The original Ghostbusters has been a sci-fi comedy staple for three decades. The film was loved by a wide range of people, including children and young adults. It is a movie that resonated strongly with them.
The film’s charming, witty brio has attracted much attention and will undoubtedly continue to attract attention. It has loose, anarchic humor and anti-establishment tone. The film enjoys a sarcastic thumbing at conventions. Many have spoken out against the decision to make the sequel a nostalgic-focused, warm blanket of IP notes for kids. The original film would probably eat such comfort-food cinema. You can find hundreds of comments on Reddit discussing the film.
The new film and the 2016 remake seem to miss something about the 1984 blockbuster. It’s not just the oddball counter-cultural vibe it seems to have against such safe, drippy fun. The original film didn’t try to repel such hokey sentiments, it was actually repellant. It was a touchstone of a previous generation that tried to dissuade older viewers and those who expected mature, adult-oriented comedy by the sharp-minded SNL stars. This was adult humor meant for children, or kid humor intended for adults.
Ghostbusters was not afraid to be revolting
Ghostbusters was a big movie. The movie, despite the fact that modern filmmakers and studios may not want to include anything disturbing in a film about four-quadrants for fear of alienating the lucrative kids demographic, makes it seem like the Ghostbusters team did just the opposite. Many of the film’s defenders fail to mention how active it is in removing any easy affections. The film’s many defenders often overlook the fact that it features a series of disgusting ghost feedings and actively yucky body horror stuff. It is an attempt to scare parents and anyone else who might be offended by a film that is inches away from pure potty humor.
Let’s take Slimer, the spectral apparition that Dan Ackroyd’s Ray Stantz originally called a “disgustingblob”. By the 1989 sequel, however, the ghost had become a cuddlier, more cartoonish figure. He was almost a puppy dog by the time the cartoons were made. Ray’s original description is accurate. We see him eating hotel food, his tongue dripping with saliva, and as much food as he can take in. He’s not a pleasant sight and his guttural shrieks and snorts continue to be a yucky stench as he is pursued by the team.
This character is meant to be deliberately puerile, the sentient equivalent to a fart joke. It’s symbolic of the movie’s stupid-smart tone. It’s almost like you can hear children developing a Pavlovian response. Here was proudly crass, if not for adults, juvenilia. It was all woven into a film that had dialogue that seemed aimed at grown-ups. “Let’s show the prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.” This is a powerful cocktail for those too young to drive.
Even ectoplasm is a sticky substance that results from supernatural activity. It’s viscous, and even more disgusting than the original. It was pinkish goo at the time Ghostbusters II. This makes toasters do a lot of fun dance moves. It just amplifies the “ick” factor. Egon (Harold Ramis), asks Venkman Murray (Murray), to take a sample. He observes that “somebody blows their nose, and you wanna have it?” This is not the kind of energy needed to power the Statue Of Liberty. Venkman is frenzied wiping off any remaining gunk from his hands, as it’s a very nasty bit of gunk.
Ghostbusters also got serious about the gruesome
The film’s repellent elements were not just silly-gross. The film’s body horror moments are just as horrific, but in a more disturbing manner. It’s not a comedy to see Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weber) and Louis Tully(Rick Moranis), transformed into hellhounds. It looks horrible. They are transformed at the end and borne out from the bodies of the beasts. The demonic flesh is literally ripped open to expose the human bodies. This is not The Fly, but it’s more than Stay-Puft Marshmallow leftovers.
It doesn’t shy away, but actually embraces some of the film’s most disturbing elements. The film’s horror sequences are the most prominent. It’s an effective jump scare that Dana gets when she is at peace in her home only for two monstrous arms to grab her from under her seat and pin her down.
Near the beginning of the film, the men meet the first ghost they encounter. After convincing Venkman to go with them on the ghost hunt at New York Public Library they stumble upon a gentle ghostly old lady who is reading a book, and politely shattering Venkman when he attempts to have a conversation. Ray pushes the envelope and she transforms into a monster-like Large Marge. It’s the stuff of nightmares. When it turns into a funny shot of the men fleeing the building it’s almost like the film is pushing you in your ribs. It’s possible to be both awfully stupid and hilarious at the same time, and that’s what makes it so cool.
People rarely notice the overtly gross and nastiness of horror-movie films, if ever, even when they write encomiums to their loose comic brilliance. But those button-pushing elements in the film, which might have seemed unattractive or childish to an older audience, are essential for understanding why young people love it so much. It is not because of these elements that we love it, but because they are there. Ghostbusters’ anarchic charms are based on the combination of gross-out gratuitousness and adolescent yuks.
The film’s creative team had a history of combining juvenile humor with mature laughs. This was evident in Animal House, Stripes and other comedies. However, those comedies were targeted at college-aged audiences, which included sex, drugs, and high-R ratings. This film was both more puerile than provocative and was catnip for young people who had never seen it before.
It is a wonderful irony that the very generation that loved the movie’s antiauthoritarian humor, and made it part their cultural identity, eventually let it fade into nostalgia in sometimes terrible ways. You can’t blame four ghost-hunting goofballs or their fanbase for their sins. But you can blame an animated scientist and his grandson, for the pathetic theatrics of their worst fans. Ghostbusters continues to be popular and has a loyal following of believers. It argued that juvenile nonsense could be just as adult-seeming than any serious drama, and that children can participate in the jokes in a way that puts the real adults on the sidelines. These are grown men entertaining the children. That’s just fucking awesome. Sometimes, it’s even gross.
Ghostbusters was a touchstone for generations partly because it was gross as hell.