tim Burton tried to film the scene where shrimp jump off the plates and attack the dinner party by positioning stage hands beneath the table and throwing them. Cavett suggested placing the shrimp on their faces, filming them as they fell off, then running the film in reverse - which Burton did.
Betelgeuse reveals a hideous (albeit unseen) face to Adam and Barbara. Originally, Betelgeuse's "scary face" was going to be seen, and an elaborate makeup effect was created to that end, but ultimately went unused.
During the sequence where Adam and Barbara enter Juno's office and see her speaking to a recently deceased football team, a movie theater full of ghosts can be seen through Juno's office window. When the film was first released in theaters, the scene created the illusion that the audience were themselves being watched by the ghosts. Among the ghosts in the audience are a red skeleton and a green skeleton (identical to the ones seen in Tim Burton's later movie, Mars Attacks! (1996)), a woman with red hair, and two men in suits and Ray-Ban style sunglasses (AKA The Blues Brothers)
At the dinner party, Otho states that people who commit suicide end up as "civil servants" in the afterlife. The character played by Patrice Martinez/Miss Argentina, who apparently slit her wrists, confirms this, as she is spending her death as the receptionist. Further, in the back room as the Maitlands are being led to their door, there is another man hanging from his noose and the man aiding them obviously stepped in front of a bus.
Not surprisingly, the movie's impressive box-office success created plans for a sequel: Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. A script was commissioned and Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder both signed on to reprise their respective roles, but Tim Burton lost interest in the project and went on to direct Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) instead. As late as 1996, Warner Bros. was still trying to get the original sequel concept into production but a finished film has yet to materialize.
The only cast member who would initially commit to the project was Geena Davis. Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, and Sylvia Sidney all said no at least once. Producer David Geffen convinced Michael Keaton's manager to convince Michael to meet with director Tim Burton. Once Michael said yes, Tim Burton personally called Sylvia Sidney and begged her to do the movie, and he flew out to meet with Catherine O'Hara to convince her as well.
Just before the dinner party scene, Delia mentions to Lydia that one of their guests is a writer for 'Art in America 'magazine. In the very last scene, when Delia shows Charles her latest sculpture, there is a copy of 'Art in America' behind him, with a picture of Delia and several of her sculptures on the cover.
A toy line was released in conjunction with the film, featuring action figures of most of Beetlejuice's incarnations, Otho, Adam (whose figure featured him wearing a red baseball cap), and the Shrunken Head Man from the waiting room, whose figure was named "Harry the Haunted Hunter" and came with a detachable head showing what he looked like before death.
The number 3 is used '3' times: The number of times to say commands ("Betelgeuse", "home"), the number of times to knock on the door to get to the other side, and the number of first class intercessions allotted. When moving in, Delia also mentions a missing sculpture; "There should be 3..."
Although the film is set in Connecticut, it was actually filmed in the small town of East Corinth, Vermont. A small creek which runs though the town was dammed up to provide deeper water for the covered bridge scene. The covered bridge itself was specially built for this scene on Chicken Farm Rd near the village. The Maitland's house was a facade built in a farm field 100 yards uphill from the bridge for exterior shots only. From this hill can be seen the "Nice building" with the "Bad roof" which was actually the town post office.
Much of Michael Keaton's performance was improvisation. One of the most notable scenes in which Keaton utilized improv was during the first meeting between the Maitlands and Beetlejuice. When Beetlejuice is asked for his qualifications by Adam, Michael Keaton briefly breaks character and speaks in his normal speaking voice. The credits that he gives are Keaton's ACTUAL credentials - graduate of the Harvard Business School, attending Juliard, and extensive traveling are all factual achievements of Michael Keaton.
The film's portrayal of life after death, where the human consciousness lives on independent of the body and needs/pain, without any ties to an exact deity (as Barbara points out asking if they are halfway to heaven or hell and Adam saying their handbook doesn't say anything about either) is very similar to a modern accepted scientific idea of life after death. At the time of the films release, most scientific and atheistic communities discounted the idea of life after death and even near death experiences as hallucinations caused by loss of consciousness and lack of oxygen. years later research into NDEs has supported the possibility of consciousness surviving death, with previous skepticism being discredited or contradicted due to advances in medical science, allowing survival from death for up too an hour, in most cases the survivors give a near direct (though obviously less comedic or theatrical) recreation of the afterlife portrayed this film.