As Ghostbusters: Afterlife arrives, here's what I learned rewatching the originals

Did you know there are surprisingly few ghosts in Ghostbusters? As Afterlife materializes in theaters, I head back to the original '80s classics.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the movie Ghostbusters.
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In 1984, Ghostbusters exploded onto our screens and left an indelible imprint on generations of kids, including me. The spook-zapping comedy had everything: the car, the special effects, the quotable dialogue ("Mass hysteria!").

So, as belated sequel/tribute Ghostbusters: Afterlife updates the phantasm-fighting foursome for a new generation, I once again joined Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 to see if bustin' still makes me feel good.

It absolutely does. And a few things jumped out at me like a legion of ghosts terrorizing New York. All together now: If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?

There are surprisingly few ghosts in Ghostbusters

They ain't afraid of no ghosts, but the filmmakers apparently couldn't afford many specters either. Ghostbusters features only four actual ghosts on screen: the library ghost at the start; the ugly little spud that came to be known as Slimer; a winged ghost that pops out of the subway; and an undead cab driver. Well, we assume that was a ghost; have you ever been in a New York taxi?

There are two sequences in which ghosts are supposed to have overrun the city, but due to restrictions on money and time for special effects, the events are shown through newspaper headlines and via people running around screaming rather than through actual onscreen apparitions. Of course, the effects we do see are more than memorable. Between Gozer, Mr. Stay-Puft, and the terror dogs, there are plenty of extra-dimensional beings to keep the boys busy.

The Ghostbusters are a startup

The Ghostbusters are a bunch of academics who spot an underserved niche and found a company to monetize their research. They're a startup! They even have a wacky headquarters and a cool logo. They're also hamstrung by intrusive government regulation, which could be why Ghostbusters is popular with conservatives.

Where there's smoke...

Those guys smoke... a lot. Hey, it was the '80s, when characters in kids' movies could smoke it up and make jokes about supernatural fellatio. 

Wait, what?

Ghostbusters 2 isn't as bad as you think

The 1989 sequel may not be held in as high regard -- part 2 earns a Metacritic score of 56 compared with the first movie's 71, and even director Ivan Reitman regrets the Statue of Liberty gag. But it's still a fun watch. Sure, the mayor stuff is a bit repetitive and the music's a bit dated, but there's still so much good stuff here. Bill Murray is every bit as slyly charming. The mood slime is fun. The courtroom sequence is fantastic. Janine and Louis are cute. Egon gets his best moment in the series ("Doh... Ray... Egon!"). And the villains are every bit as good as the first film's bad guys.

Soon, the city will be mine and Vigo's... mainly Vigo's

Peter MacNicol is a scene-stealing delight in Ghostbusters 2 as Janosz, the twitchy, creepy Renfield to Vigo's Dracula. In fact, MacNicol played that exact role a few years later in the Mel Brooks comedy Dracula: Dead and Lovin' It.

And speaking of Vigo...

He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!

Considering all he does is hang on a wall and glower, there are few scarier than Vigo the Cruel, Vigo the Torturer, Vigo the Despised, Vigo the Unholy (also Vigo the Butch). That's largely down to the unholy scowl of the man who played him, Wilhelm von Homburg, a boxer and actor born Norbert Grupe, who led an extraordinary real life as tortured and despised as his character's.

There are as many famous faces as ghosts

Pop star Debbie Gibson, talk show host Larry King and smut merchant Ron Jeremy can be glimpsed in the first film, while the sequel is stuffed with notable names: Bobby Brown; Chloe Webb, who played Nancy in the Sid Vicious biopic Sid and Nancy; Kevin Dunn from HBO's Veep; Bill Murray's brother Brian Doyle-Murray; Ivan Reitman's son Jason Reitman, who's since gone on to be a Golden Globe and Bafta-winning director of films including Juno, Up in the Air and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Oh, and the dock worker surprised by the arrival of the Titanic is stoner comic Cheech Marin.

Ghostbusters 2 shows us how to live our lives

From the moment it was announced, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot was surrounded by a relentless barrage of negativity from fans unhappy that their beloved classic was being remade, as well as those unhappy that the new team was made up of women. The reaction shows fans' shared love of the original movies, but it's a lot of negative energy nonetheless.

Is that what the Ghostbusters would want? Of course not! In Ghostbusters 2, when the boys are soaked in mood slime, do they give in to their negative emotions and try to kill each other? No! They stick on some Jackie Wilson, take the Statue of Liberty for a stroll and throw the biggest party New York City's ever seen.

What I'm saying is, when you're faced with a choice between living in a negative way or being a positive force in the world, don't feed the mood slime with bad vibes.

Be like the Ghostbusters. Be the dancing toaster.

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