In the New York City Library, there is something curious going on. A librarian goes down to one of the lower level storage rooms but while she is down there, she begins to get the sensation of not being entirely alone. She is right: books float off the shelves and suddenly the card index drawers are flying open and the cards spilling out, and when she runs for it she encounters something terrifying... Meanwhile, someone who could help are a group of parapsychologists who have been wasting the time of their university these past few years, but they're about to step up to the mark and redeem themselves as New York is about to be hit by an infestation of ghosts...
The most successful comedy of all time until the far less worthy Home Alone took its mantle, Ghostbusters is now looked back on by those who saw it at the time as a touchstone of eighties nostalgia, proof that this decade was capable of producing top entertainment. In spite of this, it was not reviewed well at the time, with many finding the smart alecky humour in particular as a source of irritation, not cottoning onto the fact that Bill Murray, who much of the criticism rested on, had found one of his finest roles where he had managed to make those who loved this film feel great warmth towards him and his sleazy, snarky performance.
The Ghostbusters are misfits after all, and when Murray's Dr Peter Venkman turns on the charm to someone who sees through him, he is shown up as somewhat desperate. Accompanying him in lightly sketched but perfectly rendered roles are the writers Dan Aykroyd as Dr Ray Stantz and Harold Ramis as Dr Egon Spengler, one an enthusiastic encyclopaedia of paranormal knowledge (as Aykroyd is in real life, hence the inspiration for this film), the other a self-possessed egghead. The chemistry here is excellent, among the whole cast which brought together talent from Saturday Night Live and SCTV to distil their satirical brand of comedy into something keenly focused.
Focused on, bizarrely, an update of the kind of film Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein found to be a hit formula: the horror comedy. It wasn't the traditional creatures of movie lore they exploited here, however, but the more nebulous phantoms of folklore, all building up to a confrontation with powerful beings from another dimension who are determined to get through to our world by fair means or foul - well, OK, just by foul means. Obviously this is the movie version of parapsychology, so the team find something every time they set out on an investigation, but this is all leading somewhere significant.
The Ghostbusters are a force of chaos who become a force for order, applying their haphazard techniques to clamping down on spooky shenanigans that as the film progresses get far out of control. When they get their first call it's from cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) who can't help but notice the doorway to another realm in her fridge. Nothing is there when Venkman drops by, but the name Zuul she heard may mean something, and the others get to their textbooks and uncover an ancient evil with plans of making a comeback. Also notable is Dana's neighbour Louis, skillfully played by Rick Moranis, which regrettably typecast this versatile comedian in the nerd role for the rest of his career, but the film also had an effect on the horror genre for the rest of the decade and beyond. Now it was time for the scares to be lightened with gags, but few of these following on had the wit or dynamite dialogue of Ghostbusters. Funny and exciting, there will always be a place in many people's hearts for these guys. Music by Elmer Bernstein, with the world's catchiest theme song courtesy of Ray Parker Jr.
Murray became a hero to millions of us kids. He made a sleaze like Venkman downright lovable. This movie is also the closest movies ever got to a large-scale H.P. Lovecraft story; which is weird. My pet theory is that Ghostbusters had more influence on Hollywood blockbusters than Star Wars: take a bunch of TV comedians, a kooky concept, a hit novelty record, a famous actress... voila! Instant blockbuster. They've copied this formula ever since.