December 31, 2014 Fighting ghosts 30th years later: Reflecting on Ghostbusters
It has been thirty years since America learned just who they should call in the event of a haunting: Ghostbusters, of course. Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis wrote the script for this beloved film, which to this day ranks as one of the highest grossing comedies of all time. Released by Columbia Pictures and directed by Ivan Reitman (at the time best known for Animal House, which he produced), Ghostbusters features an all-star cast including, in addition to the film’s two writers, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and Rick Moranis, just to name a few. It takes place in the grittier New York City of the 1980s, when Hollywood still acknowledged Manhattan’s working class instead of just portraying it as a playground for the Prada-clad one percent. Excepting Murray’s Peter Venkman, the characters, in spite of their professional involvement with the paranormal, are quite down-to-earth, and the camaraderie between the writers, actors, and crew translates seamlessly to the screen. It is quite possible that this movie ended up being so fun simply for the fact that those involved had such fun making it.
While Ghostbusters features an ensemble cast, the first member of the team that we meet is Peter Venkman (Murray), a parapsychologist who employs some questionable practices in his research. During an experiment in which Venkman uses Zener cards and electricity to measure and manipulate the potential psychic ability of his test subjects, he gleefully delivers electrical shocks to the clearly psychic male participant, while heaping praise on a pretty young blonde who exhibits no propensity for clairvoyance whatsoever. While Venkman is most definitely a rogue and a lech, and even when he sleazily makes a pass at the blonde, he manages to be a lovable character, this likely because of Bill Murray’s unparalleled charm. Of course, Venkman does redeem himself in his very earnest courtship of Dana Barrett (Weaver), a beautiful woman with a haunted refrigerator, among a sundry other paranormal issues.
When Venkman, Egon, and Ray learn that their research grant has been revoked due to their inability to produce credible results, Ray, ever the optimist, suggests they start their own business, and the Ghostbusters are born. They set up shop in an old firehouse and hire a sassy receptionist named Janine (Annie Potts). As evidenced by a montage featuring the earworm that is the Ghostbusters theme (penned by Ray Parker Jr.), a number of impressive ghouls, and some high profile television spots, business has picked up quickly, and the guys add a fourth man to the team, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). While the central plot involves keeping New York City safe from ghosts, the team must also contend with the presence of stuffy EPA agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) who is worried that the Ghostbusters are not properly storing their hazardous materials (ghosts). Meanwhile, Dana is being harassed by her lovesick neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis), and the paranormal activity in the city is seeming to grow exponentially.
The story alone makes for a fun watch, but the special effects for the various ghosts and ghouls, although dated, add an additional layer of hilarity (or fear, depending on who is watching). That lovable Pillsbury Dough Boy-Michelin Man hybrid, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, comes to mind, as do the “Terror Dogs,” which are legitimately scary. The dialogue, much of it ad-libbed, is clever, and the delivery is on point. Even thirty years later, a number of those spontaneous one-liners remain in the memories of the film’s fans. It is clear why Ghostbusters’ appeal is so endearing..
Those who grew up with Ghostbusters are at the age where they might have demon spawn of their own. Fortunately for them, Ghostbusters holds up as a film worth sharing with the young’uns. The humor is effective, but innocent enough where it is still kid-friendly; the sex jokes will go right over their heads. While they will laugh at Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, some of the other ghosts are scary enough where they can be used as a yardstick to measure whether the kids are ready to move on to more serious kid-oriented Horror fare like Poltergeist (1982) or Silver Bullet (1985).
There are a lot of 1980s movies that are fun to watch for the sake of nostalgia. They are objectively bad films, but we love them anyway. Our attachment to films like Teen Witch and Police Academy is justified because of their cheesy soundtracks, their characters’ day-glo wardrobes and big hair, their dance-offs, dramatic proms, and spontaneous rap battles. These things remind us of our childhoods, and there is no shame in having affection for them. Ghostbusters, however, truly stands the test of time. It has enough nostalgic appeal to remind us of the culture of the early 1980s, but not so much that it reads like a parody of the era. It is also a genuinely good film with clever writing and a wide appeal. Thirty years later, it is most definitely worth revisiting, especially for those who have uninitiated loved ones with whom they can share it. Best of all, audiences will not have to make up any excuses about how they laugh at it just because it is terrible. Ghostbusters is one of those rare gems that straddle multiple genres while still retaining the ability to make us laugh, and that is what makes a true classic.