The Real Ghostbusters Episode 22 – Venkman’s Ghost Repellers (1986)

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Ah, Peter Venkman. The funny Ghostbuster. The sarcastic one. The ladies man. Yet, he has feelings too. In general , the comic relief character can be a tricky thing to pull off – you know, what if they’re not funny? What if their insistence on wisecracking becomes tiresome, a little one-note, you know what I mean? No problems here though. Peter is a very nicely judged blend of enthusiasm, cynicism and humour, and every now and then we get an episode like ‘Venkman’s Ghost Repellers’ which dares to peek behind the facade and look at the wounded soul underneath. Speaking of peeking what’s underneath, we also get some tasteful flesh on show in the form of a just-left-the-shower Peter. Nice one! Before that though, we get an atmospheric opening as good as the one we had in previous episode ‘Night Game’. Here, the crew of a tanker out at grey, bleak, misty sea stumble onto the New Jersey Parallelogram, a pint-sized take on the Bermuda Triangle which wipes them out of visible existence. Parellelograms? Tosh. I like the bit when the captain sniffily dispels such notions, and then swiftly, nay immediately retracts his statement as soon as he sees the bloomin’ thing. Textbook climb-down!

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We then move to HQ, where the guys are doing there thing – Ray’s exercising, Egon’s tuning his PKE meter (not a euphemism), Winston’s…wait, where is he? He is in this scene as we’ll find out, but the writer and animators felt it unnecessary to establish what he was doing before we notice him in the background. Tut-tut. Meanwhile the news on the radio reports the disappearance we just witnessed, and Ray thinks it would be a great idea to go out and investigate. A shirtless Peter quite succinctly states that since no one lives out in the ocean, there’ll be no one to pay them for all this aquatic larking about. What a mercenary. With Winston still nowhere to be seen, Janine shows up in a rather preposterous red poncho. The bitchy chemistry between Peter and everybody’s favourite secretary gets an airing here, but unlike most shows, it doesn’t make for a latent romantic tension. There is one episode where Peter says ‘kiss me, you fool’ when the two get accidentally tangled, but overall the real will-they/won’t-they tension is all between Janine and Egon. Peter and Janine’s swipes at each other really seem to be just that, pure 100% hatred. Peter ridicules the poncho, but Janine has the last laugh when she reveals the creator of said novelty oversized red hanky. Yep, it’s Peter’s dad, a man who has made a career of ‘selling things that don’t exist’. And yes, said hanky is a ‘ghost repeller’. Peter groans, this being another of his dad’s rip-off schemes. Janine thinks it’s sweet. Egon sees the legal ramifications at once. We get another incident of this in a later episode when an unofficial Ghostbusters rollercoaster opens in town.

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Peter’s dad, despite being a textbook git, is definitely the most engaging of the extra-curricular relatives we’ve seen on the show – Ray’s Aunt Lois was insufferably twee, Egon’s Uncle Cyrus was insufferably ignorant, but Peter’s dad is genuinely entertaining – amoral, ruthless and sleazy. He’s basically Peter but without the charm, but you’ve got to hand it to a man that shamelessly riffs off the credibility of his son’s business to peddle some ponchos. Yep. Ponchos. Or, ‘ghost repellers’ as the ads would make it. Yep, gullible muppets out there are purchasing these bright red bits of cloth and seriously thinking it will protect them from any supernatural intruders. You get what you pay for. Nonetheless, it won’t be doing the Ghostbusters’ reputation any favours, so it’s got to stop, right now. But wait, what if they actually work? One quick bullfighter demonstration proves that Slimer finds the repeller utterly irresistible, so no, they don’t.

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Enter Venkman, Sr. His checked green jacket is horrible. His spotted bow tie is worse. His orange trousers are unspeakable. His voice is like Peter’s after a thousand cigars. I love this guy! Peter is mortified, but Peter’s dad is totally cool with all of this – I mean, they are nice ponchos, after all! Besides, they don’t attract ghosts either, so what’s the big deal? This brings to mind the utter insanity of the Bear Patrol in the immigration episode of The Simpsons, which takes the skewed logic of the effectiveness of the ponchos to the next level. Peter’s dad even tries to cut the guys in on the profits and maybe even get them to actively promote the repellers, but Peter really, really doesn’t want to get involved. He even manages to persuade dad to stop ripping people off in the future. Or has he? This is nicely played – Peter’s frustrated yet obvious love for his father is genuinely portrayed. Even the humour at the end of the scene when Ray digs at the Venkman family tendency to lie, cheat and steal is nicely done. It’s a great little moment,  way beyond what most cartoons at this time were capable of achieving.

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So that’s that, I suppose – the guys go out to the docks for a bust, but they notice afterwards that an expedition is all set to locate the New Jersey Parallelogram – an area of extreme psychic turbulence and dangerous cross-rift convergences according to Egon – an expedition utterly confident in its safety thanks to the recent acquisition of ….ghost repellers! Damn that Venkman, Sr. The liner in question, led by one Dr. Mulch, heads off into the fog-strewn sea.  The crew are wearing their red ponchos which don’t help one bit once the parallelogram appears and everything goes crazy. Back at HQ, a suited and booted officer requests that the guys locate the ship – Peter tries to brush him off, despite Ray’s insane enthusiasm, but the officer seals the deal simply mentioning the dreaded words ‘ghost repellers’. Peter knows his dad’s given the poor crew the equivalent of paper bulletproof vests, so he’s compelled to take on the job. Even Peter’s dad, upon hearing the news of the ship’s disappearance, feels instant guilt and goes out to look for it himself. He does this in record time by the way – out of the house, hail a cab, get off at the speedboat hire place and off he goes out to sea. BOOM!

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Cut to the guys on a rescue ship, arriving at the last known location of the lost liner – things get freaky almost instantly as they encounter the distinctly trippy looking parallelogram, the lines of which are impossible to avoid thanks to the choppy waves. The skies turn deep purple, lightning strikes, the ship is coated with some kind of freaky mist but don’t worry – as Egon says, as long as they don’t disappear, they’ll be alright! “Aww, nuts” (Cut to ad break)

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We enter Act 2 inside the gateway through the parallelogram, with the guys and the crew forced to kiss the deck as all manner of ghostly apparitions fly overhead – like Peter says, there have been friendlier nightmares than this. Don’t worry though, no viewers are likely to go nuts as a result of this sequence, unlike say, the Stargate bit in 2001. They emerge on the other side of the gateway, alive and well – Egon has reversed the channels of his PKE meter so that instead of looking for spectral activity (which this alternate world is full of almost nothing but), it looks for reality, like the lost ship. Clever, clever! Peter is so happy he embraces Egon, making his glasses fall off. As a wearer of spectagoggles, I know how annoying this is. Weirdly, this exact same bit of animation is used again later on, which really stands out as opposed to more innocuous examples of cost-cutting because we rarely see Egon without his specs. Or Peter in that weird profile shot we see of him here. He looks a little…off, I guess?

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By the way, I should mention that the ship is floating in mid-air  – there’s no water, no anything, except a pretty pinky-purple sky. Ray picks up a signal on the PKE meter, but Egon says to ignore it, saying the reading’s too small for it to be the liner they’re looking for. Slightly harsh dismissal that, given that the liner is well noted not to be the only ship that’s gone missing since the parallelogram showed up, and indeed, this small reading turns out to Peter’s dad in his speedboat, lost at sky and doing his best to ward off some weird looking ghosts. After some awkwardly stumbling direction where Peter’s dad seems to be doing nothing but making odd head and hand gestures (I think he’s trying to work out how to outrun his unwelcome visitors), he stumbles on to the lost liner, but get this – it’s upside down! There’s some cool camera flippery as we accustom ourselves to this gravitational madness. The crew of the liner look on helplessly as Peter’s dad drifts by – obviously Venkman Sr’s not going to be able to con his way out of this – maybe now he’s starting to learn a few things about himself, eh?

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Things start to get really trippy though as a torpedo starts to head directly towards the good ship U.S.S Ghostbuster. Where it came from, nobody knows. Where it ends up? Er, forwards and upwards. It does a last second upturn and shoots off into the pink sky. What? Well, it turns out that this dimension operates entirely on its own logic, where no two lines of reality intersect. This means that when the guys find the lost liner in the next scene, they have to tether themselves to it so that it stays with them as they return home, which turns out to be a doddle, accompanied by a triumphant score that strangely foreshadows the music for the Super Nintendo game Starwing (or Starfox). Annoyingly, after all of that effort, it’s only now that the crew of the liner mention that they saw Peter’s dad lost out there back in the other dimension– hmm, should have mentioned that earlier, don’t you think? Weirder still, his boat seems to have returned without its driver. Anyway, before that revelation spoils the good mood, Peter clumsily embraces Egon and makes his glasses fall off using the exact same animation we saw earlier. Like we weren’t going to notice that!

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Anyway, back to the present – Peter’s dad’s still out there, and there’s a surprisingly sombre moment when Peter stares glumly at the empty boat. True enough, he even goes as far to admit in the next scene that maybe he should leave his dad out there, claiming that he’s a perfect occupant for a world where ‘nothing is as it seems either’. All of a sudden, they fly past the Bismarck, the real-life WWII battleship that sunk back in 1941 and at the time of the episode, was still lost under the waves, which would account for its fictional presence here in parallelo-land. However, in the real world, it was actually found a few years later in 1989. Its animated counterpart fires ghost beams at the guys which would have hit them were it not for the guys pulling off a last-second swerve, which does contradict the whole ‘no two lines intersect’ theory earlier on. Peter yelps loudly in terror and makes the others jump and get very, very angry (they even growl like dogs!) for some reason. Never mind, they follow the signal of reality that Peter’s dad is emitting and head into a vortex that’s almost as freaky as what was behind the apocalypse door in ‘Knock, Knock’ and things look bad, like maybe they shouldn’t have gone this way. Peter calls Egon an idiot (he’s called him ‘mad’ and a ‘maniac’ over the last twenty minutes), Egon says for everyone to trust him and Ray screams out that they’re all going to die. Into a swirly-whirly hole they go (this image resembles one from future episode ‘Beneath These Streets’), the screen fades to black and they emerge, bizarrely, on a waterfall through a triangular-shaped hole inside a construction made up entirely of triangular-shaped holes. Thank God for screengrabs: this is what I’m talking about, right here.

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Having landed on a rocky surface, the guys are bruised and battered (Ray: ‘I think I broke something’/Peter: ‘I think I broke everything’), but ultimately appear to have made it on the other side of the vortex – gravity appears to be working as normal, but everything else here is distinctly weird. They appear to be inside some kind of dome with the odd crack on top that’s allowing the kind of waterfalls our guys travelled on to come through. And there he is – Peter’s dad – doing his best to swat away some ghosts with an oar. The oar appears to be making no discernible impact, literally going right through these transparent baddies. Anyway, where did he get the oar from? His boat was motorised, wasn’t it? He’s making absolutely no progress, so it’s down to the guys to blast these ghosts to oblivion, and the shot where we see all four ghostbusters approach us, blasting away, is definitely one for the comic-book panels. It’s a beaut.

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Even Peter’s dad is impressed – check out his ‘Boys!’ exclamation when he realises who’s here to save him. I’ve just realised I’ve been calling Peter’s dad by that very name all through this review – I don’t think we ever do find out his actual name. Depending on what version you see, this sequence is either soundtracked by the regular Ghostbusters theme or Tahiti’s ‘Hometown Hero’ song. I’ll take either, I don’t mind. Whatever version you watch, the guys appear to be randomly wearing and not wearing gloves, which is something they very rarely do, so it’s very noticeable when they do have them on (or not, or do, such is the erratic continuity during this bit). Unfortunately all this trigger-happy blasting has done the dome no favours – it’s starting to crack, so that’s our cue to exit. Oh, before that, Peter is finally reunited with his dad, but instead of a sentimental reunion, all Venkman, Sr. does is thank the guys for not damaging boat as there was a deposit put on it. Some people, eh? We get a spectacular speedboat escape amongst the falling wreckage of the dome, the destruction of which somehow results in the demise of the entire parallelogram, which sinks before our very eyes. So what, was the dome the beating heart of the parallelogram? I didn’t think it worked that way, but it’s the end of the episode and we’ve got to get rid of that parallelogram somehow, so down it goes. Never mind. Egon naturally laments the missed opportunity to study it, but Ray quite rightly insists that the upside of all this is that all four Ghostbusters can proudly claim to have utterly destroyed a Wonder of the Unnatural World. Egon is satsified with this. Peter asks his dad if after all this he’ll be going straight. He will. The next scene, back at HQ, reveals that this has not turned out to be the case and that Peter’s dad is actually making money selling ice cubes to eskimos. Ray throws in a dig. Peter approaches for the kill, but the offscreen dialogue suggests Ray is being tickled instead. Sounds great!

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