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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stories Someone Needs to Write: What Slytherin Did

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the entire house of Slytherin sits out the Battle of Hogwarts. In the book, it's because they all evacuate through a secret passage, like refugees. This is voluntary, as a portion of each of the other houses do stay to fight. Or it could be interpreted that McGonagall evicted them. In the movie, she explicitly orders them all to the dungeon because they're all a bunch of untrustworthy gits. Who's to say one of them won't abracadabra you in the back because he wants to be in Voldemort's good graces?

They all want that awkward hug

A lot of readers/viewers say this was unfair and prejudicial. Most of the people in Slytherin we get to see are through the Draco Malfoy eyeglass, who is basically Harry's biggest rival/closest enemy. And anyone associated with him is a Slytherite, so of course they're going to be on the bad side.

But there are either seventy or 250 students in Slytherin (depending on what math you believe). Either way, it's a lot of individuals -- not all of them can be selfish stuck-up gits. Just because you're a Slytherin doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad guy. Merlin, Horace Slughorn, and Snape were in that house and they turned out to be good. Assholes maybe but still on the side of what's right. (And yes, maybe I'm trying to rebut my own placement in this house).

In my head-canon, when the Slytherin students are sent away, they aren't just sitting there, hunkered down in either the pub or the dungeons, listening to the battle like it's the WWII London Bombings.

I like to believe they had their own grand adventure. The untold side-story. Something that influenced the battle like Marty #2 in Back to the Future Part II. Maybe an explosion rocks the cell walls and they're accidentally freed. Maybe a sub-force infiltrates the basement and they're the only ones that can stop them. Their heroics go unsung and unknown (which is double-ironic for Slytherin), but they fight because it's their school too. Just because they're power-hungry doesn't mean they can't use that power to fight for right.

I imagine one of them standing up and rallying the troops. They all feel dejected because of their reputation and the fact that they've been exiled because, through no fault of their own, they've been considered untrustworthy. "We may be douchebags, but we're Dumbledore's douchebags. We all have friends in other houses. If Voldemort wins, a lot of them are going to be hurt. The only people who are safe are those who already have money and power. None of us get easier lives. We're still going to be struggling have-nots. Damon, you came from a trailer park. Reiko, you've still got family on a farm outside Osaka. And if you're not pure-blood, forget it. If we have to be Slytherins, we're going to be Slytherins on our terms."

Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Pizza is Like a Marriage

Pizza is like a marriage. First you've got your crust. That's your foundation--it's what you're going to put all of your stuff on. That's your trust & faith, your respect, your fairness (uniformity of ingredients... in that its mostly flour), your toughness (it's dough), your patience (takes time for that dough to rise). You know the person is who they say they are. Their personality is consistent, they keep their promises, and not going to run away during lean or hard times. It does not contain love, love goes in the next layer. The crust may not taste very good, but it's got to be there, or else it's not a pizza.

Then you've got your sauce layer. That's the passion. Sauce contains the sugar, water, herbs (maybe a little, maybe a lot). It's the most flavorful part of the pizza. It's zippy and zesty. For the most part all sauces are made of the same basic ingredients, but one can taste wildly different from another. I like a lot of sauce on my pizza. Too little sauce and you've just got cheese bread. But the sauce has got to be tempered. That's why you cheese goes on top and not in the middle like some weird sandwich.

Cheese is the fun. Cheese is doing a puzzle together. It's being separate but together in the same room. It's snuggling. It's stupid little jokes or working together to unclog the drain or one recharging the other when you're depressed or strategizing how to deal with the kids. Cheese is mostly fat/grease and, as far as foodstuffs go, not really a necessary part of diet. It's meant to help stomach the bland crust and zesty tomato sauce. You can survive by eating a cheeseless pizza, but then what's the point? It's not really a pizza, is it?

And then there are toppings. Those are all the little bits of added flavor. It's a spontaneously coming home with flowers or that vacation to Disney. Some people like a pizza with no toppings. Some like weird toppings. Both are fine. It's a pointed fact that in the history of mankind, no two people have ever been able to agree on the toppings for pizza. But you can agree on what toppings you don't want. Some toppings you like more than others. Sometimes it's necessary to get half and half if you just can't get to a point of compromise. But most agree that a pizza with toppings is preferable. Again, not necessary to make a pizza, but it adds desirability and value.

And I don't know what kind of marriage this is.
The famous "none pizza with left beef"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Wonderful Sausage from "More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"

How about a change of pace? Let's hit the pause button on films and go for some literature.

Now, I've never found reading very scary. It lacks the visual punch and timing. The best you can get is a sense of dread. I know some people say that when your imagination takes over, things are scarier. But for me, I know I have nothing to fear from my imagination -- it's in my head, the monsters can't affect me there. It's only as scary as I can make it. Lovecraft can't stop me from giving Cthulhu a flowery hat like Mrs. Nesbitt.

But sometimes at night, when the shadows are on the wall, and something pricks you just right... ideas can't be controlled so easily. The right combination of gross-out, terror, and fear leads to nightmares. Case in point: "Wonderful Sausage" from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

This was another procurement from my mom's college horror class. Why do I subject myself to these things? Was it a way to try and get closer to my mother? Was I just warped to begin with? Were sources of trauma becoming sources of arousal for me -- the product of living a quiet, boring suburban life and this was my way to get safe thrills? I'll never know.

Anyway "Wonderful Sausage" combines child abduction (which I touched on in Poltergeist III) and cannibalism. There's also the horror of everyone enjoying it. I think something in my German roots was also attracted by the sausage. The fact that there's little explanation behind the killer's motivation makes it more intimidating. There's no introspection, no thinking moments (as one expects from a campfire tale), it's just a thing that happens -- a guy snatches up men, women, children, puppies, kittens (not my cat!), kills them, and makes them food.

I remember one night laying in my bed, trying to sleep. Insomnia is a terrible thing, and I often had it. Usually a result of a fast and deep mind, made worse when toxic thoughts run around your head. And the shadows on your wall start to look like a butcher holding a limb over a sausage grinder. It was the same sort of thing that happened after Creepshow -- my window looks like the Creeper is standing there, like a hallucination. Half-there, half-not.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Books I Read: September - October 2017

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

In a word, melodramatic. In many other words...

The tone of this story skews so heavily feminine it's distracting. I'm not saying femininity is a bad thing, but an event like this is going to have a lot of different reactions from different people. It's supposed to be about a real school shooting, but it's so cheesy it doesn't feel real. The narrative is split into the perspectives of four victims in four different situations. One is the ex-girlfriend of the shooter, another is the sister of the shooter, another is that sister's lesbian girlfriend, and last is the trouble-making brother of the lesbian girlfriend (do you see how relationshippy this is?). Two are trapped in the auditorium with the shooter, the brother is trying to get them out, and the ex-girlfriend is ROTC and running for help.

The sister, who I guess is the main character because she's the closest to the shooter and has the most to lose, is obsessed with dance. Her dead mother was a dancer. Dancing is the "only time she feels free." And of course she's going to Julliard. Maybe it's because I'm not a dancer, but this feels like such cliched rhetoric. See any dance movie or book in the last ten years. You cannot combine Bowling for Columbine with Step Up. The shooter makes his sister dance on stage, like he's the Joker. Don't you want to mix it up a bit and make her want to be an astronaut?

And there's way too much thinking. Four different narratives + limited amount of time (about an hour) means minute by minute breakdown of each POV. In high-risk situations, there is NEVER this much thinking going on. No thinking about the past or "why does he like her and not me?" high school junk. That all drops when you're just trying to survive. Even with the wordiness, the lack of detail is appalling. The author never even mentions what kind of gun the shooter has. Is it a rifle? Shotgun? Handgun? Automatic? That's an essential detail, to know what kind of damage can be done, what the stakes are. I'd venture to say the author didn't research school shootings, instead opting to make a soap opera around a dramatic event.

There is so much Lifetime-worthy drama cheese it's embarrassing. The name of the town is Opportunity, and the author never lets you forget it. Lines like "the sky feels endless" and "she looks so beautiful" and kissing a guy during a crisis like at the end of Speed. Is this really your biggest concern with a gunman? Was there kissing going on during Columbine? Because I read that book and no one reported any post-tragedy romance. Add in a nice dose of parent abuse, sexual assault, and all the other things you expect from a "serious" YA novel about "serious issues" that it seems everyone deals with on a CW show. This is not worth your time. Read Columbine by Dave Cullen instead.

Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook

Boring as hell. I thought it would be a cozy fantasy like A Computer Programmer in King Aragorn's Court. I wanted to see how you could decompile magic or turn the Council of Elrond into a stand-up meeting. But no, it's a bunch of walking and walking and nothing happens.

A girl guides the guy through the woods and it's boring. He only regards the girl for how hot she is, always looking down her blouse. The girl is a bitch throughout, complaining how he doesn't have the stamina to hike or knowledge about dangerous magic stones. The guy doesn't regard anything with wonder. There's dragons and elf kings and magic, and all he's worried about is being cockblocked. He doesn't even try to impress her with knowledge of the future.

The only reason I made it to 46% was because it was a short book. But once it decided to take a chapter to tell a story within a story, I was out. I barely cared if the main characters lived or died, you're not going to pad pages with someone else's tale.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

The book is a straight and true narrative that deviates very little from the movie, plus Stephen King-isms (twangy blue-collar metaphors that seem more at home in the Appalachians than Maine). But the movie is still better. The cinematic-ness adds emotion and removes unnecessary elements. Stephen King can produce material that results in good movies, as long as the makers of that movie are chosen well.

The Shamer's Daughter by Lene Kaaberbøl

This is the cozy fantasy I was looking for. Well, maybe "cozy" isn't the right word, but it's well written. Good characters, good conflict, and good setting. Said premise is that "shaming" is the magic here, which really means looking into the subject's eyes and making him feel guilty enough to confess his crimes. Sort of like Ghost Rider's "penance stare", only it's in Eragon. That's a solid premise in itself, but the characters are interesting enough to carry it, especially when it becomes a murder mystery and political throne-grabbing.

It reminded me of Far Far Away in terms of style. Maybe that's the translation at work. There is no slowness (maybe because it's YA, which also means it's not too long), and I see potential for storylines in the next sequence. Characters are not douchebags and no one holds an idiot ball, but there are a few trappings, like evil princes and dumb peasants. It's one of the few books of a series that makes me want to find out what happens next.

Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine

Levine is the person who wrote Ella Enchanted. I liked that book so much I wanted to check out her non-fiction book on "how to write". I thought, by the title, it would have to do with specifically magic and fantasy, but no, it's writing in general. That's not a bad thing.

This is one of the better writing books I've read. Liked it more than "Bird by Bird" (but that's not a high bar to jump for me). The focus is on prompts and exercises (i.e. you learn to write by writing). It also never wears out its welcome. Some books emphasize sentence structure and adverb placement -- too much nitty gritty. This one doesn't care, and it shouldn't. It's wants you out there and producing.

However, it is definitely skewed toward younger audiences. Middle school and high schoolers will get more out of this book than I did from Stephen King's "On Writing".

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

I was hesitant on reading this, worried it would be out of date. (It's as old as me!) There have been a lot of... advances? (I don't know what you'd call them) in horror that no one could have predicted in 1981: slasher franchises going mainstream (e.g. Freddy Krueger action figures), J-horror, psychological horror (like Black Swan), torture porn, home invasion films, indie horror (e.g. The Blair Witch Project), the second rise and decline of zombies. Enough time has passed that now we have meta-horror for all those tropes (e.g. Scream and The Cabin in the Woods).

Nonetheless, much of it still holds up, to my surprise, because it's really all about roots. And those roots take place in three things--films, TV, and books. It takes examples from timeless phenomenon like B-movie monsters, anthology suspense, and Lovecraft books. Each reflects the time period they were born into. And it's all delivered with Stephen King's tight and witty prose (he was still high in these days so his writing is still good). It's the kind of book that might be assigned in an "Introduction to Horror" college class. Plus, it contains some of the missing biographical elements from "On Writing".

However, I don't think it's required for any horror aficionado. There's a lot of examples from the 50s-70s that maybe influenced King more that it influenced everybody. Read this if you're a fan of Stephen King's style. You get to see him put on his college professor hat. But there are more current books that do just as well.

Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney

It's a marathon, but a good one. The story is a basic portal fantasy (a B-52 crew flies into another dimension), but you feel like you're there: all the detail about the plane, the crew's lives, how they interact with each other, the equipment, and the war. It got me excited about World War II (there is a lot more detail about World War II stuff than the fantasy world) and balances description with plot.

The fantasy elements are underwhelming. It's a standard domed city, a flying mechano-dragon, bad guys in the other domed city across the wasteland, the man from the past falls in love with the woman from the future, and so on. It's all very sixties Star Trek or H.G. Wells "The Time Machine". Nothing exceptional. Mundane even. I kept waiting for the thing that made the world extra-special and unique.

And I have a hard time believing that any of the crew could help with anything mechanical in this world. It would be like a watchmaker fixing my iPhone. Besides that, some threads don't go anywhere (like the whole chapter dedicated to the new crewmember's "story" of his haunted plane), making the book unnecessarily long. I hate when that happens.

The magic comes from the plausible character development. It's a satisfying read and entertaining, but make sure you can handle some World War II history and mechanics.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

John Green's latest. How could I not read? If you're looking for a remix of "The Fault in Our Stars", this is not it. It's not a romance. It takes the romance elements out and focuses more on the character's disease. Only this time it's not cancer, it's compulsion disorder/intrusive thoughts. A mental illness that the main character neglects to resolve.

The primary plot driver is extremely unimportant, so there won't be a lot of twists and events. What exists is the thin thread of mystery--the lugubriously rich father of an old childhood friend disappears to escape indictment. Our two heroines hope to find him and earn a reward. Our POV character is not the main driver of this story--that's her friend. But it retains the same peculiarity and quirkiness that Green is good at. It's closer to Paper Towns, but minus the insufferable pining over a crazy girl. Green also fixes the mistake where his teenagers speak way over their vocabulary range, like college freshman milking every damn page from a thesaurus to sound smart on an English paper (e.g. Augustus Waters).

It's more of a character study, like "Looking for Alaska" was. In that, the pathology was someone with an unredeemable crush on a real-life MPDG. Her, it's someone broken by anxiety and mental illness, self-centered (not because of ego, but because OCD does that to a person) and unable to have relationships because of that. Green says that the best thing you can get from books is to "imagine humans complexly" and I think he does just that in a package that's fun to open.

Will it become a classic? I wish I could say it's likely, but I wouldn't believe that myself. It probably won't make you cry, but it will make you understand. And I think that's a better achievement.

Beyond the Castle: A Disney Insider’s Guide to Finding Your Happily Ever After by Jody Jean Dreyer

This did not deliver on what I wanted. I wanted anecdotes about working at Disney. Stories about dealing with douchebags, cast member affairs, triumph of the storyboard room. It sounds like this woman has worked nearly every job, seen every facet of the company. You'd think there'd be dozens of anecdotes about that. But no. This is more of a self-help book, full of quaint little lessons and morals and life advice.

There are anecdotes sprinkled in, but most of it is stuff you could learn from the IMDB trivia page of any Pixar movie. It's far more thematically about being the best "you". And entirely too much focus on "giving yourself to God". That's where it lost me--all the strong Christian overtones, saying God wants you to be happy and using Disney stuff to illustrate that. Disney wants you to be happy, because happy people give you money. I'm not under any illusion that Disney isn't a business. It gives you a lot back for your dollar, but it wants your dollar first and foremost.

I stopped reading when it spelled "Lotso" (the antagonist from Toy Story 3) as "Lostoso". If you can't proofread well-enough, especially regarding a Disney term, then I'm done. It's minor and stupid, but, hey, that's why they call the camel back-breaker a straw, not a brick.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Oh, boy, where do I start with this one. I'm afraid this might turn into another 5,000 word rant like "Wild" or "The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" or any of Jackie Morse Kessler

I guess I'll start with expectations, the blame for which I shall receive none. It shall go to the marketing team and author. The description makes it sound like a cross between The Bachelor and The Hunger Games, which I was fine with. The ceremonies and reality TV part of The Hunger Games was my favorite. I'd like to see what happens when that's expanded to a whole universe. But the author is doing her best to make it feel like a dystopian YA novel/clone of THG, but it doesn't get any more savage than a Disney Channel original movie.

The first red flag was all the telling in the first chapter. Exposition, exposition, exposition. Not even infodumped in a clever or interesting way, just *plop* there it is. The universe is described to us like it was a textbook.

And then it's nothing but cliches. I swear to god, I thought I was reading the Dystopian YA twitter account. Society's in a caste system that sorts people because of course there is. Her family is poor. It includes a little sister and an overbearing mother. There's a love triangle between the guy she left at home and the guy society expects her to pair with. There's rebels and a dictatorship and interviews and dresses and a Cesar Flickerman and my god did this author create anything on her own? I know "everything is a remix" but at least use some unique ingredients (how about The Hunger Games with dwarves?).

For a book about thirty-five teenage girls competing to marry a prince, it's surprisingly chaste. Like a Mormon version of Survivor. Getting a kiss is like winning the lottery. I would think, in a competition where the prize is you and your family being set up for life with money and power and royal titles, there should be boobs flopping out all over the place.

No one acts plausibly, least of all the main character. She doesn't want anything, she's just along for the ride. She doesn't take action, action happens to her. The only thing going for her is "feistiness" compared to the other snobby upper-class girls. She's not even really competing with them--she sets herself up as a confidante, but of course, this means the prince likes her best. As a result, there's no conflict. They're all trying to help each other, instead of figuring out who your friends an enemies are. It doesn't even conclude like a normal book. It just ends--there's no climax, no build-up. It's like they just cut it off at 300 pages so they could call it a series.

Surprisingly, I'm not depressed that this book got published. I am depressed that readers rated so high. It's so shallow and cliche. I kept reading because I was waiting for that "more"--that reason it garnered such attention. But it never came. And that's three hundred and thirty-nine pages of my life I won't be getting back.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Poltergeist III (the puddle scene)

So I already mentioned Poltergeist in my "Faces of Death" entry, but here's a scary scene from a movie I never saw. I'm still not sure if I've ever seen it.

In 1988, Poltergeist III was released. It includes a scene where Carol Anne is running through a parking lot, then stands in a puddle. Two demon hands grab her and drag her down into the water. But her two older siblings* find her and catch her in time. Unfortunately, THEY are dragged into the puddle as well. The whole thing ends with a vacant, quiet parking lot.

Now I didn't see Poltergeist III (I'm still not sure if I ever have) at its release. Obviously my parents had better sense than to take a quiet sensitive boy like me to any horror movie in a theater. But HBO (cause of more than one other kindertrauma) frequently aired Behind the Scenes vignettes between films. They decided showcasing the special effects behind that scene was good to air between Fraggle Rock and Braingames (I don't think they actually did this, but this is what I caught while channel flipping).

Holy shit, that is some freaky stuff for a seven-year-old. Christ, if that happened no one would ever find you ever again. Would you be dead? Or trapped in some hell dimension forever? Not even stronger near-adult people could save you. And it wasn't just you that got dragged down, but so did your loving brother and sister*. And I lived in Minnesota--one year later Jacob Wetterling would be kidnapped, reinforcing the scene in my mind.

*Actually they are Carol Anne's cousin uncle's daughter from a previous marriage and her boyfriend, but A) who cares B) what seven-year-old can make sense of that relationship -- Spaceballs was clearer in that regard C) that information does not come across in the clip I saw.

I'm not sure if I always had some "thing" about drowning--it seemed a scary way to die because it was slow. There weren't enough cars around my neighborhood to make being hit by one a possibility. Death by choking wasn't likely, since I was always eating around adults and there was that miraculous "Heimlich maneuver" everyone kept talking about.

But drowning seemed a likely death, especially given all those warnings around pools, how frequently we went to the lake, and the ease you could be overlooked flailing around with all the others playing. Hell, water's supposed to be good for you and you could drown in an inch of it. Not to mention it seems slow and painful. Not like a car accident where it's sudden. You can feel your life draining away as you go under, both hope and oxygen fading.

Add to that the periphery of Heather O'Rourke's (Carol Anne's death), this incident is equal parts terror and dread.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is Stuck on "Acceptance"

There are approximately six hundred and fifty concurrent Marvel movies and TV shows going on right now. Earth number 199999 has no shortage of colorful characters who have seen an amalgam of bizarre circumstances. Aliens coming out of portals, super soldiers fighting red skulled Nazis in World War II, people becoming big green monsters and insect-sized ant-herders, sentient robots lifting up cities and Norse gods turning out to be real.

So why do they keep considering stuff "crazy" when they learn the overarching plot/maguffin?

I watched The Defenders a little while ago and there's a scene where the four of them have one of the bad guys tied up. They're interrogating him on his evil plan, getting that sweet sweet exposition. Said evil plan is to use Iron Fist to break down a wall and get some kind of black water that lets you come back to life or something. And Jessica Jones says something to the effect of "this is crazy, why should we believe this guy?"

Um, have you taken a look around lately? Bulletproof skin, blind ninja, glowing fist, and you yourself have super-strength from no known cause. In the most recent hours you've seen people you thought were dead walk around and kick your ass. Not to mention all the weird stuff you've already seen on the news.

Not exactly a buried lede

Is it really appropriate to call anything bollocks anymore? It's a cheap writer ploy to give a little conflict, but at this point in the MCU, it's a ridiculous thing for anyone to think. If I were in her place I'd be saying, "Immortality goo? Sure, sounds legit."

There's just too much that's happened--even just the stuff that's been revealed to the public--for anyone to dismiss the improbable (especially if you're one of the recipients of said improbableness).

People take it all for granted when you've got clean energy thanks to a guy flying around in a suit of armor. But when is enough enough? I say it's now. And anyone saying "this is crazy" needs an idiot check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What is Saturn from "Beetlejuice"?

So here's a question I've been wondering about since I was seven years old. What the hell is that place in Beetlejuice with the desert and the two-faced sandworms and the moons and time apparently moving faster?

What do we know? Well, our first glimpse happens when dead-Alec Baldwin walks off his front porch. The camera whips around weirdly and he's there. It's like he's on a different world--dark blue sky, green planet, weird stone coral-like structures (I assume they're stone). Something is moving in the sand, something serpentine.

He spends about five seconds there. Then dead-Geena Davis pulls him back on the porch and tells him he was gone two hours. But this is dismissed quickly for other revelations. I have no idea how she pulled him back on the porch. Was he just standing on the step? Staring into nothingness all that time?

Another time, dead-Geena Davis tries to leave the house. Dead-Alec Baldwin follows her. They both end up on "Saturn" and are immediately separated. They can't even see each other, like they're miles away. But somehow they find each other, and rediscover the door back to their house. This is the first appearance of the sandworm, which they narrowly avoid thanks to a well-timed Davis slap (precursor to The Long Kiss Goodnight?).

* Seems like time moves differently whenever they're not in the house. After they draw a door and meet with Juno, they find the family totally moved in, and they've been gone three months. So it's not just the sandworm place. Are they part of the same plane of existence, just different locations?

Next, when we finally meet Beetlejuice and he's making his pitch (was this all a precursor to Michael Keaton's role in The Founder?) and he says "Look, you've been to Saturn! Hey, I've been to Saturn. Whoa, sandworms, you hate 'em, right?" So that means it's a place common to all dead people (also exemplified by the fact that dead-Genna Davis rides one into her house). Also, how does Beetlejuice know by looking that he's been to Saturn. Does that "look" mean "look at you!" or "look here, buddy"? Also, Beetlejuice can teleport people there? </huh?>

Okay, so WTF is this place? Is it a planet? That's what I thought as a kid, since I didn't know any better. They're being transported to the planet Saturn. But that doesn't explain the time-movement, the sandworms, the door, the lack of rings, the fact only dead people can see it, that it's a gas giant with no solid surface or breathable atmosphere.

Is it some kind of underworld? Saturnus is the romanization of Cronus, the titan that was the father of all the Greek gods until Zeus fooled him. He was a symbol of wealth and agriculture (but so was just about everything) and time. Except for that last one, I don't see the relationship here.

In the cartoon, the sandworms live in... Sandwormland, which is below the "Neitherworld" (Beetlejuice's realm).

Here's a quote from the TV Tropes - Headscratchers page: "[Wikipedia] says that in an earlier draft, it was called Titan rather than Saturn (which might explain the giant moon in the sky: that's probably Saturn itself), and that might still work, since Betelgeuse says "you've been to Saturn" (he didn't say they've been "on" Saturn, so maybe he meant the Saturn moons).Here is that Wikipedia quote: 
"Skaaren's rewrite also altered McDowell's depiction of the limbo that keeps Barbara and Adam trapped inside of their home; in McDowell's script, it takes the form of a massive, empty void filled with giant clock gears that shred the fabric of time and space as they move. Skaaren had Barbara and Adam encounter different limbos every time they leave their home, including the "clock world", and the Sandworm's world, identified as Saturn's moon Titan."

So I guess we could call this place Limbo, like in Dante's Inferno, but this doesn't explain the deal with the sandworms who... eat ghosts? Is the place one big Pac-Man level? (But not really, since Beetlejuice survives getting devoured by one?)

What the hell is this place? I wanna know!

This is more of a limbo than anything.