This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were giving money to bad people.
The ghastly villains in Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) are authentic grotesques rendered in mountains of what appears to be rubber and latex. They’re also not in the same league as actual clowns, who, for a variety of reasons, strike much deeper fear in our hearts. One assumes the filmmakers didn’t use human beings in greasepaint for Killer Klowns because they were trying to create something “wacky,” not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of harlequin invasion movies.
Yes, we see these monsters land their giant intergalactic carnival tent somewhere in California, where they start shooting people with popcorn guns and entombing them in cotton candy. The thirty-somethings playing the teenage couple who witness all this don’t know what to do because the script never gave them parents. Our heroes, Debbie and Mike, go to the cops and convince Deputy Dave Hanson to help them investigate all this clown malarky. A bit of drama is squeezed out of the fact Debbie and Dave used to date. That’s the emotional component of the space clown movie.
Despite a fertile concept and some very unique special effects, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a middling affair. The actors can’t commit to playing this as seriously as Jaws or as broadly as “Mr. Ed.” This lack of conviction deflates the humor like last week’s birthday balloons. Soon we’re trapped in our own figurative glob of cotton candy.
At least the clowns look good. That’s where all the money went, which we know because the producers cancelled a Soupy Sales cameo after learning the price of his plane ticket. Imagine being Soupy Sales and getting that phone call. Hey, imagine having to make that phone call. On par with death by alien circus jerks.
This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were giving money to bad people.
Halloween really shook up the squares when it first materialized in 1978. “Absolutely merciless” is how Roger Ebert began a breathless review that also includes the phrases “violent and scary,” “terrifying and creepy,” “frightening,” and “terrifying” twice more. The Los Angeles Times ran its write-up under the bold headline “SLAUGHTER, FEAR IN GRISLY ‘HALLOWEEN.’” Staffer Kevin Thomas called the slaughter in question “realistically depicted” and said director John Carpenter’s voyeuristic camerawork “makes the film a complete turn-off about halfway through.”
New York Times film critic Vincent Canby asserted that “the point of [Halloween] is to cause us as much distress as possible in the safety of our theater seats”; if only Canby had lived to see the Saw franchise. Graphic, invasive images have become such a steady part of our 21st Century media diet (whether we invite them or not) that Halloween is now a quaint showing. Yet Carpenter’s provincial horror continues to succeed on an uneasy ambiance fueled by the distressing truth that a killer doesn’t need a motive.
Anguish paints the face of Michael Myers the handful of times we see him unmasked but we never learn what, exactly, is up his craw. He’s just a disturbed young man who the system has failed. One of his health care coordinators admits as much; when Dr. Sam Loomis gravely intones that he “spent eight years trying to reach [Michael] and then another seven trying to keep him locked up,” one wonders why he didn’t spend the full 15 on rehabilitation. That’s got to beat the alternative — hoofing through suburbia, five minutes behind every smart-mouthed teenager Michael dispatches.
Demure and bookish, Laurie Strode seems like she’s got even less of a chance against Michael than her brassy cohorts. Surprise! Laurie’s instincts take over once this knife-wielding shadow reaches spitting distance and she goes on the offensive. At one point, Laurie gouges a coat hanger into one of Michael’s eye. Anyone else would take the L after receiving such a deep gouge but our antagonist merely calls a time out (they’ve made nine sequels to Halloween, so excuse the spoiler). Is this our first hint Michael Myers could be supernatural?
Not exactly. Much earlier in the film, when Michael makes his daring escape from the mental health facility where he’s lived since the age of six, he commandeers a station wagon and speeds off into the night even though it is highly unlikely he’s ever been in the driver’s seat of any kind of car before. This is the Halloween plot issue people love to shred like iceberg lettuce. Well, look, maybe this kid’s a tool of Satan. Maybe he’s just got an incredible can do attitude. You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it — anything except killing Laurie Strode (or escaping your own horror franchise; they’re making two new Halloween movies as we speak).
By the way, if you think Michael Myers looks a bit like Joanie from “Happy Days” when they yank his mask off at the end, you aren’t crazy. The actor is Tony Moran, Erin Moran’s older brother. Small world!
Cinematographer László Kovács purposely shot the original Ghostbusters like a drama, avoiding the bright tones that usually signal comedy, so every element would feel credible. This is why the movie’s frights are so frightening and why so many people today view Ghostbusters not as a comedy but as a supernatural adventure with a handful of jokes.
The marketing for forthcoming third chapter Ghostbusters: Afterlife is playing to that crowd by emphasizing a solemn cadence. A new trailer debuted last week that reiterates the narrative threads we’ve been given about wayward teenagers slowly unearthing the truth about what is now an unspoken legend of yore, the Ghostbusters. It’s very Force Awakens. Well, why not? The Force Awakens made $2 billion worldwide in 2015, revitalizing Star Wars after a generation in the weeds. Not a bad template to copy.
Whatever Ghostbusters: Afterlife actually is (laugh riot? creep show? rural youth dramedy with paranormal elements?) the commercials make it look interesting. I’d like to see it. My enthusiasm is tempered by the fact Afterlife has become an avatar for our impatience with COVID.
Experts were saying pretty early on that even in the best of circumstances the pandemic might last until 2025. Everyone else wanted to measure this crisis in monthly increments. Afterlife’s release has been delayed three times in the past year and a half. The filmmakers insist it must be experienced on the big screen. Of course; a strictly theatrical release generates the most profit. Will life “return to normal” by November? Skimming headlines about the Delta variant and all the children who are getting sick now because half the country still believes wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is a matter of personal liberty, I’d say no.
Maybe if everything had shut down last year until our daily COVID infection and death rates dropped down to zero, we would have seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife already. Can you imagine a world where we’re already intimately familiar with Muncher?
I read an interview with Joe Dante the other day where he said the Looney Tunes should have been retired after 1960. I can’t argue with the man. In my lifetime, they’ve only been impressive in Roger Rabbit and that’s because Disney had the final vote on quality control. The original Space Jam is okay but Shawn Bradley is funnier in it than any of the Looney Tunes. You could remove the Looney Tunes entirely and still have a decent movie about NBA players fighting aliens. The animation is just a gimmick. And to paraphrase Chuck Jones, the real Bugs Bunny wouldn’t need Michael Jordan’s help to win a basketball game.
Now we have Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is more of a remake than a direct sequel. If you’re the type of person who can spend hours staring at that poster where Kermit The Frog is dressed like Garth Brooks, this movie will be your Star Wars. Everything you’ve read is correct — A New Legacy is just a commercial for Warner Bros. IP. Would you believe they’re treating most of this stuff as poorly as the Looney Tunes? Scooby Doo, Fred Flinstone, and Space Ghost make brief cameos that are visually on par with the Patterson Bigfoot clip. Meanwhile, the camera lingers on several real life human extras in screamingly awful Batman costumes. They’re on the sidelines of the big showdown, practically rubbing elbows with the main characters, even though they should be on house arrest at a Spirit Halloween.
If you’ve never seen the Looney Tunes before, Space Jam: A New Legacy will give you zero insight into their personalities. You might literally believe that Elmer Fudd is just a short guy from Austin Powers. That’s all they give him in this movie; they animate Fudd over the Verne Troyer reveal from The Spy Who Shagged Me. The premise here is that an evil computer algorithm has convinced the Looney Tunes they should be involved with more exciting franchises, so they’ve all left Looney Tune Land for stuff like The Matrix and Mad Max. See? The movie told the Looney Tunes they were boring and they agreed! And they don’t return to Looney Tune Land because they miss it. They return because the story necessitates that they partner with LeBron James to defeat Don Cheadle and his ragtag crew of NBA mutants.
There is a “serious” death scene for one of the characters in A New Legacy — “th-that’s all, folks!” they sputter melodramatically — but it doesn’t mean anything because the whole thing is reversed two minutes later. So not even a movie this big and dumb and critic-proof can escape the Marvel influence. Death is meaningless, life is meaningless, let’s smash our toys together. On the other hand, if they made 25 more Space Jams perhaps they’d eventually land on something interesting.
Space Jam: A New Legacy made me laugh once, when they dress Foghorn Leghorn up like Khaleesi from “Game of Thrones” so he can soar by on a dragon and throw out some catchphrase. I think that’s the most meaningless thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It deeply amused me.
CORRECTION: Bunsen Honeydew is the Muppet who dressed like Garth Brooks. I can’t believe I misremembered that thing I only saw once.
Hello, friends. Since 2019 I’ve been working on a book that is an in-depth history of the Ghostbusters films. It’s titled A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever and it will be published by Lyons Press in the Fall of 2022. Originally the book was scheduled for this year; the goal posts moved to keep up with the forthcoming entry Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I’ve always felt very strongly that I can’t complete this book without seeing Afterlife. I am very thankful my publisher agrees.
A Convenient Parallel Dimension will be the most thorough Ghostbusters history ever written, one that covers all the movies and will include a wealth of information previous volumes have omitted. It’s a story about art, people, comedy, commerce, evolution, “Hollywood,” and, to some extent, America. Myths will be shattered, truths revealed. The cartoons, video games, and comics will also be discussed and yes, there will be pictures.
I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life and I can’t wait for everyone to read this thing. Thank you for your continued support. I love you all.
— I deleted my substack after it came to light that the company was giving money to anti-trans voices; eventually I will repost much of that content here as I attempt to relaunch jg2land; only recently have I accepted the fact that throughout the history of my freelance career this blog has been the only truly reliable structure
— my latest book A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever will be published by Lyons Press in the Fall of 2022; I think it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever done and I hope you will agree
— they changed the interface on the wordpress post editor and I don’t know how to make that image of Muncher smaller but honestly every image of Muncher should be the size of a highway billboard
— I blog here now: jamesgreenejr.substack.com
— my latest book A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever will be published late next year by Lyons Press
— I keep talking about how much I’ve learned working on A Convenient Parallel Dimension and to that degree I’ve removed some articles from this blog that contained factual errors about our very famous ghost smashers
— I love you all
I considered myself a pretty serious student of Ghostbusters before I started work on this book and now I can’t believe how much I’m learning. There’s still a year of labor to be done but I think the end result will really be something special. My fingers are crossed that all the ghost heads will agree.
By the way, I’m still trying to get to Manhattan to complete a leg of research. If you’d like to help, check out my GoFundMe. Donate enough scratch and you’ll receive a signed copy of this yet-to-be-titled volume when it’s complete. Thanks for even considering; there are more worthy causes for sure.
My zine Idiot Time is on hiatus for the moment while I focus on the book. If you’re thirsty for new writings, I’ve started penning the occasional article for Hard Noise. It’s a nonfiction offshoot of The Hard Times. Here’s one I wrote about the Reagan Youth song in Airheads. Here’s an interview I did with a former Dead Kennedy. And this one’s about Wendy O. Williams and Kiss.
I’m getting married in December. My heart is full of love and I can’t wait to be a wife guy. For my bachelor party I will go to a deli and eat a sandwich.
Until the next update, stay fresh, stay funky.
Well, here’s some news.
Lyons Press has contracted me to write a book about the long, storied history of the Ghostbusters films. All of ’em — the old ones, the new ones, the ones they never even made. It probably won’t be published until 2021. Friends of the blog know I tried to get this off the ground a few years ago. The fact that it’s a reality now…well, my back teeth are swimming in excitement. I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
Speaking of junk you can read, I do a zine now about bizarre tv. It’s called Idiot Time and you can subscribe for the low low price of just two dollars a month at patreon.com/idiot_time. Seven issues so far. The most recent is a tribute to Ted Knight. Hi, guy.
Also, I live in Texas now. The grocery stores are enormous.
Here now are those stories, collected in one easy-to-look at PDF. Who was nice / cool to me while I was making This Music Leaves Stains? Who wasn’t? What was the book tour like? Also, selected pieces of Misfits lore deleted from Stains that you might not be overly familiar with. Please, come inside and read You Can’t Come Inside.
If you want to absorb this thing for free, be my guest. If you want to give me money for it, wow, that’d be fucking cool. Think up an amount and Paypal or Venmo jgreenejr at gmail dot com.
Click the cover image or click this –> You Can’t Come Inside
The photograph on page 42 was taken by Rob Farren, whose name was accidentally omitted from the credits. James Greene, Jr. regrets this error. James Greene, Jr. also regrets the typos on pages 6 and 14.
Thanks for indulging me. I love you all.