Location, location, location. It's a real-estate mantra. These are still the three most important things when you're choosing a home and they're a pretty big deal when deciding where to set your movie, too.
Welcome to Winter River
Beetlejuice is set entirely in the town of Winter River, Connecticut. Imagine a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. There's quaint, old-fashioned village stores, including the hardware store that Adam and Barbara own. And there's that charming covered bridge. You know, the one the Maitlands plunge off and die.
Okay, so we've never seen that in a Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the point.
Aside from that, Winter River is the perfect place to relax and get away from it all. Everyone wants to get in:
JANE: Honey, today I'm $260,000!
BARBARA: No Jane. It's 6:45 in the morning.
JANE: This offer is real. From a man in New York City who only saw a photograph.
BARBARA: Jane, don't send people photos of our house.
JANE: He wants to bring the wife and family up here for some peace and quiet.
BARBARA: That's exactly what we're looking for.
These are the Maitlands in Winter River. They're honest, small-town types who love their home. They're charming, they're down-to-earth, and they're relatable. We can't say the same for the Deetzes.
Fun fact: There is no Winter River, Connecticut. The movie was actually shot in East Corinth, Vermont. The exterior shots of the house were just a façade that was torn down after filming. The interior shots were built on a sound stage in Culver City, California. So, sadly, you can't visit the Maitlands house and try to re-create the dinner party scene. It's a bummer, we know.
The tranquil New England vibes are quickly bulldozed when the Deetzes make their way to Winter River. Charles Deetz might want to relax and enjoy small town living, but his wife's got her own ideas about what that means.
Delia and Otho set to work dismantling the old-fashioned charm of the Maitland's house almost as soon as they walk in the door:
DELIA: A little gasoline. Blowtorch. No problem […]
CHARLES: Delia, let's get one thing straight. We're here to enjoy the country setting, not to trash the place!
DELIA: You're right.
OTHO: Charles, you're lucky the yuppies are buying condos so you can afford what I'm going to have to do to this place.
CHARLES: Otho, I'm here to relax and clip coupons, and, damn it, I mean to do it.
DELIA: Then go do it quietly, dear, and let Otho and I think.
OTHO: Is the rest of the house as bad as this?
Charles doesn't stand a chance.
Within three months of moving in, Delia and Otho have remodeled the entire house. We're pretty impressed; it took Shmoop that long to remodel a bathroom. Delia's interior design choices are inspired by postmodern design. These were looks you would have seen from well-respected Italian designers in the 1980s, but they ended up showing up in a whole bunch of mid to late '80s films.
And not in a flattering way.
Movies like these, and Beetlejuice, contributed to the idea that postmodern design was for vapid rich people with money to burn. Delia and Otho may think they have taste and style, but the film actually seems to be saying the opposite. They've just got unlimited bucks to chase the latest fashions.
Contrast that with the Maitlands who opt for classic colors and styles, and it's clear who the filmmakers except us to side with.
The Maitlands might not be able to leave their house, but there's one place they can go when they need help—the afterlife agency.
The afterlife is a total surprise for Adam and Barbara. It's not some world in the clouds with angels floating around playing harps. Or free Netflix for eternity. They don't get to see God. Instead, it's a soulless bureaucracy with waiting rooms, paperwork, and skeletons who work desk jobs. And you thought Hell sounded bad.
The production designer, Bo Welch, described the movie's afterlife design like this:
Conceptually, I think we arrived at that [the afterlife] would be kind of like going into the department of motor vehicles or some other dreary government office or the unemployment office. That's what inspired the afterlife where he goes in and gets the number and it's just chaos and decay. So, it's the department of motor vehicles filtered through a German expressionistic lens. (Source).
Satan might want to start taking notes from these guys.
Another one of the sets was inspired by the Johnson Wax building, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and featured ginormous columns with tons of people just sitting at desks and working. That's not how we'd like to spend eternity. A few visits to the afterlife really motivate the Maitlands to start getting along with the Deetzes.