Helen Henderson tells us why the second outing for the original Ghostbusters deserves more love.
During the course of my almost decade-long relationship, there has been one thing, one measly thing, on which we have never been able to compromise. Yes, that doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but this is something I am very passionate about, and every so often, the conversation turns to it and my husband shakes his head in disbelief. This minor issue is my great fondness for the film Ghostbusters II. No, you may cry, flinging your hands upward and tearing at your hair. “But it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the original!” Here, at least I can agree, but so many people write-off the 1989 sequel that I feel a need to step in and defend a wonderful piece of my childhood.
Admittedly, the idea that pink goo can be charged with negative or positive emotions, leading to the uprising of mink coats and the convulsions of solid enamel baths, is somewhat hard to swallow, but hoards of people found The Blob to be terrifying, so it just goes to show you that even pink slime can still provoke terror and wonder into the hearts of impressionable children (I was twelve at the time of the film’s release).
Events begin with an older, wiser Sigourney Weaver as Dana “There is no Dana, only Zuul” Barrett pushing her wee baby’s pram across some of the aforementioned pink ooze, leading to sinister events. Dana is the most galactically-unlucky woman in New York, having had her apartment obliterated, been sucked into a fridge, possessed, levitated, and struck by lightning to transform her into a “hellhound.” And now she has moody slime to deal with! The pram in which her baby Oscar lies runs out of control down a hill and into the path of speeding cars before suddenly stopping still with no explanation. Instead of merely being glad that her child is safe, Dana fears the paranormal worst and consults some old friends.
We find our heroes down at heel, having been sued and bled dry for the damage caused in the 1984 original, carving out work wherever they can to survive. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) has taken up a role which is frankly no surprise given his sense of humour and ego; he is the cynical host of a show about the unexplained. Incidentally, a lady on his show claims to have been told by aliens that the world will end on Valentine’s Day in 2016, so we clearly dodged a bullet there! Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) work part-time as children’s entertainers, albeit unsuccessfully considering their youthful clients call-out for He-man at any given opportunity. Ray also owns his own occult bookstore, whilst Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), the man with little emotion who claims that, as a child, he had a Slinky that he straightened, is conducting experiments on emotion at Columbia University.
Brought together by events in Dana’s life, the awesome foursome (fivesome if you count the long-suffering Janine Melnitz) are called upon to save the City of New York once again; this time from a river of malevolent pink goo. Again, the whole slime thing doesn’t seem so frightening, but when combined with Dana’s baby being kidnapped to bring forth a tyrannical sixteenth century Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) from a painting, the aforementioned river of psychic ooze takes on more importance.
I agree that there is a lot of suspension of disbelief in this one, especially considering the fact that the guys kidnap the Statue of Liberty by means of positively-charged slime. This is to try and buoy the spirits of so-called pessimistic New Yorkers. Anyone reading that script must have said, “Whoa, is anyone gonna actually buy this?” In all truth, I really adore these scenes considering Venkman’s shouts of encouragement; he can scarcely conceal his joy at pulling it all off. Too often, you hear that some programme has “jumped the shark,” referring to a self-explanatory scene in an episode of Happy Days, or “nuked the fridge” from the incredibly ridiculous Crystal Skull to pinpoint when a franchise has killed itself, but Ghostbusters II didn’t quite reach these dizzying heights of ridicule and incredulity with its silly climax.
There are some great moments peppered throughout such as Dr. Janosz (Peter MacNicol) woozily examining his body and exclaiming,“Vy am I drippings vith goo??” Also, Winston being caught up in the path of a ghostly apparition from a speeding locomotive, and being asked what number it was (“Sorry… I missed it”). There’s also the Ghostbusters’ trial being interrupted by the spirits of two brothers the presiding Judge had formerly put to death. This naturally leads to the prompt reinstatement of the gang to some of their former glory and, of course, who could forget the dancing toaster pinging and popping away to Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”?
There are a few sobering moments amid all the comedy, with wee Oscar being spirited away by the creepy Dr. Janosz, the Ghostbusters being committed to a psychiatric unit, and especially the Titanic arriving with world-weary ghoul passengers, which must have seemed like a bit of a gamble on grounds of good taste. They do manage to lighten the mood by having Cheech Marin’s harbour master say, “Better late than never,” but it’s hard to imagine such a button-pushing moment being in the 2016 film.
The final showdown occurs in the fictional Manhattan Museum of Art where Dana works as a painting restorer (seriously, this woman just can’t keep out of trouble!). Her colleague Dr. Janosz has been overcome with adoration for her, and is quite willing to serve a tyrant from a sixteenth century painting in order to get what he wants and, ultimately, what Vigo wants – a vessel to hold his soul so that he can rule the world. Again, I know how that sounds on paper, but the implementation of the showdown is infinitely better than the concept must have seemed at the time.
Dana, Oscar and Janosz are trapped in the museum as either prisoners or willing participants. On the stroke of midnight, Vigo will be released from the painting and into the body of Oscar, much to Dana’s distress, but never fear, the Ghostbusters are here! Having penetrated the wall of slime surrounding the Museum with “good vibes” and the Lady of Liberty, they swoop in for a rescue mission. Not everything goes to plan, of cours, and in the melee Dr. Janosz is doused with goo and Ray follows soon after, being possessed by Vigo himself. Thankfully, both are okay and overcome with intense feelings of love for each other once the face-off is well and truly over. The Ghostbusters have once again done themselves and their city proud, and the only really corny moment in the film sees the portrait of Vigo being transformed into the lavish portrayal of the Ghostbusters surrounding happy baby Oscar.
The whole cast pulls together to make this film a really warm family affair. Janine (Annie Potts) is back with a new hairdo and a sexy new look, making Louis Tully from the previous adventure weak at the knees. Janine’s dry comment of “typical” is perfectly-timed on hearing that Venkman has managed to get himself arrested during dinner with Dana. Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully has some great scenes – being seduced by Janine, being kitted out in full Ghostbusters gear, and running off to assist his apparition-fighting chums by gasping, “Think fast, make good decisions” as he runs down the road only to board a bus driven by the much-loved Slimer. His timing is just as spot-on as the first film, and his hapless behaviour makes for some fine comic relief as he unwittingly goes off to fight something he really has no clue about. His joy is palpable when he thinks he is the instrument of destruction when it comes to the barrier of tough pink ooze surrounding the museum, and he revels in the thanks from the delighted crowd.
The main cast are truly worth celebrating – Murray’s Peter Venkman has changed little in his years apart from Dana; he is still a wise-cracking, reckless child at heart, but from her reaction, Dana wouldn’t have him any other way. Ackroyd’s Ray is warm-hearted and as clever as ever, and Hudson’s Winston is grounded and heroic, still struggling with the ghostly goings on. The latter has some brilliant scenes, especially centred around the abandoned subway tunnel that he and his colleagues venture into. Ramis’ Egon is still as wide-eyed and as slightly detached from the action as he was in the first film; his bookwormish, sweet ways are played with subtlety and charm throughout. The great “Doh… Ray… Egon!” scene is oft-quoted and one of the best scenes in the movie.
This sequel is in no ways perfect by any means, and it may seem divisive and a disappointment compared to the vast popularity of the first, but it is a film of which I am extremely fond. In the same way that I love Back to the Future: Part II over the still very enjoyable original, Ghostbusters II holds a similar place of delight in my heart that can never be taken away. Yes, the first film may have been eminently quotable, have struck terror into the hearts of many children, enchanted people with the giant Stay Puft marshmallow man, and showcased the amazing force that is Bill Murray, but Ghostbusters II has much to offer in the way of scares, laughs and highjinks. What’s not to like about a dancing toaster? I still greatly enjoy the first with its darker tone, but for me, Ghostbusters II is always a sequel I can watch and never tire of.
- The cameo appearance of Slimer the green ghost of Ghostbusters (was prompted by the fact that, in the years between the two films, the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters (1986) introduced the idea that Slimer was living at the firehouse as their pet. Because the original film and the cartoon series were so popular with children, they put Slimer in the film.
- While the role of Vigo was played by Wilhelm von Homburg, all his lines were dubbed by Max von Sydow.
- The kid who tells Ray that, according to his dad, the Ghostbusters are “full of crap” is played by Jason Reitman, the son of director Ivan Reitman. Reitman’s daughter Catherine Reitman plays the girl with the puppy in Egon’s lab.
- Bill Murray told Entertainment Weekly that he was very disappointed with the way that the film turned out. He commented that “it was a whole lot of slime, and not much of us.”