Movie of the Week: Ghostbusters (1984)

Ivan Reitman directs Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in this supernatural comedy smash where three failed New York scientists go into the business of catching ghosts like exterminators.

We used to have a shit brown corduroy sofa in the first house I remember living in. When my Dad got home from work, after he had washed up from whatever graft he had done, the childrens’ programming would be switched over to BBC Two and we would watch whatever western or Laurel & Hardy or Star Trek was on. Me, my sister and my Dad crammed on a two seat sofa, us slotting in between his laid out body. I was only six or seven when Ghostbusters was brought into the house. Video rentals were a weekend treat but in my recollection this was after school, after work, on that sofa. Was it a pirate video borrowed from a work colleagues at the parts factory? Or had Mum and Dad rented it on Sunday – made sure what we wanted to watch was not too scary for sensitive, horror averse little me – and then allowed us to view it quickly the next day before it had to be returned to SelectaVideo down the road? The former makes more sense but the latter is a possibility.

I wonder how much debate there was in allowing me to watch Ghostbusters that first time considering my childish propensity for nightmares. As the spectral effect work in Ghostbusters still holds up (I genuinely don’t know how they achieved some these phantasmagorical tricks of light) and they’d be effective in any 18 certificate full fat horror. Perhaps being a family friendly comedy with proven stars gave the matte artists and visual technicians an unprecedented budget to play with that allowed them free reign to perfect. The spook work is consummately executed, iconic and breathtaking. From the librarian to Slimer to the explosion of the undead when the containment grid is shutdown. Just WOW!

You have to approach this silly scary adventure as a workplace comedy. The streets are real, the characters shabby and the music feels like a time travelling radio station broadcasting lost one hit wonders through a portal to modernity. It isn’t “cool” but I listen to my vinyl of the soundtrack a lot: Ray Parker Jnr. to Elmer Bernstein to Laura Brannigan. There’s something about the grit of New York location shoot and the deadpan authenticity of the supporting cast and extras that make this feel almost timeless. Fantasies either happen in space or misty fields or comic book ideals of suburbia. Here you can smell the hotdogs and BO, dodge the rats and litter and know everything costs a dollar more than it should.

That approach towards the true bolsters the humour. The context has a verisimilitude that elevates it above sitcom or parody, frames the outlandish glowing poltergeists in a near documentary setting. The movie makes sure everyone but Bill and Rick Moranis play things straight. Dan and Harold’s super uptight nerds get laughs from their inflexible tunnel vision towards the paranormal as a meaningful scientific endeavour. They are boyishly excited by terminology and evidence, their convincing dedication and education bouncing devilishly off of their less professional frontman horndog Peter Venkman. The chemistry between Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis is nuclear. Everyone respects a precise script, the gags only work in context, you have to love these characters and this situation to rinse the nuances. A very quotable film but the quotes only ring funny is you now the set up and delivery. “I collect spores, molds, and fungus.” “Yes… It’s true… This man has no dick.” “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say “YES”!” These jokes land as the comedians stick to script finding humour in the wording and then delivering it as if were their own improvised riff. This tightness is lacking from modern Hollywood comedies. That’s what makes Ghostbusters unique… its professionalism.

I love Stripes and Scrooged but it is fair to say one is sloppy and the other to enamoured with excess. Ghostbusters dances gracefully within the thin line the separates the two modes of blockbuster comedy. It feels loose but is expertly calibrated. It feels like an outlier while being so of its time… a childhood memory that lives up to scrutiny. Just a seamlessly made product of the imagination. The little boy who hid away from certain jump scares and didn’t understand the more adult gags got just as much out of this as the jaded movie buff who has seen it all a thousand times before. No matter how many times I watch Ghostbusters it impresses, entertains and feels like complete diamond in the rough to its 1980s peers.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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