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?