Written by Jonathan Wojcik
THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS
Hundred Demon Parade:
Earlier, I reviewed every ghost appearing in the two original Ghostbusters films, but that was only for starters. We're launching into a slew of Ghostbusters stuff this season, and a big portion of that attention will be going to the first cartoon show, a series lasting 173 episodes from 1986 to 1991 and easily the single most artistically inspirational thing I've ever watched on a television. Can you guess why?
From "Flip Side"
While the films only gave us a modest glimpse into the diversity of the spirit world, The Real Ghostbusters dove headlong off the deep end into positively bonkers design territory, often extending the term "ghost" to creatures that would look more at home in a Zebesian Space Pirate's fever dreams. I'm sorry I'm mixing franchise references so grossly unrelated but I'm excited to talk about this subject again. I reviewed a chunk of these ghosts on Bogleech over six or seven years ago, but they're long overdue for a fresh look, and this time, we'll be checking out several times as many. We will, in fact, be commenting on well over a hundred individual ghosts over the next few months, more if you count the ones in group shots I just won't have the time and space to give individual attention.
And the best part?
More "Flip Side" ghosts, looking very Japanese.
When we're finally done, we still won't have seen every roaming vapor, fearsome critter and long-leggedy beastie to appear in this show. You like creature design? You like any kind of character design? Virtually nothing delivers such a high volume of absurdly varied creatures as the non-stop monster mash that is The Real Ghostbusters. CREATURES SUCH AS:
Episode: Ghosts R Us
The very first episode of the series features a family of ghosts - mom, dad and child - who don "human" disguises as transparent as an Irken invader's and start their own, alternative "ghost busting" business with obviously sinister motives. Slug, the father of the three, has the most unremarkable design, a squat goblin whose skin is bright red when he's not "disguised" as a squat goblin-like man whose skin is sickly grey. Diabolical.
Slug's wife, Snarg, is quite a bit more interesting than her husband, not to mention an adorable cutie, made up mostly of fleshy, coiled tubes. Again, it fascinates me when these beings are clearly "human" ghosts, but so weirdly transformed. No two are ever exactly the same, so what even determines these anatomical changes? Maybe your unique personality, emotional state and experiencs just influence the shape of your ecto-body in ways we wouldn't even expect, like how you can create elaborate geometric patterns from sound vibrations?
Even more compelling than Snarg is her child, Zunk, larger than both of his parents combined and given basically the same voice and personality of the giant "baby bear" from the old Merry Melodies cartoons. Zunk has the kind of character design that's often intended to be hilarious and charming, but usually just comes out disquieting and grotesque, which, in this case, is precisely the point. Zunk is plain frightening, from his huge, warty nose to the very fact that he's a dim-witted but gigantic spectral infant, and speaking of which...how? Was this a family of three who died and became ghosts, or did Slug and Snarg do the ectoplasmic nasty and ooze out this monstrosity post-mortem? Zunk sure as hell looks like what I'd expect from the latter scenario, and you're welcome for however far your mind decided to dwell on the imagery. HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEN!
The Toy Ghost
Episode: Ghosts R Us
Once their bogus service humiliates the Ghostbusters and steals enough business, the Slug family decides to unleash an old friend of theirs, Turloc, a ghost apparently slumbering in an old toy factory. Instead, they find him replaced by an unknown, more powerful spirit initially resembling an adorable smoke cloud with a big, grumpy eye.
The "toy ghost" is called such because it soon sets about building a body out of children's playthings, a body that rampages through New York on a little tricycle and eventually reveals a disturbing ventriloquist-dummy head.
In its final form, however, the toy ghost becomes a humongous, slug-like sea monster, with a circular maw full of serrated fangs and a singular, stalked eye like a submarine's periscope...so was the toy-body just sort of an incubator, or what? It explodes before we get the chance to really see the poor thing in action.
The Purple Gooper
Episode: Future Tense
We'll start on a favorite of mine that still wouldn't look too out of place in the original films, easily passing for one of Slimer's distant, diseased cousins. This lovably horrid, cackling, screaming ghoul is one of those ghosts the guys are already tackling when the episode opens, a minor stepping stone towards the episode's main plot. I like the incredibly tiny, beady eyes contrasting this blob's gaping, toothy mouth, but I most love the four gooey suckers on its ass, which constantly gush copious amounts of purple ectoplasm. It's a simple design, but it's always stuck with me as one of my favorites, and one of the 5,000 things I'd consider for a dream pet if I got my hands on some sort of pet-granting genie. "Slimer" may be famous for sliming, but this thing definitely goops.
The Spawn of Cathulhu
Episode: "Collect Call of Cathulhu"
The works of H.P. Lovecraft are one of those things I'm really not as into as everyone expects me to be. Maybe it's because it's just so over-exposed and so stereotyped at this point, or maybe it's because his feverish racism and xenophobia pretty much jump off every page once you familiarize yourself with who he was as a person and his insipid political ravings. Cthulhu - sorry, "Cathulhu's" - encounter with the Ghostbusters, however, was my very first episode of the show once we finally got cable television, and while I had no idea these were monsters lifted from literary classics, I was delighted to see the busters battling a bunch of freaky squid-creatures.
"Cathulhu's" lesser spawn are only encountered in the sewers, and I suppose they're not that much to write home about as far as squid-headed humanoids go, but I do love their huge, appropriately cephalopod-like eyes, much cooler and more memorable than the narrowed, angry slits Cthulhu and his kin are given in so much contemporary artwork, and definitely more in line with the "bug eyed monster" aesthetics of Lovecraft's time.
The Infectious Ghost
Episode: "Doctor, Doctor"
We'll give the Mythos a break for a moment, and look at the star monstrosity from the episode that most horrified me as a little squirt. "Doctor, Doctor" was probably my most official introduction to the concept of "body horror," and at such a young age, I couldn't take it. I shut it off shortly before the climax, too terrified to find out how the strange infection was going to progress.
See, it all started when a rather forgettable little goblin found its way into a vat of industrial chemicals, which the ghostbusters were subsequently doused with. Fortunately, they didn't get any life-long genetic diseases or terminal cancers from the ordeal, but they did start growing a second skin of fungous, purple glop, and each of the 'busters grew a single facial feature on their chest. An ear, a nose, a mouth, and an eye.
I actually stopped watching just when the ooze threatened to engulf the buster's heads, or at least appeared to. What actually happens is that the stuff simply comes off, leaving the team as good as new while the stuff melds together into a larger, ghastlier reconstruction of the original goblin. It's all some incredibly fascinating spectral "biology" at work, and the reconstructed monster is easily one of the most horrendous looking things the guys have ever faced. If this weren't a kid's show and the victims weren't our main characters, I imagine the supernatural smut probably would have just completely consumed its host bodies.
The Water Elemental
Episode: Future Tense
Following the defeat of purple gooper, this episode sees a sort of tiny, supernatural "spore" tumble from an old oil lamp at a magic shop and into a television, which ends up in the Ghostbuster's possession. As the entity inside grows, the television begins to predict future events - b aut only events that are connected in some way to water. When the elemental finally emerges, it looks like nothing you ever could have imagined, and especially not like anything obviously "water" themed. It's a towering, conical heap of elaborately layered, membranous flesh, with incongruously human arms and a terrifying, eyeless hand-spider for a head. I probably think about this beast every week that I draw monsters of my own, and I still don't feel like I can get on quite this level. It's "human" in enough places to strike a particularly disturbing chord, while the rest of it is so alien it just doesn't look like anything... except maybe a big, heaving pile of guts.
Episode: "Collect Call of Cathulhu"
Pronounced "Shuggoth" in the Lovecraft episode, Howie's original Shoggoths were black, amoeboid creatures covered in bright green, bubble-like eyes, but The Real Ghostbusters decided a Shoggoth should be another cephalopod, albeit a huge, hulking, polypous heap of a cephalopod, with a lovely cluster of those squiddy eyeballs and a gaping, toothy maw concealed under its tentacles. I have to say, it's actually a lot more interesting than just a blob.
Episode: Big Trouble With Little Slimer
At first glance, "ogre" - a name which doesn't really suit this creature, but that's what the wiki went with - almost looks like a conventional, even forgettable reptilian monster, but try to describe it in detail and you'll quickly hit a wall. I can't really liken it so any particular taxonomic label. I see aspects of worm, venus fly trap, catfish, salamander, human and platypus. It's a tetrapod, but it's not an Earthly tetrapod. It looks a whole lot like something out of the original Metroid game manual, bringing our number of Metroid references in a Ghostbusters article up to two, which is probably a world record.
Also, bright green nipples.
The Pizza Ghost
Sadly, this grisly heap of delicious pizza appears exclusively in the show's second intro sequence, which is a really cool intro sequence that also features Ogre (upper left), but also marks that point at which Slimer started to take over and Janine was hollowed out like a bad taxidermy project. Still, pizza ghost. What's not to love? The concept may be funny on paper, but those pepperoni eyes are pretty damn haunting, even with the adorable mushroom nose to give the thing a weirdly Disneyesque quality, and if those pepperonis are eyes, are all of its pepperonies eyes? Like the ones on its cheese-tentacles?
Episode: The Haunting of Heck House
This haunted house episode doesn't have a whole lot of ghosts to write home about, but the phantom momentarily emerging from a framed portrait is magnificent. I probably wouldn't love it half as much without the waving eye stalks, but the rest of its body still looks pretty interesting, especially the chitinous, interlocked tubes down its back, and you really have to love the perfectly human, dapper outfit on such an outlandish xenomorph, which brings me to another subject:
While this series mixes cosmic horrors, demons, gods, fairies and human souls together under the "ghost" label, one possibility I've always thought about is how many entities like this one could, in fact, be alien ghosts. Ghosts in the traditional sense, but the ghosts of dead creatures from all corners of time and space. What if there's only one "netherworld" for the souls of the deceased, regardless of their origin? The spirit world basically becomes a cosmic cesspit of the dead, a dumping ground of things that refuse to pass on and can end up leaking back into material planes where they never belonged.
And some of them just like to dress up nice for it, okay?
Episode: "Collect Call of Cathulhu"
When we finally see the Great Old One "Cathulhu" himself at the end of this episode, he's nothing like the "Cthulhu" everyone keeps rehashing today, and that's pretty awesome. For one thing, he's red instead of green, he has four arms instead of both arms and wings, he has a skirt of tentacles around his waist and his head is radially symmetrical, ringed with tiny eyes and waving feelers. All of this is a whole lot cooler than the octopus-faced dragon-man adorning the t-shirts of so many pasty gamers, and I'm glad this less bilateral, less mundane version was the first interpretation I ever saw.
"Cathulhu" is also quite a bit tougher than the green guy.
Lovecraft's Cthulhu, for all he's hyped up to be, is ultimately defeated in his original appearance when he gets hit in the head by a boat and decides to go back to sleep.
I'm not lying. I bet half of you didn't even ever actually read Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu. It's okay, most of it is boring anyway and I just spoiled possibly the most entertaining moment in the racist dweeb's whole literary career.
Cathulhu, on the other hand, is defeated when Egon Spengler combines proton streams with a lightning storm to turn the scaffolding of an entire roller coaster into a monstrous electric fence and fry Cathulhu into mush, which still only returns him to hibernation, but it's a pretty killer send-off, albeit not nearly as funny as getting a boat to the face.
On the next installment of The Real Ghostbusters Hundred Demon Parade:
Laughing slime, a botanical phantasm, and a parachuting hellgrammite!
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