Ghostbusters is one of those films that has always been there in my life, even though it was officially released when I was only four years old. I do recall when it was released in theaters that my parents had gone to see it without me and my brother. And when they returned, my mother made it sound like a movie that we just absolutely could not watch. I couldn’t understand what could be so bad, so my imagination created a few things. In hindsight, I obviously know what scene got her all riled up. And to be fair, it is one of the oddest scenes in the flick. It feels like something that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
When I finally did get to see it, it was on ABCs Sunday Night Movie so edited for television and cropped all to hell. For the longest time, it was the only version of the film I knew and I watched it often. It wasn’t until I watched a snippet on VHS at a friend’s house that I realized what I was missing. The scene with the bookcase falling at the library was only presented to me as a close-up of Bill Murray. On VHS, it utilized pan and scan and showed Dan Aykroyd reacting to his questions, which obviously makes more sense! Despite that as a kid, I was there for the spectacle. As I got older, I began to truly appreciate the blend of comedy and horror. It shifts between terror and laughs without feeling jarring.
Before deep diving into what this film is, I thought it would be fun to talk about what it COULD have been. The idea for the film has always been Dan Aykroyd’s. While the base premise was always about three guys exterminating ghosts, the initial script Aykroyd had written took place in the future and in space. Furthermore, he had written the roles for himself, Eddie Murphy and John Belushi. Just those changes alone would have created an entirely different film, and that not even mentioning the script’s overtly serious tone. Doesn’t seem ideal for comedic actors in the lead but what do I know.
Obviously, this film never happened and by all accounts probably due to Belushi’s death. While I wouldn’t say it was directly responsible, Belushi was a beast all his own. You don’t recast a role meant for him. You have to change it. That was immediately obvious once Bill Murray came on board. Luckily, director Ivan Reitman suggested changes to make the concept a bit more grounded and even introduced Aykroyd to Harold Ramis who helped rewrite the film into what we all know and love.
And love it I do! This is one of those films that got better as I got older, truly appreciating the humor, the horror, acting… everything. Bill Murray is obviously the stand-out with some of the best lines in the film. When Ray asks, “Where do these stairs go?” Venkman responds, “They go up,” in the most serious tone. Classic. Harold Ramis playing Egon as seriously as he did also adds to the humor of that character. Fun fact: he never smiles once in this film. It does strike me odd that there was this undercut romance between Jeanine and Egon, especially considering how emotionless he feels. Probably why scenes were cut.
Ray is the lynchpin of the group, somewhere between knowledgeable nerd and loveable goof with a dash of paranormal pervert since he dreams of getting blown by a phantom. I know I was skirting the line earlier but it seemed like the time to bring it up. Winston is a character that feels very secondary in this film and it’s a shame considering he had a well-developed backstory. Unfortunately, that character development hinged on the casting of Eddie Murphy who decided to make Beverly Hills Cop instead. Murphy made the right choice. The filmmakers did not. Ernie Hudson was perfectly cast as Winston and should have been allowed to sink his teeth into the role he signed on for.
Sigourney Weaver adds a level of balance to the film that helps keep it grounded. She isn’t a caricature and feels the most realistic. Rick Moranis as Louis Tulley feels like a no-brainer. Everything he does as the character is so spot-on. Hard to imagine that they ever wanted John Candy for this role. William Atherton plays Walter Peck to perfection. If you can make me hate your face when you’re just acting, you’ve done your job. And while John Belushi may not be in the movie, he’s there in spirit, literally and figuratively, in the guise of Slimer. It’s not apparent but when you see it, it’s obvious. Go watch Animal House and it will get you there.
The story itself is pretty solid as well, despite a few questions I may have. The how and the why have always felt solid. But the appearance of the ghosts never felt fully explained. And look, it may not be important. But just one line could possibly explain why there was an uptick in supernatural activity all of a sudden. Sure, there’s the random occurrence here and there and certainly when the containment grid is shut down, but what was the sudden happening that triggered their busy days other than “end of days” or whatever. What triggered Gozer at that moment in time? We do get some decent exposition in the jail scene about Ivo Shandor and how Dana’s apartment building acts as a beacon of sorts. I don’t know. I feel like there’s one little piece missing.
And you can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the iconic single that was a huge single and probably the biggest one-hit wonders ever. And that’s not meant to be a slight to Ray Parker Jr. He crafted one hell of a song. One that surpassed the supposed 60 drafts that came across the desks of the bosses at Columbia. The song was #1 on the Billboard charts for three weeks straight and remained on the top 100 for 21 weeks. That’s unheard of today. And with every hit comes someone looking to collect. The song was so popular that fellow artist sued Ray Parker Jr. over the track, citing it was similar to Lewis’s own song “I Want a New Drug.” I personally don’t hear it and think he was sore for turning down the gig to write the song. But the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Speaking of lawsuits, how about those first Ghost Busters? You know the classic characters Spencer, Tracy and their loveable ape Kong that were part of a live-action TV show produced in 1975 by Filmation? Memba?? You would think there would have been a lawsuit when you learn about this show’s existence. And if you dig in deep enough, it sounds like there should have been. Go check out the Movies That Made Us for a deeper dive into this. At the end of the day, Universal Studios sold the name to Columbia Pictures for $500,000 and 1% of the film’s profits, which somehow it made none. Simultaneously, no doubt to screw with us all, Filmation whips out an animated version of this original show right about the same time as the animated version we all know as “The Real Ghostbusters”. Which is ironic if you think about it.
Ghostbusters is one of those 80s classics that boggles the mind when you look back on it. Everything that works are things that weren’t planned from the start. What would the film have been if Harold Ramis didn’t play Egon? Or if the film had been an intergalactic horror flick? OR if the film had been called Ghoststoppers or Ghostsmashers? The film opened the same day as Gremlins if you can believe it! You never know what will become a classic of its day. But this film is a great example of all the right pieces coming together for the perfect picture.