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Section Header
1988 Geffen

2011 Warner

Composed and Co-Produced by:
Danny Elfman

Conducted by:
William Ross

Orchestrated and Co-Produced by:
Steve Bartek

Labels and Dates:
Geffen Records
(May 31st, 1988)

Warner Brothers Records
(April 12th, 2011)

Also See:
The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box
Pee-wee's Big Adventure
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Edward Scissorhands
Meet the Robinsons

Audio Clips:
1988 Geffen Album:

1. Main Titles (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

3. The Book!/Obituaries (0:31):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

13. The Incantation (0:35):
WMA (227K)  MP3 (282K)
Real Audio (175K)

18. The Aftermath (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

The 1988 Geffen album is a regular U.S. release. The 2011 Warner set is a limited edition of 2,000 copies, sold for $500 primarily through the official site of the album. Consult with the separate review of that set for more details about its availability.



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Buy it... if you consider yourself a Danny Elfman enthusiast to any degree whatsoever and desire his unofficial "Handbook for the Recently Discovered Composer."

Avoid it... if the uniquely zany and frenetic scores from the very early period in Elfman's career are still too wild and inconsistent for your tastes.

Beetlejuice: (Danny Elfman) It's difficult to say if filmmaker Tim Burton will ever be able to capture the magic of Beetlejuice in another project, though he has certainly tried many times through the years. Not only did Beetlejuice continue to define the director's quirky sensibilities in the late 1980's, but it also benefitted being a highly profitable honeymoon experience, being the public's first major glimpse at the morbidly comic style truest to his imaginative aesthetics. It also maintains fascination in that it contained a simply marvelous cast of relative unknowns at the time, most of whom would not only flourish in careers of their own, but continue to be a part of Burton's normal cast ensemble in many subsequent projects. The youth and vitality of both the cast and crew exudes its enthusiasm for fantasy in every aspect of the 1988 film, including Danny Elfman's score. Despite the Oingo Boingo lead's previous activities for the realm of Pee-wee Herman and other wacky projects, Beetlejuice was his broader introduction to mainstream audiences as an orchestral film score composer, establishing an irresistible knack for creativity that would astonish listeners and genuinely excite film music fans. Some veteran film score collectors were actually quite horrified by Elfman's ultra-dynamic, explosive sound at the time, rejecting him as an untrained freak from the world of rock. The composer's classic score for Batman the following year would squash all such concerns, though while Elfman continued exploring the deeply troubled gothic sounds that would culminate in the top notch scores for Edward Scissorhands in 1991 and Sommersby in 1993, fans can look back at Beetlejuice as a lovable bridge between Elfman's earliest and zaniest orchestral styles and the morbidly brooding music to follow. The plot of Beetlejuice was a perfect mould for this transition, posing the death of a young couple at the outset and forcing them to haunt their own New England mansion to expunge the next owners (who happen to be New Yorkers with terrible instincts regarding interior design). Together with the suicidal daughter of those owners, Elfman has plenty of mysterious tragedy to muster in Beetlejuice. More than countering that side of the score is the outright carnival atmosphere created by Michael Keaton's title character. A "fixer" for the dead, "Betelgeuse" harasses both the dead couple and those who moved into their home with horrific pranks, requiring an extremely frenetic and diverse score to match his personality.

The fact that Elfman met all the demands of the Beetlejuice story with musical ideas so perfectly matched to Burton's concepts should be no surprise. The two men had hit it off instantly three years earlier with Pee-wee's Big Adventure, sharing many of the same interests in unusually morbid concepts. More interesting is how unique the Beetlejuice score still sounds two decades later, and while Elfman has flirted with some parody and outright comedy in the years since his scoring career transcended to the A-list, he's never been able to resurrect the same outlandish manipulations of the Warner Brothers sound that he had initially tested in Pee-wee's Big Adventure. To describe the score in a technical sense is doing a disservice to its ambient qualities; it really is a difficult piece of music to describe with words because any such attempt to brush past so many different ideas would neglect the intangibles that draw them together. This wacky sense of free-wheeling fun was initially a disaster in the recording process. The studio had brought in legendary composer and conductor Lionel Newman to lead the orchestra, but the performances of the main titles cue that he solicited from the players completely lacked the offbeat pizzazz Elfman had tried to construct in the composition. After a full day of poor rehearsals, Newman was fired by Elfman (an extreme rarity for Newman and a point of lingering discomfort for Elfman) and William Ross was hired as a replacement; like Lennie Neihaus for Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Ross was able to translate Elfman's quirkiness from page for the players and the rest of the sessions were a success. It's not hard to understand why an icon from yesteryear like Newman was a poor match for Elfman. No rhythm is safe with the composer, who utilizes tangos, marches, waltzes, and even Caribbean calypso movements in Beetlejuice. His thematic development is also remarkably complex, with two distinct ideas created for Betelgeuse himself, along with themes for Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder), the Maitland couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), and several minor characters. Even a nasty sand worm in the world of the undead receives its own recurring motif. No instrument is safe with Elfman either, who compensates for a smaller ensemble by pulling every last bit of effort from each performer. The piano is used in a somewhat perverse fashion, taking the concept of the instrument's innocent role as representing family values and giving it an almost demonic alternative life (though technically, it's largely thumping away in the bass in a similar fashion to Pee-wee's Big Adventure).

A typical orchestral ensemble for Beetlejuice, though sparse, is joined by a lively percussion section, an array of synthesizers, and vocal effects that range from solo boy to full adult ensemble (some of which synthetic for spooky effect). Specialty instruments, also possibly synthetic, include pipe organ, harpsichord, pan pipes, and a variety of others. Each section of the orchestra is led by unusual suspects, including tuba for brass and fiddle for strings. Integral to the film as well is Harry Belafonte, whose classic "Day-O" song is hilariously used during a dinner party possession scene and "Jump in Line" highlights the finale of the film. Burton and Elfman decided upon "Day-O" in the relatively late stages of production, that scene in the film nearly dropped to meet studio demands. Its sound and lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with the film's plot, but it works wonders, and Elfman wisely incorporates a stanza of "Day-O" into the opening bars of his "Main Titles" cue (though the film version of the cue unfortunately removed Elfman's own, humorously layered performance of the primary verse). Most casual viewers of Beetlejuice will either remember the Belafonte songs (the film did help popularize him with the younger generation to such an extent that pieces of "Day-O" are used in stadiums across the world today to rouse crowds) or Elfman's wild title theme, heard in full during the opening and closing credits, with fragments sprinkled throughout. Representing Betelgeuse at his most wickedly powerful, this theme is both playful and sinister, utilizing a catchy, octave-repeating piano motif in its bass before building to a cymbal-pounding march that heavily resembles Russian classicism. The waltzes that emanate from this character theme are far more jaunty here than they would be in the subsequent Batman finale, and Elfman treats the more seductively sick side of Betelgeuse with a perverse and memorable viola theme figuring heavily in the first half of the score. In "Beetle-Snake" and "Showtime!," Elfman's verbose ideas for Betelgeuse reach an almost horrific level of activity, taking the carnival atmosphere to heart while hindering the listenability of the score on album. The commercial CD arrangement from 1988 does, however, showcase the less obvious haunts of the score. The softer variants of the spirited "Travel Music" for the dead couple, often mingling with the morbidly downbeat waltz for Winona Ryder's Lydia, create some of the score's unsuspected highlights. A handful of solo vocal effects, including those heard in "The Book!" and "Lydia Discovers," whether real or synthesized, touch upon the classic gloom and doom of Elfman's gothic side.

The outright highlight of the Beetlejuice score, in film and on album, is "The Incantation," Elfman's first career stab at the sound of "majesty" that opens with a curiously enticing duet for piano and drums before erupting into a pipe organ crescendo of harmonic resonance for the dead couple's forced resurrection. The use of the harp and high synth choir in this cue, both so innocent in tone, are a perfect balance for the menacing organ and bass drums that dominate. There's even a hint of Jerry Goldsmith's "Blaster Beam" sound effect in its upper ranges at times during "The Incantation." Other crescendos of similar style exist in Beetlejuice, but none with the same sustained power. While the smaller ensemble suits the personality of the majority of this score quite well, "The Incantation" is easily a cue that could sound infinitely more magnificent if re-recorded with a large orchestra and choir, especially in the potential conveyed in its second minute. As any listener will quickly notice, Elfman's music for the score jumps around in style as often as the film requires, creating a somewhat disjointed listening experience outside of the consistently unpredictable instrumental employment that he uses as the glue for the score. Together, these individual parts of Beetlejuice create a whole that is nearly indescribable in its effectiveness. Parts of it are pure magic while others are hideously unlistenable. The common denominator, however, is the fact that a better score could not be written for the story. For Elfman fans, while the composer's career eventually strayed far from this outrageously haphazard creativity, the basic ingredients that constitute his later intelligent and often surprising constructs find many of their roots in Beetlejuice. As a listening experience on album, the score fails to achieve top marks because of a few factors. First, it's not only disjointed but it's also short, amounting to under thirty minutes in running time in its primary presentation and about forty minutes after assembling all of the very short filler recordings. On the 1988 Geffen album, all of the major cues are present and they're mostly in film order (the second Belafonte song is switched with the "End Credits"). As mentioned before, the version of the "Main Titles" on this album is different from what was heard in the film. Elfman's own vocal contributions to the cue can be heard on the album included as CD #2 in the 2011 set, "The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box," along with all other unreleased material missing from the Geffen product. On the set (which doesn't include any Beetlejuice music on its other CDs), Elfman provides the previous chronological presentation (minus the Belafonte songs) followed by fifteen additional scores cues, four source pieces, and some other miscellaneous, related music.

Learn about

The 2011 set containing the 48-minute CD dedicated to Beetlejuice is a disaster reviewed separately at Filmtracks, though the music from this score on that product is by no means the reason for its downfall (try a $500 price tag to start with). Like the other scores on that set, Elfman chose to reprise the previous album presentation and append the bonus tracks, failing to provide the customary chronological order expected on expanded soundtrack albums. The additional ten minutes of score is entertaining, but not substantial enough when placed together in the bonus track section, even with cross fades. The most significant additions are those that expand upon Elfman's upbeat music for the main couple and the film's outdoors scenes. Had Elfman sprinkled these cues throughout the rest of the score, the overall presentation would have been far more appealing, especially given how well the music directly reflects the narrative. The same could be said of the original source pieces given that the score jumps around so wildly anyway. The absence of the Belafonte songs (and, to a lesser extent, Lydia's suicide note opera source) is truly unfortunate here as well, for the same reason of narrative flow. The "Animated Series" main theme (adapted by Elfman for the television spin-off) and worktape demo of the film's titles are interesting, but not worth repeat visits. There is a slight improvement in the sound quality of the score on the 2011 set, and that aspect of Beetlejuice has always remained another major detraction. The piano is mixed heavily at the forefront, as it needs to be, but other parts of the score are greatly hindered by an extremely dry and flat recording. This uninspiring ambience betrays some of Elfman's synthesized effects, especially the ghost effects in the opening titles. Ironically, the best sound of the entire album exists in its opening thirty seconds, during which Elfman dubs an echoing mix of a male choir performing "Daylight come and me wanna go home" before the score's primary rhythm gets started. The Belafonte songs feature, in many ways, a more appropriate live mix than most of the score. While it could be argued that the intimate recording plays well to the character action of the film, it's hard to imagine that Beetlejuice would have been any weaker if a larger ensemble and wetter mix had further enhanced the fantasy elements of the story. Overall, though, the score remains a devilishly enjoyable listening experience for fans of the film. Coming when it did for Elfman, it can be affectionately referred to as the "Handbook for the Recently Discovered Composer." If you're neither enthusiastic about his career nor Burton's films, though, then this score, despite its intelligence, could be extremely irritating. Nobody can argue about its unique style; like the film, we haven't heard or seen anything like it since. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Danny Elfman reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.2 (in 65 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.25 (in 118,836 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

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   Lydia's Opera theme.
  T.J. -- 2/20/08 (3:23 a.m.)
   Re: Complete Score for Trade (Update)
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   Elfman at his craziest
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 Track Listings (1988 Geffen Album): Total Time: 36:18

• 1. Main Titles (2:27)
• 2. Travel Music (1:07)
• 3. The Book!/Obituaries (1:30)
• 4. Enter..."The Family"/Sand Worm Planet (2:50)
• 5. The Fly (0:50)
• 6. Lydia Discovers? (0:59)
• 7. In the Model (1:35)
• 8. Juno's Theme (0:48)
• 9. Beetle-Snake (2:08)
• 10. "Sold" (0:35)
• 11. The Flier/Lydia's Pep Talk (1:25)
• 12. Day-O - performed by Harry Belafonte (3:05)
• 13. The Incantation (3:11)
• 14. Lydia Strikes a Bargain... (0:52)
• 15. Showtime! (1:05)
• 16. "Laughs" (2:33)
• 17. The Wedding (2:02)
• 18. The Aftermath (1:21)
• 19. End Credits (2:47)
• 20. Jump in Line (Shake, Shake Senora) - performed by Harry Belafonte (3:08)

 Track Listings (2011 Warner Set): Total Time: 47:46

CD 2: (47:46)

• 1. Main Titles (With Elfman Vocal Intro)* (2:28)
• 2. Travel Music (1:09)
• 3. The Book!/Obituaries (1:30)
• 4. Enter..."The Family"/Sand Worm Planet (2:50)
• 5. The Fly (0:49)
• 6. Lydia Discovers? (0:57)
• 7. In the Model (1:32)
• 8. Juno's Theme (0:48)
• 9. Beetle-Snake (2:09)
• 10. "Sold" (0:34)
• 11. The Flier/Lydia's Pep Talk (1:22)
• 12. The Incantation (3:12)
• 13. Lydia Stikes a Bargain... (0:51)
• 14. Showtime! (1:07)
• 15. "Laughs" (2:32)
• 16. The Wedding (2:03)
• 17. The Aftermath (1:23)
• 18. End Credits (2:52)

Bonus Tracks: (17:45)
• 19. Happy House* (0:20)
• 20. Travel Music 2* (0:39)
• 21. Delilah's Entrance* (0:13)
• 22. No Ghosts* (0:52)
• 23. Keyhole 1* (0:25)
• 24. Keyhole 2* (0:24)
• 25. Hallway* (0:14)
• 26. The Door* (0:41)
• 27. Lydia Enters* (0:19)
• 28. Sheet Ghost* (0:20)
• 29. Idea* (0:21)
• 30. Otho's Idea* (0:22)
• 31. Concern* (0:21)
• 32. Pictures* (0:28)
• 33. Travel Music 3 (Bike Ride)* (1:50)
• 34. Waiting Room 1* (2:18)
• 35. Waiting Room 2* (1:49)
• 36. Harlot's Hangout* (0:36)
• 37. Beetlejuice: The Animated Series (Main Title)* (1:03)
• 38. Beetlejuice Commercial (Demo)* (0:44)
• 39. Beetlejuice Commercial (Film Version)* (1:08)
• 40. Main Title (Worktape)* (2:26)

* previously unreleased

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert of the 1988 Geffen album includes no extra information about the score or film, but it did feature a funny advertisement for products related to the film in early pressings. The 2011 Warner set features some notes from Elfman about his choices of music for inclusion on the product.

  All artwork and sound clips from Beetlejuice are Copyright © 1988, 2011, Geffen Records, Warner Brothers Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 3/1/99 and last updated 5/27/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1999-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.