Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #189: Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call? Since 1984 there is only answer to that question: GHOSTBUSTERS! Now an established part of pop culture, in no small part thanks to Ray Parker Junior’s signature theme song, it was at the time one heck of a gamble. What were the odds that a comedy/horror movie filled with some of the most expensive special effects at the time and starring the wise-cracking comedian from Caddyshack and Stripes, one half of The Blues Brothers, and the heroine from Alien would become a massive hit? With Canadian director Ivan Reitman at the helm and Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis on writing duties, it turns out the odds were pretty good.

I didn’t watch Ghostbusters until sometime in the mid 90s when it was playing on TV at my grandma’s house, but before that it was firmly ingrained in my culture. Plenty of kids could hum that earworm of a song, the animated series was doing pretty good, and I had a horn shaped like Slimer on my bicycle. I think I actually ended seeing Ghostbusters II before the first one, which is probably why I don’t think it’s as bad as people say. However since I saw both movies at a very young age, I did think they were pretty scary. It’s funny now, but when you’re around eight years old seeing some freaky gargoyle chase poor Rick Moranis into Central Park is close to terrifying. On the upside he later got to make out with Sigourney Weaver.

The movie’s MVP is of course Bill Murray as the unethical, but charming Dr. Peter Venkman. When first introduced he is conducting paranormal experiments on two students at Columbia University in New York City to determine if they can read the symbols on the cards he is hiding. If they get the wrong answer they get a small electric shock, but what they don’t know is that he is cheating by sparing the attractive female test subject and telling her she has a gift. Venkman does know what he is doing when it comes to ghosts, as he and his colleagues Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) encounter a real one haunting the New York Library.

Unfortunately the powers that be at the university have grown tired of their bizarre work and throw them on the streets, which is when Venkman has the brainwave to go into the private sector. As a kid I didn’t realize this, but this movie is quite the rallying call for the small business owner. The three scientists pull their resources together, invest their life savings in a dilapidated fire station, and hire a secretary (Annie Potts) they can barely pay in the hopes of using their scientific to knowledge to catch ghosts for money. Surprisingly their entrepreneurship pays off, first with a call at an expensive hotel where green ghost Slimer, whose appetite was based on the late John Belushi, is devouring the room service trays.

Next thing you know the guys are busier than ever, catching ghosts everywhere from Chinatown to Central Park, and being interviewed by Larry King. They even have enough funds to hire a fourth Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) who gets to explain things for us non-scientists when a crisis of Biblical proportion hits the city: “I’ve only been with the company for a couple of weeks, but these things are real. Since I’ve joined these men, I’ve seen shit that’ll turn you white.” Well, that makes things pretty clear as far I am concerned.

In addition to having to deal with Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian, who is entering this world through the corner penthouse of spook central inhabited by Sigourney Weaver’s character, the Ghostbusters must content with federal bureaucracy in the form of William Atherton’s nosy EPA agent who thinks they are a fraud and should be shut down. Between the successful story of small business owners and the federal government depicted as the bad guys, Ghostbusters turned out to be a surprising rallying cry for Republicans.

Politics aside, it remains a hugely entertaining and unique movie. The special effects are a bit dated of course, but the jokes aren’t. “Yes, it’s true,” says Murray of Atherton’s character: “This man has no dick.”

For years there have been talks of a mythical third film, and according to the latest news we should soon see a remake starring an all female team of Ghostbusters. Regardless of the characters’ gender, this will be a huge risk given the cultural legacy of the original. But, the odds certainly weren’t in Reitman’s favour when he first started shooting back in the 80s. 

As long as they honour the spirit of the original only one question should remain by the time the credits roll: Who you gonna call?


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …