GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) is the story of three male scientists – Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray – who live and work in New York City and specialize in studying the supernatural. They lose their grant at the college just because the uptight higher ups notice that they are bringing great shame and humiliation upon the institution by wasting everyone’s time and money on an area of study that is not real. And that’s without even knowing that Murray (WILD THINGS) doesn’t totally believe in it and spends his days doing fake telepathy tests just to hit on women.
So they decide to lease a beat up old fire station and start a scrappy new business that treats exorcism like pest control and advertises on TV and what not. Lucky for them they are correct, it turns out ghosts are real and there are a couple actual hauntings going on in the city. A female client (Sigourney Weaver, ABDUCTION) comes to their male offices with a huge case: her refrigerator is a portal to a ghost dimension or some shit and she and her neighbor (Rick Moranis, STREETS OF FIRE) get possessed and an ancient Sumerian god named Gozer (Slavitz Jovan, KNIGHT OF CUPS) appears on top of the building and they have to shoot lasers at it, etc.
It’s a fun premise devised by Aykroyd (GET ON UP), who wrote it with Ramis (GROUNDHOG DAY) for male director Ivan Reitman (producer of Cronenberg’s SHIVERS and RABID), with particular cleverness in the equipment they use for ghostbustification, such as the backpack laser guns and the portable containment unit trap things. A favorite moment is when Aykroyd is matter-of-factly showing new-hire Ernie Hudson (LEADBELLY, THE HUMAN TORNADO, THE OCTAGON, THE SUBSTITUTE) how to use the machine that stores all the ghosts they catch. “Light is green, trap is clean.” It reminds me a little bit of the job training sequence I love so much in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Murray is the main reason to watch the movie. It’s that old ’80s comedy joke that he’s just a total prick but passes it off as charm and is never punished for it. Some movies like that date poorly (see Jay Leno pulling women over to get their phone numbers in COLLISION COURSE), but Murray’s overpowering lovableness seems to be timeless. He gets most of the funniest lines, many of which seem like he probly made them up on set. In real life some people got mad at him for being above all this shit – his total disinterest in ghostbusting stymied Aykroyd’s years of attempts at a part 3 – which is ironic because the whole joke of his character is that he’s above it all, doesn’t give a shit about anything, and has no respect for anyone. That comes across best when he’s being a smartass to people possessed by supernatural beings.
“Are you The Keymaster?”
“Yes. Actually I’m a friend of his, he asked me to meet him here.”
The rest of them mostly work as straight men, though Aykroyd gets some laughs with his mildly Aspergery insistence on telling everybody too much information about supernatural research.
In the classic ’80s comedy tradition the heroes are allowed to be dicks because the authority figures seem like such doofuses, even when their arguments are unequivocally correct. This guy from the EPA is after the Ghostbusters simply for having a potentially catastrophic and clearly hugely illegal nuclear device that they’re not even sure about and that in fact does lead to a disaster in which all the ghosts they’ve captured are released to attack the city. I never recognized him, because he has a Kenneth Branagh beard in this one, but the EPA guy is played by William Atherton. So they stacked the deck, they made us hate the Environmental Protection Agency by portraying their agent as Thornburg from DIE HARD instead of a cool guy like Seagal from FIRE DOWN BELOW.
Atherton is not the only future DIE HARD legend to be involved in this. One “Reggie Vel Johnson” shows up to let the male Ghostbusters out of jail. He’s credited as “Jail Guard” and in my opinion after Sgt. Al Powell shot the kid by accident he temporarily worked in New York and this is for sure the same character. And more notably there’s Richard Edlund, the DIE HARD visual effects supervisor (also of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and STAR WARS fame).
That’s one thing that makes this movie special: it’s one of the few comedies that’s also a huge effects showcase. The ghostly images are weird rubber puppets, there’s an animatronic zombie character in one part, some monster dogs and of course the giant (SPOILER) male marshmallow individual attacking downtown Godzilla style. The matting of the stop motion monsters and the soundstage roof top set look very fake by modern standards (and in high def), so this is another one of those situations where at the time everybody was blown away and wanted to know how they did it, because it was the best work of the best craftsmen using the absolute state of the art technology, and now we like it for being charmingly hand made and retro. Still looks cool, is the point.
Watching it this time I noticed that one scene had two effects – a wall stretching and a monster hand reaching up and grabbing a woman’s face – that were very reminiscent of effects in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. But they came out the same year, so it’s a coincidence. You know, NIGHTMARE was a big hit but if it had been as big as GHOSTBUSTERS I wonder if FREDDY’S REVENGE would’ve had a Bobby Brown song on the soundtrack? They had to wait a couple more sequels to get any rappin at all.
Of course there’s been alot of talk about Men’s Ghostbusters this summer because of the new remake that just came out and the small but internetically vocal group of people that are mad about its existence. Now, let me be clear. I know that they’re not upset about the remake just because it stars women and they are a bunch of weird weiner people who don’t want talented women to be given a small sliver of the opportunities that men get. Obviously that’s how it comes across, but it has been explained to me that for sure it has nothing to do with hating and fearing and not relating to women as humans, it is actually because GHOSTBUSTERS raised them from youths and is unquestionably one of the most flawless works of art ever created, that has not once been sullied in any way by a poor sequel or crass junk food or merchandise tie-in of any kind, and therefore it is an insult to all of the men and boys who gave their lives for GHOSTBUSTERS for there to be a new version with a great cast by the guy who made really funny, crowdpleasing movies like BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT and SPY.
So I’ll try to be understanding of these ghostbuster poindexters. They don’t mean any harm, they’re just nostalgic for a more innocent time, the good old days, when the GHOSTBUSTERS product brand franchise trademarks were as pure as a morning’s snow made of virgin tears.
I get it. But hypothetically, if there WERE such a thing as weird sexist video game nerds who are obsessed with one of the most pretty good movies of the 1980s and weirdly upset that a few women might be allowed to participate in a new version, it would be interesting to note that Bill Murray plays a sexist asshole in the original movie. He’s introduced cheating on the results of his psychic testing as a method of hitting on a young woman – the ESP couch, basically. Then, when investigating the haunting at the library, he thinks it’s funny to make the librarian talk about her menstruation cycle for no reason.
It’s like some weird GOP health care legislation. Then his main storyline in the movie is sexually harassing the client, spending more time trying to get into her apartment and ask her on dates than do any work. When she’s possessed and starts getting sexually aggressive with him he considers taking advantage of it. When he finally sees Gozer and her body turns out to be female, he comments that “it’s a girl” and later calls her a bitch.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s supposed to be a dick – do I look like a motherfuckin role model? – but to a kid lookin up to him, life ain’t nothin but bitches and bustin. And these kids may have noticed that there are three arcade video games inside the male Ghostbusters headquarters. So it makes sense that they would aspire to be male Ghostbusters themselves when they grow up, and spend their days shooting lasers, playing those video games. And they wouldn’t want no girls allowed in the clubhouse making them feel bad about getting a blowjob from a ghost (as Aykroyd’s character dreams he does in one scene).
Anyway, I’m glad that’s not a thing. That would kinda taint the hallowed legacy of GHOSTBUSTERS.
One non-gender related thing I’ve noticed coming up in this summer’s wave of discussion is that some people who love GHOSTBUSTERS claim to consider it more a serious horror movie than a comedy. Indeed, the opening is a straight haunting scene with no jokes and creepy music by Elmer Bernstein (BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON), but then of course it abruptly goes into the cartoon logo and the goofy Ray Parker Jr. (adapted from Huey Lewis) theme song and a bunch of comedy scenes and jokes, and the next ghost scene ends with the heroes running away comically screaming while wacky music plays. Moranis shows up as a clueless, nasally nerd straight out of an SCTV skit, and the ghosts are designed like cartoon characters, and no, I absolutely cannot get behind the gerrymandering of the definition of horror to include this comedy where a bunch of comedians make jokes and then blow up a killer marshmallow. Your mileage may vary.
It’s a comedy. It’s a good comedy. That’s enough.
I probly already offended a couple of you here, and I am about to step into more dangerous territory with this next paragraph. So let me start it by 1) apologizing and 2) repeating that I truly do like GHOSTBUSTERS. It’s a clever movie and it has many laughs and cool effects and it’s unique. But it is my curse to be open and honest with you and so I must say that this most recent re-watch has not changed my feeling, my personal opinion, my subjective-point-of-view-and-you-are-allowed-to-disagree, that its reputation has been puffed up a little by our nostalgia. That on the meter that measures from “we all really loved this at the time” to “stone cold classic” the needle doesn’t quite reach all the way right.
It was a phenomenon in 1984. I waited in the line, I wore the t-shirt, you guys watched the cartoon and slurped the Hi-C and the cereal and probly had toys and the ceiling fan and the cassingle for the Bobby Brown song from part 2. So if we can’t remember exactly why “he slimed me” seemed so hilarious at the time it doesn’t matter because we just have to remember that it was hilarious at the time and then we love it. And if the theme song is totally disruptive at the beginning and ending of the movie it doesn’t matter because it’s the theme song and we love the theme song remember the theme song? “Bustin makes me feel goooood!” Classic!
In the last scene the song plays while the Ghostbusters are cheered on and celebrated in a hero’s parade. There are no jokes (and no horror), it’s just several minutes of these are the Ghostbusters, aren’t they awesome? We love them so much, look at these guys! Fantastic! And Murray kisses Weaver, and she smiles, and that is not earned at all! Their entire relationship is that he was a sleaze to her, but somehow got her to agree to a date, but then she was possessed and now she wakes up and she’s in love with the guy? That’s proof that it’s a comedy right there because they always pull that shit where at the end they act like you should actually be happy for a joke relationship.
Maybe it’s just the music that makes me want to pump the brakes on GHOSTBUSTERS’s All Time Masterwork status. Obviously it’s a great pop song, but to me it doesn’t feel of a whole with the movie itself. It seems like a tie-in music video tacked onto the movie. Like if the last scene of BATMAN was everybody grooving to “Batdance.” And the rest of the songs – The Busboys, Thompson Twins, Alessi, Laura Branigan – these are more like ha ha ironic ’80s movie music than timeless classic music. It makes it easier for me to think of it as being related to more dated ’80s comedies and harder for me to be excited about them becoming heroes just by standing in one place shooting their things at the thing and it blows up and that’s it.
In my opinion the greatest Aykroyd creation, the more masterful, timeless filmmaking, and the much funnier movie, is THE BLUES BROTHERS. 2000. No, just kidding, the original BLUES BROTHERS. That, to me, is the masterpiece. But GHOSTBUSTERS is a respectable second best. Good job Aykroyd and the other males that made this sausagefest.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.