Yeah, maybe if you're human, you'll call the Ghostbusters. But if you're a ghost? You might want to ring a lawyer.
For years, spirits in the Big Apple have groaned and moaned and rattled their chains relatively unrestrained. After all, they're not setting up illegal hedge funds or mugging people in Central Park. Most ghosts just want to be left alone to haunt their favorite haunts.
But then some flunky parapsychologists set up shop in a dilapidated fire station and market themselves as spectral exterminators who'll catch and store restless spirits. "Our courteous and efficient staff is on call to serve all your supernatural elimination needs," one of them declares in a television commercial.
So let's say this straight, for the ghosts' sake: In a country proud of being a global melting pot and founded on the idea of intrinsic liberty, these Ghostbusters are rounding up innocuous spooks simply because they're dead! And then they're going to incarcerate them in a red metal box without so much as a trial—for all eternity or until the power goes out, whichever comes first. How is this permissible in this day and age? How is this ethical? How is it—
Um, they're also eradicating extradimensional demons, you say?
The Ghostbusters didn't start out trying to save the world. Kicked out of their cushy university gigs for being (gasp) unprofessional, Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz and Egon Spengler initially start their ecto-business just to round up some fresh cash. But when they discover that an ancient Sumerian demon is about to destroy at least New York and perhaps the whole world, Peter, Ray and Egon (along with new hire Winston) willingly risk their lives to take that dastardly demon down.
It takes a special kind of moxie to stand up to evil, whether it assumes the form of a red-eyed she-devil or a 100-foot-tall corporate mascot. And these fellows have it.
Spirits and spirituality go hand in skeletal hand, and while Ghostbusters laughs its way through most of the theological implications here, it doesn't ignore them.
We hear lots of references to various forms of spiritually obsessed pseudoscience, and see paranormal phenomena aplenty (eggs exploding out of their carton, library cards flying around, gooey residue, etc.). The Ghostbusters see and fight all manner of supernatural creatures, too. Some appear to be the spirits of those who died. Others (like the greedy green Slimer) are of uncertain origin. Still others are explicitly demonic. We're told that supernatural activity in New York has increased dramatically—part of the master plan of the movie's big baddie, Gozer, a Sumerian deity/demon also called the Destroyer. Two people—Peter's crush Dana and her annoying neighbor Louis—are possessed with demons serving Gozer, and they engage in a tawdry rite (unseen) to open a door for the demon to come through. We hear that an architect designed their apartment building to be a doorway for Gozer, and that he and his acolytes held strange religious ceremonies on the building's roof.
While the original three Ghostbusters don't mull much on the theological implications of possession and all these spirits running amok, Winston lends some Christian(ish) perspective.
"Do you believe in God?" he asks Ray.
"Never met Him," Ray answers.
Never mind that while he's being interviewed for the Ghostbuster job, Winston says, "If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say," he goes on to talk about how he loves Jesus. He and Ray begin quoting from the sixth chapter of Revelation (misstated in the movie as chapter seven)—a passage that talks about massive earthquakes and the sun going dark and the moon turning blood red. Winston suggests that they might be so busy lately because the dead are rising from their graves, presaging the end of the world.
A Catholic cardinal informs New York's mayor that, while his church doesn't take an official position on all this spiritual activity, he personally believes it's a sign from God. Both Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis are seen praying in front of the building where most of the supernatural energy seems focused. But the mayor retorts that he's "not going to call a press conference and tell everyone to start praying." And it's the Ghostbusters' proton packs, not prayer, that wind up winning the day.
Beyond all the talk of demons, the Ghostbusters are asked if they're gods. Then, when Gozer, in the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, steps on a cathedral, Peter shouts, "No one steps on a church in my town!"
When she gets possessed, Dana changes from a mild-mannered cello player to a sexed-up succubus. She dresses provocatively, her getup baring a shoulder and revealing lots of leg. And she throws herself sexually at Peter, both verbally ("I want you inside me," she tells him) and physically (tossing him down on her bed and straddling him).
Turns out, sex is a critical element to bringing Gozer to Earth. Dana refers to herself as the "gatekeeper," while Louis is the "keymaster"—titles charged with sexual meaning. When these possessed neighbors meet up, she kisses him passionately, then leads him off camera. The implication is that they have sex: When next we see them, she's lounging provocatively on a stone slab, whereas he's lying flat, exhausted.
Elsewhere, a ghost gives Ray oral sex (possibly in his dreams). We see a close-up of his belt invisibly undone and pants unzipped before the camera shifts to his ecstatic face. Peter, meanwhile, tries to seduce pretty much every pretty girl he sees. Visual and verbal innuendoes include Egon climbing out from underneath Janine's desk while she's sitting there and Peter letting loose a crack about what a crime it is that "nothing" happened in Dana's bedroom. Gozer wears a flesh-colored, curve-hugging leotard of sorts.
Speaking of Gozer, she assaults the four Ghostbusters with lightning from her hands (causing them to nearly fall off a skyscraper). Then, in the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, she wreaks havoc in the streets, stomping on cars and buildings. The Ghostbusters fire their proton-powered energy blasters at the monster, obviously distressing it, then cross their beams to amp up the power and obliterate the demon.
Those proton packs that the Ghostbusters wear are pretty dangerous pieces of machinery, apparently, and we see the resulting laser beams tear apart a hotel ballroom in short order. (A chandelier falls, tables are crunched and walls are scarred.) A huge demon dog crashes through walls, doors and windows, pursuing Louis. Hairy arms and hands burst out of a chair and grab a screaming Dana before the chair hurdles into her kitchen. A taxi driven recklessly by a ghoul triggers a number of small accidents. An earthquake does a great deal of street damage, finally opening up a hole in the ground that the Ghostbusters fall into.
Crude or Profane Language
A half-dozen uses of the s-word. "A--" and "h---" are trotted out about that same number of times, "p---" and "b--ch" twice. God's name is misused a few times, once with "d--n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Peter, Ray and others often smoke cigarettes, the cancer sticks used more as mindless props than anything. We see someone puff on a cigar. The Ghostbusters drink beer. After losing their university jobs, Ray and Peter swig what appears to be whiskey. Peter injects a possessed Dana with a drug to make her sleep.
Other Negative Elements
Peter can be a cad at times. For example, as a professor he conducts experiments on students using "negative reinforcement." In other words, electric shocks. He repeatedly zaps a male student (even when he gets answers right) while refusing to buzz a blonde coed so he can try to score with her.
Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be Ghostbusters. Sure, the movie's funny. That practically goes without saying. But these spiritual exterminators aren't quite the heroic role models we'd ideally like them to be—even setting aside, for the moment, the serious civil liberties violations I outlined earlier.
Peter's the main culprit, of course. Expressing the kind of self-aware charm that only Bill Murray can, the Ghostbusters' leader is a smarmy heel—cheating his way through his university career and oozing through the movie with a huckster-like charisma. Dana calls him a game show host.
The other 'Busters are better, character-wise. Ray's almost innocent, exuding a wide-eyed fascination with everything from those bizarre beasties to the poles in the firehouse. Egon's a just-the-facts scientist. Winston brings an element of respectful pragmatism and sometimes even spiritual discernment to the fold. But Ray's fine and dandy with his ghostly sexual encounter. They all still drink and smoke. They're crazy-careless with their totally untested proton-weaponry. And not one of them really has a clue at all about how to deal with the supernatural.
Is that last jab a tad unfair for such a silly story? Of course none of this spiritual stuff—the ghosts and the goblins and the Sumerian she-devil—are meant to be taken seriously. But that in itself can be instructive, and not in a good way.
All of that in a flick that's about as light and airy as the early apparitions it shows us, and in a flick that'll surely keep scaring up laughs for generations to come. I'm just saying we should all think through what we're watching, no matter how goofy.
A RE-RELEASE UPDATE: Since it first showed up in 1984, Ghostbusters has become something of a lowbrow classic, serving as a benchmark in the careers of quite a few recognizable names even decades later: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts. It was dreamed up by Akroyd and Harold Ramis (who went on to direct National Lampoon's Vacation and Groundhog Day). A 2014 re-release to movie theaters marks its 30th anniversary.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman; Dan Aykroyd as Dr. Raymond Stantz; Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett; Harold Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler; Rick Moranis as Louis Tully; Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz; William Atherton as Walter Peck; Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddmore; David Margulies as The Mayor
June 8, 1984