80s Movie Challenge Week 39: Ghostbusters (1984)
Welcome back 80s Fans! Today #80sMC joins forces with our annual #31DoH as we begin looking at five weeks of horror films from your favourite decade. This week Paul reminisces about one of his favourite films with 1984’s Ghostbusters.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I went through several phases at different points in my life: Astronaut, Chef, Journalist, Computer Game Programmer, Toy Tester, Archaeologist, Train Driver and probably many more I can’t remember. However, there was a brief period in time – I think it will have been around late 1987 and the UK TV premiere of Ghostbusters on Boxing Day – that I decided I was going to be a Parapsychologist.
I remember that Christmas really well. I had seen Ghostbusters once before, at the cinema. It must have been on the summer 1985 re-release run as Ghostbusters first came out in December 1984 in the UK and I remember seeing the film while away on our summer holiday in Bournemouth. A trip to the pictures was often part of our annual summer getaway. We saw cinematic delights like Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, Lethal Weapon 3 and Superman III in such a fashion.
I loved the action and comedy of Ghostbusters but was terrified by it in equal measure too. Gozer’s Terror Dogs, in particular, I found especially affecting. As I was ten and a little older, I didn’t have to share the family room with my parents and brothers, fighting over who got the top bunk or the camp bed. I had a whole double bed all to myself in a second room which I shared with my nan. Great, I thought at first. That was until the kids went to bed and the adults stayed up in the hotel lounge. Suddenly my newly found freedom from my brothers wasn’t so welcome. At one point I had to go to the toilet. This was in those old-fashioned guest house style of the hotel, where the loo was outside in the hallway, not in the room. All the way to the toilet and all the way back I could feel the red eyes of the Terror Dogs watching me, waiting and ready to strike.
I made it back to the room without incident, climbed into bed and cowered under the sheets until I eventually drifted off to sleep. It wasn’t until an hour or two later when the adults came to bed that I woke up. I peered out from under my duvet to see what the noise was. With retrospect I know it was my nan in her nightgown, and I’m sure I knew the truth at the time. But to my overactive imagination, this is what was in the room with me:
Thank goodness I’d already been to the bathroom as I may very well have soiled myself there and then! The rest of the week in that hotel was spent cowering at every dark shadow and unexplained creak because not only were those Terror Dogs constantly on my mind but the next day, as we were walking down the street, we happened to go past a video store with a poster in the window. I can’t find the exact poster – I’ve looked for years and never been able to find it (let me know in the comments below if you remember it). That particular poster was for the home video release of The Twilight Zone: The Movie and it featured this pant-wettingly “memorable” scene:
So that was the first time I saw Ghostbusters and I was DESPERATE to see it again. It wouldn’t be until two and a half years later, and the premiere on 26th December 1987, that I would see it again. And I couldn’t wait. That Boxing Day we spent the day with my other grandparents, along with my Uncle Keith, Auntie Catherine and cousins Stuart and Andrew (in fact the very same Stuart who wrote the wonderful tribute to Stand By Me for us just a few weeks back). It was a fairly standard Christmas gathering, as these things go. We all brought our favourite gifts with us. My little brothers and cousin Andrew had their toys, but Stuart was already in his teens and I was on the cusp, having eschewed toys earlier that same year for more noble possessions like hair gel, albums, sports bags, blank tapes and the like (you can actually read the story of when I stopped getting toys for Christmas on the Haunted Generation website).
But despite having just celebrated my first ever Christmas without receiving toys, all the other traditions seemed to be intact. A walk in the woods with Grandpa? Check. A full turkey dinner with the choice of trifle or Christmas pudding for dessert (not to mention the obligatory hilarious jape of saying “What do you mean, ‘Or’?” when offered one or the other)? Check. Board games after dinner? Check.
Settle down as a family to watch the big Christmas movie premiere? Check? Check!? CHECK!?!?
Nope. Uncle Keith felt that goggling at the box for two hours was family time wasted and a far more worthwhile fashion to employ that time was to continue with the games. But this time he wasn’t going to settle for any of that frivolous nonsense like Ker-Plunk, Ghost Castle or Space Attack. No. We were going to spend the next two hours playing something educational. Like Canasta or Rummy.
This was not fair! I had to see that film that night. Now this being the 80s, and before you ask, OF COURSE, I’d set a timer at home and loaded the VHS recorder with a blank tape that I got for Christmas the day before (it was the law in 1987 that all nearly-teenagers got at least one pack of blank cassettes as a stocking filler). But THAT WASN’T THE POINT! I wanted to see it NOW!
I pleaded my case. Eloquently, I think. And lost. We played cards until Uncle Keith and family went home. Hoping to catch at least the ending, I flicked on my grandparents’ TV. It was The Dame Edna Christmas Experience. What a perfect ending to the day. I had to wait until the next day to watch my recording.
It was every bit as glorious as I remembered, but being a big brave nearly-thirteen-year-old, not as scary anymore. Well, I say every bit as glorious – but something seemed off. I wasn’t sure what that was until the confrontation in the Mayor’s office. I was expecting a penis joke. As a ten-year-old, Venkman calling Walter Peck “Dickless” had been one of the single funniest things I had ever heard. As a boy of not-twelve-for-much-longer, it was still the absolute pinnacle of high comedy and I was already chuckling to myself in anticipation.
And then I realised what was amiss. This was an edited for TV version. Instead of that utterly hilarious exchange, the following happened:
STANTZ: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by Wally Wick here.
PECK: They caused an explosion!
MAYOR: Is this true?
VENKMAN: It’s true, your honour. The man is some kind of rodent, I don’t know which.
Wally Wick? WALLY WICK? Who the hell is Wally Wick? Yes, I get that Wally is an affectionate or even derogatory take on Walter, and yes, Wick sounded a little like Peck. But where does the rodent come into it all? I’ve tried for over thirty years to find out who Wally Wick is and all I can uncover is a bunch of similar questions from like-minded fans of the film. If you can shed any light on the Wally Wick Mystery, please to let me know in the comments below.
What’s fascinating about this TV edit of Ghostbusters though is that, unlike other famously edited-for-TV movies including Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, Robocop and Aliens, the rude words are not just dubbed over by bad impressions of the characters, Director Ivan Reitman actually shot family-friendly alternative versions of the more adult scenes. These can all be viewed on the special features of various Ghostbusters DVD and Blu-Ray releases.
Other alternatives include Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett exclaiming a far more kiddie-friendly alternative to “Oh shit!” when she’s being dragged into the kitchen by a possessed chair, Venkman triumphantly exclaiming “What a knockabout of pure fun that was!” instead of “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” after the gang catch their first ghost and the gang discussing getting the sailor Mr Stay Puft drunk instead of laid.
But you know what, even with the genitalia-related humour and rude words unceremoniously replaced, Ghostbusters was still every bit the knockabout horror adventure I remembered. Eventually, I wore the tape out from playing it so often but that only resulted in me being able to quote it verbatim (of course I replaced the censored bits with what I knew to be the correct words) and by that time (Christmas 1990 when I was nearly-sixteen and well into movie collecting) Columbia released a special double-bill of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II on VHS. I got that for Christmas and could watch the glorious, uncut version of Ghostbusters as often as I wanted. And I did. Until I got the DVD, and then the Blu-Ray which came with a digital copy. It was the digital copy I tried to watch last night on Google Play through the YouTube app on my TV but it kept getting stuck on the Columbia logo so the lesson we can learn from this is Physical Media Rules, Digital Media Sucks!
As an aside, that double bill VHS was such an odd release. In between the two films was a full-length episode of the old black and white 1943 Batman serial. If I recall correctly I was the episode Poison Peril (although happy to be proven wrong if anyone knows otherwise) and you had to fast forward through seventeen minutes of it if you wanted to watch both films in one go. Annoying.
Watching it again as an adult is a different experience. Back in 2007, I’d hoped to run a series of film nights in the local church hall, showing old family films but inviting the younger kids who hadn’t seen them. In the end, we only did Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters (although we planned to do Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Back To The Future too) and then life got in the way. However, as we sat there watching Ghostbusters on the big screen (the non-family friendly version – oops) all the adults and parents cringed at the quite dirty sexual innuendos that are peppered throughout the film. Afterwards though, when asking the kids if there were any questions they wanted to ask, preparing ourselves to talk about why Venkman’s behaviour towards women is not okay, or to explain away why that ghost was unzipping Ray’s fly, but there was only one thing they wanted to talk about. How come all the heroes smoke so much.
And it’s true. We hadn’t picked up on it as growing up in the 70s and 80s generally meant smoking was pretty much a part of normal life but if you watch it again there’s barely a scene in the entire film where one of the good guys isn’t lighting up.
I was going to finish off by regaling you with some interesting behind the scenes tales but, to be honest, if you like that kind of thing, you’d be far better off checking out the superb Cleaning Up The Town documentary which takes a very affectionate look at the making of Ghostbusters. Instead, I’ll leave it there. I started #80sMC as much for us to tell our stories and memories of seeing these amazing films for the first time, if not more so, than for giving you the lowdown on how they were made.
I will end though by telling you about what happened with my desire to become a parapsychologist. I learned by heart the whole list of things Janine tells Winston he must believe in to work for the Ghostbusters (UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis). I got books out of the library on many of them and watched an awful lot of Arthur C Clarke style TV shows. However, after mentioning my chosen career path at a church youth group, I was told I really shouldn’t be into that kind of thing. Soon after that, I received a good grade for a piece of nonfiction work in my English class, My teacher, Miss Porch, said that it was good and I should think about journalism for a career. That was the end of that, before I decided I wanted to be a chef after cooking a nice cake.
That particular dream was over but the film was still as good as ever. To me, Ghostbusters is a very special movie, which has been a part of my life for over three-quarters of it and I hope to continue watching it, quoting it, laughing at old jokes I know and spotting new stuff I’d missed, for a long time to come.
Come back next week for more spooky 80s fun with Chris Lupton. We hear he’s been guzzling coffee by the barrel load to stay awake, although we were disappointed to find out it wasn’t so he could work around the clock to bring you an amazing article, but because he was feeling a little nervous about visiting the Land of Nod after watching 1984’s A Nightmare On Elm Street.