Delia and Otho plan to go upstairs to the attic, which alarms Adam and Barbara. Adam runs out of the room without his head, past Delia and Otho, and slams the door in front of them, locking the attic. Startled by the slamming door, they attempt to open it, but find it locked. Otho notes that he thinks there is something startling behind the door, and Delia jokes that it’s probably the ghosts of the people who died in the house. Downstairs, Charles leans back in a chair and reads Practical Homeowner magazine. Adam returns to the room and puts his head back on, as Barbara becomes upset at the fact that they are unable to frighten anyone away. She descends the stairs, where she finds Otho measuring the walls, much to her horror. As she runs towards the door to the outside world, Adam warns her, “You don’t know what’s out there!”
As she opens the door to the outside, she falls face first into the sand of an expansive desert. Standing up abruptly, she looks around at the desolate landscape and calls to Adam, who is nearby and comes running to her. When they look behind them, they see a strange finned snake-like creature swimming through the sand. They run from it as it gets closer and closer, running towards a floating door back into the house. The creature shrieks, revealing a second head within its main head, and as it begins to attack Barbara and Adam, Barbara strikes it to keep it at bay. While the creature is momentarily discouraged, the couple runs to the door, which they cannot open. The creature again lurches towards them just as they open the door and make it back inside the house. They slam the door behind them and bemoan the fact that they are trapped in the house with the yuppie Deetzes.
The Deetz family gathers at the dining table for dinner, Delia and Lydia bemoaning the poor quality of the Chinese takeout they ordered. Charles tells Lydia that they will build her a darkroom in the basement, to which she responds that her “whole life is a darkroom.” Charles seems to be the only one who likes living in the country, as Delia says that she wants to start sculpting again—“You know I’m only ever really happy when I’m sculpting.” Lydia says that she thinks they should keep the house the way it is, but Delia insists that everything must go. The next day a number of cranes are set up outside the house to refurbish it. Otho oversees the erection of an addition to the house, as Barbara and Adam watch in horror from the inside. Adam flips through the Recently Deceased book, while Lydia snaps pictures outside. Delia becomes upset when a crane picks up one of her sculptures and accidentally sends it colliding with the house. Inside, Adam picks up a piece of paper, advertising the services of “Betelgeuse, bio-exorcist.” The paper is an ad for services helping the newly dead adjust to the afterlife. Barbara and Adam are confused.
In the kitchen, Charles tells some of the workmen to take a break for awhile, hoping to have a quiet moment to himself, when suddenly one of Delia’s sculptures comes busting through the kitchen window. The crane abruptly drops the sculpture, trapping Delia against the side of the house. She screams, “This is my art, and it is dangerous! Do you think I wanna die like this?!” Lydia goes to photograph the house, when suddenly she notices something which makes her stop. She sees Adam and Barbara looking down from the attic window, when suddenly Jane the realtor pulls into the driveway. Lydia turns back to look at Jane’s car, and when she looks back up at the attic, Adam and Barbara are gone. Up in the attic, Barbara turns to Adam and tells him that Lydia saw them. Lydia goes to Jane’s car and asks her what happened to the people who lived in the house before, learning that they drowned. Jane hands Lydia a skeleton key, one which can open any door in the house, instructing her to give it to her mother and father.
Inside, Lydia climbs the stairs to the attic with the skeleton key and attempts to open the door. Hearing the key in the lock, Adam and Barbara run and press their weight against it to keep it closed. Meanwhile, something strange comes on the attic television: a commercial for the services of Betelgeuse. In the commercial, “Betelgeuse” sits atop a cow and wears a cowboy costume, assuring the viewer that he will help the undead rid themselves of the humans living in their house. Adam and Barbara stop and watch the commercial as Beetlejuice tells the viewers that he will scare humans away. Outside the door, Lydia listens to the commercial, confused. As the commercial ends and the television goes static, Lydia tries yet again to open the door, but to no avail. Suddenly, she stops wiggling the key to make it seem as though she has left. Relieved, Adam and Barbara leave the door and go back into the other room.
Adam goes back to the book for the recently deceased and reads a portion that states that they should “draw a door” if they are in trouble. He begins to draw a door on the brick wall in chalk, and Barbara suggests that they should maybe try calling “that Beetle guy.” Adam finishes the door, and consults the book again, which tells them to knock the “door” three times. When Adam does, the wall opens up, revealing a bright green light, which Lydia can see from the hallway. Adam and Barbara walk towards the green light and into the wall, which closes behind them, as ominous music plays. Downstairs, Charles takes out a set of binoculars and flips through a book on birdwatching. Peeking through the window, he spies a bird, but is soon startled by the intrusion of Lydia, who wants to tell him what she saw. He doesn’t want to hear about it, however, and sends Lydia to help her mother. “Maybe you can relax in a haunted house, but I can’t,” she says as she leaves.
The scene shifts back to Adam and Barbara, who walk through a strange revolving door into a surreal waiting room, where various unusual characters and creatures sit. They go up to a front desk window, which is opened by a woman with green skin and pink hair, who mockingly assumes that they don’t have an appointment. “We need help,” Barbara tells the receptionist, but she laughs at them and warns them that they’re too recently dead to be needing help, and that they will use up their health vouchers too quickly. She urges them to read their manuals before coming to meet with “Juno,” who she tells them is their case worker, and slides the window shut. Barbara and Adam are confused. Meanwhile, Lydia slides the key back into the lock to the attic and manages to open the door. In the attic, she turns on the light, noticing Adam’s diorama of the town on the table. She walks over to a table and flips through The Handbook for the Recently Deceased. Back in the waiting room, a strange scorched creature offers Adam a cigarette, which he turns down warily, and Barbara looks suspiciously at a creature with a shrunken head sitting nearby. “Is this what happens when you die?” Barbara whispers to Adam, and the receptionist with the green skin chimes in that whatever happens to people when they die is very personal, and adding, “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident,” holding up two scars on her wrists.
The door opens and a grotesque looking man calls in Barbara and Adam. They go into the next room, where skeletons perform clerical work. Walking through the strange office for the dead, Adam and Barbara make their way down a hallway with odd angles. In the hallway, one of the windows’ shades flies open. A janitor comes up behind the couple and tells them that through the window is the Lost Souls Room, where ghosts that have been exorcised go. Adam and Barbara find the room where they were instructed to go. Startled, Adam comes to a shocking realization: that they are back in their old house, but it has been completely redecorated. Suddenly a woman comes up behind them, and reveals herself to be Juno, their case worker. Juno tells them that she’s meant to evaluate their case and see if they need and deserve help; they don’t. When Barbara tells her that they’re very unhappy, Juno has no sympathy: “What did you expect? You’re dead!” Barbara levels with her, that they would be happy to share the house if the people who bought it were more like them, but that the Deetzes have bad taste.
Juno asks Barbara and Adam if they have been reading the manual, and that the chapter on haunting “says it all.” Basically, Adam and Barbara have to get the Deetzes out themselves if they want them to leave. She urges them to cultivate some haunting talents and to consult the manual. Arriving in the attic, Barbara begins to ask about “Beetlejuice,” but Juno shushes her before she can get his name out, warning her, “Don’t even say his name. You don’t want his help…He does not work well with others…” When they ask her what she means, Juno tells them that Beetlejuice was her former assistant and started working independently, but that he is not helpful. She then tells him that he has been “sleazing around your cemetery lately” and that “the only way he can be brought back is by calling his name three times, but I strongly suggest that you remove the Deetzes yourselves.” As Adam asks Juno how they can contact her if they need her again, Juno takes a drag of her cigarette and disappears in a cloud of smoke.
The film's setting is fundamentally macabre, even horrific: a house haunted by ghosts. But perhaps even more horrific than the haunted house is the world outside the house that awaits the ghosts when they try to leave. The outside world is a horrifying hellscape, the stuff of nightmares, and the strange snakelike beast (the “sandworm”) that attacks them is chilling, to say the least. While the rest of the horror of the film has remained in a kind of semi-naturalistic and campy tone, the strange desert landscape of the outside world is truly disconcerting, with stop-motion snake heads emerging from one another like snakelike embodiments of decay. The Maitlands are haunted by these horrifying scenes, a landscape that seems almost like another planet. Rather conveniently, the recently deceased couple has always been attached to their house, so it isn’t too much of a sacrifice for them to stay put.
A major comic element of the film is the over-the-top snobbery of the urban transplants, the Deetzes. The only thing worse than the two-mouthed snake shark waiting for Barbara and Adam outside, the film posits, is the fussy family of yuppies at the dinner table. Delia complains about the lack of Szechuan Chinese food available in the small New England town, while Lydia chimes in that the amount of MSG in the food will give her a stroke. This humorous snobbery extends into Delia’s obsession with her own artistry, most outrageously depicted when she is trapped against the house by one of her own sculptures that has fallen from a gigantic crane. She screams at the workmen to be more careful: “This is my art and it is dangerous!” The film playfully depicts the overwrought pretentions of these characters. They are not exactly evil, but their urbane airs and puffed up self regard are certainly the stuff of nightmares.
The only member of the Deetz clan who can see the Maitlands is Lydia, but her perceptive powers matter little, at least at first. She is a very sensitive girl, attuned to the world of the strange and the uncanny, and is thus able to understand almost immediately what’s going on and to commune with the otherworldly. The only problem is, no one is interested in hearing her observations or taking her seriously. This dilemma is that of most teenagers, hormonal half-adults who struggle to be taken seriously. Lydia cannot get an adult to listen to her or give her the time of day, which is a shame since she has important information for them.
Here, as in the beginning when the tarantula climbs over the roof, Burton plays with perception and a surreal relation to expectation. As Adam and Barbara enter what they think is an office, they find themselves back in their old house, only it is completely different, refurbished tackily by Delia and Otho. Delia’s ugly sculptures abound and the light is dim and menacing. In Beetlejuice, multiple dimensions can exist layered on top of one another. Ghosts live alongside humans, a chalk drawing of a door can become a real door, and the world of the dead is basically just a warped version of the world of the living. Tim Burton creates a world that follows a strict internal logic, but remains unpredictable to his audience, a Halloween funhouse that shocks and disturbs, but never stoops to stereotype.
The central conflict of the film is darkly comical and encapsulated in the moment in which Barbara says, “We probably wouldn’t mind sharing the house, if the people were more like…” and Juno finishes her thought, “You used to be.” The conflict is not that Barbara and Adam are dead, that their dreams were taken from them too soon, that they’ve become cut off from society in death; it's that they must haunt their own house, which has now been taken over by people with horrendous taste and pretentious attitudes. The conflict is less about ghosts against humans and more about down-to-earth homemakers against vulgar conspicuous consumers. The conflict is between the country and the city, the modest and the flashy. The warring parties just happen to be a transplant family and a pair of ghosts. This unexpected take on the traditional ghost story lends the film an irreverent sense of humor and a refreshing absurdity. The question of haunting the Deetzes out of the house is treated just as irreverently. Like an old-fashioned acting coach, Juno puffs on a cigarette, urging them, “Do what you know. Use your talents. Practice.”