Over 30 years after its original release in 1988, director Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is still one of the best horror parodies of all time. It takes on spine-chilling issues like untimely deaths, haunted houses, suicidal thoughts and the horrific nature of upstate New York Real Estate practices and casts them in the macabre vision of a young Burton.
While the film is filled with memorable moments, its best scenes take place in the Afterlife Waiting Room, where Alec Baldwin's Adam and Geena Davis' Barbara find themselves after their untimely demise. Now, CBR is taking a closer look at this cross between a Social Security office and a kitschy mortuary and breaking down how it works.
WHAT IS THE AFTERLIFE WAITING ROOM?
Taking a cue from the most obscure bureaucratic offices, the Neitherworld Waiting Room does not clearly advertise its existence. Adam only figures out how to access it on a footnote in The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, which cryptically advises the reader to draw a door and knock three times in case of emergency. But then, the manual did not specify what kind of help the one would find on the Other Side. Understandably, Barbara suggested that they Betelguise, who was media-savvy enough to advertise his services through flyers and TV ads.
Despite its oddity, the Waiting Room is essentially just an especially hopeless bureaucratic office. While it might not be obvious, the whole Neitherworld seems to be within a labyrinthine cave system that has been more or less decorated depending on each department’s budget.
Up close, the walls of the Waiting Room look more like bone than marble, but the floor pattern is the same black-and-white checkerboard that appears in the luxurious case workers corridor. That could quite possibly be an homage to Death’s chessboard in the classic film, The Seventh Seal.
There’s a lot of Death symbolism in the paintings too. One of them features a bridge that calls to mind the bridge where Adam and Barbara died, or the bridge that connects the world of the living to the world of the dead. Another shows the ocean, which is a universal symbol of death and the unknown.
The Waiting Room also has a turnstile, which reinforces the idea of the Neitherworld as a slow-moving bureaucracy. This idea is reinforced by touches like a digital turn counter that resets every 100 billion deceased or so and the kind of magazines you'd fine in an average doctor's office. There's even a PA system that announces emergencies or the arrival of large groups, like the victims of United Airlines Flight 409, so that every employee can prepare accordingly.
WHAT ARE THE BEETLEJUICE WAITING ROOM RULES?
Like any bureaucratic office, the Afterlife Waiting Room is governed by a strict set of rules.
One of the first rules, which is spelled out by Otho at the dinner party, is that the room is staffed by anyone who kills themselves, and those staffers still bear the scars of those injuries. The Receptionist, Miss Argentina 1939, has visible wounds on her wrists slit her wrists, Charman still has the tire tread markings he got after throwing himself in front of a truck, and one office worker still has a noose around his neck.
While it's not totally clear how Juno and Betelgeuse ended up with their roles, Juno explains a few other rules. Firstly, the dead are only allocated three appointments with their caseworker. Even if they didn't kill themselves, everyone's afterlife existence reflects how they lived and died, exorcism is like going through a second death and Betelgeuse can't be trusted.
The receptionist also tells Adam and Barb that they will have to stay in Earth for 120 years, which might signal that they could become the responsibility of another department. and move to a higher plane. This 120-year period might explain why all the Waiting room Recently Deceased are only from the last century and a half or so.
WHO'S IN THE BEETLEJUICE WAITING ROOM
While it's not immediately obvious, there are multiple clues in the Waiting Room scenes that point to the idea that recently deceased are arriving from every continent and every point in time.
In the first scene, there are three clearly contemporary newly deceased individuals who respectively died surfing, during open-heart surgery and after a cigarette lit their bed on fire, who share the waiting room with three deceased from the 19th century (Greenface, Poe Junior and Harry the Reduced Head Hunter.)
While Barbara and Adam died in the movie's present-day of 1988, the Flight 409 arrival announcement references a real-world plane crash from 1955.
Beyond those characters, the other characters in the waiting room included a shaman who doesn't look very dead, someone who was attacked by a shark, another who was bitten by a rattlesnake in a sleeping bag, someone who chocked on a chicken thigh, people with gangrene and tuberculosis and a woman who was "accidentally" cut in two.