Earlier this week, Hollywood lost one of its great comedy voices with the passing of Harold Ramis. I certainly won’t be able to equal the wit and pathos he managed to create in his work in my description of the profound sense of loss many feel. Many better people have that covered.
Being born in the late 80s, most of my exposure to the Harold Ramis/Ivan Reitman/Bill Murray era of comedies came through discovering them in my early teens in very watered-down basic cable-friendly versions on TNT or TBS. The formative years of childhood consisted overwhelmingly of Bollywood for my family, so I didn’t quite have as significant an attachment to Stripes or even Caddyshack as most comedy fans.
However, Ghostbusters, being one of the more family-friendly films from that collaboration, came into my life at exactly the right moment for me to fall in love with everything, including Harold Ramis. I distinctly remember finding the movie on TV one evening after reading a Baby-sitters Club book that specifically mentioned Ghostbusters airing repeatedly on the TVs in the fictional BSC world of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Apparently, in Baby-sitters Club world, Halloween meant that both the movie and theme song were inescapable, as all of the girls’ elementary school-aged charges were obsessed. Being elementary school-aged myself, I really couldn’t blame them.
Ghostbusters is about a team of men who start a company to catch ghosts after getting kicked out of their cushy university research positions. It’s a silly and simple concept, but honestly, this piece isn’t about the plot and I will certainly not attempt to recap and diagram every joke and funny moment in the movie. The movie itself is so beloved and well-regarded that any attempt to try to explain it detracts from its brilliance.
This cast is this movie.
The movie clearly succeeds because of the great chemistry between the Ghostbusters themselves. Bill Murray is perfectly wacky, egotistical, and slimy as more “game show host” and less scientist, Dr. Peter Venkman. Dan Aykroyd is charmingly goofy as Dr. Ray Stantz, who takes out three mortgages on the house his parents left him to see this ghosthunting dream through. Ernie Hudson is great as Winston Zeddemore, who enthusiastically jumps right in to the world of ghosthunting and doesn’t seem to really question all the crazy things he’s seeing. When he screams, “I love this town,” while covered in marshmallow goo, you believe fervently that these characters genuinely love every moment of their adventure.
The supporting players also help make this movie as great as it is. Annie Potts is/was a style icon as Janine Melnitz, the sarcastic, flirty secretary. Rick Moranis is so adorably awkward as accountant Louis Tully, and if you don’t laugh at his party scene, you are no one I want to know. Dana Barrett may be the most artistically gifted character ever (she’s a concert cellist in this movie, and then a painting restorer in Ghostbusters II), so obviously she’s played by Sigourney Weaver, who is both smart and savvy enough to see through Venkman’s bullshit. She’s also fabulous and gorgeous enough to pull off that crazy slinky gauze mess she wears as Zuul. Also, her apartment overlooks Central Park and looks like this:
…even if there are drawbacks to said apartment.
Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler is crucial to so much of the movie. Off screen, Harold Ramis is responsible for much of writing of the movie. On screen, Harold Ramis creates a perfect counterpoint to all of the other Ghostbusters as the often deadpan and pragmatic Egon. In another actor’s hands, Egon could’ve easily been the straight man or a sounding board for other actors’ jokes to bounce off of. Ramis made Egon just as funny in such a perfectly subdued way that both enriched the many comic styles on screen, and also elevated it. Egon isn’t a coldly robotic scientist type; he’s warmly funny when he’s dryly admitting his hobby of collecting spores, molds, and fungi. Egon made nerds cool before that was really a thing. Everything in this elevator scene is perfect because of the characters’ relationships to each other, their actual professional knowledge (even if it is movie science), and Ramis’s comic timing.
Ramis managed to take a scene and use the smallest of actions to make the biggest impact. Without him, Ghostbusters simply wouldn’t have been the same, and I am so thankful for his part in creating something that will always bring me joy.
The best part about this movie is that it grows with you. I mentioned above that I first saw this movie as a child, at which point I was drawn in mostly by the grossness of Slimer and the over-the-top humor of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man menacing his way uptown. As a teen, I got a kick out of the cruder, more adult wordplay and humor and also decided that Egon Spengler was the best and dreamiest member of the Ghostbusters.
As an adult (who has only ever worked in academia), I’ve enjoyed lines I never enjoyed before, like when Ray is bemoaning their loss of university jobs:
Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.
In 2012, I went to a live shadowcast of Ghostbusters, where exuberant fans, some decked out with proton packs and full Ghostbusters regalia, watched the film, acted it out, and did a full on-Rocky Horror Picture Show style viewing, complete with props. There were little crunch bars for a scene when Peter gives Egon a crunch bar and marshmallows for the final scene. The creators of this shadowcast were able to tap into what makes Ghostbusters so beloved: it is an infectiously entertaining movie experience. The creators and audience, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were raised on Ghostbusters, and the humor and writing had a significant impact on their own humor and personalities.
Since the movie appeared on Netflix Instant this past October, I’ve probably watched it about four times and while that might seem excessive to some, it always provides the exact amount of comfort and joy I need. It’s why I don’t think I’m weirdly obsessed with it (hence the title for this article). This movie is more than just fun stress relief. It has become, in some small way, a security blanket for me. Ghostbusters never fails to be a fun, joyous movie, and it’s one of many reasons why Harold Ramis will be missed and admired for years to come.