The Real Ghostbusters Episode 17: The Spirit of Aunt Lois (1987)

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I think I watched this episode and ‘Cry Uncle’ about 65 times over the course of one night and one morning – I was a child and staying over at my aunt and uncle’s one Saturday and it was Volume 3 of The Real Ghostbusters collection on good ol’ Magic Window Video that I had rented and brought with me– so therefore ‘The Spirit of Aunt Lois’ has a special place in my heart, which is weird as it’s not a particularly great episode. Still, I guess it has an old-school, haunted-house charm, which is unsurprising given that it’s set in a haunted house. It even (barely) survives a dismal moment where Winston raps, you know?

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I’m going to skip to the midway point of this episode for a moment. The act break of this particular tale has Ray’s Aunt Lois hiding, terrified and trapped, in a fireplace while lots of ghosts fly around in front of her. Now might be a good time to wonder about what exactly ghosts do to their victims. What would happen to Lois if she stepped out and confronted these spectral shits? Would they kill her? Or would they just scare her a little? What could these actual ghosts do? In some earlier episodes we’ve had instances of ghosts being responsible for deaths – take opening episode ‘Ghosts R Us’, where the massive Toy Ghost is happily driving his enormous cycle over all those poor motorists, or ‘Knock, Knock’ with all those suited skeletons who were clearly living, breathing people a couple of scenes earlier. I mean, do the Ghostbusters trap all these ghosts because they’re soul-eating killers, or just because they’re a nuisance? It seems the lethality of the ghosts can range from episode to episode, and I get the idea that the ghosts in this particular episode err closer to nuisance. I mean if they really wanted to eat Lois, they could just fly into the fireplace and munch on her soul, just like that! I think these ghosts are just being jerks, and to be fair to Lois, she’s not used to this kind of presence, so hiding in the fireplace seems like a sensible bet. Anyway, she pleads help directly to the screen, but since the guys aren’t in the room, or even in the building, it’s almost like she’s asking us for help. What can we do? The music building up to this act break is that goofy tune that usually accompanies Slimer-related shenanigans, or this case, lower-level ghost malarkey. Yet for some reason, this distinctly unthreatening theme sounds quite spooky here, especially since it ends on an odd note – this, coupled with the fade to black (see my review of ‘Knock, Knock’ for my personal take on the creepiness of fades-to-black in Ghostbusters episodes) makes for an act break that chilled me a little in my younger years.

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Anyway, I’m ahead of myself here, so let’s go back to the start and the guys have just come back from a job, knackered and burned out. Peter just wants to go to bed. Now I’m partial to a snooze in the day, but the life of a Ghostbuster really doesn’t sound that appealing given how many episodes feature scenes of one or more guys wanting to get some rest. Then there’s Slimer, the equivalent of someone mucking about with your alarm clock and making it go off ten minutes after you’ve gone to sleep. The thing is, even when he means well he’s a nightmare, like when he hugs Peter’s leg as a sign of affection but merely ends up leaving a hunk of ectoplasmic residue all over his clothes. Peter loses his mind for the 3,523rd time this series, and it takes the wise, philosophical attitude of Ray’s aunt Lois to cool things down. The guys are clearly very glad to see her as they more or less sprint over to say hi, although Egon’s very dry ‘hello Aunt Lois’ totally belies the energy of his greeting run. It’s also nice that all the guys refer to her as Aunt Lois, making them all sound like ten year olds or something.

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Now even though Aunt Lois is everyone’s favourite faux-relative, she seems to be a bit dozy when it comes to dealing with the supernatural. She has a headache you see, which she thinks is spiritual. I’m assuming she tried some ibuprofen before coming to this extreme conclusion and only after that did she resort to the ‘expertise’ of one Dr. Bassingame, who is apparently a total fraud and is referred to as ‘that TV guy’ by Ray, who is incensed that his aunt would call on this jerk, but the others are a lot more level-headed. After all, if he’s the real deal, he’ll be able to sort out the problem. If he isn’t, then he’ll look like a complete plonker. Sorted. Following a totally unsurprising off-screen revelation that Slimer has destroyed Peter’s bed (great howl of anguish from Peter though), we cut to later that evening, where the nicely suited guys arrived at Lois’ home – in one of a few references we’ll see in the series to Ray’s wealthy past, it turns out that Lois is doing very, very nicely for herself with the swanky family home she’s inherited. Later on in the series I swear Ray inherits a castle or something. A castle!

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Anyway, at first it looks as though Dr. Bassingame might be the real deal – the first time we see his work we see that he’s got a shedload of state-of-the-art equipment to assist him with the evening’s entertainment. However, the moment we see him and hear him, it’s clear he’s a dodgy one. By kids show logic, he’s far too short, arch-eyebrowed and weirdly-chinned to be legitimate. And the way he talks is deeply insincere. Just listen to the way he says ‘these must be your Ghostbuster friends – how nice’ and note the utter lack of empathy. This guy is bad. The thing is, there really is a spectral presence in the house, but as Egon notes, it’s dormant, minding its own business, you know. Bassingame reveals his idiot credentials by instantly demanding that Egon’s PKE meter be put away – this is his night, after all. Egon protests but even Aunt Lois insists that Egon pack it in. Nice. Everybody sits down at the séance-friendly round table and Egon informs Peter that Bassingame’s fancy tech is only going to wind up the ghost rotten – how he knows this is unclear. Maybe he saw the brand name and was all too aware of its uselessness in general. The lights go out (how this is done is unclear as nobody gets up out of their chair) and Bassingame operates a hidden projector under the table using his feet which makes a ghostly visitor appear out of nowhere. Bassingame uses a not-at-all clichéd ghoulish voice to ‘beckon’ this spirit, which also talks in a ghostly voice – you know, ‘Looooooiiisssss’, that sort of thing. The clearly hastily recorded-just-before-the-evening voice comes courtesy of an old-school reel-to-reel recorder hidden somewhere in the room. Clearly Bassingame had Lois make lots of cups of tea to keep her out of the room whilst he went about hiding all of this stuff, the sneaky git.

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Surprise surprise, the ‘ghost’ pleads Lois to give some money that it was owed back in the day, but all of this phoniness incurs the wrath of the real ghosts, who cut the sound recording mid-speech, leading to the most embarrassing miming reveal of the 1980’s until Milli Vanilli got sussed out a few years later. A total of twelve ghosts show up – none of them look particularly threatening on their own, but put together they prove to be quite a nuisance, and Egon rates them as a Scale 7 on the PKE-meter, which is weird as that puts them only a few levels below the major-league monsters. Ray insists on getting their proton packs, but Lois tells him not to, quite annoyingly. Bassingame can handle it, she says – the thing is, she’s not even saying it sarcastically to expose Bassingame as a fraud, she really is against Ray getting the packs. The fraud tries to blag it with talk of exorcism, but Peter calls him a nutter. Lois protests again at Peter’s rudeness. Lois’ earnestness and insistence on good manners, etiquette and whatnot is really getting on my nerves. I’m actually looking forward to her getting trapped alone with twelve spectres. Bassingame foolishly continues to insist he can deal with it, to the point of demanding that the guys leave the vicinity – they leave, and Peter quite understandably says ‘better them than us’ in regards to Lois and Bassingame. Ray, predictably I suppose, says that’s not funny. It is though, really. Moments later, Bassingame is hurled through the doors and out of the haunted room, resulting in a furious Ray demanding to know what happened. Bassingame whimpers pathetically, pleading not to be hit and swearing that he did his best to save her. Well, more specifically he whimpers something like ‘I try!’ in the most wimpy, useless voice ever. It’s quite a hilarious delivery actually, so much that whenever I’ve made half-hearted attempts to do something, I usually follow it up with ‘I try!’ in that same pitiful voice.

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The guys attempt to force their way back in the room with a reluctant Bassingame in tow, but they end up hurled out of the whole house. Ray’s the last to get flung out, and Bassingame is clearly going to end up being used as a crash-mat for Ray, so he tries to flee, but in old-school cartoon fashion he runs on the spot for five seconds, failing to move out of the way in time as a result. Idiot. So now we have Lois trapped alone, and a proton-pack onslaught isn’t going to help as she’s bound to get caught in the crossfire. Egon works out that this dirty dozen are actually Russian (so’s Ray’s family, we discover) immigrant ghosts who were happy to have a quiet life and actually bring harmony to the house until this evening’s disturbance. As Egon puts it, ‘they took it as a direct insult to everything they stand for’. Cut to the house interior for that act-break I mentioned earlier, though to be honest the ghosts appear less insulted than they do utterly wired, flying around like idiots overdosed on strong coffee. Still, Lois is terrified, hiding there in the fireplace.

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Act 2 sees the ghosts in the prime of their caffeine high, setting fire to radios, juggling with crockery and throwing furniture everywhere. How annoying. One of them even eats Bassingame’s reel to reel audio tape like it was spaghetti. Unsurprisingly, this greedy ghost has adopted the form of a pig. Lois is panicking badly, but Ray whispers to her to keep calm. Well, actually, he tells her to ‘keep smiling’, which is a bit much, I reckon. So how do the guys distract the ghosts from Lois? Well, another séance might do the trick, and who better than Bassingame to hold it? He wants nothing to do with it, and tries to scarper, but only succeeds in doing that same running-on-the-spot fail that he did earlier, which means he gets nowhere. All five of them link to form a human circle chain and work their way into the haunted room, after which Bassingame implores the spirits of darkness to hear him. They stop, and listen, and then attack him. He runs away. Pathetic. To be honest, the most these ghosts are likely do to you is leave you with a bruise if you fail to move out of the way of that lamp or candlestick they hurl about on occasion. So, these aren’t exceptionally fearsome or intense ghosts. Maybe it’ll be like first ever episode ‘Ghosts R Us’, which had a trio of goofs for the first two thirds before unexpectedly unleashing an absolute monster for the finale. Maybe it won’t.

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The next bit involves the guys continuing the séance on their own, with each of them chanting their own special chant. As soon as Egon runs it all down with ‘and a 1 and a 2 and a …’ you know this scene’s going to be embarrassing. And it is. Egon’s chant involves him reciting the laws of mathematics or something involving hypotenuses. Winston channels James Brown (who hadn’t passed away at this point but might have departed earlier than scheduled had he witnessed this ‘tribute’) with some funk-strut chant. Ray and Peter forsake individuality by both committing to the same chant which turns out to be that 99 bottles of beer on the wall sing-a-long that people like singing but no one likes hearing. Lois uses this as an excuse to flee – rather cowardly, I must say. Never mind, the plan has worked, although the guys still get flung out of the room straight after. The ghosts don’t follow them because they are location spirits, specifically bound to that one room. Lois asks after Bassingame – all we hear is a lot of crashing noises and whimpering. Lois says ‘that poor man!’ and all patience I have for this biddy are well and truly out of the window – even Ray loses it after that act of misdirected compassion. Still, even Peter knows they have to rescue him. If they were to let him die then this would be an entirely different show, and in this instance, a better one. So now it’s time for the proton packs, and Lois finally concedes to the truth – that our guys are the only ones for the job.

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Suited, booted and gloved (why do the guys wear gloves on random occasions?), the guys open fire (and in classic cheapo animation, the ghosts attack formation is identically animated to the one earlier on when they attacked Bassingame). What follows is a lengthy busting sequence, one that goes on for a few minutes but remains suspense-free thanks to the threat-free presence of the ghosts, and the jaunty music score that accompanies it. Given this bit and the earlier sequence of the ghosts throwing furniture for a while, not to mention that chanting bit – this second act feels a bit overstretched. There is a good bit though when Peter zaps a ghost under a dressing table and zaps it directly into Winston’s trap placed directly behind it. Never stood a chance, that one. Nevertheless, this has to be one of the most anti-climactic finales to an episode. The ghosts get trapped, and that’s it. Oh, there’s an attempt to shake things up by having Ray nearly obliterate Winston by accident, but that’s it. Lois is distraught to see that the room has been more or less destroyed, but at least the ghosts are gone. But where’s Bassingame? ‘Is he…’ asks Lois, genuinely thinking he might have been murdered by the ghosts. No, but even more weirdly, he appears to have been hiding inside a sofa chair. How he managed to do that I have no idea. How he also manages to survive when Winston blasts the chair is totally unexplainable. Finally Lois has given up on defending this rat, and she splutters out what might be a rare case of profanity in the show but settles on the old-school ‘charlatan’ instead. She says she’ll never trust another spiritualist as long as she lives. Bad news for spiritualists, who I think have been unfairly tarnished in general all because of one bad man. Amazingly Bassingame tries to do one over on Lois by insisting payment for the evening’s services, quoting the small print which also clears him of any damages that might have occurred as a result. Egon compares him to a snake. Winston says that it’s tele-spiritualists such as him which makes him glad he hasn’t got cable. Still, there’s no need to panic, as the guys say they’ll release the ghosts in his house if he doesn’t pay for all the damages. Busted. As Bassingame leaves, everyone but him notices he has a stray ghost on his back – Lois is about to warn him, but in the first cool thing she’s done in the episode, she lets him go. Peter likes her style. Everyone laughs in classic end-of-episode style, while our ghost friend (seriously, he seems friendly – he even waves at the guys and Lois) looks forward to some future haunting.

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Oddly, when Bassingame returns later on in the series, he makes no reference to a ghost having hitched a ride on his back and presumably making his life a living hell afterwards.
This is not a great episode, but in a classic era of 70 or so episodes, we’re allowed a merely okay one. The thing is, this one of two in-a-row so-so adventures. We need a classic. Luckily, the next one’s a good ‘un.

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