The Late Shift: Ghostbusters

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When I arrived at The Belcourt on Saturday night for the theater's second midnight screening of Ghostbusters, I was greeted outside the lobby by an enormous inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The (ultimately kinda pathetic) avatar of Zuul's destruction was swarmed by a gaggle of Ghostbusters — all decked out in loose-fitting brown jumpsuits, blinking proton packs and at least one Slimer puppet. The Tennessee Ghostbusters were out in force and I think it's safe to say that I was in no way prepared for the scene that awaited me in front of the theater.

It isn't so much that I didn't think a regional Ghostbusters syndicate could exist, it's more that I didn't think it would exist. Going into Ghostbusters on Saturday night, I couldn't help but question if Ghostbusters was still “a thing” in the way that it was a pop-culture phenomenon in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And honestly? I'm still not sure if it is.

Before you all drive me back into the sea with torches and pitchforks, hear me out. The fact of the matter is that there hasn’t been a Ghostbusters movie in more than 20 years. The last significant work in the Ghostbusters oeuvre was Extreme Ghostbusters — a cartoon that, if you couldn’t tell from the title, was 1997 as shit. Ghostbusters-mania was a force to be reckoned with between the years of 1984 and 1994, but hasn't it waned significantly since then? If you said “Ghostbuster” to a kid, would you get anything but a blank look?

Ghostbusters has taken a strange trajectory since its release in 1984. For the better part of a decade, the characters and movie were a household name. You could see evidence of that in the pre-roll for the movie, which was mostly made up of toy commercials and clumsy daytime TV parodies of Ray Parker Jr.'s masterpiece theme song. I have vague memories of owning the ghost trap toy, though I'm pretty sure my parents picked it up at a yard sale because they liked the movie.

But today? Today, it seems as though the Ghostbusters movie has tumbled out of “mainstream pop fixture” and into “cult canon.”

Well. It seems that way everywhere except The Belcourt. Ghostbusters fans did pack The Belcourt on Saturday night and while it wasn't nearly the mad fervor that was seen during Jurassic Park (though, really, what could possibly match that?), a couple hundred people did turn up to see some serious stream-crossing. Truly the dream of the '80s was still alive and twitching; you could tell that murmurs of assent over toy commercials and the wild cheers during Bill Murray's “this man has no dick” scene.

Regardless of whether or not Ghostbusters is still “a thing,” the movie holds up much better than I expected. But that's not a difficult bar to overcome, since I'm pretty sure I've only seen Ghostbusters in chunks on television, screened in the much maligned pan-and-scan version on Comedy Central. Aside from being “racist” (Jason pointed out that in scenes of the four Ghostbusters, Winston always seems to be the one who gets cut out), the TV version is genuinely unpleasant to look at. The movie feels sped-up, like someone transcoded the movie to PAL and forgot to tell anyone. The pans feel unnaturally smooth, the angles are all wrong. The vast majority of the movie felt totally new to me, because I wasn't caught up in thinking, “Why is it doing that, and how can I make it stop?”

If anything, the distance between Ghostbusters the mainstream cinematic hit and Ghostbusters the distant comic memory (don't even start with me on the video game, we're talking movies here) makes it that much better a midnight movie. It succeeds in being funny and weird enough for a late-night audience.

You know what also helped? The drink special. Named for the parapsychotic goo that covers the hotel where the Ghostbusters have their first real case, Ectoplasm was rum steeped in Earl Grey tea (purchased from nearby Davis Cookware) and ginger ale, with liberal amounts of green food coloring It was pretty great, though the green food coloring had the added side-effect of making my 3 a.m. vomiting a garish, cartoonish shade of green. Uh, the less said about that, the better. Big ups to Pat for making one for me even though they had sold out earlier in the night.

Ghost Protocol:

• As I mentioned above, the pre-roll was largely dominated by toy commercials and dopey businesses parodying the purposefully bad in-movie commercial. But beyond the ads for cereal, Coca-Cola and Hi-C Ecto Cooler (how did that manage to not factor into the drink special?), I particularly enjoyed the videos of other Ghost Busters TV shows, cartoons and movies. Nice try, jerks.

• I kinda want to shake the hell out of whichever Tennessee Ghostbuster decided to TwitPic the whole movie on Saturday night. I know it's a midnight movie and all, but have a sense of decorum, man!

• I suggested In the Mouth of Madness as a potential midnight, but it seems that it's hard as hell to pry prints out of Warner Brothers' cold, uncaring hands. Let's hope that we manage to finagle a third Sam Neill venture as a midnight movie this year though.

So, what do you think? Is Ghostbusters still relevant? Does anybody really care if Ghostbusters III really happens? How do you feel about Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka? My answers: I guess, not really, I feel pretty great about it.

Next Weekend: Ving Rhames breaks into a spooky-ass house in Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs.

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