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 - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…