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Movies That Messed Me Up: 'Ghostbusters'

By Brock Wilbur | Film | March 12, 2014 |

By Brock Wilbur | Film | March 12, 2014 |

I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to throw my hat in with the rest of the “messed up movies” spawn, but this threw me for a loop. Technically, the film that spooked my childhood was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but not for the cartoonish monster scare tactic; rather the moment early in the film where an exaggerated clown character indicates to Pee-Wee that his bicycle is now gone.


At the time we watched this, it was in the presence of the two older boys next door. Their father bought a real Indiana Jones-style whip which was hidden under their mother’s bed, but I could not visit without seeing both the admittedly dangerous weapon and the scene from a movie that confused my young stomach to the point of illness. It became an elaborate prank with the older boys, once involving a screening of Eddie Murphy’s Vampire In Brooklyn that suddenly shifted to a second VCR which was cued to Pee-Wee’s clown theft problem. This was the closest my life would ever approximate the Saw movies.

While this was scary, it wasn’t the film that technically messed me up. That honor belongs to Ghostbusters.

We had a broken, tracking-confused VHS which started with an HBO recorded version of Blues Brothers, a film that inspired my father’s rock cover band to engage in 30 years of on-point material. The next film on the tape was Ghostbusters. While I was not allowed to watch any PG-13 films until I was 15, this tape was my whole life from age five onward. I would wake up around 5am (which is horrifying to me now) and the first technical skill I taught myself was VCR manipulation. I could usually have Blues Brothers finished by the time they woke up. Then on to Ghostbusters.

It’s here that I might choose to mention that being raised in a house where both my mother and father ostensibly role-played Blues Brothers, it should not come as a surprise that the other film would feel equally real.

The “mess me up” of Ramis’ pinnacle is that it worked too well. This is the element so many people forget about the film: It took its horror seriously. Aykroyd believed in the extensions of these pre-Sumerian predictions, and hoped his ghost-fighting job drama would teach others about the threat of the paranormal. And maybe something about periods. (I’m still too young and innocent to get this part.)

The method by which this fucked me was the aforementioned dedication. I still have my Ghostbusters fan club card from 1988 that I flashed during my job interview as a location scout for Ghost Hunters (a job I would hold for seven months until I felt threatened by a ghost; an abstraction I ostensibly did not believe in. I understand your confusion, yet, here we are.)

The problem of Ghostbusters was that it portrayed a group of students who were rejected by academia and sought out a free market solution. One of the first things middle-Kansan children are taught is the value of hard work over outside appreciation. I’d always perceived this subtly, but as the years go by I recognize a cultural buildup that makes an exaggerated sense within this situation. The film was, honestly, the first reflection of said mistrust; making for a moment I could never come back from. I latched to the idea that educators were somehow antagonists, and that my own ideas represented an independent redemption. Looking back, I now see how four years of calls from the high school assistant principal were directly linked to a sub-textual understanding that whatever I was meant to do transcended the metaphysical into consumerism, yet had no place.

The reality of writing about this is trying to come to grips with the fact that in the fifth grade, I considered myself vastly more intelligent than my peers and looked down on them for it (as awful children are wont to do), but still completely believed that Bustin’ was a legitimate career path. This extended into high school. When forced to contribute a semester of our time to work education, I touted “ectoplasmic containment” as a legitimate future profession, even though I now believed this to be a satirical take on a rural education system that bailed on big ideas in place of teaching worker-bees how to operate within a hive. Parts of this are funny, but as a mostly unemployed writer it’s weird to look back on the opportunities I refused early in my life because they didn’t feel appropriate, and the extension of how that feeling tied into a narrative about Manhattan socialites turning into dogs.

The entirety of my Ghostbusters reaction is more simply summarized by Christmas 1990, when my father and his brother struggled with a decision: whether or not to purchase “ecto-plasm” for me. It was a sticky, goo substance, which all the toy stores were peddling that year. But the fact it could not enter into our home only furthered the idea that this ecto-containment field was a real situation, and not just a Christmas adjacent toy run amok.

That fictional employment scenario has hung over me the entire time, and if I wanted to make the stretch, I might blame it for my unemployable nature. It turns out I cannot maintain a 401k while speaking to people as if I were Bill Murray.

On the night of Ramis’ death, I opened the sealed vinyl for the Ghostbusters soundtrack that I felt I’d always keep sealed. A wristband fell out, inducting me permanently into the fan club. While that small plastic extension was wrapped in 1984, it felt as if everything had led to that moment. My childhood hero had passed into the void, but he’d left behind one final reminder that we could be on the team, on the same level, of the same cut.

Ghostbusters is the movie that messed me up, because it promised a blue-collar job in a paranormal embracing world, and some of us will always be chasing that reality. Why can’t I get healthcare for putting disembodied rage figments back where they belong?

(For further reading, look to my former classmate Adam Bertocci’s Overthinking Ghostbusters, which should fulfill many of your non-paranormal employment needs.

(Also this Ramis letter is pretty shattering)

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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