Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
It is rare in the history of film, let alone film comedy, that so much talent came together to directly creatively influence the outcome of a film. The unprecedented combination of horror, science fiction, special effects and comedy was a winning one, but perhaps the strongest element to 1984’s Ghostbusters was the principal cast and creative talents: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and director Ivan Reitman had all worked together to weave one of the greatest comedy adventures of all time. Yet there was understandable reluctance to get the band back together. After five years, it reportedly took a four-hour lunch meeting proposing using the same team, but with a different story and characters to convince them that a second go at Ghostbusters was worth a try.
It has been five years since the boys stopped the minions of Gozer from destroying New York, but it seems that they got stiffed on the bill. Several lawsuits later, Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) are now children’s entertainers, with Ray running an occult bookstore on the side. Yet when Dana Barrett’s (Sigourney Weaver) baby carriage takes off all by itself in the middle of the city with baby Oscar inside, she turns to the gang, including Egon Spengler’s (Harold Ramis) expertise. Of course, when Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) – now a psychic talk-show host – gets wind of things, the whole team is back together, just in time to stop the spirit of ancient tyrant Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) from sinking New York into the river of slime that runs beneath it.
Although Aykroyd and Ramis once again penned the screenplay for Ghostbusters II, the sequel is a very different film to the first. Where Ghostbusters tempered the more outlandish aspects with a workman-like attitude to bustin’ ghosts, coupled with an endless series of one-liners and visual gags, Ghostbusters II throws a little more caution to the wind in the fun stakes and tries to overload the film with all the good stuff we enjoyed the first time around. Contrary to popular belief, this does not actually make the sequel a bad film: a lesser one, perhaps, but then how does one recapture perfection? The second outing still innately understands that the Ghostbusters are just as much about the city of New York as they are about shooting and trapping ghosts, and the storyline is one that builds to not just reuniting the team but the whole city around the fallen heroes.
Ghostbusters II suffers a tiny bit of sequelitis, and given that the creative team were freely admitting at the time of production (and since) that they had never done a sequel before, it is unsurprising that absolutely everything is thrown at the film. The special effects, the scenarios and the monsters have all been taken up a notch, and there are times when it is almost a little too much, as if they were trying to find a place for every cool thing they’d thought about in the five years since the last outing. Yet the film sizzles during those electric moments when the Ghostbusters first strap their proton packs back on, or a callback is made to the original film. It is still Murray’s deadpans to camera, or Rick Moranis’ affable cluelessness, that garner the biggest laughs. During an epic courtroom scene, in which ghosts and beams go flying in all directions, one of the best moments is Louis Tully’s (Moranis) explanation to the court as to why the Ghostbusters should not be punished for accidentally causing a city-wide blackout. “I don’t blame them”, he motions “because one time I turned into a dog and they helped me”.
The sequel greatly expands the role of Moranis and Annie Potts, as receptionist Janine Melnitz, the latter of whom had given a memorable turn in John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink in the intermediate years. She is more Iona than Janine this time around, and while a subplot featuring a blossoming romance between these two supporting players may have been wholly unnecessary, it adds to the impression that the focus of Ghostbusters has always been about the characters more than the supernatural stories that plague the great city, county and state of New York. Peter MacNicol relishes in the slightly racist role of Dr. Janosz Poha, who in some ways mirrors Moranis’ part from the first film.
Having to outdo the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is no easy feat, and marching the Statue of Liberty down the streets of New York to the tune of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” for a rousing conclusion is certainly one way to do it. Ghostbusters II achieves the impossible, and not simply because it lives the dream of being set at Christmas but skips all of the stress and heads straight for the New Year. It is a sequel that may not quite live up to the first film, but certainly doesn’t destroy any goodwill gained from that first brilliant outing. Even if it does have a new “Ghostbusters” rap theme by Run-D.M.C.