Let’s face it, the news that the long awaited Ghostbusters III will actually be a reboot, featuring actual human women no less, has not been greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. Some skepticism tends to be justified, as the modern reboot has yet to produce any film that can be seriously compared to the original. In fact, even the belated sequels are hit and miss: let’s just say that for every Jurassic World there’s an Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.
But if you are just aching for bustin’ to make you feel good again, there are plenty of sequels to the original Ghostbusters, and a lot of them really do live up to the original. Even if you’re one of those people who really hates Ghostbusters II.
The Real Ghostbusters: Citizen Ghost
“Strange, weird, eccentric, sick… that about covers it.”
The first sequel to the first movie came way back in 1986, as part of The Real Ghostbusters, the inevitable Saturday morning cartoon spin off. Normally, a tie in like this wouldn’t bear mentioning, except that this beloved series was produced with an enormous amount of love and respect for the then-burgeoning franchise, and nowhere is this more apparent than in possibly the series’ best episode, Citizen Ghost.
Framed via an interview with Peter Venkman, the episode details the events in the aftermath of the movie. The episode’s first scene (chronologically) actually has the four ghostbusters returning to the semi-demolished firehouse, still covered in toasted marshmallow. Half the episode is devoted to the rebuilding of the business, including explaining some of the differences with the film, such as the containment unit being enormous or the uniforms being different. Naturally, this is done via a montage, because the ’80s. There’s also a certain amount of the runtime devoted to Slimer, who until The Real Ghostbusters was simply “The Green Ghost,” and how he came to live with people whose job it is to bust his kind.
The second half details the busters’ next battle… themselves. After “someone” (i.e. Peter) fails to destroy the Gozer soaked uniforms, they literally walk off by themselves, take on the form of the Ghostbusters, and then return to murder the original Ghostbusters in their sleep. You know, in this cartoon for kids. Let’s just say that having ghosts that shoot back upped the ante in terms of peril, even if it is just a cartoon.
Considering the mere 20 or so minute runtime there’s an awful lot packed into the episode, and the tone is practically reverential throughout. Even considering the drastically altered appearances of all the characters (due to licensing issues for the actors, not the characters), this looks and feels like, well, the real Ghostbusters, and not just a shameless cash in. If you check out one entry on this list, make it this one.
The Real Ghostbusters: honorable mentions
“You know, he doesn’t look a thing like me.”
Direct sequels to the original don’t just stop at one episode. Another episode in particular stands out for its ties to the film: Take Two.
In a remarkably meta episode, the four guys are hired as consultants on the Ghostbusters movie. Yes, the actual movie. While most of the episode isn’t really about the actual movie, seeing clips from the movie incorporated at the end, complete with snarky comments about the characters’ appearance being wrong, is enough for it to melt the heart of any ’80s nostalgia nut.
While none of the other episodes really achieved the shared continuity of the above two (outside references to Gozer or the occasional appearance of Stay Puft), there were numerous classic episodes that had plots worthy of a film in their own right. Knock Knock had the guys fighting the apocalypse itself (which was accidentally released into the New York subway system), complete with extremely funky visuals and an ending that recalls the film with the busters prepared to sacrifice themselves to save the world.
Egon’s Ghost deals with the death of Egon. You know, for kids.
And one of my personal favorites, The Collect Call Of Cathulu [sic], features the classic Ghostbustersfare of slumbering ancient gods and crazy cultists, and Venkman fighting Cthulu himself while riding a rollercoaster. More awesome spectacle one cannot get.
“No, no, I’ve got all new cheap moves.”
Yes, it happened, and yes, we have to talk about it. Ghostbusters II might not be too many people’s favorite movie, and it isn’t for those involved either. But still: it’s strange its reputation has diminished over time, to the point that it’s hard to find many who will defend the film. We, however, did defend it, and we’re here to do it again.
I for one am amazed that people can like the original and not like Ghostbusters II, because they’re the same damn movie. If anything, Ghostbusters II is less of a sequel, and more of a remix.
That is certainly the biggest criticism, because Ghostbusters II doesn’t do anything new or different, but personally I only think that can be a valid criticism if the remixed elements don’t work. And they do.
In fact, for every element that doesn’t quite live up to the original, there’s one that surpasses it. Take Vigo for example. Murray may have complained that Vigo spent all his time in a painting, but where exactly was Gozer for most of Ghostbusters? Stuck in the nearest convenient parallel dimension, that’s where. And did Gozer even care who they were? Nope.
Vigo, on the other hand, manages to have a personal vendetta against pretty much everyone he meets, going to far as to possess Ray, try and burn him and Egon to death, and try to steal Dana’s baby, all while preparing to become none other than the Antichrist (a god reborn as a human at Christmas time, only evil. What else could he be?). He might have been stuck in the painting, but that guy got shit DONE.
All Gozer did was turn two people into dogs and step on a church. And it was made of bloody sugar. What else was it going to do, give people diabetes? Gozer is an idiot.
Okay, some things don’t work. Kurt Fuller is a pale expy of Walter Peck, the walking Statue of Liberty wasn’t a patch on Stay Puft. and there wasn’t enough ghostbusting, but are you going to tell me that busting the Scoleri Brothers during their own trial, the haunted railroad or the dancing toaster aren’t worthy of your love? Thought not.
And to say that no one involved really cared, we still get some fantastic character moments. I don’t care what you say, I’ll take Bill Murray phoning in his performance over most things. Hell, I’d settle for a tweet.
Extreme Ghostbusters: Darkness At Noon Parts I & II
“Nice shooting Eddy. I think it’s dead, again.”
After Ghostbusters IIthe franchise entered what most thought were the twilight years. As the movies faded from memory and fans of The Real Ghostbusters grew out of cartoons (as teenagers hilariously do in an attempt to look cool, the idiots), the time was completely wrong for a new spin off. And so in 1997 one of history’s least remembered cartoons aired: Extreme Ghostbusters.
There was nothing wrong with Extreme Ghostbusters. Sure, it had that 1990s-present disease of making everything edgy and, well, extreme (it’s true, whoever named that show had no dick), but it really wasn’t bad at all.
It was, however, extremely cliched in its character design. Kylie (a female ghostbuster, how dare they!) is that weird dark-and-edgy-faux-ultra-mature type that 50% of all teenage girls inexplicably aspire to be, Eduardo is an annoying slacker (but he’s vaguely got some sort of ethnicity, which counts as character development), Roland is the black one, and that’s as far as his character development goes, and there’s a guy in wheelchair, who has so little character I’m not sure he even had a name. It’s a terrible example of design by PC committee that could only be worsened if some hotshot movie producer decided to cast all women as a publicity stunt (our tongue is in cheek there, lest you be loading up, ready for the comments).
Fortunately, we still have Egon (and Janine and Slimer too, but they don’t really get much to do), who is now working as a university professor, teaching a class on ectoplasm or something. So what happens when ghosts return to the city of New York and start spreading some sort of weird ghost leprosy? He trains his class as a new generation of ghostbusters, that’s what.
Considering the ‘old ghostbusters train a new generation’ plot had been considered for years, actually seeing it happen is a sobering experience. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with Extreme Ghostbusters, it’s just there’s nothing particularly special about it either. Taking all the equipment, the ghostbusting, the same setting, but just tweaking a few things leaves a whole that definitely isn’t the sum of its parts. Even when doing the great staples of Ghostbusters, like possessions, building new equipment, blowing stuff up, it falls strangely flat.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that the characters never really drive the plot, they just react to it, and the plot has been done before. It’s like the Star Trek: Voyagerof the Ghostbusters franchise. Take it as a curiosity that acts as a warning for all reboots and belated sequels: the original was so special that any attempt to replicate it, however sincere, may not turn out to be not much of anything at all unless it gets a chance to be its own thing as well.
Extreme Ghostbusters: Back In The Saddle Parts I & II
“Depending what you’ve heard, it’s all true, or I deny everything.”
The first episode in the series might have been neither overwhelming or underwhelming (it was extremely whelming), so how can you make something special out of a series lacking in anything memorable? Crossover time!
It’s not quite the crossover you’d imagine. Unbeknownst to me before first watching this about a decade ago, Lorenzo Music and Arsenio Hall left The Real Ghostbustersand were replaced by… some people, their names aren’t important. Ironically, Bill Murray asked Lorenzo Music be fired for sounding too much like Garfield. To be honest, that’s Bill Murray’s fault for sounding like Lorenzo Music. So it’s not quite the glorious lost episode of The Real Ghostbusters, but it’s damn close.
Egon is turning 40 and feeling low about getting old (in previous episodes he’d started getting the Extreme Ghostbusters’ names wrong, trying to relive the old days), so Janine brings the old gang back together for his party. Hilariously, Peter is trying to get another Ghostbusters movie made and is holding out for Brad Pitt. If only he knew… Anyway, before you can say mid-life crisis they’ve squeezed themselves into their old suits and are back out, blowing up bowling alleys and trying to catch ghosts.
Naturally, the Extreme Ghostbusters are annoyed at this, as they are teenagers and can’t stand it when the world isn’t paying them constant attention. And that’s sort of it. There’s friction between the new team and the old team, the new guys can’t stand that the originals were there first, and the old team can’t understand that, as Egon puts it, “the torch has been passed.” Sure, there’s some plot about metal eating ghosts and the Bermuda triangle, and yes they overcome their differences in the end, but the reason this finale to the series works where the pilot failed is down to one thing: character.
Okay, so none of the Extreme Ghostbusters had any real character development, but given a familiar backdrop you can get a sense of how they were supposed to work. I guess it’s down to context. As a replacement Extreme Ghostbusters didn’t have anywhere near the same pull as the original, but as an addition, an expansion, it was brilliant. The pilot spent a lot of time on the new characters without really doing anything interesting with them, while the finale allowed us to get to know them by giving them a known quantity to play off of.
Kylie is the enthusiastic and knowledgeable one, but with bravado. Eduardo is the slacker with the heart of gold. Roland is the quiet type, but also the builder and quiet innovator. And Garrett (turns out he did have a name) is the adrenaline junkie and team motivator. Looking at previous episodes, all that was there and consistent, it’s just that there was never enough link between plot and character for it to come through.
If Darkness At Noon tried to reinvent the wheel and failed, Back In The Saddle just gave the wheel some shiny new alloys polished with a dose of nostalgia, which is exactly the right approach. If anything, this should have been the first episode. Maybe then the series might have been more fondly remembered, instead of languishing in obscurity.
Time will tell whether the reboot will be able to get the character right as Back In The Saddle did, or have them lost by just reacting to the plot as Darkness At Noon did. Assuming it isn’t just a shameless cash in, that is.
“Between the groupies and the four bottle a day aloe vera habit, it just wasn’t a good scene for me.”
A short lived comic book series that ran for four volumes in 2004. While touted to be the next big thing, fans were put off by the story being retconned to take place in 2004, which many saw as a move to delete Ghostbusters II and The Real Ghostbusters from canon. It also removed almost all of the comedy and instead focused on the dramatic fallout of the original. So we see Peter enter into a doomed relationship with Dana, Ray struggling with the ethics of weaponising science, and Louis Tully having to cope with being the guy famous for turning into a terror dog. The fact that the characters behave distinctly out of character makes it seem all the more weird and moody. The above quote, for example, is Louis Tully, not Peter Venkman.
Financial difficulties meant the series was abruptly cancelled after three issues, the fourth arriving with the hope that the series would continue. All hope of that was lost when publisher 88mph Studios went bankrupt, and this comic series was quickly forgotten by everyone, even hardcore Ghostbusters fans.
Ghostbusters: The Return
“He found blocks, graham crackers, and fingerpainted likenesses of the Sta-Puft [sic] marshmallow man, but no alligators.”
Easily the least well known entry in the franchise, Ghostbusters: The Return was a novel written as a sequel to Ghostbusters II. Well, written is a word I use loosely. Let’s just say that to call the writing clunky would be offensive to clunk.
“The rear of the first floor was devoted to office space. Directly in front of the panelled office area and a bank of file cabinets was a heavy oak receptionist’s desk. The petite woman behind the desk wore a loud print dress, dangling earrings, glasses with heavy black frames, and vivid red hair in a shade that had never been found in nature. The sign on her desk announced her name as JANINE MELNITZ.”
The plot has urban legends coming to life while Peter runs for mayor. Naturally, we get long sections of the latter without much of the former, described in the purplest of prose. To be fair to author Sholly Fisch, considering Ghostbusters had until this point only been seen in visual media, it may be that no writer could have made the leap into print. Still, it doesn’t make for a great read, no matter which way you try to spin it.
Publisher iBooks actually went out of business trying to bring the book to market. In the US, Barnes & Noble refused to stock the book, arguing that Ghostbusters was a “dead franchise”. Reading between the lines, they just thought the book was a load of crap. Either way, the lack of distribution led to an extremely limited print run, and iBooks never recouped their original investment, folding shortly afterwards. Hard copies are rare, often fetching over $100 on eBay. However, if you do want a read, the excellent Ghostbusters resource Spook Central has kept the project alive in pdf form here, as the copyright holder no longer exists.
Ghostbusters: The Videogame
“If you’re going to burn any tissue, do it to the new kid. You can’t use Ray. Our mortgage is in his name.”
Rumors of Ghostbusters III never really went away, not helped by Dan Aykroyd popping his head up occasionally to remind people that he had a script and was pestering movie studios with it. Eventually, the script for Ghostbusters III (titled Hellbent) made its way onto the internet, but not before being heavily adapted into a videogame, of all things. With a script (billed as) by Ramis and Aykroyd, and featuring the entire original cast (including now famously antipathetic Bill Murray), it may be a game, but it’s the closest thing to an actual Ghostbusters III we’ll ever get.
Picking up two years after Ghostbusters II, the team are now contracted to (and insured by) the city. Good thing too, as Gozer, in the form of Stay Puft, has returned inexplicably. That pesky Ivo Shandor, the ultimate architect of the events and buildings of the first film, is trying to turn New York into his own personal hell, and naturally the boys are there to stop him. Of course, being a videogame, the actual plot involves running around dark corridors searching for the next ghost to spawn, waiting for Ray to open doors for you, and shooting Peter in the back because you can. I’m almost certain none of that was in the original script.
It’s not clear exactly how much of the Aykroyd script made it into the game and how much was written by developer Terminal Reality, but fortunately that doesn’t matter. Because for all its flaws, it looks, sounds and feels like Ghostbusters.
Not only do we get one last story with the original cast (even if they all sound like they really can’t be bothered), we also get to run around shooting proton streams at Stay Puft just as we pretended to as kids, listen to Egon say something unintelligible, and hear the original song in context one more time. The fact that the gameplay is so generic (or that videogames really haven’t changed in the last decade) really helps, as the gameplay aspect hasn’t aged and gotten in the way of playing the game. Considering it can be had now for less than the price of a DVD, and it looks fantastic played on a modern PC, it’s well worth a look if you didn’t play it the first time around.
It’s by far the best Ghostbusters game, although that really isn’t saying much.
Ghostbusters: Mass Hysteria
“…dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”
The last entry on the list comes from IDW comics, who picked up the licence after 88mph Studios folded. Wisely, they focused for a while on one shot stories, knowing what happened to previous print incarnations of Ghostbusters. Some of those were delightfully bonkers too, featuring crossovers with The X-Files, Star Trek, Transformers and in the best 80s mash-up possible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now if they can somehow shoehorn He-Man in there I think I might explode myself.
Once the series found its feet, there were some wonderful continuity nods to earlier incarnations. Kylie from Extreme Ghostbusters starts working at Ray’s shop (let’s face it, a goth is more likely to work in an occult bookshop than work as a ghostbuster), and in a memorable visual gag the busters meet their future selves, who just happen to look like the toy line where you squeezed the arms and their eyes popped out.
Anyway, after the series had garnered a small amount of success, IDW went ahead with an ongoing series. And then another one. Like all good Ghostbusters properties, they were very reverential and familiar. Okay, so it didn’t tread any new ground, and we got the likes of Stay Puft and Walter Peck turning up yet again, but by this point there was no denying that what works, well, works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Perhaps the nicest revelation in the IDW series is that because Gozer’s mission is to destroy civilisation, and Gozer keeps failing, it’s locked into the form of Stay Puft forever and ever. Just like Ghostbusters itself, locked into the same stories and same situations, because that’s just the what works. Comforting, despite the problems it brings.
Well, unless they replace the ghostbusters with a bunch of bloody women or something.