- Movie Rating -

Ghostbusters (1984)

| June 8, 1984

Ghostbusters is a very funny movie but more than that, it is an exception to the notion that big budgets and special effects and sour a good comedy.  Many times in movies like this the time and attention has gone into the effects work and little time is spent on the script.  That’s not what happens here.  The comedy works because of what lies under it.

The premise doesn’t seem to promise an easy hit.  Three college graduates are dismissed from their paranormal studies at Columbia University and go into business flushing out ghosts in New York City – sort of paranormal exterminators – when a wave of ghost sightings start to occur.  To their amazement, business is booming!

Of course, this is ridiculous and if it weren’t written well or cast right, the whole thing would fall apart.  So, the cast includes two SNL veterans Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd and two veterans of SCTV Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis.  They’ve been allowed to write and polish their own dialogue and what you have is a very funny movie on top of what is essentially a horror movie.  It is shot like a horror movie.  It is paced like a horror movie.  The villains could easily come from a horror movie.  And the whole situation of New York City in danger of being sucked into a portal to a demonic dimension is a horror movie all its own.  But then, right on top of all that, comes Bill Murray who is seduced by a possessed client but refuses, offering that “I make it a point never to get involved with possessed people.”

The Ghostbusters themselves are buffaloed by what is happening.  They haven’t set out to be superheroes, just exterminators.  They don’t wear spandex and capes; they look more like the guy who has come to your house to check for termites. The Ghostbusters arm themselves with a similar kind of wand. There’s a scene in the movie when the boys are on assignment in a hotel and they investigate the hallways. Ackroyd snoops around with a cigarette hanging from his lip in the kind of dopey lethargic way that anyone who has ever called an exterminator would recognize. Meanwhile Ramis checks the walls with an electronic device like a hand-held metal detector.

Again, casting is key.  Ghostbusters is special because it allows each actor to do his or her own thing. Murray as Venkman is the mouth – the Groucho Marx role, wise-cracking at the absurdity of the situation. Ackroyd is the smart guy who has a geek-love for the spirit world. Ramis plays sort of a laconic role of a scientist who goes into long, drawn-out explanations which are finalized by a bizarrely simplified retort (note the “Twinkie Speech”). Ernie Hudson is us in the audience. He’s not a brain, or a jokester, just a guy looking for a steady paycheck. He responds to the situation more or less the way we would. Then there’s Annie Potts, years before “Designing Women”, playing the droll secretary with the “Joyzee” accent.

All of these actors are fine, but lets face it, most of what makes Ghostbusters work is Bill Murray. In his best work, has a kind of personality of appetites. He’s a slick operator who knows every angle and isn’t shaken by anything. In his long career, Ghostbusters contains his best work and it comes down to one single scene in which he goes to his girlfriend’s apartment and finds that she is possessed by a demon. His work in this scene is a brilliant piece of virtuoso comedy. Getting a look at the new, lusty Dana he remarks “That’s a different look for you.” When she propositions that she wants him inside her, he throws off the suggestion with a nervous laugh “Sounds like you got at least two people in there already. Might be a little crowded.” Murray’s performance here is not new. It’s actually the same kind of character he played in Meatballs, Stripes and Tootsie and would carry on to films like Groundhog Day. Like Groucho or W.C. Fields, he’s a wisecracker who could get away with anything just on the strength of his mouth. He didn’t need to stretch. The character that he played fit almost any situation in almost any movie.

Then there’s Sigourney Weaver, whose role here is probably more important that you might realize. She’s asked to play the straight-man role. As Dana Barrett, she happens upon this group of goofball spectral eliminators when she finds that her refrigerator contains a vortex into another dimension. She’s key to this movie. She’s our eyes and ears on this crazy plot. None of her dialogue, not a word, contains a joke or a one-liner. She’s dead serious even late in the film when her body is inhabited by a demonic seductress. Weaver is a strong presence, not a quivering waif. She always plays strong independent woman who didn’t need saving. That’s even the case here. She’s the victim, but then becomes the victimizer.

Ghostbusters is, for a lot of reasons, lighting in a bottle.  It is very funny, very scary and very entertaining.  So much so that it will be left up to movie historians to break it apart to figure out why.  What is the origin?  What is the purpose?  Why does it work.  Why are was fascinated by a 100 foot marshmallow man?  Yeah, that’s in here too.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Horror