Written by Jonathan Wojcik
The Film Creatures
As you more than likely know by now if you're reading this, the Ghostbusters
franchise is currently filming its first new movie in twenty-five long years, a reboot with an all-new, all-woman ghostbusting team I am entirely
pumped for, and thought we have to wait until almost next
Halloween season for the film to actually come out, I just can't resist the excuse to do a wave of new Ghostbusters content already. I could devote an entire droning article to how Ghostbusters practically defined my childhood and made me into the person who now makes a living drawing and writing about imaginary bugs. I could also devote another one just to how adamantly I support the merciless annihilation of the gender divide in children's entertainment and beyond. Suffice to say, every grown-ass adult ghosthead currently blubbering and whimpering about their "ruined childhood" only serves to further ignite my passionate optimism for the future of this franchise as well my increasing contempt for what we think of as "geek culture." Cry, nerds. Cry straight into my mouth. There is nothing sweeter.
...Where was I? Yeah, GHOSTBUSTERS! I've talked about monsters from the toy line and from the cartoon show before, which were honestly the overwhelming bulk of my infatuation with the property, but things all started with the movies, and the movies have some fairly interesting critters of their own. It almost feels strange to be writing a Bogleech article about something as widely famous and mainstream as the original two Ghostbusters films, but it seems surprisingly uncommon
for the actual ghosts
to be given as much attention as either the busters or their busting equipment, so we're gonna take a look at EVERY spooky specter from Ghostbusters I and II!
The Library Ghost
Also referred to as the "gray lady," the very first supernatural entity seen in the first film initially takes the form everyone first expects from a "real" ghost - just a hovering, transparent human being. When the elderly librarian gets pissed off,
however, we get our formal introduction to the series now-classic aesthetic, as she warps into a horrifyingly ghoulish yet colorfully cartoonish phantasm. The jutting, filthy teeth and stretched facial features are almost ape-like, and while the crew didn't know it, they rather perfectly captured what ghosts and spirits typically looked like in old Japanese youkai
art scrolls; emaciated, warped and rugose.
I don't remember just how young I was for my first viewing, but my mind exaggerated this scene - still considered pretty startling - into an even more
intense jump-scare than it already was. I could have sworn the lady practically exploded
into a screaming, flayed skeleton. The last time I re-watched the movie, I was surprised just how slow and soft the scene was compared to my memories. I guess we've all been pretty desensitized by Hollywood these days.
Slimer is a Hollywood icon so widely known that I think we all kind of take for granted just how bizarre, and yes, even horrifying the little guy really is. Originally scripted as an ambulatory mass of foul-smelling gas and referred to as Onionhead,
the final phantasm looks like it may have once been human, but in death - or whatever
the hell happened to him - he's atrophied and warped down to the bare minimum necessary for his "life" style, as it were. Legless, earless, hairless and neckless, he's a gelatinous blob that exists only to keep eating and drinking, seemingly never satisfied no matter how much he stuffs into his gaping throat, and even his mind is reduced to little more than bestial hunger. The fact that he's also bright green, exceedingly slimy and, in the original script, repulsively malodorous
all contributes to this spirit's comedically horrible existence, accidentally similar in many respects to the mythology of hungry ghosts
I never thought to question it for a second as a child, but in retrospect, it's downright hilarious that Slimer became such an unironically beloved children's icon, sincerely marketed as basically the Ghostbuster's cute, lovable pet. For a period spanning from the early 80's to almost into the 90's, Slimer was every child's favorite damned, malformed specter of a dead glutton.
The Terror Dogs
Vinz Clortho the Keymaster
and Zuul the Gatekeeper
are pretty major antagonists of the first film, a pair of demonic beasts who serve the big bad, Gozer, by opening passageway between worlds and initiating the return of the destructor
. I like how, despite being repeatedly alluded to as canine, there's really nothing dog-like about these things. They've got aspects of reptile, rodent and bull, but definitely no dog. If anything, they look like Synapsids from the early Permian, like Dimetrodon
and other "proto-mammals" or "reptomammals."
What I really like about these two, though, are their personalities. They seem like mindless, slavering beasts when we first encounter them, but once they take possession of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and Louis Tulley (Rick Moranis), they really don't seem so bad. Rick Moranis as Vinz is especially adorable, always eager to espounse the greatness of his dark master, eat junk food, and at one point, chat with a horse. If not for the fact that they only exist to end the world and have to steal a human vessel, they'd just be harmless cutie-pies.
The Demon Arms(image from sneillfx.net)
finally arrives to take possession of Dana Barret, she's pinned down by a trio of hairy, demonic arms bursting from her own...armchair. I really, really hope that was a conscious pun on some level.
So much is going on during this scene that I never even noticed how all three arms were a little different, the coolest probably being the lower mole-like claws. Were they unique manifestations, or actually attached to entire demonic entities on another plane of existence? We don't know. I'm a little disappointed to learn that in the earliest drafts, one arm was a crustacean-like pincer, and one was going to be a slimy, sucker-tipped amphibian limb. The crew decided those were too "cartoonish" (even after approving Slimer??) and went with the hairy, mammalian limbs similar enough for me to have believed they were all identical.
The Dream Ghost
I will grudgingly admit that some perfectly human-looking, traditional ghosts are probably necessary to include for the sake of variety, and at least because they're what a lot of people think of first when they hear
the word "ghost." Other people think "bedsheet with holes," and I'll admit, I actually wish we saw at least one of those show up with sincerity if we also needed to include the human type, but at least these unremarkable haunts are kept to a minimum. In fact, every normal-looking human ghost across the two films only shows up for a brief, cheap joke; in this case, an angelic female spirit manifests over Ray Stanz during the movie's first montage, goes invisible, then starts to unzip his pants.
The implication is of course sexual, but I didn't know that when I was five. I thought the ghost was just hilariously pulling down Ray's pants for a zany lark. Why else would Ray go cross-eyed and moan in obvious embarrassment
?! Ha ha! PANTS!!!
The Taxi Driver
This animated corpse looks fairly mild by today's standards, but when I was only five or six years old, I couldn't even look
at this guy. He just seemed far too gross and rotten to bear, and I'd cover my little eyes so fast that I never gave myself the chance to really take in what he actually
looked like, my imagination conjuring something even more decrepit, rotten and abhorrent every time. I kept remembering him more like a few ragged, tattered strips of flesh hanging loosely off a moldy, half-eaten skull, dripping with brown pus and possibly a few maggots.
I'm sorry, dead cab guy, that I thought you were slightly grodier than you really are. It was insensitive of me.
The Subway Ghost
Seen for only about three seconds during a mid-movie montage of supernatural activity, Subway was a long source of torment for monster-loving child-me. We could see spindly, bony limbs and a cluster of dangling tendrils, but the finer details of this monster were downright unreadable in the film footage.
It took until relatively recently for me to finally, finally
find out what this ghost was actually supposed to look like, but it was well worth the wait. This photo comes courtesy Craig Caton-Largent,
who actually worked directly on the film's effects. We can now see that the ghost is extremely fish-like in appearance, strongly resembling something from the deep sea abyss, but with arms like a bat's wings, sans skin. It's kind of a shame such a cool and distinct design is so indistinct in the final product, though on the other hand, it wouldn't have been nearly as exciting to track down a glimpse of the prop itself. The Subway Ghost is like a secret
The true main villain of the first movie is summarized for us by Vinz Clortho in by far the film's best dialog:
"Gozer the Traveller. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveller came as a large moving Torb! Then during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants, they chose a new form for him, that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zulls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!
Between Clortho's adorable tangent and Egon's research, we learn that Gozer is a being worshipped as a god by cultures - human and non-human - throughout time and space, bringing about the end of every world that allows it to manifest. When we finally "see" Gozer, it chooses a human-like form played by model Slavitza Jovan, which I completely failed to appreciate as a kid, partly because I didn't find anything cool if it wasn't a full-blown "monster," and partly because our television was fuzzy and I thought Jovan was just wearing a bunch of cottony, white fluff. Instead, Gozer's "human" form is actually naked and covered in huge, transparent boils. It's simple, but it's mighty
unwholesome. It certainly can't be a form Gozer takes for completely alien worlds, can it? We can probably assume the being is simply taking human form for our own world, but then what's up with the gelatinous frog skin? Maybe that's just what we look like to whatever a Gozer actually
The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
Rivaling Slimer and even the busters themselves as the movie's most iconic element, Mr. Stay Puft is the corporate mascot for an in-universe marshmallow brand, designed to invoke a bit of the real-world Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy, accidentally chosen by Ray Stanz as the form that will destroy the world.
All of this was probably considered hilariously absurd when the movie debuted, but child-me completely
missed what was supposed to be funny about a giant, rampaging food mascot. In fact, I missed that it was even supposed to be based on a food mascot at all. I didn't know why Gozer summoned a giant, smiling marshmallow golem with a sailor hat, but I didn't think to even wonder
why, either. I took it all in earnest. A gigantic marshmallow monster smashing New York seemed like a perfectly acceptable, sincere supernatural entity to my pure, unjaded little brain, and to this day, even now that I "get the joke," the idea of a world-ending monster taking the form of a cartoon character is one I have no difficulty taking seriously. It works perfectly, in or out of a comedic context, especially as commentary on the evil corporate America really does hide under a wholesome facade.
And now it's time for...
Ah, Ghostbusters II. Probably one of the most-hyped sequels of its era, but like so many sequels, panned by quite a few of its critics for just not capturing the same unique "spark" of the first film, though personally, I always kind of felt like the second movie was a little more polished and a little more exciting, not to mention more horrifying.
The Scoleri Brothers
The first "proper" ghosts we get to see are unleashed by a small jar of slime when the Ghostbusters are taken to court. These are the vengeful spirits of two convicted murderers, still wearing ghostly remnants of the chairs they were fried in and crackling with electricity. This is another case where I found the ghosts too humanoid to be interesting in my youth, but I now really appreciate their distorted proportions. These two could have easily been nothing but human actors in a little makeup, but instead, these disembodied human souls are performed by outlandish costume puppetry, giving them an unnatural feel and unreal proportions I simply adore. The idea of dead people coming back in these "caricatured" forms is every bit as fun and interesting as any of the franchise's more alien-looking entities, while hitting close enough to home to be significantly scarier.
The Impaled Heads
Are these ghosts, or just a spectral vision conjured by Vigo, the villain? When I was a kid, I could have sworn the severed heads were themselves shrieking and moaning, but they don't move a muscle on closer inspection. It's too bad they didn't have anyone at least hand-puppet the things in close-ups, but they're pretty nerve wracking, all the same, another of those scenes I had to look away from back in the day.
I guess this guy is really more of a "marathon runner." It's a little hard to tell. He's just another full-human specter seen only momentarily, captured right in the middle of his exercise route, but if the ghost itself isn't that compelling, the questions it raises certainly are, because what, exactly is this ghost actually doing wrong?
Yes, it frightens people that a dead man is running laps around central park, but isn't that their
problem? If this is all he wants to do, who cares? It definitely shines a morally gray spotlight on the Ghostbusters themselves, since they're raking in money by getting rid of these "public nuisances" whether or not they pose a tangible threat.
The Fur Coat
Does this count as a "ghost?" I suppose it does as much as anything else we've seen. During this movie's "weird shit tornado" montage, a woman wearing a mink coat walks through a puddle of the pink slime, and her outfit springs to life with multiple screaming, undead mink heads. The best part is after she throws it to the ground, and the whole coat scurries its way down the street, multiple heads snapping away. It's like a weasel skin hydra!
More human ghosts appearing for a single gag, but again, it raises some interesting questions. If the Titanic and everyone who died with it are just now showing up for Vigo the Carpathian's slime party, where were they in the interim? Sleeping? Invisibly drifting the ocean? We never do find out if there's a proper afterlife in Ghostbusters canon, only a sort of vaguely defined "spirit world," and a slightly more explicit hell in the cartoon series.
The Theater Ghost
This thing is pretty much an exact parallel to the first movie's Subway ghost. It's almost a recreation of the same shot, just with a different locale and a different monster, in this case a lot easier to see, but just as inhuman, with four clawed limbs and six glowing eyes. It still has a "warped human" quality to it, mostly around the tooth area, and I think
it has either wings or a sort of frill down its back. The most interesting thing about this ghost is behind the scenes; apparently it was a pretty complex animatronic puppet, controlled by an actor's face via fairly early motion-capture technology using a series of wires. It's impossible to tell, of course; in the couple seconds we see the thing, it kind of exhibits the emotional range of any hand puppet. A really cool looking, expensive, remotely acted hand puppet.
The Washington Square Ghost
We get just one
more transparent monster puppet in Ghostbusters II, yet another one seen for only a brief moment during the montage sequence, but it's interesting for how damn big
it is. Is this the extreme, enlarged ghost of a human, the ghost of an otherworldly monster, or just a natural born demonic spirit? It looks just a little bit like the Rancor from Return of the Jedi,
though with longer jaws and smaller hands.
The Tunnel Toad
Sadly, probably my favorite ghost created for either of the two films was scrapped
at the very last minute. This outlandish ghoul was to attack the busters in an abandoned train tunnel, but was deemed "too goofy" and apparently too "fake" looking. I don't see how it's really any goofier than anything else that made it in, and its resemblance to a giant, mutated human head with stubby legs is the stuff of every child's most beloved nightmares. If I had my way, this guy would at least get a cameo in the new
Vigo the Carpathian
The last movie ghost to go over is also the main villain of Ghostbusters II, and not nearly
as interesting as Gozer, though I guess Vigo deserves some props for the simple fact that the main villain of Ghost
busters II is literally a ghost,
rather than an evil alien god. As far as main-villain-caliber ghosts go, they probably couldn't have done better than a tyrannical warlord inspired by Vlad the Impaler and other historical sadists.
The Pink Slime
We may as well end on the second film's most interesting central plot point, and easily one of the creepiest concepts between both films. Early in Ghostbusters II, we learn that the emotional negativity concentrated in New York city has actually manifested a physical substance, a bubblegum-pink ectoplasm flowing like a river in abandoned subway tunnels under the streets. It's psychic, supernatural sewage, and it exhibits all sorts of strange properties throughout the film. We see it manifesting slimy, spindly arms, conjuring full-blown ghosts, animating inanimate objects, and acting under Vigo's direction, though it doesn't seem likely that the slime is directly
tied to Vigo. For all we know, it could have been flowing under the city since before the first film, directly allowing so many ethereal beings to enter our dimension.
The most entertaining slime moment? Easily when the stuff fills a bathtub, which subsequently behaves like a part of the slime's "body." Early drafts of the script still had some even cooler ideas, including one where the tub becomes a "porcelain Audrey II," and one involving a monster made of soap-bubble eyeballs, but the final creature, really
just performed by a hand puppet, certainly has a lot of charm on its own.
A Final Word
From The Real Ghostbusters
Looking back on this selection of spooks, there's only one thing that worries me a little about the upcoming reboot, and I'm sure you can guess what that is. What will the ghosts actually look like?
Will they capture the same nightmare cartoon feel the series established across its many spin-offs, or will we be seeing the same overdone, CGI attempts at "horror" we've been getting from everything else these past few years? I'll still support the hell out of the film for its new cast, but when it comes to creature designs, I kind of have to keep my expectations fairly low. I feel like we're most likely to get very "serious" looking ghosts, nothing like the whimsically disturbing Grey Lady, Scoleri Brothers, or the many ghosts of the cartoon show and toy line...and they'll probably be animated in extremely fluid, hyper-detailed CG even considering the fact that real
dead people only look like stiff, superimposed puppets when they move anyway.
Maybe I'll be proven wrong? We'll just have to wait and see.
MORE HALLOWEEN FEATURES: