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: 16 June 1989
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, Peter MacNicol, and Wilhelm von Homburg/Max von Sydow
Five years after the events of the first film, the Ghostbusters are no more and are legally forbidden from conducting any ghostbusting or paranormal investigations. However, when a mood-altering slime is discovered beneath the city and the spirit of an ancient Carpathian warlord awakens, the four return to action to once again defend New York from malevolent spirits.
Originally developed by actor Dan Aykroyd as a project for himself, Eddie Murphy, and close friend John Belushi, Ghostbusters finally took shape when director Ivan Reitman, writer/actor Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray came onboard. The film was an incredible critical and financial success and, despite the movie intending to be a simple standalone affair, a sequel was considered inevitable. However, Ghostbusters II was a publicly arduous production; Columbia Pictures’ new chairman, David Puttnam, wasn’t interested in making big-budget blockbusters and the creation of a script stalled as the director and actors all required unanimous approval before shooting could begin. After Puttnam was replaced by Dawn Steel, Ghostbusters II finally got underway. Having left acting following Ghostbusters’ success and with a dismissive attitude towards sequels, star Bill Murray demanded an outrageous $10 million salary and his co-stars naturally wanted the same and, after months of negotiations, a fair salary and percentage of the film’s profits was agreed upon for all involved. The script also underwent numerous issues; Aykroyd’s first draft had the team battling witches in Scotland before Ramis helped to shape the sequel towards the film we know today while also factoring in the popularity of the first film’s cartoon spin-off. After a lacklustre response from test audiences, Reitman added an additional twenty-five minutes to the film’s ending and the film eventually grossed just over $215 million, some $67 million less than its predecessor. While I consider it an under-rated sequel, Ghostbusters II was met with mostly negative reviews; its derivative nature, pacing, and performances were criticised and both director Reitman and star Murray found the film to be a disappointing and unsatisfying experience.
By the time I was old enough to really have any idea of what was going on in life, both Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II had been out for some time. Consequently, as a kid, there was very little delay for me between seeing the first film and its often-maligned sequel, meaning that both were formative influences on my childhood. I’ve always held the two in equal regard as a result; yes, the first had the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but the second had the mood slime and benefitted from a slightly brisker pace so I’ve always thought that Ghostbusters II did a pretty decent job of capturing the same spirit as the first film and building on its foundations with a natural continuation.
The film begins five years after the events of the first film to find our beloved characters in very different situations; after being sued out of business, the Ghostbusters have had to close their doors and have largely gone their separate ways. Only the heart of the team, Doctor Raymond Stantz (Ackroyd), and the “Everyman” of the group, Winston Zeddemore (Hudson), keep the brand alive by degrading themselves with appearances at children’s birthday parties. While Doctor Egon Spengler (Ramis) has returned to science and is busying himself testing the specifics of human emotions, Doctor Peter Venkman (Murray) has found minor success as a talk show host where he interviews eccentrics who claim to have psychic powers or other inexplicable tales, and Ray has also set up a small occult bookshop for himself. While the four remain on friendly terms, there is a clear sense of discontentment amongst most of them; Ray longs for their glory days as celebrities, Winston glibly remarks that their efforts went unappreciated by the masses, and even Peter, despite his celebrity status, seems unfulfilled, especially as he is widely (and accurately) regarded as being a fraud.
Since the last film, Dana Barrett (Weaver) has split up with Peter, birthed a son, Oscar (William T. and Hank J. Deutschendorf II), with her ex, and has moved away from the orchestra and into the art world. Cleaning paintings at a New York museum, Dana’s life is mired only by her quirky and overeager boss, Doctor Janosz Poha (played with glee by MacNicol), who, like Louis Tully (Moranis), harbours unrequited affections for her. When Oscar’s
pram carriage suddenly becomes possessed and escapes from her in the street after she unknowingly rolls over a puddle of “mood slime”, Dana immediately turns to Egon for help and he and Ray investigate her apartment once again. Despite her attempts to keep Peter out of the loop, he forces himself into the investigation and the two reunite once more; despite them having split up over his childish antics, there’s still an attraction there and he laments that he missed the opportunity to be Oscar’s father, and the two eventually rekindle their romance as the film progresses.
The investigation quickly leads to Egon, Ray, and Peter tearing up the section of the street where Oscar’s possession occurred under the amusing guise of Consolidated Edison (ConEd) workmen; this leads to them discovering that the abandoned Beach Pneumatic Transit system is literally flooded with writhing, pink mood slime that exhibits both paranormal and sentient behaviour. Since they were conducting paranormal investigations, the three are soon brought before a court and face prosecution for their actions (which caused a city-wide blackout); thankfully, however, the mood slime reacts violently to Judge Stephen Wexler’s (Harris Yulin) aggressive outburst and causes two ghosts to manifest in the courtroom and run riot, giving Wexler no choice but to rescind the mandate against the Ghostbusters and allow them to return to work. And just in time, too, as the build-up of the mood slime is no accident; it coincides with the awakening of the brutal and malevolent Vigo the Carpathian (von Homburg/von Sydow), a ruthless Carpathian dictator whose spirit is trapped in a painting in Janosz’s museum. Mustering all of his evil energy, Vigo desires to possess the body of a child in order to live again and easily manipulates Janosz into finding him a suitable host. In exchange for being with Dana, Janosz offers to bring the spirit Oscar so that the two of them can raise the would-be conqueror as their own, and the influx of mood slime causes a new wave of restless spirits to terrorise the city.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mayor Lenny Clotch’s (David Margulies) sleazeball assistant, Jack Hardemeyer (Kurt Fuller), dogs the Ghostbusters at every turn and ends up going behind the Mayor’s back to have them committed to keep them from threating Clotch’s election for Governor with their maniacal outbursts. Also returning from the first film are the aforementioned Luis and the Ghostbuster’s sharp-tongued receptionist, Janine Melnitz (Potts); while there were hints towards a romance between Janine and Egon in the first film, the focus shifts to the odd couple of Luis and Janine in the sequel and the two comically indulge their whims while babysitting for Dana when the Ghostbusters are briefly arrested. As in the first film, comedy is a large part of Ghostbusters II and is handled beautifully; the courtroom scene where Louis struggles though defending the Ghostbusters is a particular highlight and the Ghostbusters’ various pratfalls, childish antics, and witty retorts provide the same level of bickering entertainment as the first film. I’ve always had a lot of admiration for how these original Ghostbusters films handle the balance of romance, action, comedy, horror, and fantastical science-fiction and, for me, Ghostbusters II more than holds its own when compared to the first although I am still disappointed that the script doesn’t give Winston more to do (he literally disappears for big chunks of the film’s first act and, most notably, isn’t even with the other three when they dig up the street and end up in court).
Thirty-five minutes into the film, the Ghostbusters are legally allowed to return to action and the film noticeably picks up as the foursome return to chasing down and trapping ghosts all over the city. This sees the team wear new versions of their traditional boiler suits, adopt a new logo and produce more (if equally cringey) television advertisements, and even upgrade Ecto-1. I can understand the argument that the film might have been better off had it picked up here, with the Ghostbusters at the height of their popularity and ability, and the film kind of glosses over how the city coped with its supernatural occurrences without the Ghostbusters (who, I feel, have been proven to not be frauds by this point) but I never really minded the narrative structure of the film as it not only echoed the first one but also gave the characters something to overcome and showcased different sides to their personalities by showing us what they get up to when not busting ghosts.
A central aspect of the movie is the mood slime; although ectoplasmic residue played only a minor role in the first film as a by-product of paranormal activity, here the slime is directly responsible for the resurgence in supernatural activity across the city. When Winston and Ray take an accidental dip in the slime, it immediately heightens their aggression and emotions and the two almost come to blows but, after investigating the substance, Egon discovers that the slime can be equally affected by positive emotions and finds a way to effectively weaponise it to their benefit. This becomes a prominent element of the film as the Ghostbusters must galvanise the positive feelings of the city to counteract the build-up of negative energy that threatens to bring about Vigo’s resurrection and gives them additional weapons to use alongside their traditional proton packs. Like the first movie, Ghostbusters II is bolstered by a number of truly frightening visuals; although the Terror Dogs are gone, Janosz’s glowing eyes in Dana’s hallway are pretty creepy, to say nothing of his ghastly ghostly form when he flies in to kidnap Oscar! Seriously, I remember that creeping me out so badly as a kid and, even now, it’s an uncomfortable scene that manages to be both chilling and amusing thanks to McNicol’s gloating expression. Oh, and did I mention the scene in the subway where a demonic voice calls to Winston and the guys are spooked by severed heads on pikes!? Absolutely crazy stuff that I was shocked to see and which work beautifully alongside the film’s new ghosts; once again rendered through traditional composite effects, animatronics, and practical filmmaking techniques; we get such apparitions as a ghostly jogger, a massive beast under the Washington Square Arch, a monstrous bathtub, a living fur coat, a brief cameo from Slimer, and even the Titanic showing up in the middle of the city!
This all culminates the film’s finale where, rather than having to fend off a gigantic apparition, the Ghostbusters use their positively-charged mood slime and a modified Nintendo Entertainment System Advantage control stick to take control of Lady Liberty! I’ve seen people complain about how the film doesn’t feature the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but, honestly, that wouldn’t make any sense at all and by no means diminishes the impact of seeing the Statue of Liberty come to life and casually stroll through New York City. In many ways, the finale is actually better than the original since, rather than simply standing around and crossing the streams to win the day, the Ghostbusters have to rappel down into the museum to confront Vigo and Janosz and even have to content with a possessed version of Ray when Vigo briefly takes control of his body after his resurrection is interrupted. This time around, in order to save the city (and the entire world) from falling under Vigo’s influence, the Ghostbusters need more than just their proton packs; they need the combined goodwill of the city and a hefty hosing of their positive-charged mood slime in order to force Vigo back into his painting, end his threat, and presumably fully repair their reputation.
Now, look…I get it. Ghostbusters II isn’t as good as the first film; honestly, Ghostbusters set a high bar that would be difficult for any sequel to reach but, for my money, Ghostbusters II does a really good job of continuing the story from the first film. While many of the story beats are similar, the film adds plenty of fun, scary new stuff to make it well worth your while, especially for fans of the first movie. Thanks to the immortal Max von Sydow’s booming tones, Vigo makes for a compelling and intimidating villain and the addition of the mood slime allows for some gruesome and comedic scenes. All of the characters are just as likeable and entertaining as in the first film, and even fleshed out a little more (sadly, with the exception of Winston…) by seeing their interests outside of work, and the balance of horror and comedy continues to be handled masterfully. I can understand why many were left disappointed by the film, to a degree, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Ghostbusters II and think it makes for a great companion piece to the first film; watch them both back-to-back and you have one pretty consistent and enjoyable story. I’ll always step up to defend this film when I see people talking shit about it because it’s a fun little romp that deserves more attention, and has a great message of positivity that we could all stand to learn from.
Are you a fan of Ghostbusters II? Do you think it deserves the negativity it often gets? What did you think to the five year time jump and the plot of the Ghostbusters being barred from working? Were you a fan of Vigo and Janosz and what did you think to the overall plot? Which of the film’s ghosts and scares were your favourite? 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.
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