Who you gonna call? A look back at the 'Ghostbusters' phenomenon

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:43 PM ET

“Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?

Ray: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!

Egon: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...

Winston: The dead rising from the grave!

Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!

Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!”

***

As a twentysomething in 1984, I first saw Ghostbusters — or Attack of the Ghosts as it was called in Chinese — in Taiwan while backpacking my way through the ROC, Macau and Guangdong province.

“Foreign box office” was not yet a “thing.” But the theatre in Taipei was packed for the country’s introduction to Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and — here’s your “fourth Ghostbuster” trivia — Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson).

I am here 30 years later to report that the Asian market came, saw and laughed hysterically (albeit not always at the same lines of dialogue as me, given that they were reading subtitles). Billboards of the Casper-inspired logo would follow me to Hong Kong. It was the first sense I ever had of a Hollywood movie being truly a global hit.

Ghostbusters would gross $238 million domestically and $291 internationally, despite all the English wordplay and double entendres.

And it was an absolute accident of alchemy that it came to be. There had to be a Dan Aykroyd, whose zeal for things paranormal (hauntings, UFOs) was, and is, a bona fide obsession. Tragedy had to intervene in the form of John Belushi’s death, since Ghostbusters was originally meant as another Blues Brothers for Aykroyd and his best friend (with, it’s said, roles for John Candy and Eddie Murphy).

There had to be an Ivan Reitman, who could hear Aykroyd’s crazy idea of fighting ghosts through timelines and parallel dimensions, filter it through his Canadian budget-sensibility and ground it in something resembling reality.

There had to be a catchy theme-song/catchphrase (“Who ya gonna call?”) that dovetailed with the music-video explosion. Yeah, OK, Ray Parker Jr. apparently cribbed the music from Huey Lewis’ I Want A New Drug (they settled the eventual lawsuit). It was the words that mattered.

And there absolutely had to be a Bill Murray, who brought the charisma and improvised many of Ghostbusters’ best lines — including the entire bedroom conversation between Venkman and the aroused demon Zuul, who was possessing the body of client Dana, played by Sigourney Weaver. (“I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people” — she French kisses him — “Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule”).

And the lightning-in-a-bottle didn’t stop there. Unless the prematurely retired Rick Moranis comes back to win an Oscar, his best character will always be the hapless, nerd accountant Louis Tully (narrowly beating out Bob McKenzie of Bob and Doug fame). And Annie Potts defined the wise-cracking, gum-popping secretary for the ages, or at least for the ’80s.

For all these ephemeral reasons, Ivan Reitman’s decision to produce a Ghostbusters 3 — with a new director (Paul Feig of Bridesmaids fame) and an all-female cast — seems wrongheaded (but probably makes business sense, since people will go see it, regardless). The Hollywood Reporter says ‘3’ might not even be in the title.

The as-yet-uncast youngsters are to play researchers at Columbia University who crack through to a spectral dimension with disastrous results.

Though there’ll be cameos from the original cast, these will probably not include Murray or Moranis. And the absence of Ramis, who died in February, will also be awkward.

The project brings to mind some trademark high jinks that occurred during the time of the original Ghostbusters-mania — when an animated TV series called Ghostbusters showed up that had nothing in common with the movie, save for the ghostbusting.

People saw the name and tuned in, long enough to be disappointed and angry (Columbia later produced its own cartoon called The Real Ghostbusters, as well as a Ghostbusters 2 sequel that was less than the original, but better than the reviews).

The lesson: You can slap the name Ghostbusters on something, but it doesn’t make it ectoplasmically correct.

But Ghostbusters 3 may be slimed from the start. Aykroyd has been pushing the project through this entire century. Last year, he predicted it would begin filming in the spring of 2014. In 2014, he’s predicting it will roll in spring of 2015.

As Ernie Hudson said recently at the Niagara Falls ComicCon, “it has to be original, and it has to be something that’s worth all the 30 years of waiting.”

I’m going to bet it falls short on at least one of those.

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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