Throw on your proton pack and get ready to bust some ghosts because June 8th is, officially, “Ghostbusters Day”! Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) was first released on this day back in 1984 and, since then, has become a major pop culture franchise that includes comic books, a popular cartoon and line of action figures, and videogames and it is, easily, one of my favourite films and franchises from that era.
Released: 8 June 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Budget: $25 to 30 million
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and William Atherton
After being fired from Columbia University, four bungling scientists put their research into the paranormal to use as supernatural exterminators of ghosts and ghouls across New York City. However, while a government official attempts to prove them frauds and shut them down, they soon discover that an ancient God of Destruction is gearing up to wreck havoc across the city…and the world!
Ghostbusters was the brainchild of actor Dan Aykroyd, who originally wrote the script (which also went through a number of slightly different titles) as a vehicle for himself, Eddie Murphy, and close friend John Belushi before the latter’s untimely passing. After Aykroyd settled on Ivan Reitman as the director, Reitman brought Harold Ramis onboard to star and rework the script into something they could realistically film, with the group casting Bill Murray soon after and specifically tailoring the script to the three actors’ strengths, characteristics, and ironing out the special effects sequences.
Despite concerns from Reitman regarding the film’s ridiculous finale, Ghostbusters tracked well with test audiences and, upon release, finished as the number one movie for the weekend and made nearly $230 million by the end of its release, an incredible achievement considering the comparatively minuscule budget. A subsequent re-release in 1985 saw the worldwide gross hit nearly $240 million and established Ghostbusters as the most successful comedy of the 1980s. Reviews were, accordingly, extremely positive, with the film winning many awards and launching a multimedia enterprise that included an under-rated sequel and numerous other projects.
Ghostbusters is a brisk, well-paced horror/comedy that immediately establishes its semi-realistic world right from the beginning before introducing us to our three main characters. The first of the Ghostbusters we meet is Doctor Peter Venkman (Murray), a lackadaisical scientist to say the least who uses his research as an excuse to get out of doing any real work and to try and impress women. He’s the sarcastic, cynical, loud-mouthed member of the team and, as Dana Barratt (Weaver) points out, is more of a con man than an actual scientist. At the same time, though, he’s the most socially conscious and capable of his fellow scientists, being much more street smart and handling a lot of the Ghostbusters’ press and advertising.
Of course, you can make the case that Venkman is little more than a womanising, egotistic prick; a creep who literally chases every pretty face he sees and who has, despite his many legitimate degrees, literally no idea of what he’s doing or how to work his equipment. He is, as his former dean states, “A poor scientist” and, as Dana astutely observes, more like a gameshow host than a paranormal expert. Still, despite my dislike for Murray and his attitude towards the franchise after the sequel, it’s hard to deny that Venkman is the breakout character of the group thanks to his greedy, outspoken, snarky personality; where the other Ghostbusters maintain a degree of professionalism and awkwardness, Venkman is loud, arrogant, and ballsy and the most candid of the group.
Doctor Ray Stanz (Akyroyd), meanwhile, is the overly enthusiastic heart of the group; without Ray, there would be no Ghostbusters since he’s the one who really drives their research and cause forward. Ray, however, is quite naïve and easily distracted by his passion for the paranormal; he is crushed when they are kicked out of the university but extremely excited to be putting their research into practise as the Ghostbusters and remains, despite the often dire nature of their situation, the general optimist. It is fitting, then, that since Ray is the heart of the Ghostbusters, it’s Ray who ultimately (accidentally) causes the Ghostbusters to face their ultimate threat as he’s unable to clear his mind when they’re forced to “choose the form of the Destructor”. Even knowing this, Ray attempts to think of the most harmless thing possible, a cherished memory from his childhood, and instead causes a hundred-foot-tall marshmallow man to rampage through downtown New York.
Doctor Egon Spengler (Ramis), meanwhile, is the pragmatist of the three; he’s the most clearly intellectual and rational of the Ghostbusters, rarely letting his emotions rule him, but he’s not just a mere stick in the mud. He is as excited as Ray about the presence of ghosts and the potential their organisation has and has many more subtle moments where he really shines, such as his love for Twinkies, snappy one-liners (“I looked at the trap, Ray!” and his cry of “Your mother!” always gets a chuckle out me me), and his sly indications to Venkman to up the charge for their services to the Sedgewick Hotel’s manager.
The Ghostbusters are (eventually) rounded out by Winston Zeddemore (Hudson); if you forgot about Winston, I wouldn’t blame you since Hudson’s name and image is missing from practically all of the film’s promotional materials and that’s a real shame since he’s my second favourite character after Ray. Winston isn’t a scientist; he’s just a normal, everyday working man who joins the team when they expand their operation and, through him, we get a relatable character who voices many of the concerns and questions we may have with an entertaining bluntness. Winston also brings a unique perspective to the group by being a religious man; he approaches their work not from a scientific perspective but as that of a man exorcising awakened spirits yet, when faced with claims of the Ghostbusters’ legitimacy, passionately advocates for the reality of their work with one of my favourite lines in the film: “I have seen shit that will turn you white!”
A prominent sub-plot in the film revolves around Dana, her encounters with Zuul’s minions, and Venkman’s subsequent attempts to flirt and impress her. Dana is a refreshingly strong and candid character; she doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, but the experience rattles her, forcing her to turn to the Ghostbusters, and she puts up with absolutely none of Venkman’s shit. She’s strong and independent, easily able to deter unwanted advances from the likes of Venkman and Louis Tulley (Moranis), and only ends up needing to be rescued because she gets possessed and, even then, this transforms her more into a secondary antagonist than a damsel in distress. Despite what is initially a purely superficial attraction to her, Venkman comes to respect Dana and more seriously, honestly pursue her; when he finds her possessed by the “Zuul, the Gatekeeper”, he sets aside his normally cavalier personality to subdue her and seems genuinely concerned for her wellbeing.
Despite dealing with an increasing number of ghosts and ghouls, the Ghostbusters also face the most dangerous threat of all: governmental red tape in the form of Walter Peck (Atherton), a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency. Peck is deeply sceptical of the Ghostbusters and their operation, believing them to be frauds and con artists but, to be fair, he only becomes an unbearable antagonistic character after Venkman gives him the run-around; had Venkman simply co-operated, things might have gone down a lot different and less disastrously. Still, it’s from Venkman’s rudeness that we see, arguably, Peck’s true nature as a slimy, rotten, manipulative little git who uses every resource at his disposal to shut down the Ghostbusters no matter what the consequences are despite the fact that he really doesn’t know anything about the Ghostbusters’ operation or equipment.
One of the main appealing aspects of Ghostbusters is the goofy humour; while this is largely embodied by the three main cast members, it is Louis who fills the primary role of comic relief thanks to his clumsy, ungainly personality. Mostly an annoyance to Dana, Louis is a perpetual loser who throws parties for his clients rather than friends and is like a hyperactive dog who doesn’t know when to quit and Moranis really brings a quirky hilarity to the character when Louis is possessed by “Vince Glortho, Keymaster of Gozer” and begins running around the city spouting nonsense and talking to horses.
Similarly, Ray, Egon, and Peter sneaking around in the library bantering back and forth is highly entertaining, as is their panicked fleeing when the Librarian Ghost attacks them. It’s not all goofball humour, though; much of the comedy comes from simple line delivery, particularly from Venkman and Janine Melnitz (Potts) thanks to their dry delivery and snarky ab-libs. The cast all gel so well together that it’s easy to believe that they are long-term friends and colleagues who are more like a dysfunctional family; they’re bungling fools at times, often making stuff up as they go along and playing it by ear, but they’re not incompetent fools and there’s a difference. Like, for example, they might not have had a successful live field test of their unlicensed nuclear accelerators and are, in all likelihood, operating an extremely volatile operation in the middle of the city, but they’re still smart and capable enough to construct all of their equipment, to say nothing of fixing up the fire station and the frankly scrap-worthy hearse Ray secures as their vehicle.
Ghostbusters immediately establishes its world with an effective opening sequence that shows that, yes, ghosts are real and they are infrequently haunting buildings throughout New York City. One thing that is, seemingly, often forgotten about Ghostbusters is the truly creepy and terrifying elements of the film amidst its humour and the Librarian Ghost is our first exposure to that but this is only escalated later in the film with more monstrous ghosts and creature designs.
Ghostbusters has a fantastic, timeless quality to it thanks to its masterful use of practical effects and traditional special effects work; ghosts are all unique and increasingly gruesome, being semi-transparent and slightly cartoony in their appearance but it works because they’re meant to be otherworldly spirits of a somewhat horrific nature. Similarly, the Ghostbuster’s equipment all looks suitably cobbled together and their proton streams are given an ethereal tangibility thanks to a combination of special and practical effects (sparks fly from the proton wand and explosions and scorch marks are left behind by the proton stream).
The score really helps towards emphasising the film’s more terrifying moments, most of them revolving around Dana, such as when eggs spontaneously begin to fry on her kitchen counter, her apartment is drenched in ectoplasm, and her various encounters with the Terror Dogs (with her abduction being particularly horrific). These monstrous Hellhounds are truly horrifying and are brought to life through a combination of (admittedly terrible) stop motion effects and practical animatronics. When a practical effect, the Terror Dogs are disturbingly scary, dripping with saliva and menace and help to place Ghostbusters as one of many films of the time to really push the boundaries of the PG rating.
Of course, the film’s most impressive effect is the absolutely ridiculous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Up until the Stay-Puft’s appearance, the film plays its humour and concept mostly straight and realistic, but the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man flips that entirely on its head. It’s a hilarious sequence where the intended and much-feared “Destructor” is forced into the most absurd form possible and, as Mr. Stay-Puft stomps through the middle of New York City as only suits, camera trickery, and miniatures can deliver, it’s both comical and alarming to think that the end of human life could come from such a cute, ludicrous being.
I grew up watching Ghostbusters; it was one of the quintessential movies of my childhood that helped shape my love for cinema and big, special effects sci-fi/horror productions. As such, I have a great deal of fondness, nostalgia, and respect for the film but, even with all that aside, Ghostbusters is an effortlessly entertaining piece of cinema that, honestly, has everything you could want from a film. It’s funny, scary, enjoyable, charming, and appealing on so many levels, with some amazing old school special effects, great cinematography, and a fun and varied soundtrack, with the film becoming instantly iconic for Ray Parker Jr’s award-winning theme song alone.
What I love the most about Ghostbusters, despite the great effects and unique premise, is how naturally organic all of the humour is; the leads have a realistic and appealing banter with each other that makes them instantly likeable and they bicker and trade snarky barbs like old friends. Even better is the fact that, unlike the much-maligned 2016 reboot, almost none, if any, of the humour is gender-based; the only character who’s slightly deplorable is Venkman and neither the film, nor its humour, is geared towards one gender over another. Instead, the humour is largely simple banter that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone rather than always taking the lowest possible route and relying on crude toilet humour and gender-based insults. If anything, Ghostbusters is more an amusing commentary on politics and governmental bodies and even those aspects aren’t so explicit that they take over the film, making it a fun comedy/horror that appeals to everyone and remains highly recommended.
What are your thoughts on Ghostbusters? Were you a fan of the film back in the day? Which of the four Ghostbusters was/is your favourite? What did you think to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and the film’s premise? Perhaps you grew up with the cartoon and action figures; if so, what memories do you have of them? How are you celebrating Ghostbusters Day today? Whatever your thoughts and memories of Ghostbusters, drop a comment down below.