I was excited to read Kalie’s first post in her new series – What Scares Us? My First Fear. I love the idea of examining early memories of being afraid and/or exploring the things that frighten us. I was also pretty excited to contribute a piece myself! I knew there could be only one topic for this reflection. As I look back to my first vivid memory of heart-stopping, soul-chilling terror I journey back to the summer of 1989. A soon-to-be seven year old Michael was settling into a dark movie theatre with his family. He was ready for fun…but what he found was dark, disturbing, raw, primal fear. This experience has haunted me to this day. What movie did I see? None other than the heart-stopping, soul-shaking horrorfest that was Ghostbusters II.
Okay, okay soooooo maybe, if I’m being honest, this intro is a wee bit hyperbolic…maybe. At least it feels that way now, looking back on that film as an adult who’s had to gotten to watch films like Sinister with a horror-loving girlfriend who’s gently guided me into the genre. But at the time, that movie was HORRIFYING. It scared me like nothing had before and little has since. I survived, yes, but I refused to watch that movie again for over twenty-five years because the impression it left was so vivid. And I LOVE the Ghostbusters!! When I finally did bring myself to watch it a second time (with Kalie, who assured me it couldn’t be as scary as I remembered it) and a third time (to ready myself to write this piece) I found out Ghostbusters II is actually a pretty fun movie…but it still creeps me out.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, Ghostbusters II is set five years after the original film. We find Drs. Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, and Winston Zeddemore in quite different career paths. The Ghostbusters were left basically broke after every state, county, and city agency in New York sued them in the wake of the destruction caused by their battle with Gozer. Ray is managing an occult bookstore and he and Winston are performing at kids’ birthday parties for side cash. Egon is working as a research scientist, studying the affect human emotions have on the physical environment. And good ol’ Peter is hosting a ridiculous TV show – The World of the Psychic with Dr. Peter Venkman. This is their less-than-stellar status quo until a river of slime begins to flow under the city and the spirit of a sadistic Carpathian warlord, Vigo the Unholy, sets his sights on Dana Barrett’s son Oscar as his reincarnation vessel of choice. With a New Year’s Even rebirth in the works, the Ghostbusters come out of retirement to try to save the city once again.
Sounds intriguing right? It is. It’s also fucking horrifying.
rI was six years old and a HUGE Ghostbusters fan when we went to see the movie in the summer of my seventh birthday. I had seen all the cartoons. My brother David and I had our own proton packs and PKE meters. David (who was four at the time) and I also had a crate full of Ghostbuster action figures. And we’d seen (and loved!) the first movie (even if those demon dogs may’ve left a bit of lingering fear towards normal, non-possessed canines for many years after). So it was a big deal when Mom took us, along with our fourteen year old cousin Melanie, to see the new movie! I even remember cutting out every little magazine picture I could find of Ghostbusters II and taping it to my bedroom wall in excited anticipation for their new adventure. Then we saw it…and I was SCARED OUT OF MY MIND.
As someone who still loves/lives for going to the movie, the Ghostbusters II outing is still one of the most vivid memories I have of being at the movies. While I grant the memories have been subtly altered (and maybe even embellished) with age, when I think back on it, it still feels like it was yesterday. And when I rewatch the movie now, parts of it still leave me a little uneasy. I was scared from the very first shot of pink slime bubbling up from the crack in the sidewalk while that ominous music played over it.
There’s just so many creepy elements to this film, especially if you’re six years old! But honestly, as a thirty-four year old, certain parts still creep me out and/or make me jump. First, the whole abducting, possessing, endangering Oscar thing is not cool. Today, as an adult, I can handle a lot in my movies. The one thing I can’t/won’t take is violence towards pregnant women or babies. It’s just wrong. Here, the idea of a ghost so targeting a child was horrifying. Oscar’s just a baby! He’s so helpless! What can he do?!? Nope, I don’t like it. I didn’t like it then (even if I couldn’t articulate why) and it bothers me now – especially in horror films without Ghostbusters to save the day.
Second, Vigo himself was a crazy creepy looking character. Those eyes! Gaaah! It only got worse as we see him pull himself off the painting to stare at something or when he commands the creepy-in-his-own-way Janosz Poha. When Vigo zaps Janosz it still makes me jump and swear. His big, creepy floating head was scary too. Plus you have Vigo proclaiming, “Now is the season of evil. Find me a child, that I might live again.” How about no Vigo?!? And don’t even get me started on how he MUTATES and then looks EVEN SCARIER in the film’s climax.
So, Vigo’s scary shit right? But then he sends the possessed Janoz to visit Dana (and try to kidnap poor Oscar!) during the blackout. The whole blackout thing is creepy on its own as humans have a natural fear of the dark. Do you know what makes the dark scarier? How about red emergency lighting in the hallway during that scene and Janosz’s GLOWING EYES giving everything a really sinister feel too? Yep! That’ll do it! I was SO SCARED for poor Oscar! Thank you, you can stop now please Ghostbusters II.
But it’s not just a creepy painting is it?? No Ghostbusters II, you didn’t stop there. You also hit me with an OMINOIUS RIVER OF MENACING SLIME annnnnnnd two creep-tastic ghosts of electrocuted prisoners.
Weirdly, for a kid who loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who lived in the sewers, it creeped me out when Ray and the others went underground to investigate the slime. It seemed so threatening. It had this creepy pink glow to it and it was just undulating. Blah! Then it started REACHING UP FOR RAY!!!! His panic was amplified in me! What if he fell?? What if he never got out?? What was this stuff?? How could they possibly get rid of a RIVER OF SLIME under the city?!? They can’t trap a river of slime!! I was not cool with this.
Then there were the ghosts of the Scoleri Brothers, appearing in their electric chairs, and they were pretty damn scary themselves. They were these wild skeletons with energy pulsing from their eyes and electricity arcing over their bodies, flying around the courtroom and throwing everything over. Plus, the Ghostbusters seemed to be LOCKED IN with these monsters. Gah!! Why Ghostbusters II why? Why do you torment me like this??
At least the Ghostbusters didn’t see dozens of severed heads on pikes all around them in the subway tunnels after they heard some ghoulish voice call Winston’s name. Oh wait…THEY DID.
But the height of horror is hit when Vigo commands, “The Season of Evil begins with the birth of the New Year. Bring me the child so that I might live again.” Janosz (creepy in his own goals and motives) wants Dana for himself. Vigo agrees she can be, “Wife to you and mother to me.” Then we hit the creepiest run of the movie where Oscar’s abducted OFF THE LEDGE OUTSIDE PETER’S APARTMENT. Dana and Louis realize some force has made him crawl out there and, as they try to reach him, Janosz appears as some FUCKING GHOST NANNY AND LITERALLY STEALS HIM OFF THE FUCKING LEDGE right in front of Dana and Louis. Dana heads to the museum where she finds Oscar on this weird altar below Vigo’s painting. She tries to leave with her baby and Vigo pulls Oscar from her, locks her out of the room, and floats baby Oscar back to the altar. Excuse me is this movie over yet?? Can we watch something that isn’t SO HORRIBLE?? Please and thank you!!
I’m not sure when exactly during that first viewing I decided I’d had enough but my fear was too much and Mom HAD to take me out of the theatre. That’s it. I was done. Thanks for everything Ghostbusters II, time to go home! I can still remember the sweet feeling of relief that washed over me as we walked out of the theatre. Freedom! Safety! I’ll take my Ghostbusters in their safe cartoon variety thank you very much! Mom, with David in her arms, walked with me around the hallways of the theatre. We got a drink at the water fountain. And, eventually, Mom asked me if I was ready to go back in. What?!? My little kid mind was reeling!! Mom explained that the movie wasn’t over. I made it abundantly clear that I was okay with missing the rest of it. We could go home. Or we could see something else! We were at the theatre right?? Let’s not let ourselves be pigeonholed. Why subject ourselves to the UNADULTERATED HORROR of Ghostbusters II any longer?!? Mom reminded me that Melanie was still in the theatre and we couldn’t leave her in there alone. Uh, fuck that noise, I said in a far more little kid sort of way. To my little six year old mind, Mel was practically an adult at fourteen. She’s a big kid! If she wants to stay, fine. That’s her life. Let her live it! But I saw no reason I had to go back to further endure the scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life just because Mel was still watching it. Why must her poor life choices take us down too?!?
Somehow Mom coaxed me back into the theatre. Kudos to her parenting abilities for a) being able to get me back in that theatre and b) for keeping me alive through the horror. Well played Mom. I don’t remember much from the rest of the viewing…either because I’ve somehow blocked it from my memory or, more likely, I spent much of the rest of the movie with my head buried in Mom’s shoulders praying for the sweet release of the closing credits. BUT I SURVIVED. Look at that Ghostbusters II. You tried to get me BUT I SURVIVED. And now, looking at Ghostbusters II with an adult set of eyes, I can appreciate it as a fun sequel with a surprisingly warm and fuzzy message that was wrapped in FAAAAR more dark and twisted packaging than its predecessor.
mOn the plus side, realizing I can watch/actually enjoy Ghostbusters II at this point in my life is akin to finding a BRAND NEW GHOSTBUSTERS movie I can experience whenever I want! There are so many fun moments and great quotes to start learning. (Also, why wasn’t Billy Murray with a baby in EVERY movie in the 80s?? It’s possibly the most adorable thing ever.) Finding a new Ghostbusters movie now is great, as the latest incarnation of Ghostbusters hitting theatres Friday won’t be on DVD for some time. So being able to survive Ghostbusters II now lets me watch TWO great Ghostbuster movies in-between trips to the theatre for the third. Also, as you can tell from this post, I tend to swear when I’m really scared. So multiple viewings of Ghostbusters II can help be get to the point where I can watch it without swearing out loud whenever I get scared :). Raw, primal, scarring fear aside, it’s a great time to be a Ghostbusters fan!
Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller