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There was something strange in my neighborhood — the day I saw ‘Ghostbusters’

As ‘Frozen Empire’ hits theaters, the Globe’s film critic looks back at the original, which turns 40 this year

A scene from the original "Ghostbusters," which turns 40 this year.Columbia Pictures

In the summer of 1984, the question on everyone’s mind was, “Who ya gonna call?”

The answer: “GHOSTBUSTERS!”

The film that spawned a multibillion-dollar brand and gave the world an unforgettable theme song turns 40 this year. If that makes you feel decrepit, you’re not alone. I saw the original “Ghostbusters” at the height of my hellish journey through puberty; I was 14. I never want to relive those days — though the recent “Ghostbusters,” “Star Wars,” and “Indiana Jones” sequels are forcing me to do just that.

In honor of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” the latest unnecessary entry in the saga created by Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis, let’s give the original film its due.


“Ghostbusters” opened on June 8, 1984. The next day, my cousins and I went to see it at our local “Low-ees,” the Loews Jersey in my hometown of Jersey City. Like most big new releases, “Ghostbusters” played in the upstairs theater of that triplex, the same room where I was introduced to 3-D, Jason Voorhees, and the work of director Robert Altman.

I don’t remember why my cousins chose to see the second-highest-grossing movie of 1984 that day (“Beverly Hills Cop” was number one at the end of the year). Especially when “Beat Street,” the Harry Belafonte-produced rap musical, had opened that same weekend around the corner at the State. As teens immersed in hip-hop culture, that movie was more our speed.

Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in the 1989 movie "Ghostbusters II," directed by Ivan Reitman.

And yet, we went to “Ghostbusters.” Perhaps Bill Murray influenced the decision. He was the biggest draw for general audiences, coming off of memorable hits like 1981′s army comedy, “Stripes,” and the movie I’ve seen more than any other in the cinematic universe (thanks to HBO), the 1979 summer-camp comedy, “Meatballs.” Like “Ghostbusters,” those films were directed by the late Ivan Reitman.


As Dr. Peter Venkman, Murray is the reason “Ghostbusters” gets classified as a comedy. He has all the funny one-liners you remember (“He slimed me,” “OK, so she’s a dog”). Venkman is the wiseacre of the crew, balancing out Dan Aykroyd’s overly enthusiastic Dr. Ray Stantz, Harold Ramis’s goofy science nerd Dr. Egon Spengler, and Ernie Hudson’s totally useless Winston Zeddemore.

Slimer in the 2016 movie "Ghostbusters," directed by Paul Feig. Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Perhaps it was the ghost angle that drew my cousins in. Ray Parker Jr.’s famous “chorus” in his Oscar-nominated song is “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Thanks to “Poltergeist” and my grandmother’s house (which is haunted!), we damn sure were afraid. Seeing ghosts getting walloped may have been the catalyst for giving our hard-earned allowance money to the Columbia Pictures torch lady.

I don’t remember why we saw “Ghostbusters,” but I do know that it was not my decision. Since December 1980, I hadn’t been allowed to choose the movie my cousins and I went to see under any circumstance. The aforementioned Robert Altman is the reason. You see, I suggested Altman’s bizarre adaptation of “Popeye” the week it opened. My cousins hated it so much they banned me from picking the movie forever. Thanks, Bob!

But I digress. We walked into “Ghostbusters” during the scene where Sigourney Weaver’s cello player, Dana, gets possessed by an entity called Zuul, an act that will lead to the film’s best line: “There is no Dana. Only Zuul!” Immediately, we got hit with a scary scene, which made us think “Ghostbusters” would lean more into its horror elements.


Older readers will recall that, back then, you could enter a movie anytime you wanted. You’d simply stay for the next screening, and leave when you got to the part you already saw. “This is where I came in,” you’d say, and out you would go. More often than not, we’d stay to watch the entire movie, but not this time.

When the next screening got to the part where Dana became Zuul, my older cousin tapped me on the shoulder. “We out,” he said. And we left without protest because, to be honest, we weren’t that impressed with “Ghostbusters.”

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters," 1984.

Sure, we liked the special effects, and agreed that the gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man who ran rampant during the climax was a nice touch. Plus, we were big fans of that 1983 Canadian masterpiece, “Strange Brew,” so we loved seeing Bob McKenzie himself, Rick Moranis, as the Keymaster to Zuul’s Gatekeeper.

But overall, “Ghostbusters” just didn’t click for us the way it did for millions of fans.

Even as a teenager, I was writing movie reviews and assigning star ratings. I gave “Ghostbusters” 2½ stars. Readers are always rending their garments when I don’t give a movie they like a positive review, but 2½ stars is basically a C+.

At least I kind of liked it. My predecessor at the Globe, Jay Carr, hated it.

“In some ways, ‘Ghostbusters’ is the biggest bust of all,” he wrote, ending his June 9, 1984 review with “it’s a dead battery.”


Still, “Ghostbusters” was EVERYWHERE after it came out. There were cartoons on TV, numerous toys, and a video game, and the theme song went to number one. You couldn’t escape the film’s iconic logo: It was on lunchboxes, backpacks, even a breakfast cereal (which was a ripoff — it was just Kix with marshmallows). I can’t tell you how many times I walked past Ghostbusters HQ when I worked in TriBeCa.

On Halloween in 1984, everybody but me was a Ghostbuster. But don’t worry, I rectified that error 37 years later. I dressed as Egon Spengler, because I’m nerdy and I wear glasses, and I’m still pissed off at how useless Winston is in the original movie.

As I walked down the street to a pub crawl in Los Angeles, people yelled out, “Who ya gonna call?”

Odie Henderson gets into the spirit of "Ghostbusters."Courtesy of author

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.