Should I Watch..? 'Ghostbusters' (1984)
What's the Big Deal?
Ghostbusters is a horror comedy film released in 1984 and was both written and starred Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. The film depicts a group of oddball parapsychologists who team up to form a ghost-hunting business in New York and quickly find themselves overcome by an explosion of all things supernatural. The film also stars Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Ernie Hudson and it was directed by Ivan Reitman. Originally conceived as a project between Aykroyd and John Belushi, there was speculation that the film's expected budget and unusual premise might prevent the film from becoming a hit. But it did, released to critical acclaim and it went on to become the most successful comedy of the Eighties with total global earnings in excess of $295 million. Nominated for two Academy awards, the film was selected for preservation at the US National Film Registry in 2015 and would go on to inspire two animated TV series, a sequel - Ghostbusters II - in 1989, an all-female reboot in 2016 and a forthcoming revival in 2020.
What's It About?
Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz and Egon Spengler are three scientists working at Columbia University who specialise in investigating the paranormal. After encountering a ghost at the New York Public Library, the resulting chaos encourages the dean to fire the three of them and dismiss their work. Unable to get 'normal' jobs, the three of them decide to create a business called "Ghostbusters" that will hunt and catch ghosts on behalf of paying clients. After their TV ad airs, sceptic Dana Barrett is compelled to call them after an apparition appears in her refrigerator and utters a single word: "Zuul".
While Venkman becomes romatically involved with Dana, Spengler and Stantz continue to research her claims as well as battling an increasing number of ghosts with their specially-designed proton pack weapons. Hiring a fourth member to cope with demand, Winston Zeddemore, the team not only realise that something truly dangerous is descending on New York but that they are also being investigated by EPA inspector Walter Peck who is determined to shut the Ghostbusters down for good.
Trailer for 30th Anniversary Re-Release
Dr Peter Venkman
Dr Raymond Stantz
Dr Egon Spengler
Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis
Release Date (UK)
7th December, 1984
12 (2012 re-rating)
Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song
What's to Like?
Crossovers can be a difficult thing to successfully achieve but Ghostbusters is unquestionably one of the best examples. As well as being funny, it can be genuinely scary at times thanks to some impressive effects that have aged only slightly. The film packs plenty in, from tense encounters with spectral forms to the iconic climax featuring a giant marshmallow man rampaging through New York. Even minor characters such as the Slimer ghost have endured, possibly due to over-exposure in the subsequent cartoons. Given the age of the film, most of the effects are still first class and help keep the film watchable after all this time.
Murray, in the role of a lifetime as the most New York hero imaginable, delivers one of his best comic performances as Venkman but all the cast have their moments including Moranis as Dana's nerdy neighbour Louis. It's a remarkable blend of comedy and horror (albeit, mild horror) with the cast either making you laugh or chilling your blood. Reitman's direction never lets up and the film moves at a decent pace that rarely ends in boredom. Between Murray's weary put-downs, Aykroyd's delightfully nerdy scientist bickering with Atherton (who played a similar role in Die Hard as the journalist Richard Thornburg) and the effects that never let the film down, its blend of comedy and horror is as effective as it is in Shaun Of The Dead.
- Almost every scene in the movie contains lines that were improvised or ad-libbed. Nearly all of Murray's lines were improvised on set while the scene where Louis is greeting guests at a party was not completely improvised by Moranis but shot in just one continuous take.
- The people shouting "Ghostbusters" in Ray Parker Jr's eponymous theme tune had to be found quickly in order to meet an approaching deadline. Parker just asked his then-girlfriend and her friends to appear on the song so it's them that feature on the finished record.
- Atherton became so hated after this film came out that he was frequently targeted by drunken fans wanting to physically assault him. Atherton also recalls seeing children in school buses pointing at him and screaming as loud as they could "Hey, Dickless!"
- The film features two brief appearances from people who worked in the adult industry: legendary porn star Ron Jeremy appears as an extra while Playboy Playmate Kymberly Herrin appeared as a dream ghost.
What's Not to Like?
As great as the effects are, there are times when Ghostbusters does show its age. The obvious green-screen during the battle with Stay-Puft Man, for example, gives the game away while the faintly ridiculous look of villainous Gozer made the character look like a camp Eurovision backing dancer representing Iceland - compared to the menacing-looking portrait of Vigo The Carpathian in the sequel, she looks a bit silly. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the film is as frightening as it is, given its obvious appeal to a younger audience. But the film does have some genuinely unsettling moments that will rattle the cages of children under the age of, say, eight. Nothing along the lines of something like Hellraiser but creepy, ghost-train kinda stuff.
The appeal might have waned in the face of the disappointing sequel and the ubiquitous cartoon series in the early Nineties but the original film is still well worth a watch. In a way, the film is a little like Back To The Future in that the original's quality is sometimes forgotten or overlooked because of sequels. In light of the failure of the female-helmed reboot, a film like this could really shine with a talented director, cast and improved special effects. As it is, its technical limitations and solid Eighties feel are part of its charm but it does mean we have to settle for a version of the film that isn't as crisp and clear as it could be.
Should I watch it?
Ghostbusters is one of the seminal films of the Eighties and deservedly so. A rich blend of comedy and scares combine to make this one of the most inventive and unusual comedies of the decade, matched only by the macabre madness of Gremlins. With it's likeable characters, chilling effects and impossible-to-resist theme tune, this movie still has the power to make you scream - either with laughter or in fright.
Great For: anyone older than 10, nerdy scientists, nostalgia nights, fancy dress costumes, merchandise
Not So Great For: very young children, sufferers of night terrors, pen-pushing EPA officials
What Else Should I Watch?
Sadly, the eagerly anticipated Ghostbusters II failed to catch much of a break from the critics who simply felt that it was too similar to the original to stand out. Peter MacNicol is added to the cast as a possessed museum curator but otherwise, it was business as usual and the film struggled to escape the stigma of being made for money and not creative reasons. Worse was to come, though - 2016's Ghostbusters might not have flopped with the critics but audiences weren't impressed which led to the film losing around $125 million for Columbia Pictures, one of the biggest box office bombs in recent years.
As the Eighties appears to have now passed into "We can reboot that franchise now, right?" territory, audiences should be expected a flood of films playing off of that hallowed sense of nostalgia. We've already seen the tip of the iceberg with Steven Spielberg's nostalgia-drenched Ready Player One as well as modern remakes of films like Child's Play, Conan The Barbarian, Friday The 13th, RoboCop and A Nightmare On Elm Street. I would expect a lot more over the next few years.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Benjamin Cox