Just because something is intended for kids doesn’t mean it can’t potentially scar them for life in an enjoyable way. It’s in this spirit of kindertrauma that we here at Fandom would like to highlight films, TV shows, and video games that seem kid-friendly but are full of nightmare fuel. Often, they are the ones that stick with us the most. Today on Parental Guidance Suggested we have a look at the classic Ivan Reitman film Ghostbusters.
Previous Entry: Spirited Away
Ghostbusters is something of an outlier when it comes to this column. All the movies we’ve covered so far have been animated features that seem to be aiming at a younger audience. Ghostbusters is about as broad appeal as you get when it comes to movies. But what makes Ghostbusters a perfect candidate for Parental Guidance Suggested has to do with how the film was sold to kids, primarily thanks to the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters that debuted two years later.
Growing up in the ’90s, I experienced a culture where Ghostbusters was an intrinsic part of anyone’s fandom. I caught episodes of The Real Ghostbusters from time to time and even woke up early to catch reruns of the rebooted cartoon Extreme Ghostbusters (which deserves its own entry in this series). I was preconditioned to like Ghostbusters by the time I finally saw it. And when I did, I discovered that it was equal parts hilarious and utterly terrifying.
With the exception of Slimer, the threat of the ghosts is played completely straight. It’s only thanks to the main characters that any levity enters the film. If not for the Ghostbusters and their exterminator goofiness, the film could conceivably be billed as a horror movie. Thankfully it’s not, but it wouldn’t take too many tweaks to turn it into one. In fact, the climactic monster (“It’s the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.“) perfectly encapsulates the idea of the movie: a truly horrific concept is made palatable and even laughable because of the character who is involved in this situation.
One of the things that make Ghostbusters work so well is that the intentionally scary sequences aren’t undercut by the humorous bits. The first time Dana Barrett sees Zuul in her fridge is a good shock but that pales in comparison to when she is possessed by the demon dog. The figure pressing against the door and the disembodied hands popping out of the armchair feel like something ripped from Poltergeist (the original, not the remake).
There are other genuinely frightening bits in the film; the librarian ghost is a hellish monster when it transforms, but that’s easier to swallow thanks to the jumpy music and silly reactions from the cast. Probably the one image that always stuck out in my mind was the cab driver. That rotted corpse look is one of the more intense designs in the film, and I know it inspired at least one nightmare from my childhood.
Ghostbusters is the only outright comedy we’ve covered so far, so it’s understandable that the laughs are more memorable than the scares. Anyone claiming that Ghostbusters is a horror movie is delusional, but it’s a movie that treats its horror elements with respect. It’s a great movie for kids since they’ll fall in love with all the kooky antics and cool ghostbusting, but they’ll also gain an appreciation for the freakier bits.
And they may get a little nervous the next time they open the fridge.