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Remembering the Much Darker Original Version of Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice is a fun dark comedy, but it was almost something much more grim.

By Matthew Jackson

Even if you find the movie delightful, you have to admit that a lot of Beetlejuice (now airing on SYFY) is pretty dark. That's to be expected for a film that's very focused on death, the afterlife, and what it's like to be a ghost, but while there are still parts of Tim Burton's dark comedy classic that might freak out the kids in the room all these years later, it's worth remembering that the original script promised something even darker.

The Original Beetlejuice Script Was Much Darker Than Tim Burton's Film

Beetlejuice was devised by novelist turned screenwriter Michael McDowell, who first started to develop the idea with his partner Laurence Senelick at their home in Massachusetts in the 1980s. Imagining a story in which the ghosts were actually the nice people and the living humans were the annoyances, McDowell eventually teamed up with screenwriter and producer Larry Wilson to make the whole thing work as a feature film. Both McDowell and Wilson retained writing credits on the finished version of Beetlejuice, but according to Senelick, their original vision was more grim than what ended up onscreen. 

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Speaking to The Ringer about McDowell and Wilson's original vision, Senelick said that that the title character was originally "much more scabrous" and sinister than Michael Keaton's wise-cracking ghost with the most we got in the final film. To make things even darker, the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) actually died much more graphically than their car crash in the finished version. And to play up just how dark and sad Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) really was, the script gave her a "normal" sister, who was eventually cut in rewrites.

But that's not all. Speaking to Yahoo! about the film a few years ago, Wilson recalled that the darkest part of the original version might actually have been its ending. In the film we all know, Lydia befriends the Maitlands, helps to banish Beetlejuice, and learns to enjoy life a little more with the help of her ghostly friends, living in a happy haunted house. According to Wilson... well, that's not what he and McDowell originally had in mind.

RELATED: Geena Davis is ready for 'Beetlejuice 2,' even if she's not sure how ghosts age

“Our first ending was Lydia — she died in a fire and was able to join Barbara and Adam in the afterlife,” Wilson said. “A couple of people said to us, ‘Do you really think that’s a good idea? Is that really the message you want to be sending to the teenagers of the world? Die in a fire?’ So, yeah, it probably was darker.”

So yeah, while Beetlejuice and its various deaths and manglings is undeniably a dark comedy, it was almost a super dark comedy complete with one more death to polish things off. That would have definitely upped the nightmare-inducing factor for certain members of the family, so we're glad we ended up with what we go.

Beetlejuice is now airing on SYFY. Check out the schedule for details on when you can catch it. 

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