Who I’m Still Gonna Call Every Time: My Undying Love for ‘Ghostbusters’

I had just turned six when Ghostbusters first took the world by storm in June of 1984. My parents were concerned and had probably heard from fellow parents, that it would be too scary for my kindergarten nerves despite its PG rating and decided against taking me to see it. Luckily for me, the home video revolution was in full swing and, though we hadn’t yet gotten a VCR when it was first released on VHS (and Betamax), most of my friends had. I still remember my friend’s seventh birthday party and the day I first beheld the glory that is my most rewatched movie of all time.

Frankly, my parents and their friends were right, there was quite a bit of the film that scared me. The transformation of the library ghost right at the beginning, the hands bursting from the armchair, the terror dogs, the skeleton driving the cab, all of it terrified me. But despite these frightening elements, I didn’t really think of Ghostbusters as a horror film, but a superhero movie in the vein of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). As far back as I could remember I was enthralled with Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel and Mark Hammil as Luke Skywalker, heroes with special powers that I could never have. These guys were different. They used their brains, their wits, and the incredible technology that they had developed themselves to save the day.

Before long, we got a VCR in our home and a coworker of my dad’s started recording movies off HBO and Showtime for us since we did not have cable. I still remember multiple movies on single tapes. Back to the Future was paired with My Science Project (a pretty darn great double feature actually) and Spacecamp was on the same tape with Dirty Dancing. My favourite cassette, though, had Weird Science on the back half and, as you can probably guess, Ghostbusters up first. I would come home from school and watch it daily for months at a time. I memorized every line of dialogue, every swell of the music, and knew every visual gag. I would go to school the next day and convince my friends to play Ghostbusters at recess. I was always Egon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis in the film because I think he’s the one I most wished I was like. Truth be told, I was and am much more like Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz, something I have grown to be particularly proud of.

Strangely enough, even after the dozens of rewatches when I was young, I took the movie deadly serious. Sure, there were things that were funny, but as far as I was concerned Ghostbusters was not a comedy. At some point, I started watching the film less, in favour of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, along with a few other favourites. By the time I was in college I hadn’t seen the film in quite a while but had begun amassing my own home video collection. When I found a beautiful clamshell edition of Ghostbusters I thought, “why not?” and picked it up. I distinctly remember putting it in and giving it a watch with fresh eyes after a good ten years away. I still remembered every line and moment of the movie exactly, but there was one huge difference—it was hilarious! The movie hadn’t changed one bit, but I suddenly understood that this movie was truly, ingeniously funny. I found myself bellowing with laughter throughout the course of the film. When the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man turned the corner and is shown in all his glory for the first time with that big goofy grin, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man

I was infatuated all over again and it came right back into my regular rotation. I made a very good friend one summer who knew the film at least as well as I did. During an extended car trip, the two of us were able to quote the first 30 or 40 minutes of the film straight, in unison, before making a mistake. Some years later, I decided to build my own proton pack out of all kinds of spare parts, hardware store, and army surplus finds. It’s pretty cool if I must say so myself and now hangs on my office wall. In the closet of that same office is my tan flight suit with its “no ghost” patch on the arm and a custom name patch with KEIPER in red on black. Yes, I am obsessed.

Ghostbusters is the film that, along with James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), opened the door to a love of horror movies. Before long, I found myself begging to see Poltergeist and Gremlins—they were also only rated PG, after all, the same as Ghostbusters. Eventually, my obsessions spread to other movies and horror icons like Jason, Michael, Pinhead, and above all Freddy Krueger. Though I wouldn’t be allowed to see any of their films for a few more years, the gateways had been thrown open and I read every book I could find, rented every video my parents were okay with, and discussed them, along with the classic Universal and Hammer monsters, with whoever would listen.

When my youngest son was around five or six, my mom, watched the kids regularly, pulled me aside one day after bringing them home. She began to apologize to me profusely about the movie she and my dad had shown them that day. Naturally, that movie turned out to be Ghostbusters. Apparently, my mom had forgotten about some of the more frightening elements of the film (along with a few choice bits of suggestive dialogue). I just laughed and said it was no problem. Later, I asked my kids what they thought of it. My daughter was fairly indifferent, but both my sons were quite enamoured with it, especially my youngest. It turns out that history was repeating itself, and Ghostbusters was working its magic on a new generation.

I remain extremely grateful to the film for a number of reasons, but this remains the greatest. That I am able to share a love of scary movies with my youngest son is a gift that I did not expect but sorely needed. It opened the door to a connection and bond with him that, for a time, appeared to be out of my grasp. In recent years, the gateway opened by Ghostbusters has led to us watching Frankenstein, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and many more. His favourites seem to be the Child’s Play, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream movies, but he’s always game for another viewing of Ghostbusters as well.

One of the truly beautiful things about the film is that it is compulsively rewatchable. Somehow, even after over a hundred viewings, I often find some detail I’d never noticed before. The movie is so rich in its texture and layered in its comedy that it continues to reward after all these years. Like the Ghostbusters themselves, the film is filled with mouth, brains, and heart. The humour is quick and witty with a wiseass spirit, but also plenty of smarts, and I never fail to care for the characters and their relationships. It has been my number one comfort movie for decades now and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It strikes a magical balance between humour, horror, earthbound reality, and fantasy. Ghostbusters is the very definition of lightning caught in a bottle. There’s a good reason why after all these years there’s only one real answer to this question: Who ya gonna call?

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