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.
Certain elements excite me (crisp look of the establishing shots, everything with Kate McKinnon, the car) and certain elements give me pause (recycling of the library ghost, recycling of Slimer, the ghost punch). Judgment reserved until I exit the theater in July but definitely interested to discover what else this remake / reimagining is cooking up. Ready for busting to commence.
Below is a sliver from A Convenient Parallel Dimension, the Ghostbusters history book I’d been working on for the past few years, a book Taylor Trade wanted to publish until we discovered an official GB history book is coming from Sony this Fall. The portion here discusses one of the more interesting stretches in franchise history: the path between the first film and the 1989 sequel. Keep in mind this is a draft reflecting ongoing research; tributaries would have been richer had this project survived. In any event, you should get an idea how the book would have read, and perhaps you will learn a thing or two. Enjoy, fellow ghost heads
Hollywood has never been widely acclaimed for integrity or restraint. This is particularly true of 1980s Hollywood, where the prestige pictures of the ’70s faded away in favor of broad blockbusters and endless sequels. The bottom line ruled and studios squeezed as much as they could out of already proven formulas. Rocky Balboa was spread across three sequels; John Rambo, two (wherein Rambo was transformed from tortured everyman into bare-chested cartoon killing machine). There were eight Friday The 13ths, five Nightmare on Elm Streets. Three Cannonball Runs, three Back to the Futures, three Supermans. Caddyshack II, The Jerk Too, Arthur 2: On The Rocks.
And yet we almost exited the 1980s with just one Ghostbusters, despite the original film’s mammoth success. This is mainly because the one person in Hollywood violently opposed to the sequel-ization and blockbustering of movies was, ironically, also the single figure who could start or stop a Ghostbusters II. And stop it he did for as long as he could.
David Puttnam was a London native who abandoned the world of advertising for a career in film production, beginning with work on mid-’70s entries such as That’ll Be The Day, Lisztomania, and Alan Parker’s infamous 1976 kiddie gangster flick Bugsy Malone (starring sixteen year old Scott Baio in the title role). Through his own Enigma Productions, Puttnam managed to produce a series of acclaimed movies including Cannes favorite The Duellists, 1981’s multiple Academy Award winning Chariots of Fire, and landmark Cambodian drama The Killing Fields. It was this track record, plus Puttnam’s general rap about making “inspirational, unforgettable films” which helped to “raise the spirit of the whole world,” that impressed David Goizueta, CEO of Coca-Cola, the company that bought Columbia Pictures in 1982.
Things had been rocky for Columbia during the tenure of CEO Frank Price, who was installed in 1978. Hits like Tootsie, Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, and Ghostbusters (which Price greenlit before his exit) were offset by numerous duds and disappointments. Neighbors, the final collaboration between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, was a strange mess that went nowhere at the box office. It was the same story with Seems Like Old Times, a Chevy Chase heist comedy that at least managed to strike a chord with film critics. Worst of all was 1941, an outlandish war spoof directed by Steven Spielberg and co-producted with Universal Pictures; to this day, 1941 is remembered as the aggressively unfunny smudge that signaled the abrupt end of Spielberg’s untouchable streak.
Frank Price’s replacement Guy McElwaine fared no better. In fact, he may have done worse: though McElwaine did get the Karate Kid franchise off the ground he also sunk fortunes into several projects that quickly came to define cinematic disaster: Richard Pryor’s masturbatory Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, the Warren Beatty / Dustin Hoffman desert spectacle Ishtar, and soft core adventure flop Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Desperate for balance, David Goizueta gave David Puttnam a three year term as Columbia’s CEO in 1986 with a parachute of $3 million.
Unfortunately, Puttnam was not interested in balance. While Goizueta had been enraptured by the Briton’s talk of enriching, uplifting film product he’d apparently fallen deaf to Puttnam’s frothing hatred of socially irresponsible and ethic-lacking “big budget hokum,” something Puttnam would put a complete stop to at Columbia if he could.
Since plans for the first Karate Kid sequel had been finalized six hours before his installment, Puttnam (right) couldn’t cancel it—but he did fire everyone who put the deal together. Puttnam was disgusted that Columbia subdivision Tri-Star produced the second Rambo and made no effort to bite his tongue on the matter. As for Ghostbusters, the studio’s most beloved film, to David Puttnam it was just more disgustingly expensive tripe, worse so because of the presence of Bill Murray, whom Puttnam didn’t like for a perceived lack of altruism.
“[Bill Murray] is an actor who makes millions off his movies, but gives nothing back to his art,” Puttnam announced during a British Press luncheon in 1986, following fawning comments about Robert Redford’s charitable actions. “[Bill Murray is] a taker.”
Word got back to Murray, who was incensed and vowed not to make Ghostbusters II so long as Puttnam reigned at Columbia. This wouldn’t be a problem as Puttnam was only interested in a sequel to the studio’s biggest hit if it could be made cheaper than the original and with all new talent (thereby avoiding a project the CEO felt would exemplify “packaging”—loading a movie with writers and actors all from the same talent agency).
Of course, the vague irony is Bill Murray wasn’t exactly gung ho about a Ghostbusters sequel either. Murray enjoyed playing Peter Venkman in the first film but hadn’t been convinced to sign on until Columbia promised to bankroll one of his dream projects: a remake of 1946 World War I drama The Razor’s Edge. Directed by period specialist John Byrum, The Razor’s Edge filmed in Europe just prior to Murray’s participation in Ghostbusters and was the first project of his to be released in the wake of Venkman-mania.
Unfortunately, the world was not ready for any kind of “serious” Bill Murray. Critics savaged Razor’s Edge for offering too nonchalant a hero in a film that moved with all the gusto of a snail. Audiences stayed away and the movie only made half of its budget back. Whatever pain Murray suffered from this failure was probably compounded by Ghostbusters’ monolithic success. There was no question Bill Murray was beloved—so long as he was being “funny.” Wrestling with complicated emotions, the actor retreated to France for several years, returning to the States to pick up his career for 1988’s Christmas Carol update Scrooged.
It was on the set of Scrooged that Dan Aykroyd called Bill Murray for a meeting to “clear the air” about Ghostbusters II. David Puttnam had been ousted from Columbia in December of 1987; his replacement Dawn Steel made one of her first orders of business figuring out what it would take to bring the boys in grey back together. Now it fell squarely on Akyroyd, Murray, co-star / writer Harold Ramis, and director Ivan Reitman to get the ball rolling. Upon receiving his old friend’s call, Murray allegedly sighed into the phone and replied, “Well, fuck it. I’m here now anyway.”
Preliminary research suggested any kind of Ghostbusters follow-up would make over $280 million in the United States alone. Alas, it was where that money would end up going that caused initial friction. Aykroyd and Ramis were still upset over the large back end deals super-agent Mike Ovitz swung for Murray and Reitman on the first film; as co-founders they wanted their fair share of profits. Murray thought he deserved even more money for a sequel. Reitman also wanted a raise plus a revised contract that would shield the production from outside forces (read: handsy Columbia executives). These were the core issues the quartet discussed and negotiated for nearly a year. Rumor has it a Santa Barbara hotel conference room served as a seven hour battleground for the aggrieved parties at one point as they worked through their disagreements.
Eventually it was all sorted. Murray came out on top, reportedly negotiating 15% of all Ghostbusters II profits but no other pay than scale. Aykroyd and Ramis would each receive a mere 6.4% profit share in addition to writing fees and scale. Retiman’s points on the back end were similar to that of Aykroyd and Ramis; the director also received his new contract. Sigourney Weaver had points as well, though details of her exact deal are scarce. As for the franchise’s other talents, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis, they had to settle for the usual upfront salaries (albeit increased since 1984). This was fine with Hudson, as his true interest lay in having a larger role in the sequel. Moranis actually needed less screen time because he had already committed so much of 1988 to making Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Parenthood.
The cast of Ghostbusters II appears on “Oprah,” 1989. L-R: Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson.
Supposedly, Dan Aykroyd had a story for Ghostbusters II by the Spring of 1985, which was either set many years after the first film (wherein we see the Ghostbusters running a very successful and highly technical operation from atop a Trumpian high rise) or immediately after the events of the first movie. The initial plot is said to have involved the kidnapping of Weaver’s Dana Barrett by evil fairies who hold her captive in ancient Scotland. By the time everything was ready to go in 1988, the Ghostbusters II script had mutated into the Ghostbusters versus commanding 16th Century spirit warlord Vigo the Carpathian, risen anew from neon pink slime that proves some kind of conduit for negative human emotion.
Originally Vigo was to possess Aykroyd’s character Ray Stanz for large swaths of the film, sabotaging the inner workings of the Ghostbusters and unleashing a new hell upon New York City. Absent Stanz and unable to come up with any other worthy replacement, the paranormal exterminators are forced to train their wimpy accountant / lawyer Louis Tulley (Moranis) to be the new fifth Ghostbuster. A subplot would find Peter Venkman once again grappling romantically with Dana—only this time, he’d have to contend with Dana’s ex husband, a dark and mysterious European named Janosz.
Ivan Reitman wasn’t fond of the script, calling it too “heady and dark.” The director didn’t think the Ghostbusters should be fractured by a possession and also felt there was too much action. Columbia head Dawn Steel, on the other hand, thought there should be more action. Additionally, to make up for Moranis’s absence, Steel suggested the Janosz character be rewritten as some other form of comic relief. Reitman relented on both points, though eventually Reitman got his way on the possession—that element was whittled down to a very brief scene in the end of the movie.
Ghostbusters II began filming on November 28, 1988. Despite the difficulties in getting everyone together again there were no major on set conflicts. Still, while the material struck the cast as humorous and in the vein of the first film, there was little doubt regarding the fact they were creating a mere product, something expected of them for the sake of money. As Harold Ramis told Rolling Stone the following June while promoting the movie, “Some comedies satisfy the requirements of art and some are gratuitous pandering. We’re somewhere in between.”
This go-through-the-motions, what-the-hell-let’s-get-paid attitude is part of what doomed Ghostbusters II to be frozen in a sad mediocrity. The other part was the creators’ strange belief they were somehow in direct competition with a much-ballyhooed six foot bat scheduled to appear on movie screens across the globe in the Summer of 1989.
Last night Paul Feig tweeted out this photo of the new Ecto 1, a.k.a. the car in which his rebooted Ghostbusters will be cruisin’. Looks hype to me, like a cross between the original Ecto and the car from Blues Brothers. Definitely more on point than many of the fan recreations you see out there.
I’m not as punk rock as I thought—I don’t like being out on the highways of America and seeing Jeep Cherokees or Ford Fiestas in the iconic dressings of the Ecto. Would you try to turn a smart car into the Batmobile?
I digress. This new Ecto is boss and here is quite possibly the hottest take I can give: it’s cooler than the Ecto 1A, the revamped Ectomobile unveiled in Ghostbusters 2. There’s just too much fucking shit on the roof of Ecto 1A, my disbelief cannot be suspended. There’s no way the Ghostbusters would be able to glide through the boroughs without bits flying off every few miles.
Also, the hazard tape racing stripes and flashing digital sign are garish. You’re the Ghostbusters, not the goddamn Money Store.
Again I digress. JG2 is pro new Ecto. Looking forward to seeing Wiig, McKinnon, et al tear ass in these ace wheels. I’ll be there, front row, in my “Ecto 1A Has Too Much Fucking Shit On Its Roof” shirt.
The plan for my next book has always been a history of the Ghostbusters film franchise and its ancillary properties. Sadly, I must now abandon that idea. This week it was revealed (to me) that Sony, the company owning the rights to Ghostbusters, is publishing a historical volume of extremely similar parameters in September. The party delivering this news was the publishing house most interested in working with me on what I had tentatively titled A Convenient Parallel Dimension: Ghostbusters, 1974-2016. They’re open to hearing other ideas I’m sitting on; time to tear through old notebooks and ferret out potential ideas.
No need to invoke the wrath of the slor: we’re getting an officially licensed Ghostbusters history. I’m sure it’ll be wonderful. I’m actually surprised and somewhat ashamed the Sony tome slipped past my radar for so long. Turns out that Christmas leak didn’t give us everything. Also, I can admit I hadn’t exactly done mountains of work on my own GB project. Subconsciously I must have sensed this. I could feel the Twinkie expanding.
So, do you think the world needs a book about InnerSpace?
The original Ghostbusters crew had 25 years to make a third movie. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen (and now it can’t happen because Harold Ramis is dead). It’s actually a little weird Sony didn’t force this beloved (and enormously profitable) property into someone else’s hands sooner. I know Murray, Ramis et al had something of a tontine when it came to the rights, but everyone has a price. Chinese Democracy came out before Ghostbusters 3. Do you really believe Axl Rose is more reasonable than Bill Murray?
Still, fans are apoplectic over the announced reboot, as if Paul Feig will simultaneously be erasing the first two movies from history. It’s difficult to comprehend some of the ire. Complaints have already surfaced from die-hards who are upset they’ll now have to share convention space with people cosplaying as Feig’s Ghostbusters; the new technology, you see, will clash with their expertly recreated 1984 proton packs. Guess these costumers never stopped to consider how much some of us detest seeing guys with goatees and backwards Yankee hats parading around as “Ray Stantz.”
I love Ghostbusters so much I’m currently working on a book about its entire history, but I have no problem admitting that up to this point the series has been a rigid boy’s club where female characters aren’t given much to do (even Gozer only takes the form of a woman for about one minute). Paul Feig’s decision to “star hilarious women” in the reboot is refreshing and fun and much needed, and fans who are disagreeing need to cop to their own throbbing sexism. Female-based entertainment is not “a gimmick.” The fictional activity of ghostbusting is not “too rigorous” for women.
Key point: ghostbusting is fucking imaginary. Gender bias in real life is bad enough. Extending it to the land of make believe, that’s insane. “You can pretend to be anything, except this one thing that makes me uncomfortable for some dumb reason, because I’m threatened by change even in a fake world where marshmallow creatures go on rampages.”
I think it’s also worth noting that Katie Dippold, the scribe for Feigbusters, works on “Parks & Rec,” a show I’d consider female-centric but one that also boasts some of the funniest, most fleshed-out, and just plain interesting male characters available. The door swings both ways.
Admittedly, this reboot could crash and burn. Previous experience doesn’t mean jack. Dan Aykroyd has to wake up every day knowing he made Doctor Detroit. Yet, even if Feigbusters turns out to be the new Heaven’s Gate (are my references dusty enough for you?), who cares? It’s just one movie. It’s not meant to replace anything. If it’s really atrocious we can just pretend it never happened, like Rocky V or the Halloween with Paul Rudd or Rob Zombie’s Halloweens or the Dumb & Dumber prequel or Ace Ventura Jr.
My only real investment: I hope they make the Ectomobile cool. I don’t have any suggestions because I’m not really a car person…just make it cool. You know, like stylish but also kinda nerdy. Like the original.
The chilling climax of Assisted Living Dracula, which did not make the list.
Since I wrote a book about a horror punk band maybe people care to know my favorite horror movies. Emphasis on “maybe.” It’s understandable if you’re only here killing time until the next dumb cat video.
AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
So close to perfection you can barely talk about it. Seems like the most accurate portrayal of what lycanthropy might be like (see: uncontrollable gore, psychological fraying, corpse humor). David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are genius together, the Hope and Crosby of onscreen bloodshed.
THE BAT (1926)
Bob Kane copped much of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego from this story, and it’s not hard to see why. Such striking imagery, thick atmosphere (particularly for a movie that takes place almost entirely in one house). The Bat is the best pre-Burton Dark Knight, though this flying rodent has no heroic intent.
THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Lugosi. Karloff. A torturous secret. Great suspense. Delicious turns from two spook masters. Should be up there with Dracula, Frankenstein, et al.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)
Gonzo horror at its finest. Could you breathe the first time you watched this one? Bruce Campbell delivers a career-defining performance. Makes Elm Street look like “Sesame Street,” Friday The 13th look like Nancy Drew.
Bonkers carnival movie that also succeeds at skewering our country’s sick tabloid culture. Funny, sardonic, but I can’t stand to even glance at Alex Winter in that mutant bat makeup. Also, those giant sentient eyeballs with arms and legs (that are also Jamaican for some reason) wig me out.
The ultimate power trip: harnessing the fury of the atom to capture evil spirits for profit. Only bureaucracy stands in our heroes’ way. Even when it does, they still have that boss car and an endless stream of wisecracks.
The first time we realized William Shatner’s pasty visage could be an instrument of evil. What’s more horrifying, though: the anonymous killer hunting teenagers or the fact these teens have no grasp of local history?
Frightening beyond belief because there is no supernatural element. Sharks are real, and there’s nothing fantastical about them nibbling on a human.
Max Schreck’s makeup is amazing and his movements are hypnotizing. On top of that, Murnau’s direction is wonderfully feverish. None of it seems real. Sticks in your craw like the best kind of haunting.
It’s a testament to this film’s genius that so many decades and parodies later you can still watch it and hope against hope that Anthony Perkins is innocent. The score might be the greatest in horror history. The entire score, that is, not just the “ei ei ei ei!” part.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Everything is sort of romantic and intriguing until Lon Chaney’s mask comes off. Then the fur starts flying. Unlike most modern horror movies where the titular evil is allowed to escape in case of sequel, here we get to watch a zealous crowd beat their ghoulish tormenter to death. Cathartic.
“The Simpsons” made a joke out of “can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” but in Poltergeist that terror is all too real. Ground zero for the movement against all grease-painted jesters. Not that I’m downplaying the movie’s bigger theme: manufactured communities are evil, as are those who develop them.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Not traditionally in this genre but sneaks in thanks to its bleakness. Two robots fighting over the seed of the only woman who has foreseen the apocalypse. Of course no one believes her, so they have her committed. Also, one robot is comprised of an indestructible liquid. Any way we can downgrade to evil clowns?
Please feel free to bombard me with angry comments and angrier e-mails concerning the lack of Leprechaun movies on this list.