Whenever people ask me what the first ever movie I saw at the cinema was I almost always lie…
You see it was actually Return Of The Jedi that my parents plonked me in front of during my formative youth, and yet I would always choose to state that Ghostbusters was my first (actually my second), for the simple reason that it seemed a far, far cooler thing to say.
In my defence, I had a point – sure, Jedi has space battles, lightsabres and a questionable use of teddy bears but Ghostbusters is… well, it’s fucking Ghosbusters, isn’t it?
In instant merchandising empire BEFORE the film was even released (people were clamouring for boot legged t-shirts months before the film’s release) and the very first example of the “special effects comedy” which various people have tried to duplicate ever since, Ghostbusters is the mind boggling fusion of the kind of state of the art, visual effects blowout usually served up by Steven Spielberg with the sarcastic comedy stylings usually found with the alumni of long running laughter factory Saturday Night Live and the most impressive thing about this chalk and cheese pairing is that it managed to work at all…
Scientists Peter Venkman, Ray Stanz and Egon Spengler are booted out of the university where they work despite the fact that they finally have proof that the supernatural actually exists and deside to go into business for themselves as paranormal eliminators, cleaning up spooks and ghouls like they’re roaches and rats. After a dry period, business unbelievably starts booming but is this upturn in ghostly activity a sign of something more sinister? What does the hellish portal in cellist Dana Barrett’s apartment mean, is the end if the world on the horizon? The Ghostbusters, aided by new recruit Winston Zeddmore aim to tackle this extinction level event head on but will Walter Peck of the Enviromental Protection Agency ruin everything by shutting them down?
There’s a secret to Ghostbusters that made it soar high like the spectral phenomenon that it is and it’s something that it’s imitators (and it’s own spinoff) rarely got right and that’s for all it’s gooey ghosts and it’s hilarious shaming of government officials (it’s an 80’s Bill Murray thing, just go with it) the movie actually has two solid, corporeal feet on the ground. Despite it’s gloriously silly concept the film goes out of it’s way to make everything oddly feasible with scenes of Stantz shitting his pantz thankz to taking out a third mortgage on his home and the gang shopping around for suitable digs for their new line of work. In fact, strip out all the ectoplasm and full torso apparitions and you have a suprisingly accurate comedy about the trials and tribulation of starting a new business.
Of course, Ghostbusters DOES have ghosts in it (the title’s a dead giveaway) and the adding of the fantastical gives the film a tone that’s still, over 30 years later, as unique as class 5 full roaming vapour as once our hero’s business finally takes off, it becomes as repetitive and grinding as any other, blue collar shift work.
The leads are – predictably, if you glance at the cast – fantastic which each one bringing their well sketched characters to vibrant life. Bill Murray is the most endearingly rumpled of his career as Venkman casually moves through life on charm alone, Dan Aykroyd dials up Stanz’s boyish, excitability up to eleven (“GET HER!”), the late great Harold Raimis is hilariously square as the bookish Spengler and Ernie Hudson does a lot with a little as the somewhat tacked on everyman Winston Zeddmore (it’s always been a slight bugbear of mine that Zeddmore only appears halfway through the film and is kind of just THERE).
As for the supporting cast, Sigourney Weaver takes to comedy like a fish to water (essentially the entire movie’s straight man) whereas Rick Moranis goes very, VERY broad with terminally nerdy neighbour Louis but somehow doesn’t overturn the boat. Pitch perfect one and all.
Of course, if you have such a stella comedy cast in your movie, you need a good script and Ghostbusters is positively loaded with dynamite one liners that you could quite happily print any one of them on a t-shirt with the logo and it would make sense – although I’m not sure how well the “Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?” shirts would sell…
We’ve covered the Busters, but how about the Ghosts, do they match up to the high quality of everything else on show here? Boy, do they ever. From the opening Libary Ghost (whose truly startling transformation utterly freaked the crap out of an entire generation), to the unofficial mascot Slimer (a corpulent guzzler who Aykroyd claims is the ghost of John Belushi), to the legitimately impressive Terror Dogs who so effectively devastate Louis’ client party, to the Godzilla sized Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – every single monster, phantom and creature is expertly designed, loaded with character and instantly memorable.
In fact, memorable is the perfect keyword for the movie as it’s tough to think of one that is anywhere close to being THAT quotable, that iconic and boasting a theme song so catchy it should be classed as a class A narcotic.
The violently buzzing proton packs, the chunky form of ECTO-1 cutting a white swathe through New York traffic as it’s distinctive siren honks away, the relative clumsiness of the ghost traps – all the painfully analogue tech is rendered absurdly believable and director Ivan Reitman balances the ridiculous and the hilariously mundane with an expert touch he never managed to pull off again with the other “special effects comedies” he helmed (compare My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evolution and even Ghostbusters II with his other, more down to earth, well-regarded works like Stripes or Twins) which adds to the “lightning in a bottle” effect that Ghostbusters owns.
In fact, the only thing that even comes close to marring it’s perfection are some misjudged sexual humour that in this day and age seems stunning that they were in a family film at all. You know which scene I’m talking about – that scene that has nothing to do with anything where Stanz dreams a beautiful ghost gives him a blowjob so good it crosses his eyes. Even back in ’84 it seemed to come completely out of left field despite happening in a time period where apparently putting a fellatio joke in your comedy was a legal requirement no matter how many kids were packed into a showing. And while we’re on the subject, if it wasn’t for Bill Murray’s weapons grade charisma, Venkman’s persistent womanizing would swerve dangerously into the realms of sex-pestery as the fact that he turns up for a date with Dana with a syringe of Thorizene in his pocket without any prior knowledge to her ghostly possession is not really the same as bringing her flowers and a box of Dairy Milk, is it?
Call it fate, call it luck call it karma, while often imitated yet never equalled, Ghostbusters are the only ones to call when you desire something strange in your neighbourhood and if for some reason you don’t agree..?
Back off man… I’m a movie reviewer.