Ghostbusters screenshot

Ghostbusters (1984)

Supernatural scientists start a paranormal investigation and elimination business, cleaning up New York City by trapping spooks, specters, and ghosts for a nominal fee.

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The idea behind Ghostbusters is not entirely original. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (who co-wrote the story based Aykroyd's idea before ultimately starring as two of the Ghostbusters) created an updated version of a classic "ghost comedy," which were most prevalent in the 1940s. Additionally, the name The Ghost Busters was used by a television show less than ten years prior in 1975. Even so, Ghostbusters manages to combine several disparate elements into a film that feels entirely different from anything else, even more than thirty years after its release.

Doctors Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis) become the Ghostbusters when they invent the technology to trap a ghost indefinitely. Business picks up enough to warrant hiring a fourth Ghostbuster: Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) enlists the help of the Ghostbusters when Zuul, a demigod and minion of Gozer, appears in her icebox.

Ghostbusters screenshot

Though primarily a comedy, Ghostbusters manages several successful scares, due in part to the film's fantastic creature effects. The ghost in the library, who initially appears to be harmless, transforms into the most terrifying monster in the movie. This sets the tone for the handful of other ghosts we meet, including Slimer and the terror dogs Zuul and Vinz Clortho. Even Mr. Stay Puft, though absurd, is terrifying in his own right.

The horror elements work surprisingly well, considering the cast consists of several heavyweight comedy legends. It's not shocking that Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis, along with director Ivan Reitman, are able to deliver a funny movie. It's surpising that the scary parts remain scary, even with so many sketch comedy stars on the screen.

Ghostbusters works not just because it's funny, but because it's also scary. It's scary because the stakes feel real, and they feel real because the characters take them seriously. Yes, the Ghostbusters are scientists, but there's no precedent for the things they encounter. Murray, often a sarcastic ass who often plays a sarcastic ass, doesn't trivialize the tension by making fun of it. He and the rest of the cast react in realistically comedic ways to things like demonic possession, parallel dimensions, and the potential end of the world. Honestly, what could any of us do but laugh in those situations?

Ghostbusters poster Ghostbusters title screen

Director

  • Ivan Reitman

Cast

  • Bill Murray as Peter Venkman
  • Dan Aykroyd as Ray Stantz
  • Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler
  • Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore
  • Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett
  • Rick Moranis as Louis Tully
  • Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz
  • William Atherton as Walter Peck