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REVIEW: Ghostbusters (1984)

Who you gonna call? George McGhee delves into what makes Ghostbusters such a beloved horror comedy classic.

In a nutshell

Three New York college professors develop their own ghost capturing technology and attempt to catch ghosts for money. Along the way they encounter a woman whose apartment building may be the gateway to another dimension, which could unleash evil forces worldwide. Scares and laughter ensues.

We all have that one film that terrified us as kids – well, other than Jaws. For me that was Ghostbusters. I was so terrified on the first watch, I completely missed the fact it was a comedy. Nevertheless, I was quickly hooked and became obsessed with all things Ghostbusters. From the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters, the toys (I was very happy with my proton pack) and books.

“If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.”

What makes Ghostbusters so appealing? Well, it’s an original concept, with a bunch of geeks (plus Winston) using science to capture ghosts, deftly balancing comedy with the supernatural. It obviously helps when the laughs are delivered by the leading comic talent of the time – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Rick Moranis, steered by assured comedy filmmakers, Harold Ramis (Caddyshack) and Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Meatballs).

Dan Ackroyd is the man to responsible for getting it to the big screen. He always had an interest in the paranormal and following the success of Blues Brothers (1980) was looking for another project for him and Saturday Night Live alumni, John Belushi to star in. With Belushi’s unexpected death and an overly ambitious initial concept (including time travel and parallel dimensions), story and script had to be tweaked and stripped down. Director and producer Reitman brought in Ramis to help bring the story into something more manageable and fellow SNL member cast Murray in the role intended for Belushi.

The film has a good sense of pace, with the rise of the Ghostbusters (ending with a textbook 80’s montage) and spooky goings on at Dana’s apartment at the same time. The three main Ghostbusters (poor Ernie Hudson gets short shrift) fill out their roles dutifully – the naive and  earnest Ray (Ackroyd), the deadpan logic of Egon (Ramis) and the roguish charm of Venkman (Murray). Despite being an ensemble, writers Ackroyd and Ramis humbly give the best lines and most screen time to Murray – which cuts through all the science mumbo jumbo.

“If the ionization-rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we can really bust some heads… in a spiritual sense, of course.”

etroramble ackroyd moranis

Ackroyd, Moranis and director Reitman on set

Along with Groundhog Day (1993 directed by Ramis) it’s a defining film of Murray’s career.Special mention must go to Rick Moranis, as nervous neighbour Louis Tully, who shines in every role he’s in. The highlight being the one take scene at his drinks party where he introduces his guests (all clients, so it’s tax deductible), whilst casually sharing their financial situation. The ever reliable Sigourney Weaver probably gets the best character arc as Dana. She gets to join in on the jokes, whilst skilfully veering from terrified damsel to slutting it up as the possessed Gate Keeper.

The horror comedy genre is a tricky balance. Too much in either direction and you risk alienating some of the audience. Ghostbusters seems to be the right amount for a family audience. The experienced cast ensures all the laughs hit home and decent special effects (for the time) bring the various ghouls to life, without being overly gruesome. The soundtrack adds to this balance. Ray Parker Jnr’s infectious title track is on repeat along with some other Eighties pop which add to the fun. Meanwhile, the legendary Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score enhances the scenes of fear and dread when required, whilst offering some playful melodies for the lighter moments.

“We’ve been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft’s okay! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!”

Retro ramble Ghostbusters Stay Puft

There are moments where the the film veers into more mature territory that is quite typical for a comedy at that time. Despite being pitched as a family film, it’s got a generous amount of swearing, sexual innuendo and enough chain-smoking to give Samuel L Jackson in Jurassic Park a heart attack.

Why has it endured for so long? The film has a nice underlying message that anyone can save the day, the Ghostbusters are not muscular heroes, they rise to the task because no one else can, using smarts and bravery. It’s a great snapshot of the Eighties, whilst being a love letter to the city of New York, with the majority of scenes filmed on location. Whilst the main characters don’t manage to escape their archetypes, there’s so many thrills, laughs and character, you don’t really notice.

The film was so successful it launched a franchise with varying success includes cartoons, games and controversial reboots. For me, it’s all about the original, great laughs, good scares and a cracking cast who have great chemistry.

“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

MVP: This is Bill Murray’s film but the real unsung hero is Rick Moranis – it’s a minor role but he steals every scene he’s in.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

The role of Winston was written for Eddie Murphy. When he declined as he had his own star project – Beverly Hills Cop, the role was scaled down.

Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd were all considered for the role of Egon Spengler. However, after Harold Ramis finished writing the script, he felt close to the character and figured he could act the part.

Alternate Title: The Chain Smoking Radioactive Ghost Catchers

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