The Real Ghostbusters: The 20 Scariest Episodes of the Animated Series

Low on nightmare fuel? Fill your tank and relive the scariest moments from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon!

The Real Ghostbusters was a pretty fucked up cartoon sometimes. I think that’s one of life’s universal truths. I’ve been thinking about the show a lot lately, and I’m not quite sure why the world needed an unholy amalgam of anime, cheesy ‘80s synth music, and mind-bending eldritch horror with a chiseled version of Bill Murray on top.

But it did, and it still feels so right to this day. And the best part? It’s on Netflix!

Forget Ecto Force. Phh. Who needs that? (Besides me?) I propose a new, rebooted Real Ghostbusters animated series that features the new female cast. Though I’m sure Melissa McCarthy’s character Abby Yates would have inconsistent hair coloring for no apparent reason. 

But until that day comes, let’s just appreciate what we have, shall we?

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Ah, DIC. What would my childhood have been without you? Well, for starters, I suppose I wouldn’t have been terrified of the cartoon demons you dreamt up in your Real Ghostbusters cartoon, you sadistic assholes!

Ahem. Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just…RGB (as the hardcore fans call it) had some spooky monsters featured on it. Remember the Boogeyman? He looks like he got kicked out of Kajagoogoo. But the evil, nightmarish, diabolical version of Kajagoogoo. Not the good and pure Kajagoogoo who gave us “Too Shy”, an ‘80s jam I wish had been played on Real Ghostbusters during a fight with a lesser demon at some point. But no, we had to settle for the show’s official soundtrack which sounded like outtakes from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album as reimagined by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

Obscure ’80s music references aside – Real Ghostbusters had some distinctly real spooky moments throughout its run. Let’s relive these by taking a walk down memory lane, ideally while strutting along to an instrumental version of the Ghostbusters theme, pointing coyly at cheering people on the sidewalk – just like the Real Ghostbusters would.

Season 2, Ep. 31: “The Thing in Mrs. Faversham’s Attic”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

Hey look! J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Sense8) wrote this episode. He was a story editor for RGB, in case you didn’t know. He’s the reason why this show was so wild and crazy.

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“[It was the] first opportunity I had to just go nuts and do anything I wanted to do, and the producers stood by me, however nuts I got. It was a show we were all free to go totally gonzo with,” Sraczynski said in this interview with Ghostbusters Planet from 1999. “We got away with some amazing stuff….It was a hoot, and it’s one of the things I’m still very proud of.”

And he should be!

In “The Thing…”, the team runs around an elderly woman’s curiously large attic, chased by an evil cosmic entity that her late husband summoned a long time ago while performing a dark ritual. This plot device is highly similar to that of Batman’s Dark Knight, Dark Citystory by Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer.

Seeing ghostly apparitions made up of dusty old junk in the attic is creepy enough, but when it shifts around to become a likeness of the grim reaper himself, it’s time to run in the opposite direction while pooping yourself. Things get weirder as a sequence straight out of a Junji Ito manga happens when the gang is caught up in a psychedelic whirlwind made up of purple and yellow eyes.

Whoa. Hold on. I should lay down. This is giving me a flashback. 

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Season 1, Ep. 8: “When Halloween Was Forever”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

This is the debut of Samhain, probably the most recognizable contribution RGB made to the Ghostbusters canon. In fact, it’s about time for Samhain to make a comeback, don’t you think? This episode is spooky because wouldn’t you be creeped out if all those demons and monsters banded together to bring about an apocalypse of their own making? I know I would.

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Like most other RGB episodes, what makes “When Halloween Was Forever” so effective is its atmosphere. This episode takes time building up a sense of dread that reaches far beyond the city of New York, much like the black cloud Samhain summons that stretches out across the world. The icing on the pumpkin spice cake, however, is Bob Miller’s voice acting, who portrays Samhain with an extra layer of gravelly menace that just nails it.

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Season 2, Ep. 19: “Ragnarok And Roll”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

Another J. Michael Straczynski episode! As a sucker for Norse mythology, I had to put this one on the list. It’s especially spooktacular thanks to the show’s dreary visual style, which insistent on generating as much nightmare fuel as possible. Maybe JMS knows more about its sustainability than we do.

The horror here is a personal tragedy translated on a global scale, an allegory for the devastation one survives after a breakup. This time, the villain is a broken-hearted man named Jeremy who decides to bring about the end of the world after Cindy, the woman he loved, turns down his marriage proposal to follow her career. With his sidekick DyTillo, a Quasimodo-esque man whom Jeremy rescued from being hit by a car once, he brings about the Norse apocalypse by playing a magic flute and making a pact with something known as the Dark Entity.

“Ragnarok and Roll” is one of the most haunting episodes of Real Ghostbusters. It’s exactly the sort of dark fable Straczynski loves telling, and the kind he would write on a much larger scale in Babylon 5. This episode reminds me of an installment he penned from that shows third season, “A Late Delivery From Avalon” which also uses mythological symbols as a cipher to encrypt personal trauma as a means to escape it. It tells the story of a disturbed sergeant that uses Excalibur and Arthurian lore to deal with his own PTSD. “Ragnarok and Roll”, on the other hand, is about coping with the end of his own world – the world he built with his expectations around the woman he loved. Naturally, I can’t help but find a correlation there.

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And the animation – wowzers. Some stills look like they were taken straight from a classic anime like Galaxy Express 999 or something. Seriously! Take a look at those screencaps. That’s some eye candy right there. If there’s a downside to any of this, though, it’s the voice acting. An Elvis-like southern drawl does not fit a tragic character such as Jeremy, not one bit. But the rich emotions, the high stakes, and the lush art direction make “Ragnarok” a keeper. A crypt-keeper even. Ha ha. Get it?

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Come on. It’s worth a chuckle at least.

Season 2, Ep. 8: “Night Game”

Written by Kathryn M. Drennan

There’s an ancient Native American legend which states that a battle between the forces of good and evil take place once ever five-hundred years in exactly the same spot no matter what. Winston has a pretty good guess as to where this spot is – the Jaguars baseball stadium. And he’s right. So the Ghostbusters sneak onto the field during the fated night and find themselves playing a baseball match against ghouls, goblins and other grotesque creatures that probably can’t wear a baseball gloves properly, much less hold a bat because they might not have opposable thumbs or they’re just too incorporeal.

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“Night Game” is what would happen if Slimer dropped a tab of acid while watching the World Series on basic cable (possibly again?). It’s like someone accidentally put an episode of Devilman on instead of RGB. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch (and what is up with my classic anime references here?!?). It’s most certainly not as gory as that. And the light-hearted chintzy musical score makes everything feel hunky dory no matter what. Nevertheless, “Night Game” is a colorfully twisted neon-tinted nightmare and should be witnessed at least once in life. Play ball!

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Season 2, Ep. 25: “No One Comes to Lupusville”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

The Ghostbusters visit a town called Lupusville upon the request of a mysterious aristocrat named Gregor. Turns out the town is full of strange and peculiar folk. (Imagine that.) Soon after their arrival, the busters find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy of bloodsucking vampires. If that’s not enough, werewolves show up and things get all Underworld-y. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this episode inspired that entire film franchise.

Things get wacky towards the end when the vampires and werewolves take out all their pent up aggression on each other, but who doesn’t want to see that happen? Kate Beckinsale isn’t around, but so what? You sat through Underworld III, didn’t you?

The creepiest elements here are the town of Lupusville itself and its inhabitants, each one a twisted caricature of what I can only describe as a suburban carnie. The spooky young girl that has the most interaction with our heroes, Lida, is the creepiest. She’s more of a ghost than anything else, inspiring sympathy and mistrust in the same breath. And that breath would be a stinky one, probably reeking of Purina puppy chow.

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Season 3, Ep. 9: “The Grundel”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

When an episode starts off with the busters busting the Jabberwocky of all creatures, which is fucking terrifying if you haven’t seen him in a while (Disney’s recent rendition featured in Alice Through the Looking Glass doesn’t count by the way), you know things are about to get spooky. And they do, thanks to another disturbing episode brought to you by Mr. Prolific himself, JMS. “The Grundel” is one of the more infamous episodes of RGB as it introduces the show’s most chilling creepazoid, the eponymous Grundel himself.

If this is your first time getting to know Grundel, be careful. He likes to single out semi-aggressive, overactive children, take them behind the gym bleachers and brainwash them to become selfish dicks. The more they follow his advice, the more fully aggressive they become. They even start taking on his ghoulish appearance to boot. This time, he teaches a boy named Alec the secret art of being a total asshole. An asshole who barks at his friends, steals comic books and disobeys his elders. In other words: he becomes a full-fledged teenager. So in that sense, Grundel is a lot like puberty itself.

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From the literate opening scene to the exploration of the darkness buried within the young human heart, J. Michael Straczynski once again cranks out an installment of The Real Ghostbusters that causes us to gaze upon our own flaws, the innate evils of character we nuture out of selfishness or neglect. By externalizing this force and giving it a physical form in Grundel, he weaves another moralistic yarn that ends up halfway between a parable and one of those PSA’s from the ‘80s that still give you nightmares.

(Insteresting side note – check out “Grundelesque”, an episode of Extreme Ghostbusters if you want to see what happens when Grundel comes back for more…)

Season 2, Ep. 21: “The Man Who Never Reached Home”

Written by Kathryn M. Drennan

It was a dark and stormy night. While driving the Ecto-1 across New England, Ray pulled over at a diner to get Slimer a burger to eat (two dozen, to be exact.) As he stepped back into the car, a specter of a man dressed in 19th Century clothing suddenly rode up in an old-time horse and carriage. “How much further to Providence?” he asked… And thus begins a Real Ghostbusters episode that deconstructs an archetypal campfire trope.

Urban legends about ghost travelers are unsettling because they represent a fate we don’t want to accept. That we could be find ourselves lost and wandering a highway in Idaho at 3AM after biting the big one doesn’t sound like an ideal situation. This theme isn’t explored fully here, in a 20-minute ‘80s cartoon, but it’s certainly felt in the subtext. And since one of the secret missions of The Real Ghostbusters was to make the unknown knowable and therefore less frightening overall, there is comfort to be found in the fate that the Ghostbusters help the spirit of Simon Quegg find in the end.

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But you can’t shake the eerie feeling you get when you see Quegg hanging out with the Busters, or when you think about Ray being stuck in the man’s Class 9 specter level horse carriage, riding around the country for over a day. That must have been freaky. What did he do the whole time? What was he thinking? I don’t think I’ve ever thought about Ray this much.

Season 2, Ep. 24: “Victor the Happy Ghost”

Written by Michael Reaves

This clever send-up of Casper the Friendly Ghost is a bit horrifying, if you can’t tell by the screencap above. I think that was the point here – to turn such a family friendly misrepresentation of ghost culture on its head and make it the exact opposite of that. In this regard, “Victor the Happy Ghost” is more satirical than its peers, choosing to spear a beloved cartoon icon with the gleefully deranged humor of an 8-year-old boy who’s had a few too many Capri Suns. Therefore, its plot is simpler than most of the others you’ll find on this list.

But when it comes to horror, less can be more sometimes, am I right?

Essentially, the plot revolves around the Troublemaking New Pet Trope (which Victor plays to a T). But Slimer is the real star here, as this episode exists to compare and contrast the two. Victor’s a great character foil for Slimer, dashing around the firehouse, causing mishaps and framing our adorable little ball of ectoplasm for them. Slimer is disheartened by how his busting buddies are so quick believe the worst about him, like he’s a slimy ghost from beyond or something. Things get really hairy when Victor shows his true face – which makes me pee a little in my pants each time I see it – and sticks Slimer in one of the busters’ traps.

You know what? I just can’t bear to look at his face anymore. Mind if we move on? Cool, thanks. I owe you one.

Season 2, Ep. 32: “The Collect Call of Cathulu”

Written by Michael Reaves

When I first discovered that the Real Ghostbusters had a take on the Lovecraft mythos, I was just as surprised some of you might be. All the rest, you’re nodding your heads saying, “Fuck yes, this episode rules.” Well, you’re right, it does.

“Collect Call” is the first episode that came to mind when I started thinking of the show’s spookiest moments, because you can’t get much spookier than being surrounded by the spawn of Cthulu in a New York sewer. Or being ambushed by cult members and their many-tentacled god with a maw full of needle-like teeth in an underground chamber. Or having a showdown with the dark headliner himself on Coney Island. “Collect Call…” may end like any self-respecting Scooby-Doo episode would, but it’s a heck of a ride through and through.

Not only is this perhaps the most forboding episodes of the entire RGB run, but it’s also a crash course in the Lovecraft mythos. It’s as if Michael Reaves sat down to write this and thought, “I’m going to get kids hooked on this shit.” Well, guess what Mr. Reaves? It totally worked. Thank you!

Season 2, Ep. 65: “The Hole in the Wall Gang”

Written by David Gerrold

It was a dark and stormy night, again. The Ghostbusters found themselves in Arkham, again. This time stuck in a haunted mansion for the weekend on an assignment by its residents, the owners of a prestigious cheese company. What they found there is one of the hardest challenges in their entire ghostbusting career: a hole in the wall.

This is one of the most creative entries of RGB (even if it’s distracting to hear the cast say “hole“ over and over again) because it’s obviously inspired by Evil Dead II. Each gag emulates the funhouse mania of the evil cabin in the woods itself, just like the hole, which sucks Ray in and spits him back out with white hair in the episode’s scariest moment.

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Since writer David Gerrold set this adventure in the same town as the show’s previous Lovecraftian themed escapade, it’s a fun excuse to play with the visual vocabulary that Raimi contributed to the Lovecraft film lexicon. Again, the music, voice acting and sound effects work against the menace the animation sets up as usual – but this time, it accentuates the Three Stooges humor that Dead by Dawn reveled in, so it works.

Season 2, Ep. 40: “Knock, Knock”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

“DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DOOMSDAY.” You’d think that this is a warning that most rational people would follow when heard spoken by a recently unearthed giant door that looks like the constipated face of Satan. But New York needs another subway line, so the construction workers open it up anyway, unleashing all the wacky unholy batshit craziness the “nether regions” contain. This turns subway trains into demonic cartoon snake creatures that babble to themselves like a crazy person who would sit next to you if you were riding an actual subway train.

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But what’s really unsettling is watching the Ghostbusters get their own private tour of the underworld. “Knock Knock” is not just a bleak look at the afterlife, it’s another cosmic scale apocalypse that the team must bust all over.

Season 2, Ep. 48: “Apocalypse What, NOW”

Written by Mark Edward Edens & Michael Edens

Would you look at that? Another apocalypse! You shouldn’t have, Real Ghostbusters. This time, Janine unleashes the Four Horseman after breaking the seal on an old book Peter picks up from an auction. It rains toads and all that other fun stuff. Plus, everyone gets to go on a vacation to Greece. That’s a perk.

Season 2, Ep. 49: “The Devil to Pay”

Written by Dennis McCoy & Pamela Hickey

RGB was at its best when it  fired on all cylinders, bucking conventions left and right. “The Devil to Pay”, one of its more creatively rich attempts, imagined what Satan’s game show would look like – and it’s a doozy. The Devil as a game show host is portrayed more like Hamill’s Joker from Batman: The Animated Series than your average ordinary Lucifer. In fact, they share the same posture, mannerisms, wardrobes, and penchant for unrealistically grandiose death traps and set pieces.

For instance, the busters are all strapped to a giant roulette wheel while the devil rolls out a giant ball to crush them all. This sets up a great gag in which each member gets something off their chest to the others, thinking these would be their final words. The episode isn’t necessarily filled to the brim with nightmare fuel, but you can still catch a few whiffs here and there. I mean, it caused enough stir for parents to write in complaining about using the devil as a villain for crying out loud.

Season 2, Ep. 54: “I Am the City”

Written by Richard Mueller

An unusual red figure lands in the city in the midst of an earthquake and starts disguising himself as different people throughout the Big Apple. Egon figures out that he is Marduk, the Babylonian God of the City who has arrived to battle Tiamat, his five-headed dragon foe. The Ghostbusters try to prevent the gods from doing battle to protect New York from further damage.

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Okay, this one won’t keep you up at night. It does have weird moments, though. Why wouldn’t it? The whole scenario is just bizarre, to begin with.

Marduk is many things throughout the episode, but at points, it’s played as though he’s the spirit of NYC itself just wandering around and spectating. Also, a colossal dragon hiding in Central Park is a bit unnerving, right? I think so.

Season 2, Ep. 39: “Cold Cash and Hot Water”

Written by Richard Mueller

(Raise your hand if you had the read-along book and tape version of this as a kid! Because I did not.)

Peter’s conman father finds a chunk of black ice in the Arctic and asks his son to help bring it back home. But little does he know that there’s a fire demon inside of it. And it’s not too happy.

Let’s be real- this episode is rather tame and ho-hum until the fire demon (whose name is Hob Anagarak) is unleashed towards the end. But when he is, he’s got the skin-crawling charm of a hentai monster. The kind that doesn’t have tentacles dangling everywhere but has long, pointy claws instead. And lets not forget his expert flamethrowing abilities. That looks good on a resume.

So basically, Mr. Anagarak is like a Zoanoid from The Guyver. If you even know what that is. I’m just all about the old school anime references today, apparently.

Season 2, Ep. 2: “Station Identification”

Written by Mark Scott Zicree

Across New York City, ghosts are materializing out of television screens everywhere, taking on the form of TV characters. This is all because of one larger entity that transforms into a scary-ass giant clown and then a really fat looking Grover with a jheri curl. Yeah, that’s definitely the most disturbing part of this episode by far.

Season 2, Ep. 23: “Hanging by a Thread”

Written by Willam Rotsler & Richard Mueller

The RGB are here to save the day from the Lord of the Stench, who is out to steal the shears of the Three Fates. So guess where they wind up again? That’s right. Hell.

Yes, again. In a kids show from the 1980s.

I don’t know how DIC slipped past all of those conservative parents. I guess it was all the Billy Murray-esque one-liners delivered by Lorenzo Music’s velvety voice that lulled them into acceptance. Or it could have been their blatant hypocrisy mixed with hidden apathy. That, too.

Season 1, Ep. 6: “The Boogieman Cometh”

Written by Michael Reaves

Next to Grendel and Samhain, the Boogeyman is one of the ghouls from RGB that will actually keep you up at night. He’s the guy I mentioned that looks like Evil Kajagoogoo. And he totally is. He uses portals to enter the closets of children and make his head grow even more disproportionately larger inside of them. In short: he’s a ten foot tall sack of Nope.

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In this episode, the Ghostbusters enter the Boogeyman’s realm, which is basically a tumblr full of M.C. Escher’s artwork. They figure out how to seal it off in the end so he doesn’t come back to stick his big nose into any unassuming kid’s bedroom.  

Season 3, Ep. 4: “The Boogeyman is Back”

Written by Michael Reaves

In Season 3, the Boogeyman came back. And guess what? He was still pretty scary. But this episode is made extra ominous by starting off with the Ghostbusters fighting another hentai monster on top of the World Trade Center. The unintentional shadow this casts darkens most of the plot that follows and even Limahl‘s evil twin himself, who finds a way to return to our world and pick on Egon. 

Season 1, Ep. 11: “Citizen Ghost”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski 

J. Michael Straczynski was on fire when he wrote “Citizen Ghost”. Not literally, I hope. Figuratively speaking, though, I can picture him looking like the the Human Torch while sitting at his keyboard. That’s because it’s ambitious as shit. It’s the ultimate puzzle piece connecting the original 1984 Ghostbusters to the Real Ghostbusters of 1986.

Through the framing device of an interview with an investigative reporter, Peter explains what happened between the end of the film and the beginning of the series. He tells us why Slimer lives with them and why they swapped uniforms, but he fails to mention why Egon Spengler is blonde.

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What’s scary here are the possessed old Ghostbuster suits that the team must take down when Peter forgets to dispose of them properly. They look all green and wispy and stuff. It’s scary! What? You don’t feel slightly uncomfortable at least? Unsettled? Disquieted? No? Nothing?! Maybe that’s because you’re the real ghost here! Ooh. That’s right. You are Bruce Willis and I just Haley Joel Osmented you. How does that feel?

Stephen Harber ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Leprechauns, well, that’s a different story. You can find him on Twitter @onlywriterever. Check out the graphic novel project he’s been working on too, while you’re at it. Or else.