Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What I Owe to Harold Ramis

Another name has been entered into the Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

I’m not going to go through Harold Ramis’s oeuvre. I'll mention Stripes, Caddyshack, National Lampoons Vacation, Groundhogs Day. A prodigious career, an amazing one.

He will, however, always be Egon Spengler to me.

Ghostbusters is one of those films that we’ve all seen many, many times. By “we all” I mean those of us born between 1970 and 1980. Nerds and geeks born between 1970 and 1980. For us, Ghostbusters was more than just a film. It was glorious, funny and scary—well, scary enough for a ten-year-old. Actually it wasn’t all that scary, except for the hellhounds. And the hands. And the fridge.

My friend David and I rented Ghostbusters time and again, eventually getting VHS copies of our own, making the script easier to menorize. We made our own proton packs (backpacks with vacuum hoses) and ghost traps (shoebox with some wires taped to it). We begged our parents for jumpsuits and combat boots in our own size so we wouldn’t have to borrow oversized pairs from our fathers. We replayed scenes in backyards, driveways, alleys, schoolgrounds. Granted, we did the same with Platoon and The Untouchables—David’s dad bought him a fedora, which drove me insane with jealousy. But those films eventually receded in my mind, replaced by or muddled with countless crime and war films.

Ghostbusters, however, stuck. In fact, it’s still a means for bonding with my friends—albeit, in a very different way. After a night of porch drinking with my buddies, we throw on Ghostbusters, quote lines, argue over exactly what makes it a great film, usually passing out before Winston gets hired. Maybe if we started it before 2 AM.

Looking back on it, Peter Venkman had all the memorable lines. Because Bill Murray is Bull Murray. In fact, I can only remember offhand three of Egon’s lines. When Janine asks Egon if he has any hobbies, he responds, “I collect spore, mold, and fungus.” I wasn't really sure what these were, but I thought it was hilarious. I still do.

Then Egon prognosticated: “Print is dead.” I recall being struck by this even at my tender young age. What was to replace it? How would I read comics if not on paper? What alternative was there? TV? That's all there was. Why did we have to choose? I could read Uncanny X-Men and watch Robotech. But Egon knew. Egon knew.

It remains a great film. The sequel isn’t terrible either. Plus it includes perhaps Egon’s finest moment:

Here's another scene. Because it's funny:

Ghostbusters mattered in my life, not because it was hilarious, but because it prepared me for other things. That the villain was a god—not a demon, but a god—blew me away. I was a good Catholic boy, firm in my belief. The existence of gods other than God—gods perhaps older than Jehovah—was thrilling. Ghostbusters led me to looking into other gods, specifically to the wonderful D’Aulaires books on Greek and Norse mythology, beginning a gradual slide through comparative religion toward atheism.

More importantly, Ghostbusters primed for Lovecraft. I’m not saying that Ghostbusters is “Lovecraftian,” but it’s clear that Ramis and Dan Aykroyd drew from the master. Tobin’s Spirit Guide is the kid-friendly Necronomican. Zuul is a sexy Cthulhu. 

Thanks, Harold Ramis. This weekend, my buddies and I will prepare a magnificent feat in your honor. Then we'll watch Ghostbusters. But, we'll start it at ten, Ghostbusters 2 around midnight. We'll get through them all.

Peace out, good sir. You're in the embrace of Zuul now.