By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Ghostbusters II gets a pretty bad rap, and for good reason. It fits the textbook definition of a crappy sequel, by essentially doing the original film over again. You can basically describe Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II with the same broad plot points…
- A powerful ghostly entity threatens New York City.
- Three down-on-their-luck scientists make cynics into believers by capturing a ghost.
- Peter Venkman initially grates on Dana Barrett, but eventually charms his way into her heart.
- A snide executive figure in a suit is in the mayor’s ear, and nearly shuts the Ghostbusters down altogether.
- Ultimately, the Ghostbusters come together to defeat the ghostly entity.
- Peter gets the girl in the end.
- Both films also have a “Ghostbusters in action” montage, a “ghosts wreaking havoc” montage, and an end credits montage.
In a lot of ways, Ghostbusters II killed the GB movie franchise. While a third film has been in development hell for over two decades now, had Ghostbusters II been better received both by fans and critics, the boys in gray likely would have been back at least once by now.
But you know what? Screw all that. Despite all its flaws, I adore Ghostbusters II. Yes, I said adore. Admittedly, there’s a childhood bias that plays a role there. I can’t even tell you how many times I popped both films into the VCR growing up. But as an adult, I still find myself in love with Ghostbusters II. Not as much as the first film, mind you. The original Ghostbusters is a pop cultural milestone. It’s sequel is…well, a crappy sequel. But it’s my favorite crappy sequel. And here’s why…
1. Most of the Original Cast Returns
So much of what made Ghostbusters amazing was the chemistry between the cast. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, all had Second City backgrounds (Rick Moranis was also an SCTV alum), and obviously what came out on screen between them turned out to be comedic and improvisational gold. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett was obviously the perfect straight, grounded romantic interest to the off-the-wall Murray. Ernie Hudson also played a great everyman in Winston, who also gave Aykroyd and Ramis’ characters someone to say expository dialogue to when necessary. Everyone essentially had their designated ground to cover from a character standpoint, and it’s really fulfilling to watch this cast at work. So having everyone back for the sequel was even more important than it would be for your average film series. The only conspicuous absence in the film is that of William Atherton, who played Walter Peck. Jack Hardemeyer, played by Kurt Fuller, is an obvious stand-in for Peck.
2. Vigo the Carpathian
Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man were a tough act to follow. But for my money, Vigo the Carpathian was a respectable second opponent for the boys in gray. He had that booming, commanding voice, and certainly his own share of quotable, demonic dialogue. (“On a mountain of skulls, in the castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood.”) The factoring in of an innocent infant certainly earned him some extra villain points. The fact that he inhabits a painting also lends an ominous “Somebody’s watching me” vibe to him. He also cuts a pretty imposing figure, we learn when he finally steps out of the painting. I will say, however, that for such an imposing villain, Vigo went out like a chump. A crowd of people singing saps his energy to the point that he can’t hold his form outside the painting? Weeeeak. I guess that’s what he gets for investing in mood slime.
3. More Slime
With the line, “He slimed me,” Ghostbusters forever turned the word slime into a verb. And to be certain, Ghostbusters II had no shortage of “ectoplasmic residue.” But the film not only upped the slime quotient by about a thousand, it actually turns it into a plot device. The villainous Vigo draws his strength from a river of slime flowing (and growing) underneath New York City, generated by the massive amount of negative energy coming from the populace. The sight of all that slime flowing in one place is insane as it is. But then Ray, Egon, and Winston actually end up in the river, drifting through the sewers in a mess of liquefied hate. It was interesting to see not only the emotional effect the slime subsequently had on them, but some of the comedy that ensued in the subsequent restaurant scene. Interestingly enough, they actually expand on the origins of the “mood slime” in Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Yet another reason to pick that sucker up.
4. Things Haven’t Gone Well
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword, as it reverts the Ghostbusters back to the down on their luck schmucks they were the first time around, which contributes to the film feeling like a rehash of the original. It also seems a bit far-fetched that the boys would be regarded as “two-bit frauds and publicity hounds” after a giant marshmallow man was walking down the street just five years earlier. Still, I like the idea that the boys in gray were taken down not by a ghostly enemy, but by law suits brought on by the property damage that occurred during the fight with Gozer. It’s also interesting to see what they do once they’re legally prohibited from being Ghostbusters. Egon gets a university job, Ray opens an occult-themed bookstore (while taking on the occasional entertainment gig at kids’ birthday parties), and Venkman actually becomes a television host, which harkens back to a line Dana had in the original movie. The whole comeback element added to the notion that the Ghostbusters weren’t superheroes, but more or less ordinary guys taking on an extraordinary task.
5. It’s Scarier Than the Original…
Obviously Ghostbusters II wasn’t the ground-breaking, cultural milestone its predecessor was. But it is significantly scarier than the original. As an adult you can appreciate that, especially nowadays when everybody wants a “dark” tone. But as a young kid, parts of Ghostbusters II scared the crap out of me. Vigo was scary, of course. But the freak-out factor doesn’t really kick into high gear until we get to the second half of the movie. There’s a particularly frightening moment where Ray, Egon, and Winston are walking through that underground tunnel, and suddenly they find themselves surrounded by corpse heads mounted on spikes! The “ghosts wreaking havoc” montage is also scarier this time around. It takes place at night, which changes the entire feel of it. But the various ghostly elements we see (a mink coat screeching and coming to life, the slime oozing up from the sewers, the Titanic arriving in New York) all range from legitimately alarming to simply creepy. The score, composed by Randy Edelman, also gave the film a much more ominous, spooky feel. But of course, this added scariness made the Ghostbusters look all the more heroic when they triumphed at the end.
6. …But Still Funny
Again, while it’s not its predecessor, Ghostbusters II is a funny freakin’ flick. It’s got that quotable quality to it that so many great comedies do. Naturally, much of this comes from Bill Murray. But Rick Moranis is also in top form here, nervously rattling off legal jargon with that great wide-eyed enthusiasm he bought to Louis Tully. That character benefitted tremendously from being pulled further into the actual Ghostbusters business, because he now has a whole litany of things to be awkward and weird about. He’s like the C-3PO of the Ghostbusters world. All in all, while the finished product didn’t turn out as well, the comedic spirit (no pun intended) of the original remained intact. And we owe that not just to the original cast members, but to a new addition…
7. Peter MacNicol as Janosz Poha
Peter MacNicol ran with this Janosz Poha character, who acts as Vigo the Carpathian’s henchman, and essentially liaison to the human world while he remains in the painting. MacNicol is a more than worthy addition to the Ghostbusters cast. He’s hilariously high-strung, yet delightfully weaselish when he’s either communicating with or doing the bidding of his ghostly master. But at the same time, oddly enough, he seems to have good intentions in terms of Dana Barrett. While he most certainly comes off as creepy when they interact, he doesn’t seem to want to hurt her. Even after he friggin’ kidnaps baby Oscar off the ledge of her apartment building, he seems to want to let Dana in on his scheme with Vigo, as opposed to victimizing her: ”There are many perks to being the mother of a living god. I’m sure we could get a magnificent apartment, car, free parking…” And of course, in the end, he turns out not to be such a bad guy after all.
8. Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver
When I was in college, I wanted more than anything to be Peter Venkman. He was a goof, and completely the opposite of what Dana Barrett would traditionally go for. But being his coy, and somehow charming self, he found his way into her heart. Granted, that works out much better in the movies than real life. But Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver just had that perfect chemistry, which made it believable. It’s great to see them back together in Ghostbusters II, with the addition of baby Oscar to add a new dimension to the relationship. Seeing Murray interact with the baby is actually pretty amusing. I’d like to think being reunited by yet another crazy paranormal ordeal finally got these two to stay together. But alas, in both Ghostbusters: The Video Game and the current IDW comic book series (which are both canon as far as I’m concerned), Dana is absent. She’s mentioned in both, but apparently she and Venkman still couldn’t make it work. Ugh. Happiness is right in front of you, kids. It’s right in front of you…
9. The Soundtrack
Am I a big enough Ghostbusters geek to have both soundtracks on my iPod? Why yes, I am. While the original soundtrack produced the iconic and forever catchy “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr., the soundtrack for Ghostbusters II is by and large the more fun album to listen to. We get a double dose of Bobby Brown with “On Our Own” (my personal favorite song on the album) and “We’re Back,” and Brown was even given a cameo in the movie as a doorman who asks Ray and Egon about getting a proton pack. We also hear from Run-DMC with “Ghostbusters,” and even Elton John with “Love is a Cannibal.” It’s a lot of fun, to be sure.
10. Minimal Slimer
Originally, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and director Ivan Reitman were allegedly against the idea of a sequel to Ghostbusters. But Columbia Pictures pushed for one based on the success of the first film, combined with that of the cartoon show, The Real Ghostbusters. And of course, a big part of the success of the cartoon was Slimer, who acted as a sort of ghostly mascot for the team. Slimer became so popular with kids that in the show’s third season, it was actually reformatted under the name Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Now with a one-hour timeslot, half the broadcast would be fully devoted to Slimer and his offbeat shenanigans, and the other half to the Ghostbusters.
Full disclosure: I hate the cartoon version of Slimer. I get that he’s an iconic part of the Ghostbusters franchise, but his shrill, high-pitched nonsensical dialogue always annoyed the hell out of me, and I came to resent him for drawing the focus away from the boys in gray. Long story short, Slimer ruined The Real Ghostbusters for me the way Jar Jar Binks ruined The Phantom Menace for so many Star Wars fans.
And in truth, since The Real Ghostbusters played such a big part in the push for a sequel to Ghostbusters, it would have been pretty easy for Aykroyd, Ramis, and everybody else involved in the creative process to succumb to what I imagine was a decent amount of pressure from Columbia to feature Slimer in a more prominent role, and make the movie more like the cartoon. For instance, Slimer could have gotten inside the museum at the end somehow, and slimed Ray, knocking him out of Vigo’s weird trance, and allowing the Ghostbusters to finish him off. Thankfully, we got none of that.
In Ghostbusters II, Slimer acts as a foil for Louis, apparently having decided to haunt the firehouse. In the movie, we see a brief clip of Slimer scarfing down Louis’ lunch, and then later Slimer is a bus driver for some reason, and ends up driving Louis (who by this point is in Ghostbuster gear) to the museum. I’d say those two bits sufficiently met my Slimer quotient. But apparently, the Slimer/Louis saga was supposed to have been much longer. The above photo of Louis catching the onionhead isn’t from a scene in the film, which suggests it’s from a deleted scene. There’s also footage and images that exist of Louis wearing a proton pack, trying to blast Slimer in the firehouse, almost hitting Janine in the process. During this scene, Louis apparently uses a bicycle mirror to spot Slimer, and while the scene itself didn’t make the final cut, that shot with the mirror was used during the end credits montage. All in all, while the ghosthead in me would love to see this stuff in the deleted scenes portion of a Blu-ray, I’m grateful it got left out of the finished movie.
Front page image from sharethefiles.us. Image 1 from drafthouse.com. Image 2 from jeffpearlman.com. Image 3 from pressthebuttons.typepad.com. Image 4 from ghostbusters.wikia.com. Image 5 from findery.com. Image 6 from gbfans.com. Image 7 from denofgeek.com. Image 8 from movies.yahoo.com. Image 9 from screeninsults.com. Image 10 from backgroundartists.tumblr.com. Image 11 from cinemablend.com. Image 12 from basementrejects.com.
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