Interview With Thea James, Co-Author Of ‘The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook’

As Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice celebrates its 35th anniversary year, and as spooky season quickly approaches, authors Thea James and Isabel Minunni have the perfect way to honor everyone’s favorite green-haired poltergeist: The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook.

Through its 75 delightfully dark recipes, the cookbook, available Aug. 15, aims to capture the flavor and feel of Beetlejuice, with inspirations from other Burton projects sprinkled in. From the Deetz dinner party to the gloomy afterlife world, Beetlejuice fans can pay homage to nearly every aspect of the film in their kitchen. Each beginner-friendly recipe is paired with a full-color photo and humorous introductory note, in addition to Beetlejuice trivia and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

PopHorror recently chatted with James about the in-depth research required to create the cookbook, her longtime passion for Beetlejuice, favorite horror books and more.

 

PopHorror: Before we get into the Beetlejuice cookbook, I’d love to learn a bit about you and your background. I understand that this isn’t the first cookbook that you have out.

Thea James: Lovely to meet you! My name is Thea James and I’m a professional book geek. I actually work in publishing for my day job. I work for Penguin Random House, but in their operations and data group. And by night, I like to watch and consume a lot of pop culture. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, horror, with horror being kind of my love child.

During the pandemic actually, my pandemic hobby – you know how we all kind of picked up some of them – was working on a fantasy world-inspired cookbook called Cooking for Wizards, Warriors and Dragons, which was a ton of fun. All of my research was like, “OK, well, I just get to watch and read all of my favorite fantasy books and fantasy movies, play fantasy video games.” The Witcher 3 was on repeat. It was a real blast coming up with recipes inspired by the different worlds and characters, so that was my start.

And then my publisher came around and said, “You know, we think Beetlejuice would be a really good idea.” And I was like, “Well, that’s great because I freaking love this movie.” When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Beetlejuice. The movie, No. 1 of course, because Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands 1990) is like, a soul sister. And then the cartoon was also, you know, I was a child in the 1980s, 1990s, and I was like, “This is a great cartoon.” I don’t understand why people don’t talk about it more. And I got to rewatch some of that for the Beetlejuice cookbook. There’s a Broadway play as well. All of it was fun and hit on all of the things that I already love. So yeah, it was a really good fit and that’s kind of how it all happened.

PopHorror: I saw that it has 75 recipes! Walk me through the process of getting all of that together.

Thea James: Oh my gosh, so when I was younger, we had VHS tapes, right? We had a VHS of Beetlejuice and I watched it a whole bunch when I was a kid. I thought, “I’ve got Beetlejuice down.” But when you have to come up with 75 recipes from a pretty short movie, it becomes a little hard. And for food, there’s obviously the famous dinner party scene that has to make its way into it. But it was a little tougher, a little more of a challenge to come up with more recipes that were inspired by the characters.

So I watched the movie a lot and I did a lot of research into Tim Burton, all of the movies that he made before Beetlejuice, what came after Beetlejuice, why Beetlejuice 2 never happened back in the ’90s because he was too busy working on Batman with Michael Keaton (Spotlight 2015). So it was a lot of trivia, a lot of research, and then coming up with really fun puns that sort of work with the character names and situations. It was a lot of research, but the fun kind.

PopHorror: The recipes, do they cover everything, like breakfast, dinner, snacks, etc.?

Thea James: Yeah so the cookbook, it’s broken into breakfast, then there’s appetizers, mains, normal breakouts for cooking. There’s snacks, drinks and desserts. In general, I tried to stick very much to just Beetlejuice. The film is the primary source content. But there’s references in here to the cartoon, the Broadway play, and then some assorted Tim Burton trivia.

Actually, the first recipe in the book, which was harder this week because Paul Reubens (Pee-wee’s Playhouse 1986) passed away, is called the “Big Adventure.” It’s from Tim Burton’s big directorial breakout film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which actually got him to get Beetlejuice. That’s what propelled him to see the studio about Beetlejuice. But it’s like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure breakfast, like at the very beginning of the movie when he rolls out of bed. So there’s some stuff that is sort of adjacent to Beetlejuice and more about Danny Elfman or Tim Burton or Michael Keaton, people who are involved. But for the most part, all the content is really from the movie.

PopHorror: Are there one or two recipes that you’re really excited for people to try out that you could talk a bit about?

Thea James: Yes, absolutely! Probably my favorite recipe in the book – I mean, there’s so many to choose from – but I think my favorite one that visually just looks so cool and it’s actually really easy to do, even though it looks insane, is the “Scary Face Charcuterie.” You get a Styrofoam bust, which you can get at any craft store, and you layer the prosciutto and whatever on top of it.

That’s an ode to the part of the movie where Beetlejuice is meeting Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed 2006) and Barbara (Geena Davis, The Fly 1986) for the first time and he shows them his true face. There are things popping out of his head and it’s kind of scary. But as the audience, we never see what that face is, we just see Barb and Adam’s reaction. So that’s his “scary face” and the charcuterie board is just a fun play on that, which is not culinarily challenging. It’s just really fun and kind of cool for a party.

Probably my favorite recipe to actually cook in this book is the 14-and-a-half-minute chops, which are delicious pork chops. Truly only takes 14-and-a-half minutes to cook, and the whole thinking behind that recipe is Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice. He’s only actually on-screen for 14-and-a-half minutes for the entire movie, even though he’s the main character and it’s a 90-minute movie. So he’s only in it for a teeny tiny percentage, but it’s enough time to whip up a really fabulous meal, and it’s delicious. I love a good pork chop.

PopHorror: Would you say these recipes are non-professional friendly for those who aren’t so great in the kitchen?

Thea James: Oh yeah. One of my favorite recipes you just put prosciutto on a piece of Styrofoam. Super, super easy. There are some more challenging ones, like there’s a meringue that is swirly and beautiful and crisp and perfect. When I try to make them, sometimes they look not like that at all. They look more like pogs that are not super wonderful, but I’m an amateur cook. I love cooking at home. I love trying new things and these are pretty easy to follow through. Who likes a 75-step recipe? It’s too much. So these tend to be pretty short and sweet, like, one page long and pretty simple.

PopHorror: The book officially comes out on Aug. 15. How are you feeling?

Thea James: Oh my God, I feel like it’s been… It’s just so weird because you have to do all of the writing earlier and I’ve been in full Beetlejuice mode for a year. And then it stopped because the book had to get printed and all of that, and now it’s coming and it’s just like, “Wow, it’s almost here.” And it’s just really cool being able to hold it and look at all the recipes and all that hard work. So yeah, I’m super excited. I’m thrilled and it’ll be right in time for people to start thinking about fall and what they’re gonna do for Halloween, and with Beetlejuice 2 now officially filming.

PopHorror: I was going to ask your thoughts on that! It’s finally happening.

Thea James: It’s finally happening. I do have a recipe in here that was an ode to the first pass at Beetlejuice 2. It was called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, which is weird, but apparently, he was going to be in Hawaii. So the recipe is ham and pineapple skewers. I’m not gonna lie, I would have paid a lot of money to see that movie. But I’m really excited for this one, too. I’m thrilled that Jenna Ortega (Scream 2022) is in it. I think that Winona being in it again is fantastic. It’s going to be awesome. I’m starry-eyed.

PopHorror: People who live in the area where they’re filming, they’re able to walk near the set. People had videos of Tim Burton. If I lived there, I’d probably sleep there and watch them film.

Thea James: Exactly. I’d just be camping out the whole time, like, birdwatching.

PopHorror: Where is the cookbook going to be available?

Thea James: You should be able to get it anywhere books are sold, like your local bookstore. You could even get it at your local craft store. We’re hoping that it’s also going to be in Target, but I’m not sure if that’s happening yet. But certainly, you can order it online, go to your favorite independent store, ask them to stock it.

PopHorror: Is there anything else upcoming for you? Maybe another film that might inspire another cookbook?

Thea James: This fall actually, I have a drinks/cocktail-specific-focused book coming out. It’s also fantasy-themed and it’s a sister book to the first one that I came out with. It’s called Drinking with Wizards, Warriors and Dragons. It has alcoholic beverages in it, non-alcoholic beverages, all kinds of different drinks from different worlds. So that’s the next thing on the horizon. And then after that, I guess we’ll see. But I would love to do a horror-themed cookbook, so that’s probably my next pitch.

PopHorror: That would be cool to do all slashers or something.

Thea James: You could have a different chapter for each different sort of trope or genre of film. That’d be really fun.

PopHorror: Now, I always like to ask since we’re pophorror.com, what’s your favorite horror movie and, in your case, book?

Thea James: Oh my goodness, that is a huge question. My favorite horror movie of all time is Rosemary’s Baby because it’s a different type of horror. The first time I watched it, I’m like, “I’m not really sure I get it,” but the more you watch it — and I’ve watched it many, many times now — and I think the older that you get as a woman, I’m like, “Wow, this is horrifying, this is actually really scary.” And Mia Farrow’s (The Purple Rose of Cairo 1985) performance, all of it is just so well done. So that is my favorite horror movie of all time.

My favorite horror book of all time actually is from a British author named Michelle Paver, and the book is called Dark Matter. It is about a group of explorers who go up to the tip top of Norway, and it’s near the Arctic Circle at the top of the world, and it’s haunted. It’s set in the early 1900s or late 1800s and is narrated by this man who is leaving a journal, and you just kind of get that sense of claustrophobia. One by one, people disappear. It’s just him at the end and it’s just very scary, atmospheric, dark and unexpected, and I really love it. Not many people know about it, so that’s my pitch for that book.

PopHorror: That sounds good. I’m always looking for new authors because I always go back to Stephen King.

Thea James: I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Stephen King. I love him. But yeah, there’s so many good ones out there. I actually just – now I’m just talking books – picked up this book by Thomas Olde Heuvelt called Echo, and he wrote this book called Hex. It was a very, very, very scary book that I had read a couple of years back, when it was first translated. It’s a haunted town – I really like hauntings, if you couldn’t tell – and there’s a lot of… I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s a situation where if you’re from the town, you can’t leave the town kind of deal. This one is more about the darkness of nature. So someone goes climbing in the Alps, comes back with something terrible. It sounds kind of like The Empty Man, very similar style premise. The guy who goes climbing comes back and he’s alive still, but maybe not the same as he once was. It’s more about the darkness that we all face internally. Anyway, this is what I’m going to read next, so I’m super excited for it.

PopHorror: Was there anything I missed that you wanted our readers to know?

Thea James: I’m just really excited, and I hope people like the book.

Thank you, Thea, for taking the time to speak with us! The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook is available Aug. 15, for $22.99. Which recipe will you be trying first?

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