The Real Ghostbusters Episode 14: Knock, Knock (1987)

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For a long, long time, I thought this was the first ever episode of The Real Ghostbusters. As an introduction to the cartoon, I think it works very well, better say than ‘Ghosts ‘R’ Us’, which by most accounts was the first episode. This is much more effective an introduction to the show– we begin with a straightforward bust, the guys are always exhausted, we establish that Slimer’s a pain in the arse, find out how the Ecto-Containment unit works, discover that the non-Ghostbusting public are mostly stupid, that the guys never get any sleep…it all works, and this template would continue to work many, many more times before the show went belly-up. Saying that, ‘Knock, Knock’ is no gentle introduction to proceedings. Nothing less than the END OF THE WORLD is at stake here, a calamity that is admittedly emphasised with far more grimness and believability in later episode ‘Ragnarok and Roll’, but nevertheless is delivered here in one hell-raising, unforgettable story. Wait, did I say story? To be honest, there’s not much of that. A lot here involves the guys journeying towards The Door of the Apocalypse, meeting all kinds of weird things along the way. They arrive at the door, and after some difficulty, close it. Phew, job done. That doesn’t sound too distinguished for what is probably a shoe-in for my top ten episodes ever. So why is it a classic? Well, for one thing underground train lines are scary. I used to go on the tube with an equal amount of nervousness and excitement when I was a child. I mean, what was in those tunnels? You’d whiz past a flashing light, a cable, nothing more than that, but when you’re young, your imagination plays tricks on you. The idea that these tunnels were haunted was another prospect, and guess what? In ‘Knock, Knock’, they’re bloody loaded with ghosts.

ImageThis is one of the few (the only?) episode to soundtrack its episode title card with…absolutely nothing at all. Just silence. An accident? On purpose? Either way, the silence makes for a more foreboding introduction. Less can be more. We open up on a regular bust in a bowling alley where ghosts have possessed the staff uniforms, the bowling pins, the bowling balls…okay, it’s not very scary, and they get busted with ease, but this is the calm before the storm, trust me. Once the job’s done, the inside of the building looks utterly destroyed, bathed in sickly amber lighting, consumed in fire, but as usual, said job is a ‘piece of cake’. The outside crowds are cheering the guys on for a job well done, but in a moment of quite brilliant left-field eccentricity, Egon is convinced that the audience’s love may very well be ‘a trap’. Love it.

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So the guys arrive back at HQ, and yep, Slimer’s in the process of eating all of the food (including some unidentifiable purple liquid from a huge jar), leaving more mess around than usual, and leaving Janine in fit-to-burst rage. Peter joins her fury and proceeds to try and wipe Slimer off the face of the earth, but surprise-surprise, the others stop him from doing so, the spoilsports. Again, this seems like the ultimate Slimer introduction, more in keeping with a first episode, but there you go. Also in keeping with first-episode traditions, we get what plays out like an introduction to the Ecto-Containment Unit, from a slow pan across it to a long take of the trap being loaded inside, as well as an explanatory reassurance from Egon that now the ghosts have been incarcerated ‘they won’t be bothering anyone for a long, long time’. Also, Peter and Winston have a sneaky trick to avoid doing Containment Unit-related duties by mock-squabbling with each other over whose turn it is to dispose of the ghosts, guaranteeing that an exasperated Egon will do the job for both of them every time. Egon suggests that the others are afraid of the Containment Unit, something that has never been hinted at before or since, and only adding to the underlying fearsomeness of the supernatural in this episode. Seriously, aside from some goofy ghosts making an appearance at the start and in the odd shot underground (not to mention Slimer), the notion and presence of the supernatural is far scarier here than in most episodes. Evidence will follow, but in the meantime, the guys are long overdue for a rest. Now, this might be a good time to focus on the fact that this is one of the few children’s series that regularly makes a point of just how knackering the heroes’ job is. This might have something to do with the fact that it is a job, or that our heroes are human and not transforming robots, ninja turtles or feline warriors, although the fact that the Thundercats were actually cats was a bit odd given that they didn’t snooze at least fifteen times a day. You think they’d be the most laid-back out of all the eighties cartoon heroes. So yes, the Ghostbusters were people, working with what I can only presume to be pretty heavy nuclear proton accelerators on their backs, guilty of indulging in junk food diets and watching TV in their spare time. I’m amazed that out of the four, only Ray carried some paunch with him.

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So the Ghostbusters have earned their sleepy-time, but as we all know, a good night’s kip is never a guarantee for our guys, so let’s cut to the underground, or the subway as I should be referring it to since this is an US production, and there’s one of those spooky, eerie music cues the show has in abundance. Somewhere in the subway three workers are digging through the tunnels only to discover an extremely suspicious looking door with a huge, horned demonic head with fanged mouth and door-knocker-through-its-nose on it. For some reason, one of the workers makes a point of the door having a load of ‘weird writing’ on it, somehow forgetting to acknowledge the DEMONIC HEAD, which surely stands out more, more so than the writing at least, which I can’t really see on my version of this episode. Anyway, what does this so-called writing mean?

DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DOOMSDAY!

Now the worker bringing up the rear thinks that this answer was said by one of the other two workers, even though the voice is the VOICE OF DOOM, which sounds nothing like either of his buddies, and that all three people were facing the door at the time. This man’s an idiot. He gets worse. So anyway, the door repeats his warning once more, with a nasty chuckle thrown in for good measure. One of the three workers (not the idiot) wisely thinks that this is sage advice, and that maybe they shouldn’t disobey the orders of a DEMON DOOR. But the idiot’s having none of that. Now consider this – this idiot, he seems quite blasé with the notion of a talking door. His co-workers look understandably freaked out. But not this idiot. No, he’s more annoyed that this obnoxious door is telling him how to go about his work.  He’s certainly not going to go home early or cancel scheduled plans to extend the subway ‘just because some nut door’ tells him to! No!

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Now, despite various plot synopses of this episode stating the contrary, the Door to the Apocalypse is not actually opened by us ignorant humans. We certainly threaten to do so, as the idiot clearly tells his crew to break the door down. Please note that the door eventually bursts open of its own accord before these guys get a chance to get the job done. So, it wasn’t really our fault, although it would have been anyway. The structure around the door starts to cave in, the workers leg it and what’s left after the wreckage is an all new, horrifying door, bathed in red and blue light, dead eyes, a scary mouth and a general, ‘This House is Condemned’ vibe from top to bottom. It’s pretty frightening. This episode, in relation to many others in the series, is pretty frightening. We pull back from the door to reveal the train track leading up to it is all twisted, there’s a stairway that’s impossible to walk on without falling on your side and after all of this, now, does the door finally open, releasing weird supernatural stuff that works its way along the tracks towards a train setting off at the platform, where two people barely make it on board with a sigh of ‘We made it! Boy, are we lucky!’ Oh no, my friends. Oh no. This isn’t luck. This is DEATH! First of all, the front of the train turns into a face, scaring the hell out of some smart-dressed gent minding his own business on the platform. All the wacky graffiti on the side of the carriage comes to life and chase the bystanders out of the station, while the possessed train hurtles off into the tunnel, leading its passengers into DEATH. That’s right, I’m pretty sure none of them make it, as evidence later seems to suggest.

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In a staggering example of cut-price animation, the same group of bystanders flee the chaos at least four times. I always notice the bald bloke in the red shirt on loop. To lighten the mood somewhat, one of the graffiti ghosts pops out of a nearby sewer manhole and giggles a silly giggle. Ah, such silliness. Cut to Ghostbusters HQ, where Janine delivers a low blow to whoever is on the other side of the phone by quipping that yeah, the subway may be in chaos, but how can you tell the difference from any other day? The poor guys have barely changed into their jim-jams before the siren goes off, and so it looks as though the night has only just begun. Peter claims that this is all ‘a conspiracy’, delivering the second instance of paranoia after Egon’s comment about a trap earlier.

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The subway has already turned into some kind of subterranean horror show, with the terror released from the door contaminating the environment around it, or as Ray puts it excitedly, ‘it’s like the whole place itself is becoming evil…becoming alive…boy, this is great!’ I love Ray – yes, this stuff is scary, but it’s also cool, and I can never question the man’s enthusiasm, though Winston certainly does immediately afterwards, and immediately after that a train arrives at what’s left of the platform. Egon questions the presence of a train – weren’t all of them recalled because of this madness? Well yes, but we know this is the train that got possessed earlier, though the guys don’t, so on they board, and for those who hadn’t sussed out that this isn’t a nice train, we move to the front of the vehicle where its face shrieks an ungodly shriek. Still the guys don’t suspect a thing, with Egon commenting on the extraordinary convenience of their transport – this should cut down their journey to the door substantially. The lights keeping cutting out, but this looks set to be a smooth journey. Well…for a while anyway. In a cool reveal, the third or fourth cutting out of the lights fades back in to reveal that where there were originally four on board, now there are dozens more. Dozens and dozens of skeletal ghosts. Now, we can only presume that these skeletons are the original passengers from before the train got possessed. After all, they’re all wearing clothes like you or me. So it becomes obvious that everyone on the train has been killed, and now they’ve come back as ghosts. This is the show’s most overt instance of homicide since the Toy Ghost from ‘Ghosts R Us’ rode his enormous unicycle over dozens of hapless motorists. That earlier example seemed to be spectacle without real thinking behind the consequences, whereas this is the work of a sick puppy. I love it. The guys freak out, and it looks like they’re about to die, but as the lights cut out again just as the skeletons approach, the evil is proton-blasted into oblivion as the world’s most freaky subway ride really gets going.

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Now, depending on what version of this episode you’re watching, you may hear first season house band Tahiti perform their ‘Boogieman’ song, or merely an instrumental version of the main Ghostbusters theme. Now, as Tahiti are none-more plastic ‘80’s, some fans cringe and groan at the song’s presence in this sequence. Yet, I do prefer it to the use of the GB theme, which comes off as a bit too triumphant given that the terror is only beginning, even if the guys temporarily have the upper hand. The ride itself takes the guys on top-speed through the tracks, with the manholes above ground exploding and releasing spectral energy, before the train itself bursts out of the ground and flies over the jaw-dropped city folk, including one old bloke who seems at most, mildly bemused by this madness, as though this is just another night in the big city. The train then dives into the subway entrance, and then bafflingly emerges from underneath the station platform, sending one bloke falling over and onto the tracks, possibly killing him in the process as the train proceeds to land on the tracks as well. The train speeds past another station – this one crammed with commuters, so I guess the horrors what’s happened a few stops earlier hasn’t reached these people. We continue as the train twists and turns and then takes a direct vertical drop, after which we witness the second use of cheap animation as the exact same ghosts get blasted out of the carriage over and over again. The track then appears to be suspended in mid-air, the same ghosts continue to get blasted and things come to an end as we cut to an eerily sparse platform with a single woman waiting at the end. Who is she? We can’t see her face. Not yet, anyway. The train stops, utterly wrecked (look at the train’s possessed face, it looks seriously fatigued!) and as the guys depart, all of the carriages crumble into nothing, and that’s when they see the woman. Peter being Peter, he instantly steps forward to offer assistance, pushing past the others and running to the end of the platform, who hasn’t turned around, despite being spoken to. How rude. Peter sensibly suggests that this place might not be safe for her, although he says this in a manner bordering on lecherous. This is when the ‘woman’ turns around, and she has the face of a skeleton with huge teeth and red eyes! Step back guys, step back. She grows to double her size, laughing insanely, before exploding in a wave of bright light.

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Winston back tracks onto a kind of a milestone positioned somewhat inconveniently onto the actual tracks and falls flat on his behind. As he rightly says, that shouldn’t be there, so the guys investigate. There’s a lot of weird writing on the stone (unlike the door earlier, we can actually see the wording) and Egon works out that it’s written in Sumerian. Can Egon read Sumerian? In his sleep, underwater and with the lights off, of course he can read Sumerian! Egon’s sarcasm seems to stop the others in their tracks, but Egon is too busy reading the stone to notice. This is when the guys realise the impending doom of their situation, and that it’s up to them to close the door before it’s too late. Hilariously, Egon translates that the doorway is a link to ‘the nether regions’, which I’ve only ever heard mentioned as a euphemism for something else. Peter can’t comprehend the situation, so Ray puts it, brilliantly, in words he can understand. Here we go:

Ray: Peter, did you ever leave some old socks in your closet too long, and the whole closet began to smell like your socks?

Peter: Maybe?

Ray: Same thing here. Unless we do something to stop it, the whole world will soon smell just like your socks. Eternal darkness, and the world will be governed by ghosts.

Now that’s brilliant. In an admission of staggering honesty, Egon says that they might not make it back. This felt pretty scary for a young viewer – the idea that our heroes could die. Granted, animated heroes usually encountered life-threatening situations every week, but this felt real. True, Peter cracks wise, you know, it’s just another day at the office, but you know deep down that he’s scared. So the guys head off into the mist of doom towards the door, but for some reason we stay with the stone with the apocalyptic writing. Why? It’s just a stone. Oh right, here’s why, because the bloody thing’s laughing! That’s right, the stone now has a FACE, and it’s laughing! Also, the music goes from ‘Eerie Plot Theme’ to ‘Danger, DANGER! Theme’ just like that! We fade to black, but the eyes and mouth of that evil stone linger in the darkness a micro-second longer, and the nine-year old version of me is very, very scared. It didn’t help that I used to watch this cartoon at night with the lights off, and as masochistic as it was, I used to get super-scared with act-breaks like these, because the fade to black left the room completely dark for a while, leaving me alone with the screen-burn of a pair of eyes and a cackling mouth to keep me company. A few other act-breaks gave me the similar chills, but none as much as this one. There was also the silence of an act break, those few seconds where you’d be left with nothing. Given that the music preceding the fade to black was usually the show’s music at its most frightening, I was regularly left with the chills for the majority of these brief moments.

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Act 2 doesn’t offer any respite either, as the guys journey closer and closer to the Apocalypse (there’s a cool opening shot of them walking in murky silhouette), soberly reflecting on the fact that the whole world is going to look like their current surroundings if they don’t save the day. You know, stuff like trees with eyes, constant darkness and eerie mist everywhere. Egon’s portentous musings are then interrupted by the distant voice of a ferryman overseeing his boat of cursed rowers as they drift forever and ever. Now this is the most disturbing sequence in the episode and one of the weirdest in the whole series. The boat is an enormous skeleton for one thing, of what I couldn’t say. The ferryman himself (perched on the boat’s ‘tail’) is also a skeleton, albeit one draped in a snazzy purple captain’s uniform and shades. His crew are all human, doomed to row for all time. Apparently all they’ve ever seen for the last five hundred years is dirt, and the ferryman is taking wicked delight in mocking his crew about this. Now when I was younger, I thought the ferryman was saying ‘death’, which is a lot scarier than dirt, but at the same time it would have been pushing it to fit such grim allusions to death in a kid’s show. Still, the ‘reassuring’ way the ferryman tells his crew not to row so fast as they have all of eternity does send a chill down the bone. Add the show’s best creepy/sinister theme, the scary laughing and the fact that the ferryman sounds like an evil Ray and it all makes for a genuinely creepy moment.

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OK, what was that? Never mind, the guys say, just keep on walking and pretend we never saw that. Well, it’s difficult for us kids to forget we ever saw that, and you’ve got to love the twisted imagination that would throw in a Boat of the Damned for no other reason than to just freak out their audience. It doesn’t add to the plot, it’s swiftly forgotten by the writers and the characters and yet it’s one of the best moments in the series. We definitely need relief after that, so let’s head upwards, where some poor sap on the train platform questions the lateness of the service to himself before a haunted train loaded with goofy ghosts whizzes by at top speed, making a mess of out of this poor man and some other bloke standing near him, who deadpans ‘yep, there’s definitely something wrong with the line’. Ha-ha, we needed that. After a quick return underground where the guys wonder if anyone’s asking about them up top, we cut to the news where everyone’s asking about them. At this stage, the evil ghost energy has worked its way through the tracks to above ground, possessing the empty trains and turning them into huge demon-mouthed worms of all shapes, sizes and colours. Back underground though, (after some half-hearted attempt by Peter to get everyone to bail out) the guys encounter a huge orange tree with a face! This tree’s quite creepy looking, though the voice not quite so – he sounds a little like a wasted version of the Sandman from a few episodes back.

ImageNext up (after a mouth-shaped doorway which closes itself once passed through, never a good thing), the guys are shrouded in complete darkness with only the eyes of ghosts that are ‘too awful for anyone to see’, so they run blindly until they find themselves back in the light but unavoidably separated on different pathways that defy gravity – Egon’s upside down at one point. Once they clear it, the guys wonder how far they just ran (it only seemed like a few seconds to us, but it was a montage of sorts, so who knows?). Egon peers back and soberly insists the other that they don’t want to know. Besides, they’ve reached the door, so there’s no point looking back. There’s no gradual reveal of what lies past the doorway here by the way – we instantly cut to a huge blue sphere immersed in electrification, set against a hellish red and black backdrop blasting intense wind and fire outwards, the intensity of which starts to sends Egon’s PKE meter over the edge (he’ll be throwing it away soon enough, that’s another one to add to the pile). The door by the way has increased in size to an insane degree – it now towers over the guys like a skyscraper. It looks absolutely MAD inside– at least they don’t have to go through the door, Ray sighs with relief. Sorry, Egon says, that’s EXACTLY what they have to do. Egon heads on (ten out of ten for bravery) and breaks the news that they have to go inside use the intense power coming from behind the door to ‘superpower’ their proton packs as that’s the only way they’ll be able to pull back all the evil that’s already escaped. The voice acting, particularly from Maurice La Marche as Egon, is pretty spectacular – everyone’s having to shout above all the racket coming from the blue sphere, and La Marche totally convinces on selling the idea that the guys have to face certain death. After all, if the door closes before the guys get to escape, they’ll be trapped forever. Peter quite understandably susses that Egon knew that they’d have to go inside all this time and just decided to withhold that information. Egon admits that, quite understandably also, that if he’d told them everything right from the start, no one would have wanted to go through with it. Peter admits defeat, so I guess there’s nothing left to do except ‘tell the neighbours they’ve been playing their stereo too loud again’.

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This ending comes close to the ending of the film in regards to sheer apocalyptic spectacle – everything’s going absolutely wild and you really get the impression that the guys are walking directly into something more dangerous than they’ve ever encountered. The animation really goes for it – it’s literally a hell-zone behind that door. The best bit is when they crawl their way to the edge of a precipice and can’t believe what they see beyond it – some kind of absolutely huge demonic being made up of mist or something that gets the guys screaming (the same scream heard after the ‘aim for the monkey’ line in ‘Ghosts R Us’, incidentally). Still, even Peter has to admit he’s impressed with all this crazy madness. Notice his smile too – Peter’s truly loving this, as is Ray after Egon’s throat-shredding cry of ‘arm nuclear accelerators, NOW!!!’ The guys fire directly into the sphere, giving it all they’ve got. I’m not sure how firing into the sphere would create a suction for the other ghosts to get trapped in, but I’m not a scientist, so I’ll shut up. The sheer force of the suction goes all the way down the tracks and above ground, grabbing the ghosts and pulling them right back above the guys heads and sending them back through the door, which is starting to close now that the Apocalypse is being postponed. Yet it looks as though the door wants to keep them inside, as Egon starts floating helplessly away! The guys use the reverse thrust of their proton packs to force themselves back out of the doorway, and the suspense here is quite excellent! They just make it through, the door is back to its normal size (complete with that evil face) and everything is all quiet again. Phew, that was fun, Peter jokes – maybe they should do it all over again?

‘DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DOOMSDAY!’ warns the door.

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That’s right Peter, you shut your mouth. So we’re back at HQ, and everyone’s ready to hit the bed, except Peter, who wants to eat until dawn. Slimer has eaten all the food though. Seriously, after all that they’ve been through, I’m genuinely surprised the guys don’t destroy the little spud right there and then. The others jump to Slimer’s defence so eagerly, and Egon even goes so far as to say that his eating obsession might be some kind of emotional crutch for coping with the fact that he’s a ghost who lives with a group of people who are hired to bust ghosts. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, it made Peter think, as he makes peace with Slimer by giving the greedy little git even more food in the middle of the night. Peter walks away, Slimer cracks up with laughter, knowing all too well that he’s won over his gullible hosts once more. I hate Slimer.

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