Halloween Horror: Ghostbusters (1984)

Reviewing a movie like Ghostbusters is a dangerous endeavour. In the years since Ghostbusters came out, 80s pop culture has largely left the realm of critical appraisal and become undeniable nostalgia. Say anything bad about Back to the Future, DieHard, Ghostbusters, and bafflingly, films like Big Trouble in Little China and The Goonies and it’s as if you’ve insulted someone’s mother or called Citizen Kane overrated.

As someone who loves 80s films, and is as nostalgic and indebted to them as anyone (my short film QuanTom is a riff on 80s sci-fi adventure tropes), I decided it’d be a good idea to revisit Ghostbusters and write a review of it in preparation for Halloween. Having now done that, people can rest easy. My evaluation of it hasn’t changed, but my thoughts on what does and doesn’t work about it have.

Ghostbusters is still hilarious and one of those few films that seems endlessly rewatchable. But beyond the enjoyment of the sad sarcasm of Bill Murray’s Dr. Peter Venkman and the bizarre characterization of Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler, the film has plenty to love.

I think the main strength of Ghostbusters is that it allows the audience to feel power over the evil that usually haunts horror movies. This works because although being a comedy, Ghostbusters still has elements of the horror movie to it. The most popular ghosts like Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man are hardly scary, but I still remember the first time watching Zuul’s possession of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett and being terrified by the hand bursting through the couch and pulling Weaver into the supernatural realm created in her kitchen. Sigourney Weaver, by the way, is stunning in this film. Venkman’s fascination with her is completely understandable, and her charm makes one of the weaker plots threads of the film — Venkman’s ham-handed wooing of her — work.

Back to the battling evil aspect of the film, in most horror movies, ghosts are this unknowable evil that only the most archaic of rituals can get a handle on. Ghostbusters on the other hand, matter-of-factly approaches ghosts as any other evil monsters, something that can be dealt with by professionals and a blunt application of technology. The film is downright optimistic, and that optimism is, I believe, part of the reason people love the film so much. The film says that you don’t have to fear the dead because you can just blast them away with a nuclear proton pack and suck them up into a containment device. Leave it to the professionals, and the professionals are lovable mad scientists, not killjoy bureaucrats like William Atherton’s Walter Peck.

Regarding Peck, on my most recent rewatch I noticed a strange current of libertarianism running throughout the film in its treatment of Peck and the city administrators. Although the film probably intends the object of ridicule to be egotistical bureaucrats like Peck, not the Environmental Protection Agency that Peck works for, it also seems dismissive of the environmentalist notions Peck proposes to stand for. It’s almost as if it’s saying that when people’s lives are at stake, the government cannot be trusted and it’s up to the radical individual with a gun (or in this case, a proton pack) to deal with society’s problems. The film’s politics, whatever they may actually be, don’t distract from its enjoyment. It’s just worth mentioning that it inarguably makes fun of the government, environmentalists, academic administrators and any other type of rule-makers, which is fairly right wing in retrospect.

Ghostbusters is one of the defining products of the 80s. The effects have a dated charm to them and the performances are as funny as ever, especially Rick Moranis’s hilarious Louis Tully. It may lack the depth or the virtuosity to be deemed a great film  — the film seems more a result of 80s tropes pioneered by other films than a pioneer of those tropes in its own right — but it certainly remains a classic.

8 out of 10

Ghostbusters (1984, USA)

Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis; starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Signourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Errnie Hudson, and William Atherton.