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9 Rules In The Handbook Of The Recently Deceased That Ghosts Must Follow


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  • Ghosts retain their appearance at the time of death, revealing their final moments.
  • The afterlife is highly bureaucratic with long waiting queues to get help when needed.
  • The living usually can’t see the dead, but special people can bypass this.



Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice explored what life looks like after death, with the helpful aid of a guide specifically for the recently deceased. The movie first came out in 1988, and quickly gained a cult following who were drawn to the dark comedy starring Michael Keaton as the titular poltergeist. When Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) lose their lives in a tragic accident, they must learn to navigate the afterlife and the rules associated with being dead.

In an early scene in the movie, the couple step into their home after their fatal accident, appearing to be mostly unharmed, but very wet. When Adam steps out to investigate the incident and how they actually got back home, he is transported to an alien wasteland populated by terrifying sandworms, before being pulled back into the house by Barbara. It’s then revealed that time works differently for the dead, as Adam stepped outside for just a moment and lost two hours of time. The couple then discover the book which will guide them into their new life after death.

9 Behavior At A Funeral

Stay Still

Adam and Barbara in Beetlejuice

The Handbook for the Recently Deceased comprehensively covers many aspects of what life will be like for the dead. In an early draft of the film script, Adam and Barbara mention a section which covers how they should conduct themselves at a funeral (via Daily Script). While this line didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, it’s important in establishing the level of detail the book covers. The instructions state that at one’s funeral, a ghost should lie perfectly still.

8 Those Who Commit Suicide Become Civil Servants

Giving Them An Eternal Purpose After Death

Miss Argentina in Beetlejuice.

During the film’s runtime, several more elements about the rules for the dead are revealed in conversation and when Adam and Barbara read through the manual. One detail is revealed when Adam and Barbara visit the Neitherworld waiting room. They learn that the afterlife is run in a very bureaucratic manner, with civil servants handling the admin and organization. One finer detail is the fact that those employed to work as civil servants in the afterlife all share one thing in common; they commit suicide. It appears that this results in the ghosts being offered a purpose after life.


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7 When Someone Dies, They Keep Their Final Look

Showcasing Their Death For Eternity

While it appears to simply be the result of death, rather than a specific rule, Adam and Barbara also learn that when people die, they are stuck with the appearance they had at the time of their death. Whether this was burned to a crisp, fatally wounded with weapons, or something more grim, the other ghosts waiting in the Neitherworld are stuck looking as they may have in their final moments, which can be quite revealing depending on how they died.

6 The Living Won’t Usually See The Dead

But They Sometimes Can

Another detail offered up by the Handbook concerns what relationships between the living and dead may be. For the most part, the living won’t see the dead. Whether this is due to arrogance and ignorance on the part of the living, it can sometimes be bypassed by special people who are open to seeing the world of the dead that exists alongside their own. This is shown when Lydia Deetz is able to see and interact with Adam and Barbara after they have struggled to get any other living souls’ attention.

5 Chapter On Haunting

How To Haunt The Living

Geena Davis holding a knife and a severed head in Beetlejuice

While Adam and Barbara build a caring and loving relationship with Lydia, this relationship with the living certainly isn’t typical. The Handbook dedicates a considerable portion of its text to educating ghosts on ways that they can haunt the living. This can be done to cause the living a simple scare, or, in more severe cases where the ghost may be at risk of revealing the secrets of the dead to the living, extreme haunting can be done in an effort to scare the living out of their space.

4 When Exorcised, Ghosts Are Transported To The Lost Souls Room

Without A Home For Eternity

Beetlejuice In Model

While exorcism is usually associated with the living expelling the dead, the Handbook also provides instructions on how to exorcise the living from a dead person’s home. However, this can backfire and if the living become aware of the ghosts and manage to successfully exorcise them, the ghosts will be forced to live out the remainder of their existence in the Lost Souls room. Without a space to call their own, the ghosts live a frightening existence outside of reality in what appears to be the closest thing to hell the movie depicts.


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3 Ghosts Must Stay In Their Home For 125 Years After Death

The Death Tax Is Paid In Years

This image shows the Maitland house in Beetlejuice.

In the best case scenario, ghosts are actually intended to remain in their homes for 125 years after their death before the restrictions are loosened, and they can roam beyond their own familiar walls. Not much is revealed about what life looks like for ghosts that go beyond this milestone, but it appears to suggest that they would have much more freedom than the recently deceased. It is likely that Betelgeuse himself is a ghost that survived beyond this point, which affords him the freedom to travel from place to place.

2 In Case Of Emergency, Draw A Door

To Get To The Neitherworld Reception

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice also reveals instructions to ghosts that when they are in an emergency situation, they can draw a door. This makeshift portal is what takes Adam and Barbara to the Neitherworld. However, it does appear that the office is backed up considerably with several ghosts in the waiting room holding their numbers, which range from single digits to in the billions and beyond. The Neitherworld appears to be a helpful place in theory, but much like a backed-up emergency room, the wait isn’t always worth the help that is offered in the end.

1 Ghosts Only Get 3 Appointments With Their Caseworker

Then They Are On Their Own

Juno (Sylvia Sidney) going through paperwork with the football players behind her in her office in Beetlejuice

After death, those affected are sure to have plenty of questions, and while the handbook delivers a comprehensive guide on what needs to be done and how, it has its flaws. When the deceased are struggling with an issue, they have the option of meeting with a caseworker to discuss their problem and look for solutions. However, the dead are limited to just three appointments, which means it may be better to turn to their manual. With the Handbook as a guide, the ghosts in Beetlejuice are eventually able to navigate their afterlife and strike a balance that works for them.

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