Who Ya Gonna Call?: “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II”

In 1984 Hollywood needed a new blockbuster to fill the void left by the ending of the Star Wars trilogy from the previous summer. Hollywood has never suffered for a lack of mega-hits, at least not since the mid-70’s. Give credit to Jaws for really putting the summer blockbuster on the map, although George Lucas’ franchise-starting film certainly kicked the idea into overdrive.

1984 was yet another banner year for the summer crowd. Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, you could have gone to see new releases featuring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), William Shatner, et.al. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Destroyer), the singer Prince (Purple Rain), not to mention movies like The Karate Kid, The Last Starfighter, Revenge of the Nerds, Red Dawn, and a host of others.

Looking at a list of films released in 1984 made me realize I must have spent more time in the movie theater than I did studying in college. I counted no less than 47 movies I saw in the theater that year. Sure that’s less than one a week, but on some of those occasions I had to go to two different movies the same day, and that doesn’t count any repeat viewings.

According to Wikipedia, the number 1 movie of 1984 was Beverly Hills Cop. But that was a Christmas release. The biggest summer movie of 1984 was Ghostbusters. And it was a very big hit, not just due to the star power (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis), but also due to the merchandising aspect of it. In the summer of 1984 you couldn’t go anywhere and not hear the strains of Ray Parker, Jr’.s theme song to Ghostbusters. And that “No Ghosts” symbol was ubiquitous.

True story: I had NEVER before been on the cusp of a fashion trend before, and have never since. But when this movie came out, I bought a t-shirt from a place that did iron-on decals to regular t-shirts. (Remember those places in the malls back then, kiddies?) I showed up at my regular dance club hangout that night and EVERYONE was asking me “where’d you get that shirt?” I was never so popular ever again, but I was that night. Then by next week everybody had them and things went back to same as usual.

How big was this movie? Well, if you don’t know by now, it spawned a sequel, two Saturday morning cartoons, a carload of toys and gadgets, a video game, and when the sequel came out it was the same thing. I was working at a summer job at a Hardee’s outside DC when the sequel came out. Hardee’s was one of the official sponsors, and they had a set of four kid’s meal toys which were just cheap electronic noisemakers, but each one had the ubiquitous “Ghost 2” on them. I bought them all and had them for years until the batteries finally died.

Ghostbusters (1984)

In New York City at the prestigious Columbia University, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting research on ESP. Not a scientific study, per se, since, as the dean of the university points out (and it’s true, unfortunately, for Peter), he is milking the university by doing bogus research.

Meanwhile his buddies Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are investigating paranormal occurrences throughout the city. As paranormal experts, the three are called into to investigate a sighting in the NYC Library.

This encounter is somewhat a disaster, but coupled with the loss of their jobs at the university, they are inspired to open up their own agency to deal with ghosts. Setting up business in an old abandoned firehouse, with a secretary, Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), and with an ambulance decked out with Christmas tree lighting, they go into business as “Ghostbusters”.

They do a phenomenal business, so much so that they have to acquire a fourth person, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). They also acquire a woman as a client, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who has some really bizarre stuff in her refrigerator (and I don’t mean sugar-free, non-dairy yogurt).

But all this attracts the attention of the government, in the person of Walter Peck (William Atherton), a jerk of a representative for the EPA. Peck, using his authority, orders the containment system, or prison, if you will, that the Ghostbusters are using to house the phantoms they capture, shut down. This makes all the ghosts flee like madmen and causes untold devastation on the city of New York. The Ghostbusters are brought in for an audience with the mayor (played by David Marguiles) to combat this problem.

But its even bigger than the mayor thought. The Ghostbusters have discovered that Dana’s apartment was built with the express purpose of bringing an ancient evil spirit into the real world. After Dana, and her dweeb neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) hook up (through the efforts of evil forces, not because he is a sexual dynamo), the pair turn into guardian dogs. They help prepare the way for Gozer the Gozerian, the ultimate evil spirit. The Ghostbusters must defeat this spirit to save their beloved NYC. But that’s easier said than done. Don’t miss out on the climatic battle between the quartet and the ultimate monster.

This movie is a riot, but if you want to watch with the kids, be forewarned there are some potentially traumatic scary scenes in it. But then it is about “ghosts.”

Ghostbusters II (1989)

Several years after the boys had saved NYC from the destruction of Gozer, They are in dire straits. Political pressure has forced them to disband the “Ghostbusters” business. Ray is now the owner of an occult books and paraphernalia shop, Egon is doing scientific research, and Peter is the host of a bogus TV show called “World of the Psychic.” Winston and Ray are also performing as Ghostbusters at children’s parties.

Once again, there is something weird going on in NYC. (Yeah, like there is ever anytime when something weird is NOT going on in NYC…) In this case, there is some really funky pink slime oozing throughout the underground, and is making its way to the surface. And  it seems the evil forces are out to get Dana Barrett. Or, more to the point, her little baby.

The boy is the result of a failed marriage Dana had with an unnamed husband. Prior to that marriage however, she apparently hooked up with Venkman in the interim after the events of the invasion and defeat of Gozer. But Peter was not the ideal mate and they broke up. Now Dana works part time in a museum where she helps restore paintings, watched over by a sleazeball director, Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has the hots for Dana, even though she continually gives him the brushoff.

Janosz’s main concern besides Dana is the restoration of a gigantic portrait of a 16th century Carpathian tyrant named Vigo. This guy looks like the most formidable foe, as badass a portrait as any that Vlad Dracul ever posed for. Guess what? Somehow the spirit of Vigo is living in the painting, and he needs a child to come back into the world. Seems like someone had a child of the right age…oh, yeah, Dana does… So Vigo sends Janosz out, with some fancy magical help, to get Dana’s baby.

Meanwhile the boys investigate this pink slime, which involves them going down into the older subway systems of NYC, getting arrested by the police, and put in an insane asylum by a sleazeball flunky of the governor. The Ghostbusters have determined that the pink slime is a result of all the violence and aggression in NYC. Its some psychic sludge that enhances the emotions of those with which it comes in contact.

But it also can be used to magnify happy emotions, and this is what the boys use to defeat the evil spirit of Vigo. And you’ll never guess how the boys inspire NYC to be good-natured and happy in unison so as to invest in their plan to defeat Vigo…

As with the previous film, there are some rather scary parts, but I have to admit, with the exception of Vigo, most are pretty tame. There is even a neat scene where the Titanic finally makes it to NYC and we see a long line of its ghostly passengers disembarking.

Summer blockbusters like these don’t come along every year. Its hard to find the right blend of comedy and horror where you don’t scare away the comedy fans and you don’t disappoint the horror fans. Notwithstanding that there is very little blood, and no one actually dies (except the villains, but they were already dead to begin with, so no loss), it is a great pair of horror flicks. And if you like comedy, you can’t go wrong when you get Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd together in the same movie.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films. 

This article originally ran this past summer, it is being reprinted as part of our 31 Days of Halloween celebrations!