Weekender: ‘Ghostbusters’ still scares up big fun 36 years later

A promotional poster for "Ghostbusters" (1984) is pictured. via IMDB

Ghostbusters” (1984) is a marvel: an oddball masterpiece that is as endlessly quotable as it is endlessly rewatchable. There, that should be sufficient, go watch it. 

My editors have informed me that one sentence does-not-a-thinkpiece-make, so I’ll play the ball from there. “Ghostbusters” remains as out of the box, kooky and marvelous as the day it came out — it’s the perfect movie for this spookiest of seasons. Being equal parts comedy, supernatural thriller, sci-fi epic and eldritch horror, the titular team of gray-collar exterminators wearing unlicensed nuclear reactor packs takes on everything from the smallest specter to a Sumerian god.

The cast is irreplaceable, with Saturday Night Live alums, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, teaming up with Ernie Hudson and the late Harold Ramis, rounding out the Ghostbusters. The busters play off each other with exceptional comedic timing, dispensing one-liners like a well-oiled mile-a-minute humor machine gun. Murray plays Peter Venkman, a cocky psychologist who serves as the film’s protagonist as well as the instigator of sorts. Murray plays Venkman as a charming, if also moderately sleazy, character who you can’t help but love. Aykroyd plays paranormal enthusiast Raymond Stantz and Ramis plays Egon Spengler, the socially awkward but beyond brilliant scientist of the group. Stantz and Spengler are both delightfully inept in their own ways, but only just brushing against unbelievability which provides us with such wonderful exchanges, such as Egon’s lamenting the fact that Peter stopped him from drilling a hole in his head. Hudson, the only non-comedian amongst his fellow ghostbusters, plays Winston Zeddemore and more than holds his own, bringing both a down-to-earth and more cynical humor as well as moments of genuine heart. Hudson is often overshadowed, and personally, I find it tragic he isn’t given more to say and do as he’s a tremendous presence and owns every line he’s given, particularly his triumphant cry of “I love this town!” at the film’s conclusion.

Alongside the intrepid ghostbusting crew is Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett, Peter’s love interest and eventually minion of the film’s villains, Gozer. Rick Moranis plays Louis Tully, Dana’s dorky neighbor and eventual fellow minion of Gozer. Weaver and Moranis both play their double roles exceptionally well, embracing their more comedic sides for some hysterically over the top moments, like Moranis’ talking to a horse in Central Park while shouting, “You will perish in flame.”

Moranis’ performance is representative of the film’s primary strength: It isn’t afraid to take turns in unexpected directions. The gang’s paranormal shenanigans begin with a singular ghost sighting, but after an hour of the film, there seem to be ghouls popping up all over the place. Business seems to be booming until Hudson delivers one of the film’s most chilling lines asking, “Do you remember something in the Bible about the last days when the dead would rise from the grave?” It’s an unnerving sentiment that recolors our entire understanding of the adventure up to this point: This isn’t just a fun romp where ghost activity increases so our characters have something to do, it’s heralding the end of days. It’s a heavy theme for a comedy and one that the film expects us to take in stride.

So too does the flick expect the audience to buy into the numerous aspects of its mythology, like the film’s “big bad,” Gozer, a Sumerian god that has come to end the world after being brought about by a group of apocalypse cultists. And you thought this was just a silly Bill Murray movie; you’re not technically wrong, but it’s still another instance of believing your audience is smart enough to handle heavy themes and a deep world, and it’s something that a first-time viewer can easily overlook. On subsequent rewatches, it almost acts like a ticking clock as the team slowly uncovers more and more about the cosmic threat. It also leads to one of the film’s best gags, where the ghostbusters are forced to choose Gozer’s final form, the destructor, so that Gozer may lay waste to the world. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how great the joke is; if you haven’t, then you’re in for a sweet surprise.

Ghostbusters” is one of the funniest movies ever made, but it’s also one of the most creative, fun, atmospheric and spectacularly weird films ever made. It is unique in its perfected balancing act between genres, and it features a slew of top performances from some of the most hilarious comedians and talented actors ever. You can’t go wrong picking it as your film of choice come Halloween night. I was tempted to succumb to the cliche of asking you, “who you gonna call?” but I decided instead to leave you with Ray Stantz’s own words: “Nobody ever made them like this.”