The Real Ghostbusters Episode 3: ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’

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First things first. I’ll be referring to the title of this episode as ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’, and not the mis-apostrophised version that actually appears on-screen – by the episode’s logic, the main antagonist would be Mrs. Roger….tut-tut.

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So, we’re only at episode 3 and we’re already on my favourite ever twenty or so minutes of The Real Ghostbusters. ‘Mrs.  Rogers’ Neighborhood’ is one of my top ten examples of nightmare trauma brought about by seemingly harmless children’s entertainment. I’m talking about the finale, where lovable rogue and life of the party Peter Venkman is possessed. What begins as a seemingly harmless mission (‘another haunted house?’ yawns Peter) turns into full-on terror as the kindly old-lady whose house the guys are sent to investigate turns out to be a demon. The ending of this episode shocked me intensely when I was young – there’s something about the idea of one of the good guys becoming bad that always ripe for disturbing drama, the carpet being pulled from under you as a character you love and trust becomes very, very evil. Not only that, Peter LOOKS very, very evil too. God, Peter’s demonic face was horrifying when I was younger.

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In my introductory post to my epic Real Ghostbusters undertaking, I mentioned that golden age of this series was separated into thirteen ABC episodes and seventy or so ‘syndicated’ episodes. According to accepted chronology, the ABC episodes are the first ones and the syndicated ones followed, yet I was always under the impression that they were tucked at the end, which would make ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ a more effective episode, as by that time we’ve spent so much time with the guys that Peter’s transmogrification is all the more scary because we’ve got to know him more, whereas in the accepted running order, Peter turns bad a mere three episodes into the series, and it’s almost a case of too much too soon. To be honest, when I was younger, I never saw the episodes in any order, just whenever I could. This episode was though, one of the later ones I saw, and it threw me for being noticeably scarier than many in the series.

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The opening is an absolute gem, using one of my all-time favourite musical themes in the series. This theme is the one that gets used whenever something sinister is going down (the basement in ‘Boo-Dunit’, the doomed boat in ‘Knock, Knock’) or when or when a character divulges in a spooky backstory (see ‘The Scaring of the Green’ and ‘The Headless Motorcyclist’) and it’s one of the eeriest themes in any cartoon ever. This accompanies a very cool sequence of New York at night which cleverly edits its way into a normal, everyday neighbourhood, before pouncing down into the trees (I assume we’re the point of view of a demon) and fixating on one house in a few dozen, and deciding to change this particular one into the disconcertingly friendly-looking abode of Mrs. Rogers. Look at that house. It’s like a fairy-tale house. Look at the lion-shaped hedges – they look pretty goofy, right? Harmless. Nice for a lil’ tweety bird to perch itself on….but no! The lions come to life and try to kill the bird. Fly away! Great opening sequence, mixing the sinister with the cutesy. As with many other early episodes, this opening was truncated for various airings, presumably for timing purposes. Some screenings completely removed this opening, others begin halfway through it, with the first appearance of the friendly-looking house (removing the night-time bits). Bad decisions, both of them. Luckily, the DVD versions are uncut, keeping this atmospheric opening intact, as well as preserving later scenes like those in the fire station early on, and the bits when Mrs. Rogers house begins to lock itself shut, trapping the guys inside.

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For an episode that ends intensely, the early scenes in the fire station see the guys bored out of their minds – again, a nice contrast. I honestly believe this episode combines the sweet and the sinister, the humdrum and the apocalyptic and the funny and scary better than any other in the series. As the guys head over to the house, everything points to this being a run-of-the-mill job. Winston mocks the house’s address, which disconcertingly is 1313 Thirteenth Street and Peter couldn’t be more jaded if he tried. But then, what’s this? The old lady, Mrs. Rogers herself, is waiting for them to arrive, watching out from the upstairs window. Something’s not right. We can only see her back, and she looks wrong. Very wrong. She plays the role of distressed haunting-victim quite well, and the guys patronisingly assure her everything is alright as they get Ray to drive her back to the fire station so that she can relax. But look at the way she says ‘But please…be careful’ and lets slip a sneaky grin. Do not trust her! She’s the devil! Well, not exactly, but she is a demon. Still unconvinced of the nightmares to come, the guys blithely miss all the horrors like the scary voices reverberating in the house and the paintings coming to life…it’s only when Egon works out that the mission statement of this house’s particular ghost is to ‘conquer and invade the living world’. As Peter says, she ‘might do it nicely’. Oh yeah, before they enter, Egon loses his second PKE Meter of the series thanks to the sheer overload of evil in the house.

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A terrific scene is when Mrs. Rogers follows Janine down to the basement during the guided tour. Now here we have what some might call an example of very convenient scriptwriting, where it’s revealed that the guys have installed a failsafe device to prevent any random person from shutting down the Containment Unit, which runs by palm print identification. This plays a big part of the finale, where Watt uses the possessed Peter to shut down the Containment Unit, but this device is instantly removed from all further episodes, so it was clearly used here as a plot device once and once only. Still, back to this great moment – Janine reveals to Mrs. Rogers that the device can only be used by ‘the immediate staff’, at which point Mrs. Rogers begins to change (Janine has her back to her the whole time), first of all in a shot where we can only see her hand turning into something very scary, and then the big moment where her face goes very wrong indeed and she scales the entire height of the basement becoming a monstrous demon who we discover is the mighty What. All the while, she says:

‘The immediate staff? You mean…. [cackles] like you?’

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It’s this voice which throws me – still that of Mrs. Rogers, but clearly twisted and messed around. Plus that horrible cackle. The genius bit comes when Janine says that she’s not regarded as immediate staff, only the guys, to which What covers his face with his palm in a classic ‘D’oh!’ moment. In terms of balancing horror and comedy, this scene nails the two perfectly – this is quite an intense moment for the series, and the almost pantomime comic relief is perfectly judged. Especially when Janine turns around and asks if she wants to carry on with the tour and we’re immediately back with kindly old Mrs. Rogers, as though nothing has happened. Oh yeah, before that Mrs. Rogers’ caged bird Precious changes into a hideous fire-breathing monster and almost torches Slimer into history. Nice try, Precious. Slimer exacts a brutal revenge later.

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Relatively, this episode’s act break is quite low-key. We get Egon’s attempts to fix the PKE Meter continuing to fail, and then a cut away to the haunted chest revealing more ghosts before fade-out. I don’t know why, but usually the act breaks are loaded with high drama, but this one seems to whisper the fact that things are gradually getting worse. And for some reason I find this downplaying more sinister than the usual big act break….

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Act 2 begins with Ray recklessly driving through Brooklyn to get to Mrs. Rogers house, and it’s interesting to note that the sky around her house is noticeably darker and foreboding than anywhere else in town. There some poltergeist-like antics as the guys get the rug literally pulled from underneath them (listen out for the cackles from Mrs. Rogers).

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For an episode I rate as the scariest, there is plenty of humour to go round – the two ‘Say What?’ scenes are a riff on the ‘Who’s on First?’ comedy staple from ages of yore – and even though this sort of thing can get old real fast, it’s still a welcome bit of amusement in an otherwise foreboding episode. I also like the way the demonic tables, which tower above the guys to stop them leaving one of the rooms, turn into whimpering, puppy-like losers after a proton pack blast to the face. In a moment that quietly rivals the earlier Mrs. Rogers/Janine scene in the basement, horror and comedy is beautifully combined when the guys blast the apparent source of the demonic evil, only to find out they’ve just torched one of Mrs. Rogers’ dresses. Ray, in all his enthusiastic innocence, ponders the potential horror:

Ray: You mean….Mrs. Rogers dress…is What?

Egon: No, Ray. Mrs. Rogers is What.

Ray: Ohhhh……Oh!

It’s the naivety mixed with the realisation that they’re (and Janine/Slimer) are in big, big trouble that’s funny and an ‘Oh s***!’ moment, even though us at home all knew the truth right from the off. Plus, a grammatically nightmarish moment follows when Peter’s call to Janine suffers from interference which is quite amusing:

Peter: I wonder what’s jamming the signal?

Ray: She sure is!

Also, it seems customary for the guys never to say ‘grave’ in relation to being ‘in grave danger’, even though in this case, it seems frighteningly possible. So, once the truth has been revealed, it’s up to the guys to get out of the house as quick as possible. Egon reckons What created the house as a trap to finish off the Ghostbusters once and for all – it’s easy to cry plot-hole in regards to this. After all, if What created the house, why does said abode still try to kill the Ghostbusters even after it’s been revealed that at least one of them will be required to shut down the containment unit? Well, What knew, but the house didn’t. Okay? It’s not like mobile phones were around back then for demons and haunted houses to update each other with progress reports.

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The room just before the front door though, is where things get decidedly interesting, and quite messed up. What looks like a pleasingly obstacle-free stroll to the door is suddenly mutated into a nightmare path as the walls condense and turn the room into a corridor, with loads of ghoulish hands stretching out. Forget Day of the Dead’s opening ‘calendar’ sequence, this is the one to give you nightmares – and then everything behind the guys melts into some never-ending fluorescent vortex, from which a huge oven with teeth emerges to eat/burn the guys into oblivion. Actually, this monster is one of the least frightening elements of the show, and he’s swiftly dispatched with a ghost trap hors d’oeuvres which blows him up and sends the guys flying out of the front door and into the garden.

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Phew. Job done, right? NO! In a further example of this episode’s sure grasp on family-friendly terror, it’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire as the two hedge lions are waiting for them. I have to say the two shots of them peering down wickedly at the guys creep me out. Look at the sky! That’s end-of-the-world bleakness sky right there. To be honest, the two lions are all-too easily taken care of, but I do love this moment as it tightens the screws just that little bit further before the big ending.

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Ah yes, the big ending – this is when ‘Mrs. Rogers Neighborhood’ turns from a great, great episode into a phenomenal one. There are a lot of lines in this episode which could only be described as ‘light-heartedly apocalyptic’. Janine’s reference to Mrs. Rogers’ having some ideas for ‘fixing up the house’ is one. Winston regarding Peter as looking as though ‘he has a real bad cold’ when the truth is significantly worse. Peter blankly stating that he feels ‘very close’ to Mrs. Rogers shortly after having been possessed by her. The music which accompanies the guys search around the house for Mrs. Rogers is the jaunty theme they always use for the show’s comic relief. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Yet so right.

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The moment when Peter enters the wrong room and is grabbed by the enormous hand of What is when the episode goes into overdrive. Loud noises, flashing lights ensue, before Peter walks out of the room, clearly possessed by What, and sporting a distinctly jaundiced complexion, not to mention a gravity-defying new hairstyle. Plus, a very blank expression. Totally emotionless. Dead creepy. Slimer tries to get a rise out of him, but to no avail. Janine doesn’t seem to notice that his skin colour has changed from white to stark yellow, but does compliment him on his ‘new do’. Slimer’s worried, but Precious breathes fire on to him – again – to get him out of the way. Slimer’s revenge is going to be so sweet, trust me.

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Note that when a terrified Slimer pleads Ray to follow him to Peter, Ray’s almost in a good mood, even chucklesome. It’s like the guys really aren’t expecting the finale they’re about to get. Before he gets possessed, Peter calls out Mrs. Rogers’ name like he would a cat he’s trying to lure from underneath the sofa. No one’s taking the old lady seriously. Well, they will now. Peter/What goes on to begin the shut-down procedure for the containment unit, and when the guys see him doing so from the top of the basement stairs, Peter’s face has turned even more so, sporting a huge Joker-like grin and glowing eyes. This is one of the scariest things I ever saw on the TV as a child. No one’s joking around anymore, and the gravity of the situation has become apparent.

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References are made to Peter potentially dying from all of this, with Egon saying Peter ‘may go to pieces….literally!’ I found Janine’s screams of ‘don’t do it!’ quite intense and disturbing when I was younger, not to mention Peter’s brief control over himself as he tries to stop the shut-down, to little effect. His voice has also changed during possession, a ghastly demonic snarl. The key scare is when we get a close up of Peter screaming ‘No!’ before quickly changing back into demonic mode, laughing that horrible laugh, all the while I’m trembling in terror. Of course, these days, the episode is far from hardcore terror, but there’s still the sense that this episode is crossing the line somewhat. It’s a children’s show, and children’s shows weren’t really scary for the most part. You’d get the odd sinister moment, but ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was definitely one of the earliest examples of horror I ever watched, and it stunned me. These days, when watching the episode, I still get the chills throughout, even during the less intense first half, simply because I know what’s going to happen. And looking at Peter’s possessed face still takes me back to when I was a scared child.

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Of course, it being a children’s show, the terror can’t be extended for too long, and in a moment of highly dubious science, Egon uses his proton pack to separate Peter from what by setting his blaster to his ‘electro-metabolic frequency’ while the others set theirs at What’s ‘exact frequency’, and all is well. Oh yes, Slimer’s revenge on Precious. He quite clearly gives the bird a full-on kick in the bird-knackers. Justice, I say.

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Of course, there’s still the issue of Peter’s standing-on-end hair – Slimer helpfully slimes it so that it’ll stay down, which leads to a furious Peter pulling a face almost as terrifying as the ones he pulled mid-posession and attempting to kill Slimer.

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Egon says ‘Well, I guess everything is back to normal’, which is a rare instance of a show explicitly commenting on its episodic nature. Every episode of The Real Ghostbusters ended with everything back to normal. It’s the rules. This time however, the rules were clearly stated. I think though, as children, we needed that reassurance. This episode put us through the grinder, and even Peter’s furious face towards Slimer once he has been saved made me think he was still possessed one way or another. So thank you Egon, and thank you writers, for putting my mind at ease. Everything is back to normal. Everything is back to normal. Best episode ever.

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Up next: Episode 4 is a lot more mellow, yet still full of nightmare imagery and a lot of sadness.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 2: Killerwatt

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Blimey, we’re only at Episode 2 and we’ve got another city-wide disaster on our hands, this time involving electricity. The power lines are cooking with live charges and they look as though they’re going to devour some poor guy in the opening sequence before the writers realise they barely got away with crushing dozens of motorists to death in the last episode and should shy away from a close up of a graphic electrocution. So instead the power lines bypass this guy and head on for the city. Phew.

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Like I mentioned in my ‘Ghosts R Us’ review, some scenes in these early episodes were snipped, most likely due to time constraints. The scene involving Ray’s ‘Ferocious Fondue Casserole’, which originates from an old family recipe, was if my memory serves me well, one of the excised scenes. Instead the edited version has the Ghostbusters directly appear at the scene of the ghost chaos, which makes for a faster paced episode, but I love scenes like the one that got cut. It’s these little moments that add to the charm. So anyway, Ray’s ‘food’ looks a little like the goop that the guys get contaminated with in future episode ‘Doctor Doctor’.  It looks like The Blob. In one shot it appears to have sprouted fur. Ray contravenes good sense and put the saucepan, which has come hot off the stove, directly onto the dinner table without any placemat or likewise item underneath it. This will leave a mark for sure, so don’t do this at home. Luckily, Slimer’s a food tube, so he indiscriminately gobbles the whole lot. Of course, this leads to the expected punchline of Ray immediately serving them seconds after being so impressed with their initial devouring.

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This episode is a game of two halves – the first involves the guys taking on a department store full of possessed electrical appliances, including power drills, irons, ovens and torches, some of which sprout scary fangs and try to eat our heroes. The eternal exchange ‘It’s quiet’/’Too quiet’ or something to that effect is uttered. Oddly enough, even though they seem to be emanating electrical currents, when one of them wraps their frazzled wires around Ray’s mouth so as to gag him, the shocks don’t seem to be harming him at all. They don’t even make his hair stand up on end in textbook-cartoon fashion. I must say that this is a totally unrealistic depiction of what happens when a vacuum cleaner is possessed. These little nightmares prove to be a halfway lethal proposition, almost eating up Egon (whose legs appear to be in full working order seconds later), but they are eventually zapped and trapped, while Ray, still showcasing his over-enthusiasm that led to a chocolate soaked face smackdown in the previous episode, doesn’t realise that all the ghosts have already been trapped and proceeds to zap the living daylights out of a vacuum cleaner where Slimer has been hiding, frying the little blighter in the process. Ray apologies profusely, but Slimer blows him a raspberry, drenching him in spit. He did the same to Peter earlier. Little sod. What’s he doing here with them in this store in the first place? Stay at home you little nuisance.

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Anyway, it looks as though everything’s back to normal and the guys tell the shoppers waiting outside that they can resume purchasing, even though the building is clearly very, very unsafe given that the ghosts took huge, huge chunks out of the floor, and that the appliances they had possessed will certainly need testing for safety. Also, and without being too stereotypical, did you notice that the majority of the shoppers were male? Now, forgive me, but I’d have thought that the gender majority in a department store would have been female. Unless Killerwatt is set on Christmas Eve and all these blokes are making hurried last-minute visits to the shops to buy presents for their other halves.

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So, end of episode, right? No, still just under fifteen minutes to go, and this is where things really come alive. The Ecto-Containment Unit loses power and it looks as though all the ghosts are about to escape, but Egon, forever in his deadpan confidence, has an emergency generator on stand-by to save the day. Cue to this fantastic exchange:

Janine: Oh Egon, you’re such a genius.

Egon: Yes. I know.

Okay, I guess you had to be there, but Maurice La Marche’s delivery here is so deadpan it never fails to amuse me. However, once the generator fails to work (or more specifically, it mutates into a pig and runs out of the basement) and it’s obvious that the ghosts that they’d just trapped were mere small fry (ho ho) and that something MUCH bigger’s out there, it’s clear we’re in big, big trouble, the kind of trouble it’s perfect to end an act on. Act 2 begins with ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but in fifty seconds, we die.’ Of course, the relationship with real time and the fifty seconds that takes place in the episode’s story is a bit off. Plot-wise, it really is more or less fifty seconds between Egon’s declaration and their last-second escape plan, but in terms of story, an awful lot happens, including Peter managing to successfully buy a bicycle off a girl and Winston removing the generator from the Ecto-1.

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The extended final confrontation takes place in the local power plant, all the while Janine is pedalling like crazy to keep their bespoke containment unit power source (a bike, plus Ecto-1’s generator) ticking over. Slimer’s tagging along once more, if for no other reason than to create danger, as his idiocy causes Ecto-1 to hurtle towards doom with all four Ghostbusters hanging for dear life on the bonnet – his solution? To hide in the glove box. Coward. This leaves the car dangling over a precipice and right within the firing line of our head ghost, who I suppose we should call Killerwatt, even though he doesn’t introduce himself as such until after he’s pimped up his appearance with a lot of metal armour. His introduction, after the obligatory evil chuckle, is quite bold:

“I am the grand ghoul, the ethereal master of many.”

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The he winks, causing a bolt of white hot electricity to attack the Ghostbusters. And of course, we all want to know of who is the grand ghoul this ethereal master is. ‘Many what?’ asks Winston. Well, ghosts, of course! Killerwatt is splendidly voiced by James Avery, best known as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and of course, Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He’s also slightly less well known as the voice of doomed general Fang in ultra-bloody Manga classic Fist of the North Star. He’s the one who turns his body into steel so he can crush Raoh’s troops as if they were insects. I love this man’s voice.

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Ecto-1 gets possessed, has a terrifying dental job and tries to kill the Ghostbusters. Peter wants to kill it right back, but Ray hesitates, regarding their four-wheel friend as ‘family’. There’s always a scene like this in horror films, or Deadly Virus of The Week TV Movies, where the heroes must put aside sentimental feelings and kill their once-beloved who is now pure evil. Sometimes they do it, have a cry and then get on with killing the bad guys, or they refuse to believe their loved one is truly dead, go in for a hug or a kiss and wind up getting killed/infected themselves. ‘Killerwatt’ features the only ever instance of this cliché being deployed towards an automobile, and that’s why it works. Amusingly, later on Peter asks Ray if it’s okay to destroy Killerwatt himself, just in case it he happens to be ‘family’ also. Ecto-1’s ravenous pursuit of the Ghostbusters is backed not by suspenseful or exciting music, but by the pop soundings of forgotten house band Tahiti. Read earlier reviews for my thoughts on Tahiti.

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After some epic cat and mouse antics in the huge (seriously, this power plant is HUGE) death trap, the guys come face to face with Killerwatt, who’s having the time of his life watching his electrical servants toying with these four little humans, scooping them up, dropping them from great heights and snatching them from death’s grasp at the last minute. Killerwatt’s laugh is great. He’s evil, he knows he’s evil, and his evil laugh sounds great. So why not laugh all the time? It’s a great afterlife. So infused with amusement is Killerwatt, he treats himself to a makeover, armouring himself with all the nearby scrap and metal he can find and pimping his ride up to spectacular effect, even turning the power plant itself into a concrete monster. Unfortunately, he doesn’t look half as scary here than he did as a floating cloud of electricity. Splendidly, the guys proton packs don’t work with Killerwatt, as he can absorb the electricity and pimp himself up even more!

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It looks as though Killerwatt has the edge, but what follows is hilariously simple:

Winston: The way I figure it, there’s only one chance. He’s drawing all his power from the generators, so we have to shut them down!

Egon: There’s the main switch!

Killerwatt: Stay away from that switch!

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And like that, he’s gone. Slimer’s the one who actually switches the power off, the only useful thing this thing has done for the whole episode frankly. Still, in terms of sheer effort, we must applaud Janine, who’s been cycling all this time, even after all the ghosts have gone. She looks very, very tired and very, very angry. Unfortunately we never find out how she exacts her revenge on the Ghostbusters, but I bet it would have been even scarier than Killerwatt, who proves to be one of the more spectacular monsters the Ghostbusters have faced. Episode 2 is overall hugely entertaining.

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Other stuff

Slimer gives Janine a kiss right on the mouth in a moment that more or less mirrors what happens in the opening credit sequence.

When Ecto-1 parks outside the department store it, for absolutely no reason, performs a spectacular whiplash spin, pulling off about a hundred revolutions in just one second. Hilarious.

Ghostbusters own Ghostbusters key rings. Classy!

After the high body count in ‘Ghosts R Us’, no one dies in ‘Killerwatt’. Nevertheless, there are references to death and dying in this episode. Egon, with the straightest face imaginable, says ‘in fifty seconds, we die’. Killerwatt himself salaciously states that ‘dead bodies are my speciality’. Relatively, these are explicit references to death in an animated era when no one ever went on about ‘killing’ the hero, and death was hardly ever blatantly referenced. It was always about ‘destroying’ them, which means the same thing, but doesn’t sound anywhere near as horrifying, pitching it closer to the realm of fantasy. Not with the Ghostbusters. They could DIE in this episode.

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A solid first half makes way for a fantastic finale, with James Avery always great value as Killerwatt. Funny dialogue too. Now, if you dare, move on to my review of Episode 3, aka – THE SCARIEST EPISODE EVER!!!!

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 1: Ghosts R Us

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Plot: The Ghostbusters trap three mischievous Class 5 ghosts who have terrorised a chocolate factory, only for Slimer to accidentally release them from the containment unit. He’s already in hot water for having eaten their reward from the factory bust – a life time’s supply of chocolates. The escapees – Zunk, Snarg and Slug – attempt to run the Ghostbusters out of business by posing as rival ghost trappers known as ‘Ghosts R Us’, doing so by staging haunts with Zunk as the ghost and Slug ‘n’ Snarg as the trappers. However, the ghosts’ final attempt to wipe out the Ghostbusters once and for all seriously backfires when they disturb the slumber of an enormous Class 10 ghoul resting in a nearby toy factory, who proceeds to invade New York, culminating in a spectacular showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge …

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‘Ghosts R Us’ was one of my absolute favourite episodes as a child, and for one big reason – that big Toy Ghost. This is one those episodes that sneakily starts off as a quite innocuous tale – the three initial antagonists are all essentially comedy relief, but they merely pave the way for what turns out to be an immense threat. Yeah, the Toy Ghost. You see, Slug (short, orange, troll-like), Snarg (pink, pouty-lipped, frame like spaghetti) and Zunk (monstrously huge, wears a nappy) are listed as Class 5 ghosts, which puts them square in the middle of the scale of powerfulness. I’d have put them lower myself – these three are strictly jokers. Saying that, they manage to nearly drive the Ghostbusters right out of business in a few hours, but that’s less to do with their ingenuity and more to do with the sheer gullibility of the public who turn their back on their beloved Ghostbusters in favour of these dodgy looking chancers. The Toy Ghost is a Class 10. He’s bad news.

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As this is the first episode, it helps to establish the characters effectively, and this is done fairly well, although this doesn’t feel like a first episode. Strangely, it’s ‘‘Citizen Ghost’ that always felt more like a first episode, what with its flashback to the events after the first movie and its detailing of how Slimer came to live with the team. So, the first time we see the guys, they’re established as such: Peter’s loving his fame, Egon is focused and concerned, Ray is excited and thrilled, and Winston looks a little jaded, weary, even! I wouldn’t have associated Winston with those characteristics normally, but everybody else seems spot on. We not only get to see Ecto-1, officially the coolest (if the unsexiest) car in 80’s pop culture (and it’s a more or less faithful reproduction of its cinematic equivalent), but we also get to see the mighty Ecto-2, which is like Ecto-1, but a helicopter! When I was younger, the only thing cooler than Ecto-1 was Ecto-2. Seriously, it was the best thing ever. The fact that it was rarely in the show made it all the more special. I guess I just took Ecto-1’s incessant presence for granted. Shame on me.

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We also get Slimer, who is now a colleague of the Ghostbusters and not a nemesis. It would take a few more episodes before we discover just how he became accepted into the team’s fold, mind you. Slimer can be a royal pain in nearly every episode– in this instance, the greedy menace devours an entire year’s worth of chocolates given to the guys (who were hoping to surprise Janine) on the way home, and even after that he goes crazy when Janine says ‘piece of cake’ as a figure of speech. Slimer is simply a remorseless, thoughtless eating machine. Actually, scratch that – he does usually feel remorse and guilt for his insatiable greed, and he has saved the day on more than one occasion, though it’s often the case that it was he who caused the problem in the first place. I guess he just can’t help himself. Doesn’t stop him being annoying though.  Slimer would become a major focus in later years when the show was rebranded as Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters. All I remember from these latter episodes is that they were the worst things ever.

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What else? Well, we get Janine, who was such a cool character back in the day. True, some episodes dumped her in the damsel in distress role, but overall she was bright, smart and took no crap. I loved her. I also fancied her a bit as well, which is a bit odd as she’s not real. Her character would be notoriously watered down in later episodes, right down to the shape of her glasses, which went from spiky and angular to cute and round. Apparently, the powers that be reckoned the former design would frighten children. In a show about ghosts. I’m going to refrain from swearing in this part of my blog because I’m talking about a children’s show, but that really is flipping crazy.

We get the Ecto-Containment Unit, which is hugely jazzed up from the movie version, where it was just a box in the basement. Here it’s a spectacular prison bathed in red which in later episodes has a cool viewfinder so that you can see inside – think of the containment unit as a spectral version of the Tardis from Doctor Who. You know, one size on the outside, phenomenally cavernous on the inside.

We get the PKE meter, copies of which Egon will exhaust plentifully throughout the series, as they have a tendency to overload. In one delightful moment, the Toy Ghost confirmed as being a whopping Class 10 ghost, a stat that hilariously sends the needle of the PKE meter bursting through its right side. You’d have thought that his PKE meter would have gone up to 10, a nice round number. Or even 11, in tribute to Spinal Tap.

We get pop music. Just in case you weren’t sure what decade this cartoon was made, we get a chase sequence soundtracked by a pop song. 80’s cartoons loved to do this, and The Real Ghostbusters’ house band were a group called Tahiti. No, I’d never heard of them either, but they usually scored at least one sequence in any given episode, and here they play their song ‘Driving Me Crazy’ over the sequence where the Toy Ghost rampages through New York. The song is lighter than a feather, and Not a Good Thing when listening to it any context. Except this one. Yeah, it’s cheese, but it’s part of the deal.

There are some funny moments in this episode, and they all involve Ghosts R Us. They are three of the more memorable antagonists in the show’s history. I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for the following dialogue, when the Ghostbusters arrive too late and are greeted by our three ghastly rivals:

Winston: How come you got here before us?

Slug: Because we’re numero uno!

Zunk: Yeah, and you aren’t-o!

Zunk’s line is so stupid it’s almost genius, especially since he’s so proud of it he risks blowing his cover by leaping out of the ‘trap’ just to say it. I also really love the shot where all three of them are crammed in a phone booth when they make their call to Janine, hoping the Ghostbusters get to the toy factory. ’The sooner the better’ yells Slug. Yeah, ‘the better the sooner, er, quickly!’ adds Zunk. Zunk’s preposterously oversized nose takes up nearly all of the room in the booth too.

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It’s also quite a spooky episode. The toy factory is a scary place. And the Toy Ghost in its original form is supremely creepy, a monstrous worm/spider like dust creature with a huge single eye who grabs all the nearby (and strangely oversized) toys from the abandoned factory he has been resting inside and becomes an enormous toy ghost with a cymbal crashing monkey for a head. Or a hat given that the jack-in-the box underneath it has eyes. He also has a brilliantly scary voice – listen to the way he says ‘Gone….permanently!’ when Slug asks him about Turlock, the ghost who was the original toy factory resident.

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Later on, you may notice during this sequence that the Toy Ghost merrily runs over dozens of moving cars, presumably killing any drivers/passengers inside. Death is usually a no-no in children’s cartoons, but we’re only one episode into The Real Ghostbusters and the body count is in the double figures already. The more likely story is that the writers just wanted some spectacular carnage and hoped that the little ones wouldn’t put two and two together and realised that this Toy Ghost was actually, senselessly KILLING lots of innocent people. Maybe. Or maybe the writers of this episode are just evil.

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There are some memorably intense moments during the final showdown, one of which is the ‘aim for the monkey’ bit when Ray blasts the simian on top of the Toy Ghost to bits, but this only makes the jack-in-the-box underneath to shoot out a horrifying oversized doll’s head which snarls angrily and scares the wits out of Ecto-2’s panicked occupants. Great terrified acting from Welker and LaMarche here. Another bit is when the Toy Ghost is seemingly defeated after falling into the river. Phew! Job done, right? WRONG! The Toy Ghost reverts back to its original form by emerging from the river but this time with a terrifying gaping mouth filled with razor teeth is quite a shocker, pretty unexpected it must be said.

Nit-picking

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Slug plans to run the Ghostbusters out of business. How does he do that? Well first of all, he passes himself off as human, by changing his skin colour from orange to….er, grey. He still looks like a ghost, mind you. So does Snarg. Yet remarkably, the residents of the local hospital are totally convinced that they are ghost catchers when they arrive to save the day from a spectral presence, who really is Zunk, who manages to terrify the staff despite doing nothing more than ‘oogie boogie’ noises and pulling comical faces. Slug and Snarg, assuming the identity of Ghosts R Us, ‘trap’ Zunk in their customised ghost trap (a trash can) and ‘save the day’ before the Ghostbusters have even had a chance to get their proton packs out of the boot of their car. The 1996 film The Frighteners may very well have riffed off this scam, as this is exactly what Michael J. Fox and his crew of ghosts do to hustle the public.

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It’s amazing the Ghostbusters haven’t sussed out us who Ghosts R Us really are, though I suppose their scam is given credibility when Egon confirms that their ghost trap definitely had a ghost inside it. Why his PKE meter didn’t also confirm that there were ghosts pushing the bin along remains a mystery. True, Winston does suspect the familiarity of these competitors, but everybody else is clueless.

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When Peter works out (finally) just who Ghosts R Us are, he states that they were they ghosts they busted this morning’. This morning? That means that Ghosts R Us’s swift destruction of the Ghostbusters’s reputation was achieved in a mere few hours. Now, forgive my nit-picking, but you’d have thought that it would have taken such a thing to happen over a few days at least, a week maybe? But no, the Ghostbusters, with their hitherto peerless reputation, has already been destroyed by two weirdos and a trash can – no one wants to hire them anymore. Blimey. Ghostbusting is a more cutthroat industry than Hollywood.

Things I noticed:

We get no music for the first few seconds of this episode – the main theme sort of cuts in a fraction or so late, whoops!

Egon clearly has no love for New Jersey. He reckons Zunk and Co. must come from there as they register ‘almost no intellect reading’. Miaow!

There’s a smart panning shot taken from the edit suite of the TV network covering the Ghostbusters’ success which covers various camera takes of the same scene – nice and slick, this.

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Ray’s wired enthusiasm reaches an apotheosis in two shots. The first is when he leads the charge against the ghosts in the chocolate factory. Just before he gets a month’s supply of chocolate IN THE FACE, he pulls a grin that’s wicked, cruel even. He deserves what he gets in the next moment. The other is near the start of act two when he proclaims ‘this time no one beats the Ghostbusters!’ Coupled with that expression Ray makes this sound far more like a threat than a boast.

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I have to say I love Egon’s deeper voice in these very early episodes. He just sounds so damn serious! Listen to him say ‘Nothing could escape that unit unless it was shut down’ or ‘Knowing them, they’re already there!’ Don’t know why, I just love the delivery! Oh of course, and ‘aim for the monkey’, which is hands down, one of the best scripted (and delivered) lines in any TV show, ever.

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There’s a great shot where Slug is loudly rattling on the bars of the entrance to wake up an old ghostly acquaintance called Turlock, who is a whopping Class 7 phantom. The shot slowly retreats further and further back as Slug rattles and rattles until he’s just a dot in a screen of darkness. Classy.

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When Ecto-2’s self-destruct countdown reaches zero and takes the Toy Ghost with it, this a rare instance in the show where a ghost is destroyed rather than captured.

Slug breaks the fourth wall when Zunk states the toy factory is weird. Slug says ‘look who’s talking’ directly at the camera.

I’m wondering if Janine’s assertion that her employers are ‘the REAL Ghostbusters, NOT Ghosts R Us’ is also a veiled dig from the writers at the rival Ghostbusters show that inspired the makers of this show to plonk a ‘Real’ slap bang in the middle of their title.

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One last thing. ‘Ghosts R Us’ appeared in different versions when screened on ITV – this seemed to be a regular thing regarding the first season of episodes, with lots of incidental scenes snipped, for time reasons,  I assume. It can’t have been for censorship reasons, as lots of the scenes were usually character led scenes. For example, the scene where the ghosts have just escaped hang out on the roof of the GBHQ has been trimmed – in the longer version Slug berates Zunk for being too fat and for not combing his hair. True, this isn’t vital to the plot, but I hated it when ITV would show these butchered versions – luckily, the DVD releases contain the complete episodes. Other scenes I remember being missing from the shorter versions are some of the Toy Ghost’s rampage towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ghosts R Us laughing their heads off at the Ghostbusters’ gullibility.

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This is a spectacular, epic episode that kicks off the series in grand style. Can Episode 2 match it? There’s only one way to find out! Oh wait, there are two ways. One is to watch the episode itself and make up your own mind, or read what I have to say about it, right HERE.

The Real Ghostbusters Guide…..an Introduction

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Oooo! Before you continue, just to let you know, there’s a quick short-cut to a list of my episode reviews right here!

We all have our nostalgic throwbacks, those guilty pleasures that we dig up, blow the dust off of and revisit from time to time. When I’m doing the ironing, I don’t want something on the telly that I’ve never seen before, demanding my attention and making me burn my hand as a result. No, I want something there in the background that’s like an old friend, and though there are many TV shows or films that would more than qualify as ironing fodder, for some reason The Real Ghostbusters has proved to be the definitive go-to choice these past few years.

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Without much hyperbole, I can safely say that I was absolutely mad for The Real Ghostbusters when I was a boy. It was my all-time favourite show, and the drudgery of school was made bearable on Mondays because I knew that it would be on around 4.30 on ITV. I’d tape it, re-watch it, re-watch it again and drive my family crazy with it. Earlier than that, when all we had was a Betamax that never worked when you tried to record ITV, I had to make do with watching the episode knowing that it was lost to time immediately afterwards. You know, like how people used to watch TV before videotapes were invented. I never knew how they did that. I wanted to keep the shows and films I loved, and if the tape didn’t work, I got very upset. Yes, I’ll admit, I didn’t have my priorities properly adjusted as a little ‘un.

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When I stayed round my aunt and uncle’s on a Saturday night, I was very excited because they had a VHS player, and as such I could rent a film from my local video shop and take it round to enjoy. There were ten official Real Ghostbusters video tapes to buy or rent in the late eighties and early nineties, each with two episodes on them. These made up the first twenty adventures from the series’ syndicated season. Now this is where I have to explain the whole ‘syndicated’ thing, as I’m from the UK and I didn’t know what it meant either, as we don’t do that sort of thing here. Actually, sod that, I’ll just link you to Wikipedia:

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Ghostbusters was of course a phenomenally successful film back in 1984, one we all know and love and so on, and unsurprisingly, it spawned a spin-off. Or two. Now this is where I explain the ‘Real’ part of The Real Ghostbusters. You see, there was another cartoon around the same time called Ghostbusters, which was a reworking of an unrelated 1970’s cartoon series. I guess you could say that this alternate cartoon was only brought back to life because of the success of the film, but it had nothing to do with the antics of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore, so the official film spin-off had to assert its credibility by chucking the ‘Real’ in the title. Get it? Got it? Good.

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The film and the cartoon were essentially cut from the same cloth, but the animated version definitely forged its own character. First of all, the decidedly more adult-leaning humour of the film was substantially toned down. No naughty (if mild) swearing, no rude jokes and no alcohol consumption anymore. For those who giggled over ghost blow-job gags or loved to quote the immortal ‘this man has no dick’ insult, the cartoon would prove to be a far more family-friendly affair. One thing the film had which was surprising for a PG was the terror factor – Ghostbusters is still one of the most frightening family films ever, and even though the film’s been re-rated a ‘12’ here in the UK since, that’s for its sex references rather than the scary stuff. The show isn’t as intensely scary as the film’s more horrifying moments, but pleasingly, the show did not hold back on the ghoulishness either. The Real Ghostbusters is easily the spookiest, most eerie and unsettling cartoon of its time. Many of its fans have their moment in the show that petrified them – I have more than one myself. This is what gave the show its distinct edge – the supernatural theme made it a darker proposition than any of its contemporaries, and at times it really did push the limits as to what was acceptable in a children’s cartoon. Of course, above all else, it was huge, huge fun, and the spookiness was naturally tempered by the quintessentially Eighties upbeat tone.

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So what had changed? Well, personality wise, the new Ghostbusters did share the essential characteristics of their filmic counterparts – sleazy, wisecracking Peter, enthusiastic and child-like Ray, genius and sober Egon, down-to-earth and friendly Winston –  but looks wise they were quite different. There were no resemblances to Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis or Ernie Hudson here. The most immediately notable difference was Egon, who changed from the straight-laced if slightly eccentric doctorly type to a wildly bequiffed nerd-hunk. As for the voices– Peter was now voiced by Lorenzo Music, who performed the voice of fat, lazy ginger feline Garfield. Ray was voiced by Frank Welker, who among voicing many other characters, aliens and animals in his career, was instantly recognisable as Freddy from Scooby Doo. Egon was performed by Maurice LaMarche, who has voiced a kabillion characters throughout the history of animation. Bizarrely, Ernie Hudson auditioned for his own character but lost out to comedian Arsenio Hall. Ouch. All four actors suited these characters like a glove. Then there was Janine, the sassy secretary who may have had the same take-no crap attitude as Annie Potts did in the film, but looks wise had been changed into what Potts herself might have selected for one of her many wardrobe changes in Pretty in Pink. A shock of red hair and multi-coloured attire, not to mention those angular spectacles made Janine one of the most of-its-time elements of the show. She was splendidly voiced by Laura Summer, and when she and Music departed the show, RGB suffered a fatal double-smackdown.

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Oh, and of course there was Slimer. You know, the green ghost who ate everything and anything. He appeared in the film as a mischievous but relatively friendly spook (friendly compared to say, Gozer), but remained anonymous until the cartoon blessed him with a proper name. You find out exactly how he came to live with the Ghostbusters in fan favourite episode ‘Citizen Ghost’, so I’ll spare that little story ‘til I deal with that episode proper. If the Ghostbusters antics sealed the deal for older kids, then it was the adorable/irritating Slimer that was guaranteed to win over the infants. Slimer’s schtick was that he would slime Peter’s clothes or steal Peter’s foot-long sandwich almost every week, which usually led to Peter wanting to zap him into oblivion. The rest of the gang’s tolerance towards Slimer was extraordinarily far-reaching – I have to say, I sided with Peter almost every time, but Slimer would usually prove his worth and resourcefulness in saving the day, even if half the time he was the one who accidentally caused the problem in the first place.

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Then there were the ghosts. Demons, vampires, poltergeists, trolls, boogiemen, Valkyries, dragons, goblins….even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse make an appearance in one excellent episode. Some were funny, some were a nuisance, some were small, some were huge. Some were spooky, some were terrifying. All proved to be a formidable challenge for our ghostbusting quartet every week, but as this show didn’t stick to a long-running storyline and that each episode was self-contained, everything would always be back to normal by the twenty-two minute mark, even if some of the problems contained involved nothing less than THE APOCALYPSE!!! This usually meant a feeling of déjà vu every week, but when you’re a ten year old, you fail to notice the repetition.

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The whole of the glory days were supervised by story editor Michael J. Straczynski, who would go on to commandeer Babylon 5 and become a well-known comic book writer, and much respect should go to this man for the overall identity and impact of the show. Then there was also the music, which was partly composed by the ubiquitous Shuki Levy, whose themes and hooks for this show range from pleasingly dated to downright fantastic. Of course, being made in the 1980’s, we do get the occasional appearance from a none-more-of-its time pop group called Tahiti who do their best to spoil the atmosphere with their tailored brand of lite-pop rock, but ultimately add to the show’s timely charm.

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I will be revisiting each and every episode of The Real Ghostbusters’ glory days; that is, the first season that was 13 episodes long and screened on the ABC network, and the ‘syndicated’ season that was made up of 64 episodes. When I was younger, I thought that it was the syndicated episodes that came first and the ABC episodes afterwards. This would back-u p the general consensus that ‘Knock, Knock’ was the first ever episode, though if the ABC episodes really did come first, then that would make ‘Ghosts R Us’ the first episode and ‘Knock, Knock’ the fourteenth. Ah, confusion. I’ll be sticking with the running order showcased on the Time Life DVDs that came out a few years ago, which places the ABC episodes first. Still with me?

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Anyway, after 79 episodes, the show went belly-up, the producers made lots of horrible changes, made the show softer, goofier and embarrassing to behold. I might review a couple of those episodes for comparison’s sake, but I’ll try not to. I’m just going to concentrate on the show I loved and not the monstrosity that followed.

Anyway….. here’s Episode 1, ‘Ghosts R Us’. It’s a good ‘un.

Cool B-Sides: New Order’s “MTO” (1989)

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When London Records reissued and remastered the first five mighty New Order albums a few years back, it looked as though one of the finest musical voyages of the 1980s was finally going to be definitively presented. After all, the albums were never the whole story. You had an alternative trajectory of astonishing singles that were as, arguably more, essential than their run of LPs. Stuff like ‘Blue Monday’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’, three of the best ever NO songs, not to mention ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Procession’ and ‘Ceremony’. None of these were ever on a New Order LP (unless you count ‘Blue Monday’ being rudely plonked in the middle of the US version of Power, Corruption and Lies), so these new versions, complete with bonus discs, would finally tell the whole story. Except the mastering was, by almost all accounts, a disaster. I’m no audiophile, but even I could tell something was wrong, notably with the bonus discs. We’d waited AGES for the full-length version of ‘The Perfect Kiss’ to get its CD debut, but when it did arrive, it was riddled with glitches. Talk of tracks being ripped directly from vinyl as opposed to coming from the original masters. Sleeve notes riddled with inaccuracies. Plus, songs being listed on the sleeve that don’t actually appear on the CDs – in other words, the right songs, but the wrong versions.

The fan uproar was vicious enough so that the whole set were withdrawn and re-issued again. I’ve not heard these newer versions, but there are still mistakes apparently. None of this helped the quality of the bonus disc of Technique, which is easily the weakest of the five bonus discs – at this stage of their career, New Order were releasing non-album singles as an exception rather than a rule, and for the most part the B-sides were anonymous remixes and straight-up instrumental versions, so there’s a dearth of inspired material on the bonus disc. There could have been an exception, had the hypnotic ‘Run 2’ B-side ‘MTO’ been included as stated, but instead get the far inferior 12” version, despite the sleeve stating the contrary. Whoops.

Now this is a shame, because ‘MTO’ is a genuinely hidden gem in the New Order canon, a near-instrumental that takes the hilariously sleazy budoir-soul ‘you’ve got lurrvve technique’ line from ‘Fine Time’ and creates a whole new tune around it. Even though the longer 12” mix is moderately entertaining, it’s much more of a cut-n-paste job, more obviously ‘remix-y’ with all the elements jigged about and looped, and it also goes on too long, whereas the 7” mix flows beautifully and doesn’t last long enough. Seriously, the original mix is so, so much better, you wonder what on earth everybody was thinking putting the longer mix on the bonus CD. Did they really mean to put the 12” version on and made the mistake on the sleeve info, or was it the other way around? It really could be either of these two possibilities, neither or which have been rectified.

It starts off like a distant relative of Technique’s own ‘Vanishing Point’, but then we get these Kraftwerk/’Hall of Mirrors’ type synth waves, before a blissful, acid-house hook lulls us into ecstasy. It’s this hook that’s nowhere to be heard at all on the 12” mix, which is weird because it’s by far and away the best element. It goes away for a while, but then comes back with a vengeance, this time accompanied by that ‘love technique’ sample, which on ‘Fine Time’ sounded like a hilarious piss-take, but on here sounds strangely dead-on and almost quite seductive! Don’t get me wrong, this won’t be bothering a compilation of the Twenty Best Ever New Order Songs any time soon, but it has what makes a lot of B-sides great and so quintessentially B-side-ish – it’s slight, it’s throwaway, it’s one for the fans and it’s pretty much a fantastic treasure to discover on the flip of a better known hit. Now can it please be released on CD?

PS: ‘MTO’ stands for ‘Made to Order’, apparently!