October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver
Synopsis: After three parapsychologists, Venkman, Stantz, and Spangler, are fired from Columbia University for their questionable research methods, they set up shop in NYC as “Ghostbusters”, promising to investigate and dispose of any haunting spirits that might be troubling the public and containing them at their offices. They have some early successes and soon their services are in such high demand they need to hire a fourth team member, Zeddemore. One of their clients, who Venkman immediately begins to pursue romantically, is a cellist named Dana who has been experiencing hauntings in her building. Dana becomes possessed by a spirit called Zuul, the Gatekeeper, and her annoying but well-intentioned neighbor by a spirit known as the Keymaster. If the two come together, it would open a portal and summon the ancient Sumerian god, Gozer the Gozerian to wreak destruction on the world. The Ghostbusters work to prevent this, but unfortunately their celebrity has attracted the notice of the EPA, who arrests them for disposing of waste (the ghosts) improperly and accidentally sets all the captured spirits free to haunt the city. The team talk themselves out of trouble, but Gozer has already been summoned, along with the Destructor, who takes the form of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The team manages to defeat Gozer and destroy the portal by crossing the streams of their proton packs, which is dangerous but causes the burst of power they need. The spirits are banished, the marshmallow man explodes, Dana and her neighbor are rescued, and the team is hailed as heroes by the very sticky city.
Ghostbusters was originally a summer blockbuster. It was a fairly (for the time) big budget film with big special effects that was actually a really funny comedy. Such a beast was rare at the time and even rarer now. Even though the ghosts look a little hokey today and the gender politics are a mess, Ghostbusters holds up surprisingly well after over thirty years. It’s well paced, tightly plotted, and the comedic dynamics between the main characters are unsurpassed. The original script, written with John Belushi in mind for the role of Venkman, was much darker, much weirder, and would have cost up to ten times as much to film. Although I’m sure Belushi would have been fantastic, this movie manages to hit a very particular sweet spot while a move massive budget endeavor would likely have collapsed under its own weight.
Unfortunately, I have an ambivalence about Ghostbusters I’ve never quite been able shake. Maybe it’s because it was yet another movie of my childhood I wasn’t allowed watch, and thus came at it too late for it to imprint on my brain with the same unconditional adoration as many of my peers. Because I kind of can’t stand Venkman. This is a problem because while all the characters are great, Venkman is really the main character and he – and Bill Murray – really make the movie. It wouldn’t be the great movie we all love (and I do love it, if not as wholeheartedly as some) without that performance. And yet, this was the peak of the “loveable asshole” protagonist, the misogynist with a heart of gold who lies and cheats and schemes and ultimate gets the the girl and saves the day. Movies from the 80’s and 90’s are chock full of him, and at least half the time (hyperbole) he’s played by Bill Murray. Venkman is everywhere in films of this era and still hangs on today, and I’m pretty damn sick of him.
It’s true, part of the charm of Ghostbusters is that the team is made up of misfits, of people who, for various reasons, could never hold down real jobs or even function in normal society. I wouldn’t want to change that. But a character can be a misfit, even a jerk, without the movie justifying his behavior simple because, when push came to shove, he did the very bare minimum any decent human would have. The movie tells us Venkman isn’t so bad even though he’s a sexist womanizer. How? He doesn’t take advantage of Dana while she’s possessed. Yep, he’s a good guy because, basically, he didn’t rape her when he totally could have. Unfortunately not raping someone doesn’t make you a good person – it just makes you not a rapist. Don’t get me wrong, I love a misanthropic antihero as much as the next girl. And maybe Venkman’s type was less stale in 1984, but today it just makes me annoyed and a little bored.
That’s not to say this isn’t still classic movie that I watch on the regular. Even if I’m over Murray on multiple levels, it’s still a good performance and Ghostbusters is still a super fun adventure story, with humor and ghosts and demons and ooze. And it’s an original idea. It may take inspiration from Abbot and Costello, the Bowery Boys, and other early 20th century paranormal spoofs, but it is most definitely its own thing, and the first movie of its sort to begin to take advantage of high quality special effects to produce a truly epic adventure. But I do have those reservations that keep me from unadulterated enjoyment. That’s why I have such high hopes for the upcoming Ghostbusters reimagination. In general I think Hollywood is vastly overdoing with the reboots and updates and sequels, but Paul Feig seems to determined to honor the spirit of the original while producing something entirely new, hopefully with a fresh batch of memorable oddballs but minus some of the more problematic subtext that really dates the original.
Rating: 7 Keymasters out of 10 – It’s not a perfect movie, but it does an excellent job of balancing the action, fantasy, and humor and it’s very well put together.
Enjoyability: 9 Stay Puft Marshmallow Men out of 10 – Despite my reservations, it’s a fun ride, endlessly rewatchable, highly quotable, and full of eye-candy. Plus, that song!