Saturday, October 31, 2015

Who You Gonna Call: Ghostbusters Memories

It's Halloween again, and so this year, I decided what could be more appropriate than looking at one of the most Spooktacular franchises in entertainment history....

Who you gonna call?

So it goes without saying that the Ghostbusters franchise, is one of the most famous and popular in history. My own history with and memories of the Ghostbusters, of course, are a bit different than many people's. Like many things, I never got to watch the entire film as a child, for whatever reason. My grandmother would rent or watch on television, films that were far "scarier", that's for sure. And I really missed out, because it's a great, classic movie.

Terrifying to a kid. Awesome to an adult.

I did, however, get to see snippets of the first film, at a friends' house. The friend was watching it while my grandmother was visiting with her mom, and though I don't remember much of what I saw, what DID stand out to me, was the "Devil Dog" scene with Luis Tully (Rick Moranis' character). Him holding that goofy party for his tax clients, hearing the growl coming from his closet, spouting his classic "Ok who brought the dog?" line, and then BOOM, this gigantic demon thing bursts through the closet door, and starts chasing him though the building, and out into New York City. I clearly remember feeling really scared at that scene, and feeling really bad for Luis when he tried to get the attention of the rich yuppies at that fancy restaurant in Central Park, and they just ignored him, and then *SPOILERS* the demon attacked and possessed him. Now THAT'S the kind of scene that really leaves an impression on you as a child.

I would not actually wind up getting to see Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II, in full, until a few years later, in my teens, after we had moved towns and my grandmother had passed on. But that isn't to say my experience with the franchise as a child was strictly limited to that one fleeting glimpse of scenes at a friend's house. No indeed, it goes much deeper and stranger than that.

Who are you gonna call.........?

So for a bit of background quasi-history on the franchise itself, it had an unintentional precursor of sorts. There was a short lived (one season) TV show back in 1975 (the same year that Aykroyd debuted on Saturday Night Live, in fact), called Ghost Busters. It was a live action show, and featured a set of goofy as fuck "paranormal investigators", by the names of Kong, Spencer, and Tracy, as pictured above. And no, the gorilla was NOT named Kong, he was named Tracy, and he also drove the group around in their broke down car. It was a purposefully silly comedy show, wherein these bumbling guys and their ape-friend, would go after various ghosts and monsters, using their trademark "ghost distruptor" (as you can see in the picture) to beat them, after inevitably getting chased around like idiots first. Now mind you, I had never seen this show as a kid, they didn't show it reruns or anything. I did not, in fact, even see much of the cartoon series spin-off of it that debuted in the 80s (more on that in a minute), but I DID inexplicably get a T-shirt of that cartoon on one of my birthdays.

Said T-shirt in action.

So, ironically, though it shared a couple of similarities with the 70s show (group of bumbling paranormal investigators, comedy, using weird technology to beat ghosts...and you know, the NAME), the creators Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, claimed to have never heard of the old show when they came up with their ideas for the original 1984 movie. In fact, their original ideas were going to be wildly different, as the movie was going to star them alongside John Belushi, and it was going to feature them engaging in time travel. After Belushi died, they tweaked the concept a lot, and thankfully came up with the concept we all know and love today. That was not, however, the end of the story, nor the connection to the old show. For one thing, when it released, Ghostbusters was a runaway smash success, and it along with it's Ray Parker Jr. theme song, became easily one the single most identifiable "80s" things about the 1980s. It was SUCH a smash success, in fact, that not only did Columbia Pictures and DiC Entertainment set about producing a cartoon tie in, but it also inspired the owners of the original property to cash in the success of the movie, and make their own cartoon as well. AND, as if that weren't enough, they both debuted in early September 1986.....

The Ghost Busters.

And the REAL Ghostbusters.

So yup. There it is, two cartoons, similar concept, same year. Not only that, but the cartoon adaptation of the blockbuster movie had to change it's name to The REAL Ghostbusters specifically because of a lawsuit by Filmation over the rights to the name in the first place. The goofy revival cartoon of the 70s show, created by Filmation (the company responsible for such classic cartoons as He-Man and She-Ra, among others), featured characters who were the sons of the original crew, along with Tracy the gorilla and Ghost Buggy Jr., their talking car. It was in general even goofier than the original show it was based on, and only ran for one 65 episode syndicated season.

The REAL Ghostbusters, on the other hand, was developed by DiC Entertainment, who were responsible for many great classic cartoon series, including Heathcliff, The Littles, Inspector Gadget, and even cartoons that I have written about before, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and Captain N: The Game Master. They came up with an odd, blonde design for Egon (Harold Ramis' character), to make him look different I suppose, as all three Caucasian Ghostbusters in the film had brown hair. They also made Janine, the secretary, a redhead, and even early in the show's run, made Slimer a good ghost (not that he was ever BAD to begin with, just gross), and he became the unofficial mascot of the team. And THIS was the cartoon, birthday t-shirt of the other show notwithstanding, that I actually watched, and it was my first real exposure to the franchise.

"Do not open, until DOOMSDAY!"

The first episode of the show I actively remember seeing, and the one that stuck with me the most for many years, was an episode called "Knock, Knock", pictured above. It was about a construction crew who were working on new subway routes, and they accidentally uncover this creepy, ancient spectral door, that loudly proclaims to them "Do not open, until Doomsday!". Of course they go "well fuck you dude" (not literally), in true New Yorker fashion, and keep on working, but in doing so they accidentally cause the door to open, which releases all manner of ghostly entities, that set about possessing many people and inanimate objects, drastically altering New York city itself. The Ghostbusters, of course, have to figure out what the hell is going on, and find a way to save the day.

In general, the show, while based on the movie, and basically intending to be the continuing adventures of the Ghostbusters, often featured a lot of really out there concepts like this, and while it was meant to be a "kids' show", the writers often wrote very serious and dark storylines, sprinkled of course with humor to keep it light. The first season, in fact, was the best, even though the show would last a total of seven, from 1986-1992. It was odd though, because the show had both 13 weekly episodes, as well as 65 syndicated weekday episodes, running concurrently. The original voice cast was fantastic. A young Arsenio Hall actually originally voiced Winston Zeddemore, and veteran voice actor Frank Welker and Maurice LaMarche voiced Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler, respectively. Welker also voiced the ghost Slimer. And last but not least, Lorenzo Music, the famous voice of the old Garfield cartoons, voiced Peter Venkman (Bill Murray's character from the movie). In fact it is rumored that it was Mr. Murray himself, who eventually complained to the studio, that his character "sounded like Garfield", which prompted them to replace Music (who was awesome), with Dave Coulier of Full House fame. And no offense to Mr. Coulier, but he just did not fit. It was a terrible move, and if that rumor is true, along with him dragging his feet for decades so that a "Ghostbusters III" never actually wound up happening, even though I do love Murray as an actor, at the same time fuck 'im.

Stay Puft is not pleased....

The firing of Lorenzo Music also accompanied major changes for the cartoon in general, as the studio execs, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the incredible, semi-serious-with-strong-storyelling format of the show, which both kids AND adult fans of the movie adored, and made the show super popular in the first place, needed to go. They felt the show needed to be more "kid friendly", and that since kids loved the Slimer character, he needed to be a bigger part of the show, and that the writers needed to tone down the serious and scary elements in their stories as well. What all this meant, ultimately, was that the show started going way downhill, even though it would last for years.

The hilarious relationship between Music's Peter Venkman and Slimer, which was constant bickering and him getting furious at Slimer eating his food, or sliming him, etc., disappeared without explanation, as Coulier's Peter suddenly was best friends with Slimer. In the meantime, Slimer himself also inexplicably grew a "tail", and even though in the first season he spoke gibberish except for certain random words, he suddenly gained the ability to talk just fine. In season three, Janine's voice actor also left along with Music, and was replaced by someone who magically no longer had her trademark "New Yawk" accent. Arsenio left to do his famous The Arsenio Hall Show, and was replaced, though his replacement wasn't as jarring. And the quality of the show's stories devolved. There were still some good episodes, but it just wasn't the same, and the show eventually even got re-titled "Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters", and Slimer got his own pointless solo episodes.

BUT, thankfully, there were a grand total of 78 season one episodes between weekly and syndication, so there's plenty of good to go around before it started changing. One of the great things about the show, was the often humorous episode titles. Some of the better ones included "The Collect Call of Cthulu", "Ragnarok and Roll", and "Apocalypse - What Now?". The show also had several recurring ghosts or "baddies". One of them as you can see above, was the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, from the movie. On it's face, this is somewhat inexplicable, as that was simply the chosen form of Gozer the Destructor, but in the show they made up that Stay Puft existed as his own ghostly entity, and he even wound up being kind of a nice guy in certain episodes. Other cool recurring villains included Samhain, a powerful ghost who wanted to make it forever Halloween, the Sandman, who put the world to sleep and caused people's dreams to come to life, and the Boogeyman, who of course haunted and terrified children. Here are some glimpses of said characters.


The Sandman.

The Boogeyman.

The show ran long enough, that it actually even eventually incorporated certain elements from the second movie. For one thing, Luis Tully, who had been more of a minor character in the first film, but in the second joined the Ghostbusters' staff as their lawyer and accountant, started making appearances. The show also at one point referenced "Viggo the Carpathian", the villain of the second film, and treated the events of that second film as show canon. It's really a shame that studio folks had to step in and change/ruin the show, because those first nearly 80 episodes were fantastic, and for that early run of it, it is seriously one of the most well done animated series ever made, and certainly in my own Top 5 of all time.

But of course my experiences with Ghostbusters were not JUST about the cartoon, even though that was my major source of exposure. No, interestingly enough, though again I had not fully seen the movies they were based on, because I was frequently able to rent games from our local "All the Best Video", at some point I mysteriously chose to rent not just the game based on the first film, but the second as well. And I actually somehow managed to hit a rare spot in our renting, where I rented them back to back in pretty short order. Unfortunately for yours truly, I was bit not once but twice, as I quickly learned that not all licensed games are created equal.

The first Ghostbusters on NES. Those goddamn stairs....

Ghostbusters II on NES. That whole goddamn game....

So, as it turned out, both games? Pretty fucking bad. In fact two of the worst games I've ever played, and certainly two of the worst I ever rented as a kid. Now mind you, I had a pretty decent amount of luck when it came to renting games back then, because somehow I managed, with "Defenders of Dynatron City" not withstanding, to mostly rent games that WEREN'T total piles of garbage. But as I said before, not so with Ghostbusters. Lighting struck twice that time for me, and it was painful. The first game seems to have the makings of an OKAY game at first, as you travel around a map responding to ghost attacks. You go to little buildings or whatever, and trap ghosts. You also have to drive super annoying street stages though, where you have to, among other things, avoid hitting other cars, and running out of gas. Super fun, right? You eventually have to go to the apartment building from the movie, and climb up ALL THOSE GODDAMN STAIRS, at SUPER DUPER SLOW speed, all while ghosts pretty much non-stop try to kill you. IF you can make it to the top of the building, then you have to fight Gozer in a super hard final boss fight. Basically, the ONLY good thing about that game, is its sweet NES chiptune version of the Ghostbusters theme song.

As for Ghostbusters II? Well after the first was a stinker, I must have seen the back of the second game's box, and I saw what looked like typical NES side-scroller levels, and MUST have figured "Oh, well this one HAS to be better". Except it's actually kind of worse. It is indeed side-scrolling. But even though both games were produced by Activision, a company who back then was known for GOOD games (and not whoring out annual releases of franchises), both games played like complete shit. The second especially, had awful controls. You used a "slime gun" instead of your proton packs, to fight ghosts, and the game featured really shitty street levels where you had to drive Ecto 1 and avoid ghosts and things. In general it was very un-fun, and while I played the first enough to at least GET to the Gozer building, I did not get very far in the second at all, before eventually just giving up.

They're ready to believe you.

So finally moving on to the "main event", if you will, the movies themselves. I finally got to see both films in my teens, and it goes without saying that they immediately became two of my favorites. I have heard various people deride the second film, but I will say that for me, while it certainly was not a NECESSARY sequel, it is a good one, and I'm glad it happened. For me, the second film is more about seeing these guys' continuing adventures, and it tells a good enough story, and doesn't just rely on rehashed gags from the first film, that it's a very nice companion piece, and it's very entertaining in it's own right.

That's one hell of a marshmallow. 

But the Ghostbusters know how to handle their business.

The original film, of course, is an absolute classic, hence the reason it made it into my own personal Top Five favorite movies of all time. The second I would say that I like just about as much, but there's just something about the first one that gives it the edge. For those unaware, the brief rundown is that the Ghostbusters are a bunch of kooky scientist/teachers at Columbia University in New York City. Among other things, they study paranormal phenomenon, which leads them to the discovery that ghosts have a somewhat constant ectoplasmic energy make-up, which they could develop technology to trap and contain. They wind up getting kicked out of the university, but that's just dandy, because they decide to make a stab at the big time by starting up their own "Paranormal Investigations and Eliminations" business, and thus the Ghostbusters are born. They are eventually joined by Winston, a regular Joe off the street who answers their help-wanted add, as they are getting swamped with so many ghost cases. He is the "straight man" to their nerdy scientist characters, and in a way kind of like the analog for the audience, the guy that the audience can relate to, being along for the ride.

They eventually discover that they've been so busy, because tons of ectoplasmic energy is being drawn to the apartment building that Dana Barrett and Luis Tulley (Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis) both live in, because it was built by a cult in the early 1900s as a conduit to bring the extra-dimensional Sumerian god of destruction, Gozer the Gozerian, into this world to wipe it clean. All in all, a great plot, and a fun ride throughout, with so many iconic scenes and memorable, highly quotable lines, it's kind of ridiculous. Ghostbusters, at it's heart, IS "The 80s".

Too Hot to Handle, Too Cold to Hold...

So in 1989, five years after the original, even though they had to drag Bill Murray into agreeing to do it, Ghostbusters II was born. And despite the opinions of some, as I said, it's a good sequel and a great movie. At the outset of this film, the Ghostbusters are no more, as at some point after the events of the first film, because of the massive destruction caused by Gozer, even though they literally saved the city and the whole world, people decide to blame, and thus summarily sue the living shit out of the poor guys. They go broke and are legally barred from any more ghostbusting activities, which luckily for New York City, things seem to be pretty quiet five years later. However, shit's starting to go down again, and it turns out to be caused by a flowing river of pink, ectoplasmic "mood slime" that is flowing under the city streets, feeding off of the mass amounts of negative energy that New Yorkers emit. The "Big Bad" this time around, utilizing that slime to build up his power, is an ancient sorcerer named Vigo the Carpathian, whose ghost is haunting a painting of himself, and is trying to find a baby so that he might possess it and thus be "reborn" to reign terror once more.

"Man, something sure smells!"

He's just suffering from Carpathian Kitten Loss.

Now, lemme tell ya, Vigo is a hell of a guy. For one thing, in his heyday, he was the self-proclaimed Scourge of Carpathia, and the Sorrow of Moldavia. He also claims that "On a mountain of skulls, in the castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood!" I mean, that's some serious shit. You don't just say those things unless you mean, them, right? And trust me, Vigo meant every word. He's not quite the world-ending deity that Gozer was, but he's still a pretty powerful dude for a dead, disembodied spirit. In fact, I'd love to see the two go at it, though my money might be on Gozer. Thing is, while Gozer is the embodiment of destruction, in his own way, Vigo is the embodiment of evil itself, and I'd wager he's a hell of a lot meaner. Gozer wasn't really cruel, it just wanted to smash stuff.  Either way, if nothing else, Vigo is certainly an entertaining villain, and unlike Gozer, who is mentioned but *SPOILERS* not seen until the very end of the first film, Vigo has a steady presence throughout, as his haunted painting is sitting in the museum where Dana Barrett works, and he possesses her goofy boss Janosz (pronounced "Yanosh", portrayed by the great Peter MacNicol) to try and kidnap her baby.

While the first movie is more iconic and well known, the second features some truly great scenes, such as the entire courthouse scene where the Ghostbusters are being prosecuted for causing the entire city to lose power. Or the subway scene when Ray, Egon and Winston go searching for the river of slime, and run into some ghosts along the way. And especially *SPOILERS* nerdy ass Luis Tully finally having his moment, when he himself suits up as a Ghostbusters to try and go help the guys in their battle against Vigo. It even has a suitably epic (and funny) climax the story. Another thing that needs to be mentioned, for both films, are the soundtracks. Not merely Ray Parker Jr's hit classic. The first film's soundtrack was VERY much "mid-80s", as it heavily featured the kind of pop and new wave sounding stuff of that era. And the second film sounded VERY "late-80s", as rap was beginning to get very popular in the mainstream, and thus the soundtrack heavily featured songs by the likes of Bobby Brown, Doug E. Fresh and Run DMC. Back to the film though, I would say if you've never seen Ghostbusters II (or the first for that matter), you definitely need to.

Still iconic to this day.

All in all, the Ghostbusters franchise is iconic and as famous and successful as it is for a reason. The original films were incredibly well written, with great chemistry between the main characters. Director Ivan Reitman did a truly fantastic job with both, and would go on to other great success. Now there were later developments with the franchise, not all of which I was a huge fan of. Such as the late 90s cartoon entitled The Extreme Ghostbusters (because everything in the 90s had to be EXTREME). It featured Egon leading a new generation of young Ghostbusters, and all in all, at least to me, it just wasn't all that good. They did however, make a video game in 2009 that somewhat acted as a "third story", picking up a few years after the events of the second movie. They even got the original cast back, or at least the four Ghostbusters themselves. That was kinda neat, and it was a fairly fun game, but I would have rather Bill Murray had actually agreed to do a third movie instead of that game. But I digress.

And of course, speaking of movies, they are now coming out with a new "reboot" film, just entitled Ghostbusters again, and starring an all-female cast, for no other reason than the fact that the producer and director thought that would be a "cool idea". The group is even going to have a male secretary (get it?). I personally have no interest in it, because for one, I'm progressively more and more tired of this unending cavalcade of Hollywood remakes, reboots and sequels that don't ever need to happen. But for another thing, I also just don't like the fact that they are making a new film of ANY sort, now that co-creator Harold Ramis passed away. It irks me that Bill Murray single-handedly kept a third film from ever happening while Ramis was alive, but as soon as Ramis dies, he suddenly is all for the idea of a new film, and is even going to have a cameo in it. I think that's rather quaint, and also very disrespectful. I don't think they should ever do another movie now that Ramis is dead, and Rick Moranis apparently agrees with me, as he refuses to have anything to do with this new movie.

But anyway, no sense ending a celebration of such a great franchise, not to mention a celebration of Halloween itself, on a downer note like that. I would highly HIGHLY recommend watching the original two movies, and the animated REAL Ghostbusters series, if you can. It's all great stuff, and well worth experiencing. This is a franchise that is beloved and celebrated year after year by millions of fans all over the world, and that's pretty awesome.

So to all of you out there, Happy Halloween. And if something strange starts happening in YOUR know who to call.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Welcome Retro Revolutionaries! Feel free to leave your own thoughts or feedback on these fantastic retro memories!