When the first “Ghostbusters” film debuted in June 1984, horror/sci-fi comedy seemed ready-made for merchandising. After all, the Ghostbusters wore cool tan jumpsuits and carried mini nuclear reactors on their backs—later called “proton packs”—which were attached to guns that threw off laser-like red and blue particle streams. The special effects were not unlike the light-saber battles in the massively popular space-opera trilogy, “Star Wars,” which had just “ended” the summer before.
The Ghostbusters lived and worked out of an old firehouse marked with a light-up sign showing a white Casper-like ghost trapped in a red circle-and-bar “no” symbol. They even rigged up a vintage hearse to look like a bizarre police cruiser, with “ECTO-1” on the license plate. Early on in the film, the Ghostbusters ensnare an ugly-adorable spud-shaped green blob “made of pure ectoplasm,” but not before he “slimes” Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. “Green slime” was already on every Gen-X kid’s wish list, thanks to the Nickelodeon show, “You Can’t Do That on Television.”
Believe it or not, the first “Ghostbusters” toys didn’t hit the shelves until Christmas of 1986. While the PG-rated film was a blockbuster hit at the box office, some parents may have held off on taking their youngest, readily frightened children to see it at the cinema. By summer of 1985, the movie would be released on video tape and premiered on cable TV, and the first animated TV series based on the film, “The Real Ghostbusters” debuting in September 1986, arrived just at the point where families would have worn out their “Ghostbusters” VHS tapes. The film’s catchy theme song by Ray Parker, Jr.—with its famous line, “Who Ya Gonna Call?”—had been in regular rotation on MTV.
In the film, two of the three paranormal investigators, Drs. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), are presented as serious scientists, unsung geniuses who have encyclopedic knowledge of metallurgy, physics, engineering, and nuclear science. Peter Venkman, a “paranormal” con artist and womanizer, becomes their default leader because they need his swagger to navigate the social side of their business. The three hire deadpan and bespectacled Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) to be their secretary, while “everyman” Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) later joins the team to give a biblical perspective on the explosion of paranormal phenomena in New York City. Walter Peck, a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency, plays the one non-supernatural villain, who gets the “Ghostbusters” arrested.
When Peter Venkman attempts to seduce cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), he learns her apartment is haunted by Zuul, servant to Gozer the Gozerian, the ancient shape-shifting Sumerian god of destruction. Eventually, Zuul demonically possesses Dana and calls himself “The Gatekeeper” while her accountant neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), is possessed by Vinz Clortho, “The Keymaster.” Dana’s building, as it turns out, was designed by 1920s occultist Ivo Shandor as a means to bring Gozer into this dimension. When Gozer tries to manifest, Ray suggests the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, a fictional advertising character based on the Michelin Man and Pillsbury Doughboy. A 10-story version of the marshmallow man attacks the city, but the Ghostbusters are able to defeat him and close his portal to this world by crossing their proton streams and reversing the particle flow.
In the cartoon series, “The Real Ghostbusters,” Peter, Egon, Ray, Winston, and Janine rebuild the firehouse, which was all-but-destroyed in the film. They get new color-coded uniforms, distinct hair, and, except for Ray, they become a bit more generically attractive. Egon, who has big dark hair in the film, has a blond rockabilly pompadour and red glasses. Ray becomes a chubby redhead whose role is to be the sympathetic bleeding heart of the group. Peter the wiseguy becomes younger and more Ken Doll-like, as does Winston, the only black member of the group. Janine becomes sexier and more outrageously stylish, in that late 1980s vein of bold colors and geometric patterns. The green-blob ghost Slimer, it is explained, is adopted as the mascot of the group and a guinea pig for their scientific studies. Gozer’s and Zuul’s names come up during the series, and Walter Peck even makes an appearance.
“The Real Ghostbusters,” which ran from September 13, 1986 to October 5, 1991, further developed these five main characters, including their family backgrounds and how they got i...
After the animated series debuted in fall 1986, Kenner—the maker of “Star Wars” toys—produced a line of U.S. toys based on the “Ghostbusters” cartoon (and not the movie), which hit the shelves in time for Christmas. The first wave included action figures of the four Ghostbusters, as well as action figures of Green Ghost (Slimer) and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Other toys included a GhostZapper gun and plush toys of Green Ghost and Stay Puft. In the spring of 1987, the ECTO-1, the Ghostbusters car from the movie, was added to the second-wave of the action figure line, as were three more ghosts. That season, Kenner also introduced its “Gooper Ghosts” figures which came with Ecto-Plazm play gel, more commonly known as “slime.”
A firehouse play set was released for Christmas 1987. That third wave included “Fright Feature Figures” of the Ghostbusters, which let their eyes bug out, jaws drop, and hair stand up. Most exciting for children was the toy proton pack, which came with the backpack and its attached Nutrona Blaster (or Proton Blaster), as well as a P.K.E. meter and a “Ghostbusters” arm band and ID card. Late in spring 1988, Kenner produced a series of transforming action figures depicting seemingly regular people that switched into creepy ghosts: These included Terror Trash Ghost, Granny Gross, Mail Fraud, Hard Hat Horror, Tombstone Tackle, and X-Cop. This fourth wave also introduced ECTO-2, a flying motorcycle-type vehicle featured in the cartoon.
For the fifth wave of toys, debuting in January 1989, Kenner brought in some classic Universal movie monsters including Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, the Zombie, Wolfman, and Quasimodo. New action figures of Peter, Egon, Ray, Winston, and Janine were introduced with their faces showing screaming expressions. The “Haunted Vehicles” line, featuring Wicked Wheelie and Air Sickness, were machines that turned into beasts, while the Ghost Spooker was a voice-modulation device.
In the summer of 1989, the live-action sequel to the original film, “Ghostbusters II,” revealed our heroes had actually been sued by the government for all the destruction they’d wrought fighting Gozer as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and were banned from hunting and trapping ghosts. Instead of rebuilding the firehouse as they did in the cartoon, they went out of business. Egon had convinced Columbus University to rehire him as a psychology researcher; Ray opened an occult bookstore; Peter became a smarmy TV psychic; and Ray and Winston were failing to impress children with their Ghostbusters party act. However, when Dana Barrett expresses fear her infant son is being haunted, the former Ghostbusters agree to investigate her case and uncover a tunnel that used to be a part of the Beach Pneumatic Transit (a real-life subway New York experiment, closed in 1873). In the movie, the disabled rail is filled with a river of pink “mood slime,” which is feeding on the negative energy of the city to bring back medieval tyrant and sorcerer Vigo the Carpathian, trapped in a giant painting that’s visiting the fake Manhattan Museum of Art.
The second film is even more cartoonish than the first, and critics felt it lacked the same originality or spark. In a ridiculous manner, the Ghostbusters regain the trust of the city and its officials, with the help of Louis Tully, who’s both their accountant and lawyer. They return to the firehouse, without explaining how it got fully restored and avoided demolition, and even get new matching tan uniforms with new badges wherein the banned cartoon ghost holds up two fingers for “No. 2” (or the peace symbol). Janine, thanks to the animated series, is given a bright red bob and a funkier sense of fashion. It’s never explained how she’s still available to return to her “Ghostbusters” desk.
“The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon was airing at the same time “Ghostbusters II” was screening in theaters, and the animated series continued as the movie transitioned into the video and cable-television markets. The sixth and seventh wave of “Real Ghostbusters” toys appeared in the summer of 1989 and included a haunted toilet figure, Fearsome Flush, wearable Ecto-Goggles that came with an Ecto-Popper gun, a Nutrona Blaster gun, a water gun, and a Ghost Trap that finally resembled the traps in the films. Later, Louis Tully—who becomes an honorary Ghostbuster in “Ghostbusters II”—was added to the action figure lines, as Kenner continue to produce toy weapons, figures including bizarre apparitions, and model vehicles from the cartoon, which ended in 1991.
More than 30 years after the original film, “The Ghostbusters” movie franchise is being rebooted with all-female leads. In the upcoming film, two unknown authors, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), put together a book theorizing that ghosts are real. Not taken seriously, they enlist the help of a nuclear engineer named Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), as well as a subway employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to battle a demon called Rowan (Neil Casey).