BOOM! The Ghostbusters are back on absolute top form with this terrific episode, which often ranks, deservedly, very high on fans lists of best ever adventures. It’s got the lot – it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s beautifully animated – what more do you want? Okay, so maybe the final confrontation could have been a bit more intense, but whatever, this is still great.
For many young viewers, this was probably (in fact, there’s no doubt about it) their first exposure to the works of H.P Lovecraft, unless those same viewers had parents liberal enough to let them stay up and watch the likes of Stuart Gordon’s excellent Re-Animator or From Beyond, which would have been popular rentals at video stores around the same time. Lovecraft wrote a substantial run of ‘cosmic horror’ fiction that would reverberate in cult quarters immensely through the latter-half of the 20th century. His biggest contribution was definitely the whole ‘Cthulu’ myth, which began with his chilling short story The Call of Cthulu and then branched out into other Lovecraft stories which then influenced countless others, and cult fascination and adoration followed. So who is Cthulu? Or what is it? Essentially it’s an ancient god/demon who slumbers far beneath the waves, awaiting the call of its disciples to bring it back to the surface in order to rule/devastate the world once more. In the original short story, Cthulu’s temporary emergence in the modern world sends shock waves through out the dreams of many disparate people all over the world, which inspires an investigator to put all the pieces together and work out why the image of a tentacled, dragon-like, miles-tall monster keeps recurring in people’s imagination, seemingly out of nowhere. Lovecraft’s tale is scary because it’s one of those extremely-close-call narratives, where it’s mostly about what might have happened, and we the reader are witness to potential apocalypse which is averted (or at least calmed down) for a while. But for how long?
Well in the case of ‘The Collect Call of Cathulu’ (a meaningless, but funny spin on the original title), not that long, for here we have a cult of worshippers who wish bring their god back – if only they’d chose somewhere, anywhere else aside from New York City. The episode is not a retelling of Lovecraft’s story, but is obviously indebted immensely to his universe, including having some of its one-off characters named after figures in the Lovecraft literary circle. Now you may notice that the show has changed the spelling of ‘Cthulu’ in the title to add a helpful extra vowel, probably to spare the children all the confusion of wondering what that jumble of letters all means, although they could have spared a moment to have Egon explain the spelling/pronunciation. Or maybe they couldn’t have. Seriously, this is one super-packed episode with no time to stand still and that, in the best way possible, always feels a lot longer than it actually is. It’s like a mini-movie. The plot ricochets characters across the country and back in a matter of hours, and so much incident takes place that it makes the majority of episodes feel pretty sedate and leisurely.
So, let’s start at the start, where the New York Public Library (nice nod to the film – we even begin with the a shot of the same lion statue) has, rather foolishly, acquired the spell book to end all spell books: the Necronomicon (THE BOOK OF THE DEAD!) and wants to put it out on public display! This opening is brilliantly ominous, with the library nearly entirely empty at night – spooky, moonlit corridors and so on, with great eerie music. The sleazy Clark Ashton is the totally suspicious acquirer of the book and curator of the exhibit (I don’t trust him for a second), but his co-worker Professor Klein thinks it’s a bad idea to put this thing out for the public to see. There’s a great shot where we see the book in its display cabinet, the reflection of Ashton and Klein in the same shot. There are a lot of great shots in this episode.
Outside, something is lurking. In a neat series of jump-cuts, we crash into the display cabinet, shattering the glass and alerting the doomed security guard who sees that the book’s been taken, but as soon as he tries to turn on the light, a slippery tentacle grips his arm! Flashing the light in its direction, the security is horrified to see THIS!
Resembling Cthulu (but a smaller, 12-foot version), this thing scares the security guard so much he faints. Or dies of fright. Either way, we never see him again. The next day, the guys are summoned to the library to get the facts, and Peter’s date with ‘Candy’, who we never see again, is unfortunately curtailed. As Janine puts it, don’t fall for Ghostbusters, they’ll only break your heart. Remember, Janine still loves Egon, so she knows all too well about this whole king thing. Plus, unrequited love is not the only dissatisfaction in her life: the book she’s reading this scene is Changing Your Job.
Anyway, their latest case doesn’t quite derail the guys’ plan for the day, as Ray was already very keen to go to the exhibit anyway, and for those of us not in the know, he gives us a quick rundown of the mysterious allure of the book, namechecking Lovecraft in the process. There’s a funny bit when he reckons the book’s copyright page scores a 9.9 on the PKE meter! Winston, quite amusingly, assumed the ‘Necronomicon’ was a rock concert. When they arrive, Peter shrugs off the importance of the Necronomicon with ‘it’s just a book’. Ray’s comeback? ‘And an atomic bomb is just two rocks slammed together’. Klein is terrified that the world is in grave, grave danger. After all, the Necronomicon has the power to open portals between worlds, and to awaken the all-powerful ‘The Old Ones’, such as Cthulu (bless you), a figure so immense and powerful ‘he makes Gozer look like Little Mary Sunshine’ – nice, another nod to the film!
Using the PKE meter, Egon leads the guys down into the sewer, where, after a nice shot of a rat observing them, are ambushed by a half-dozen or so of the ghastly octopus-creatures, aka THE SPAWN OF CTHULU. Blasting only temporarily dismembers them, as in seconds their body parts grow back! Using the proton beam to boil the sewer water, the guys are able to get away from them long enough to escape above ground, but not before one of them wraps its tentacle around Peter’s foot, who looks understandably horrified. Barely escaping (although Peter’s shoe doesn’t make it), the guys reconvene back at HQ. Maybe it’s PTSD, but Peter seems remarkably cool with everything, wondering if all of this is even worth getting into a rush over. Of course, it very much is worth rushing about, especially since the Spawn were most likely brought about by an existing cult, who are certain to attempt to awaken Cthulu itself, especially that it can only be done once every sixty years, when the stars are aligned in a particular way. As Peter wearily, but all too accurately figures, that alignment just happens to be tonight.
No time to lose! Given that the plot of this episode takes place over a mere 24 hours, we still have time for Egon and Peter to take a flight to Arkham, Massachusetts and back to call on the help of Alice Derleth, a Cthulu expert whom Peter, rather appallingly assumes will be ugly because she’s er…intelligent. Turns out she’s a beauty (well, in animated, Real Ghostbusters-terms) and, in probably THE worst opening line to a conversation EVER, Peter openly admits ‘boy, you sure don’t look smart’ – it’s a testament to Lorenzo Music’s delivery that this line is a lot funnier than it really should have been. The understandably appalled Derleth begs Peter’s pardon. Honestly, I’m surprised she didn’t sock him on the jaw. Peter weakly retorts with ‘can we talk?’, which was comedian Joan Rivers’ regular catchphrase. She even said it when she played the robot in Spaceballs.
Derleth, once briefed on the situation, insists they get back to New York straight away. Now this is something that might have been settled over a phone call, and could have saved an extra journey on Egon and Peter’s part, but whatever, I like the fast-paced craziness of this episode. Back in the Big Apple, the guys and Derleth arrive at the suspected base of the Cthulu cult. There’s a terrific shot of Egon approaching a crystal ball, with his warped reflection staring back at us. In the basement, the Cthulu cult, who are sizeable in number, are worshipping the stolen Necronomicon, so our heroes do the stealthy thing and barge in on the ceremony. This bold approach severely backfires however, when the cult leader summons a Spawn of Cthulu, and a big, terrifyingly fanged one at that, to smash through the brick wall, trap the guys and Derleth in its tentacle and move in for the kill. Fade to black. Wait, we’re only at the halfway point? So much has already happened!
Luckily, act two sees this substantial threat swiftly dealt with, as Derleth turns the Spawn into crumbling stone with a spell. The cult meanwhile do a runner, so Ray suggests going to his pulp fiction book store to check out an old issue of Weird Tales to maybe find out a way to defeat Cthulu, as they were written by authors like Lovecraft who had in-depth knowledge of this sort of thing. Honestly, this episode’s moving at a rocket’s pace. The store is owned by a hilariously oddball man named Mr, Howard with a creepy voice – the kind that says ‘yeesssss?’ when he opens the door, and then says, no less eerily, ‘bring your frehends….’ when welcoming Ray.
The rest of the day is spent perusing the books, much to Winston’s chagrin, who thinks they should just blast their enemy, despite events earlier in the sewer confirming that this will not work. Derleth finds the story Ray’s after – The Horror from the Depth – and so we’re off to Coney Island, the most likely worshipping spot for the cult to bring about Cthulu. Unfortunately Ecto-1 gives in so it’s time to get on the train, where they encounter a jackass with a ghetto blaster, who Winston acts very aggressively towards. I don’t think I’ve seen Winston more annoyed than in this episode.
Coney Island indeed turns out to be the right spot, as the cult are already chanting by the stormy sea, with the leader using the Necronomicon to raise the absolute BEHEMOTH that is Cthulu from the waves. He turns out to be a total monster, probably the biggest monster the guys have ever faced, and in true ‘I don’t care about my minions’ cruelty, it crushes the pier where his disciples were standing. Talk about ungrateful. Derleth tries to destroy Cthulu with a spell, but it’s not enough. The proton beams barely make a scratch either, so it’s time to run, run, run. Egon admits defeat, and all seems lost.
Luckily, they suddenly remember about the book they just went out of their way to get. That’s some serious collective memory loss on their behalf. Ray even had the book wedged in his belt – he must have been feeling that thing all the time. The way to kill Cthulu, according to the book, was to fry him with a massive electrical charge. Unfortunately, the last page has been (in)conveniently ripped out, so the hows and whys of electrocuting Cthulu are a mystery. Egon thinks that if they can electrify the metal track of the nearby rollercoaster and attract Cthulu to it, then they might be able to wipe him out if they can time its contact with a lightning bolt. In an incredibly ballsy move, Peter gets on the ride (without being secured in – don’t try this at theme parks, kids) and blasts the enemy, annoying him enough so that he gets near enough the ride to be in contact with it. Then the others blast the ride, lightning strikes, and Cthulu spectacularly melts and is then vaporised. Sorted! Okay, so in the end Cthulu wasn’t quite a be-all/end-all nemesis on the level of say, What/Watt or the Toy Ghost, but he put up a good fight, and besides, it’s not over yet, as there’s still the cult to deal with, and they don’t look happy.
However, the police show up immediately (er, who rang them?) and in true Scooby-Doo fashion, the mask of the cult leader is removed to reveal….Clark Ashton!!! Who’da thunk it? Hilariously, after dispensing major threats and the promising the imminent return of Cthulu, Peter dismisses him with a ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and the sap and his cronies are escorted away. Besides, Cthulu can’t return for another 60 years, so let’s relax for a while. Actually, Peter’s got something else on his mind. Love. He manages to get Derleth to delay her return home and spend the day with him, but she takes charge and insists they go to a museum, followed by a lecture. The perfect revenge for his earlier comments.
Whoosh. That was a fun 22 minutes. Next up, it’s time for a holiday.