The Real Ghostbusters Episode 30: Boo-Dunit

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Boo-Dunit. The nicest thing I can say about that title is that it’s not even the worst pun of this episode. That credit must surely go ‘Agatha Grisley’, which you imagine would have been dismissed out of the Carry On staff writers meeting. Oh well, it’s a kids show, what am I doing complaining about this. Actually, they could have put a question mark at the end of the episode title, that’s something I won’t let go. Punctuation, people!

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This episode begins, as all great murder mysteries should begin, with a thunderstorm on a scary, atmospheric night. We’re at a house, one as opulent as Ray’s Aunt Lois’s ages back, but we’ve never been here before. A gruff, very English man named Mr. Kingsworth knocks on the door of what we soon discover is the house of the now deceased crime author Agatha Grisley (groan) – her butler opens the door, takes Kingsworth’s coat and quite directly asks if any money was left for him in her will. Not a cent, apparently. Wow, she obviously didn’t like him then. The thing is, we never do find out who she gave her money too. Forgive me for stereotyping, but when you do see her at the end, I can’t help but thinking she’s left everything to a cats charity. Nothing wrong with that, I love cats. The butler, clearly furious but not stiff-upper-lip enough not to let it show on his face, simply opens the front door again and chucks Kingsworth’s coat back outside.

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It turns out that a fair few people have turned up for the reading of Grisley (groan)’s will, but things are clearly suspect the moment said document is produced from Kingsworth’s briefcase and a sword flies in from out of nowhere and pins the document to the table! Oddly enough, even though everyone is obviously shocked by this, Kingsworth nevertheless seems to view this is a mere, reasonable obstacle. Simply removing the sword should set things back on track., right?

Nope. Another sword.

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Back at HQ, by an extraordinary coincidence, the guys are watching a murder mystery on the TV! And it turns out that Winston is a total genius at working out who the killer is every time! This ties things up nicely for what could be a similar storyline soon, eh? Actually, the TV mystery that Winston spoils the answer to at the last minute sounds pretty awful. The killer – Larry the Plumber – seems to be only ever referred to by that full descriptive name. You can just imagine characters earlier on in the mystery saying things like – ‘darn it, the plumbing needs sorting, where’s Larry the Plumber?’ Everyone’s fed up with Winston spoiling their fun, all except Slimer, who thinks it’s a right chuckle to immerse himself in a slice of pizza that they’ve had delivered. Ray even starts to eat a bit of the pizza, which we find out later he thinks tastes awful, so what was Slimer intending to do here? Allow himself to get eaten? Would he have been boiled alive in Ray’s stomach acid or would he have escaped via his throat? Either way, it’s a most unpleasant scenario and Slimer has rarely been so stupid. By the way, the Ghostbusters audio-visual set-up is pretty substantial.

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The alarm bell rings, the guys slide down the pole, take their assignment worksheet and leave in Ecto-1. It’s a ruthlessly efficient procedure, but one without heart. As Janine laments after they’ve driven off, ‘not even a goodbye’. It’s true, they completely ignored her! In the car, further inspection of the worksheet reveals their new case is based at the Agatha Grisley (groan) house. It turns out that she was the best in her field because her mysteries were the hardest to figure out. Peter also suggests that the cause of her death was in her frenzied attempts to stop Winston figuring out the ending to her novels before she even got them down on paper. The plot that follows proves very similar…

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When the guys arrive at the house, they almost trip over the old man’s discarded coat, which Peter picks up. The door bell is rung and all of a sudden a dagger flies past them and into the door. In a nicely human touch, Winston can’t resist pushing the dagger to the side until he lets go and it wobbles back and forth impressively. Egon PKE’s the dagger. It’s hot stuff. Winston flips the dagger again. An impatient Egon holds it still. Must he do that, Egon asks? Yes, Peter says. The door opens and grumpy butler welcomes them, calling them ‘gentlemen’. They all look deeply confused until they realise it’s they who are being spoken to and we realise it must have been a long time since anyone regarded the ghostbusters as gentlemen. They enter the house, inspect the surroundings, and the butler asks Peter if he can take his coat. ‘Weeeelllll, I don’t know…’ Peter says, before throwing the thing over the butler’s head, which was a bit out of order, I thought. The butler does the only reasonable thing after that, which is to chuck the coat back outside.

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Cut to what looks like nearly a hundred swords on the floor of the room where the perforated will currently resides, and this is where I wish we’d had a deleted scene where each sword was pulled out of the will only for another one to appear. Over and over again. I mean, come on, I’d have given up after four or five tries, but they must have just kept on going. Idiots. Kingsworth explains that since the will was taken out of the briefcase, lots of weird things have been happening, like objects levitating, ghostly apparitions appearing and disappearing, and even old-school revolvers ghosting their way into the hand of unsuspecting humans.

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Here, it happens to Ray, and even though his petrified reaction suggests he’s a wuss, I’d have probably been the same. The weird thing is that Winston, in full Ray mode, practically screams out ‘it’s just like something out of an Agatha Grisley [groan] book!’ Eh, what? There’s been no evidence so far that her books dealt with the supernatural, they were just murder mysteries. Maybe Winston’s just overexcited – Peter says as much, but any reassurances he has to say to the old man are interrupted when the floor beneath him gives away and he falls down – onto a stone floor, ouch – in what looks like a dungeon, or the torture room in the Vincent Price version of The Pit and the Pendulum. That fall would have probably killed him, or at least broken some bones, but never mind, let’s move on.

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Anyway, the guys continue their search, and Peter opens a drawer which secretly releases a switch (note how when we see the switch depress, there are some cartoon effect lines that emanate from it – nice) that sets in motion the wobbling of a life-size suit of armour behind him, a suit of armour that is holding a precariously balanced axe… in fact, if it wasn’t for the others, a distracted Peter would have been killed. And his last words would have been some piffle about orange peel. So I suppose this was a booby-trap set up by Grisley (groan) to kill anyone who tried to nose around her drawers and find out the endings of her novels. I guess that’s one way to deal with those people who post spoilers online. As the axe doesn’t kill Peter, it instead lands on the writing bureau, cutting it in half and releasing a mystery draft of an unpublished novel, which appears to be unfinished. Also, there are multiple copies of the last page, with each one announcing a different character as the killer. Egon works out that the apparitions and mysteries in the house are clues to the mystery, and that the ghostbusters have to work out who the killer is from all this spectral evidence. Even though there appears to be no overt time limit to this mystery, the fact that Peter has almost been killed twice in the space of a minute suggests that they’d better get cracking. Peter himself appreciates the urgency, and he violently kicks the suit of armour into a pile of metal in an act of defiance against all this atmosphere of death.

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Back upstairs, the guys explain to Kingsworth and the butler what it is they have to do, and Ray for some reason has presented everyone with some chocolate doughnuts. Why? True, Ray’s a careful shopper, but this doughnut business has seriously come out of nowhere. It could be that these sugared treats have only been introduced so that we get a very cool act break shock as everyone raises their doughnuts, shout ‘to the hunt!’ and a metal spear flies into the room, hooks all the doughnuts and slams itself into the wall, right next to Peter, who has nearly died three times before the first half is even over. Now for some reason I used to find this act break scary. Okay, let me explain. The music that accompanies the shock is one that always used to unnerve me as a child – the theme is the one that usually ends one of the show’s spookier pieces. We get the same bit of music earlier on when Peter falls into the dungeon, and the preceeding main theme plays out as that sequence goes on. There were some eerie themes in this show, and this was the eeriest of the lot. Just before the doughnuts are speared, there’s a creepy shot of a picture portrait’s eyes moving side to side – clearly the ghosts are listening in on this conversation. And the final shot of this half has a close-up of an almost perversely gleeful Peter, wobbling spear waving up and down in front of him, stating that is ‘going to be lots of fun’. Fun? I think that the fact that I was scared and Peter wasn’t made me feel like more of a wimp. Plus there’s that fade-to-black thing that I get freaked out about and that I’ve mentioned in previous reviews. I used to watch this episode late at night with the lights out along with the other episode on The Real Ghostbusters Vol. 5 on videotape, which was ‘Ragnarok and Roll’. So this tape’s contents used to give me the right chills – more on Ragnarok in a couple of reviews time, though.

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Act 2 begins with ‘the hunt’ underway – Egon, Peter, Ray and Kingsworth decide to split up to search for clues more efficiently, and as we all know, splitting up always works in situations like this. Ray and Kingsworth are the first to find some ghosts, in the form of a beautiful, ‘wealthy jezebel’ and a quite notably ugly ‘French cad’, the latter hoping to win the former’s heart. Doesn’t sounds like she’s very interested though, with her heart still set on someone else, a decent man, a man with a really great car. Forget decency, forget motor vehicles, the cad insists.

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By the way, just to add to the tawdriness, we get a totally gratuitous shot of the jezebel’s cleavage, but it’s all appropriate given the trashiness of the mystery, which according to Ray also has ‘awful dialogue’, which is a bit rich coming from the same writers who came up with Agatha Grisley (groan). Although I do love the fact that Ray has suddenly produced a bag of popcorn for the night’s entertainment.

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All of a sudden, the jezebel’s true love appears, and he’s almost as ugly as the cad, a huge beefcake with a huger MACE! And he’s furious, presuming that he’s being cheated on, which really stings since he just made the last payment on their ferrari, not to mention installing a tape deck inside too. Ah, the eighties. The beefcake swings the mace like an absolute psycho (his growl during this bit is most amusing) and the nasty end snaps and flies off, causing it to create a big hole in the floor which Ray and the old man fall into, almost dying. The jezebel comments on the rudeness of the humans, who left without saying goodbye. This the second instance of impolite departures in this episode. Ray and the old man land painfully next to Winston, who needs to read faster.

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It’s Egon’s turn to witness some clues now, and the jezebel has been murdered. She lies dead in her bed, having been poisoned by some cyanide in her glass of milk. The cad sits at her side, bawling hysterically (you can tell it’s Maurice LaMarche doing the voice here, as his cries sound a lot like Egon whenever he’s in anguish) and her doctor tries to comfort him, ensuring that the poison worked fast and that her death was swift. The cad thinks the beefcake committed the horrible deed, plus he’s got terrible indigestion from all this grief. Egon offers him the nearby glass of milk, which the doctor rapidly smacks out of his hand, yelling that it’s poisoned! The poisoned milk spills all over the wooden floor, causing it to burn and leave a hole – I wasn’t sure cyanide could do that, but what do I know? The cad turns to Egon, accusing him of attempted murder. Egon just forgot, that’s all.

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Try to forget this, the cad threatens, producing an absolutely enormous revolver that is so big that he can’t even fire the thing without standing on the butt to try and get the balance right and aim it at Egon’s face. This is absolutely bonkers imagery, quite brilliant, I must say. Egon backtracks right into the hole the poison caused, which saves him from a gunshot to the head but almost kills him when he lands painfully next to Winston. Do all rooms lead to Winston? By the way, the preceding scene featured an organ soundtrack that even the characters could hear, such is the meta-textuality of this episode. Smart.

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Now it’s Peter’s turn to go sleuthing, and he arrives in the kitchen. After a cute reference to demons in the refridgerator that harks back to the first film, as well as evidence that Peter eats oranges without removing the peel, a scary and huge chef materialises and insists that Peter help peel and dice vegetables in preparation for the night’s entree, which is stew. The chef is one ugly, pig-faced beast. Still, he can pound a slab of meat like no one else, and he pounds a lot, making Peter freak out a little.

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Still, that’s nothing compared to the reappearance of the jezebel, who turns up, still dead on one of the kitchen tables. Peter rushes to her, warning her that nearby inanimate flesh is not safe from the fists of the chef, but when he touches her arm, her skin melts on contact. Not in a romantic, sensual way. In a weird way. The cad also reappears, still in floods of tears. Egon rushes into the room and squashes Peter’s ‘vegetable’, which is really a fruit, as it’s a tomato. We can forgive Egon for being in a rush though, as he was being chased by the beefcake, who has just turned up with a ROCKET LAUNCHER. Fair enough.

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The beefcake has the launcher aimed at Egon and Peter, but soon turns his attention to the screaming cad, who he thinks is the jezebel’s murderer. Hilariously, the cad is still crying his eyes out, seemingly oblivious to the launcher that’s practically in his face. However, his incoherent mumblings turn out to be the quite reasonable ‘please take this gun off my head!’, which Peter insists is terrible dialogue, and how did Grisley (groan) get paid for writing this stuff? No one said life was fair, Egon says. Ray and Kingsworth show up and we have quite a busy kitchen at this stage. Anything could happen. The cad takes this opportunity to kick the beefcake hard in the shin, causing him to hurl the rocket launcher in agony, which blows a hole in the wall when it lands, a hole that lets us peek into Winston’s room. All roads lead here, remember. We take a little time out from all this madness so that Peter can garnish Winston with refreshments to help fuel his progress through the mystery. However, he’d better speed up quick as the pig-chef has started exclaiming loudly about how the jezebel used to love his food more than anything. She ate like a horse, apparently. He’s just made a new cake here in the kitchen, but if she can’t eat any more food, no one can! This is where he produces a classic pudding bomb and adds it as the final ingredient in the cake.

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Kingsworth hides in one of the utensil cabinets, the coward. The guys try to defuse the bomb, but as it’s a spectral bomb, there’s a chance that it might not blow up. But there’s a chance that it might. But there’s a chance that it might not. But there’s a chance that– ENOUGH! Peter insists on interrupting this banter between Egon and Ray isn’t going anywhere. Peter takes a finger of cake and doesn’t like the taste. In fact, food gets a bad deal in this episode – slimy pizza, poisoned milk, underwhelming cake and apparently the cad’s goose liver cracker spread is ‘depressing’ according to the beefcake. Depressing, the cad says? ‘Then weep, you fool!’ he offers, starting a food fight, which seems utterly inappropriate at this stage. As Peter says, an explosion would probably go unnoticed. Never mind, Winston’s solved the mystery.

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It was the doctor. The jezebel refused to pay his bills, which stocked up after her constant disagreements with all the gourmet food. Plus she made fun of his car. I can see why the doctor would be wound up at that. It’s the right answer too, as the ghosts express satisfaction at the result and are happy that they can rest, which they do, disappearing. This is when we see Agatha Grisley (groan) for the first time, floating above them, wearing the old man’s coat and expressing happiness that Winston has solved the case. She and the bomb (which she does admit was a melodramatic touch) disappears, but the final page turns up, complete with a dedication to our guys.

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Nothing’s changed though – Peter, Egon and Ray are still rubbish at solving TV mysteries back at HQ, but at least they’ve given themselves more of a chance having bound and gagged Winston so that he can’t spoil anything for them. Winston looks genuinely upset and frustrated. He deserves it, frankly.

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The Real Ghostbusters Episode 29: Beneath These Streets (1986)

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Oooh, I’ve been looking forward to writing about this one. I think this may be the episode I’ve watched the most. I don’t think it’s the absolute best ever (of all the ones I’ve reviewed so far, ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ is still the greatest) but there’s something very, very special about this one. God, I love it so.  As I’ve mentioned before, in the UK The Real Ghostbusters was shown sometimes during the week and sometimes on Saturday mornings on ITV, the latter screenings forming part of the channel’s live entertainment extravaganzas – three-hour long shows like Ghost Train and Motormouth, which mixed live entertainment with famous guests, competitions and whatnot. The big annoyance about the cartoons on these Saturday morning shows was that they were never screened at exactly the same time every week, so you had to watch the whole blinking show just to get to a particular thing you liked. And I don’t remember really taking a liking to Nobby the Sheep, so sometimes this whole Ghostbusters addiction had its drawbacks.

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On one particular Saturday morning, I realised that The Real Ghostbusters was on, and no doubt quickly scrambled for a blank tape to record it on – as mentioned in my ‘Slimer, Come Home’ review, these morning shows would split the episode into two halves, and I can remember that my long-gone recorded copy of ‘Beneath These Streets’ started just before Motormouth or whatever cut it in half. Oddly enough, their break occurred not at the episode’s actual ad break (which is later than usual, around 12-13 mins in) but closer to the literal halfway mark, which for this particular episode still worked as a kind of cliffhanger, right at the point where our intrepid Ray seals the manhole cover over his head as he begins his venture into the sewers alone. My taped copy, which included that last pre-break scene and all of the second half, was replayed to death, followed quickly by my own cherished copy of The Real Ghostbusters Vol. 4, a two-episode VHS which also included ‘Night Game’, a terrific tale to be sure, but it was ‘Beneath These Streets’ that was the real keeper. Why?

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Well, as you might imagine from the title, this episode concentrates on the world below New York. The underground – in many forms, was curiously fascinating to me as a child. It’s all about the fact that it’s subterranean, spooky, far away from the safety and security of daylight. I would get a nervous/excited chill whenever journeying on the London Underground. In popular culture, the basement, the subway, the sewers, the catacombs are always areas of mystery and/or danger. Think of the dungeons and pits of the Indiana Jones films, or the sewer scenes in the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Yet there’s something intrinsically exciting and adventurous about the prospect of journeying beneath these streets to see what hidden places and treasures you might find. The creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I think had the same inkling when they decided to make the sewers the actual home of their heroes. I mean those guys really went the distance and actually domesticated the underground, with sofas, TVs, dinner tables and beds, the whole lot. The sewers were a sanctuary in TMNT, whereas in The Real Ghostbusters, the underground was definitely a place of mystery and often danger – ‘Knock, Knock’ has the apocalypse stem from it, while previous episode ‘Ghost Busted’ used it as the secret lair of the bad guys. You’ll see the subway and the sewers used for memorable moments in later episodes like ‘They Call Me MISTER Slimer’ and ‘The Collect Call of Cthulu’ but my favourite underground scenes occur during ‘Beneath These Streets’, a tale crammed with atmosphere, great underground design and imaginative mythology.

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The myth in question is The Pillar of New York, which is wholly responsible for ensuring that Manhattan Island stays level atop it. If this one single pillar would break, the island would sink. It’s a scary thought, and we later find out in this episode that the ghosts are blocking the release of a subterranean lubricant that helps keep the pillar revolving. This lubricant, which Peter later likens to ‘apricot baby food’, is finding new places to venture – in the quietly atmospheric opening sequence, a train rapidly advances towards the camera and then speeds past us, after which a portion of the track bursts open and the orange goo forebodingly crawls out and up towards the surface. For the second episode in a row, there’s a serious ghost drought going on, but rather than worry about their debts like they did last time, the guys are too busy trying to work out just why there’s a distinct lack of paranormal activity. Could it be to do with the intense heatwave currently gripping the city? Ray, right from the off, is clearly this episode’s curious party, which is another weird link to the other episode on my old Vol. 4 tape – in ‘Night Game’, it was Winston who wouldn’t let the mystery go while everyone else wanted to go to bed. This time however, it’s Ray who’s doing all the homework, working out that the hot spell seems to be only affecting Manhattan. Egon’s too busy with his latest experiment, involving wearing a dressing gown that will trap the cool air and keep the hot air out. Despite Winston quite rightfully pointing out that there is no cool air, Egon falls asleep pretty quickly and comfortably. In fact, he doesn’t even notice the mini-earthquake that happens shortly afterwards.

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Peter decides to cool off with a shower, but the plumbing’s clearly gone to pot as within seconds the bathroom is flooded with an excess of spraying water – poor Peter ends up revolving rapidly on a phantom toilet, smothered with bog roll and almost drowning before Ray saves him. Of course, Ray being Ray, he’s thrilled at the potential of ‘water ghosts’. Winston does the sensible thing and fixes the plumbing, while Egon notices the heavy amount of spectral activity present. By the way, pools of water definitely do not usually form on the ceiling. Not on this planet anyway. Ray figures that all the ghosts are hiding in the sewers and that they should investigate immediately, but Peter’s having none of it. Lurking around in the underground, this late at night? Mama Venkman didn’t raise no fools.

Right?

Cut to the sewers, where Winston’s ‘say fool?’ shoot-down to a distinctly humbled Peter is just glorious.

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Unlike the cosy sanctity of the Ninja Turtles lair, the sewers in RGB land are no less sweltering than up above, and it smells like a cat box too. Nice. Yeah, about the heat – isn’t it supposed to be cooler in the sewers, Winston asks? Egon confirms that it should be, but ‘due to an inversion caused by an ectological cross-rip, certain elemental inbalances have asserted themselves’. That’s right, Egon doesn’t have a blinkin’ clue why this is happening. Ray, still in full enthusiastic mode, takes the opportunity to regale the others with his knowledge of the Pillar of New York, but not before Peter throws in a sarcastic reference to Johnny Carson’s ‘Carnac the Magnificent’, who was a great mystic who knew all the unknown answers to all the unanswerable questions. Ray tells his campfire story, but before anyone can pick the holes in his logic, another earthquake starts to rumble, causing some of that orange gel to seep forth from a crack in the walls. Egon’s fascinated, considering the stuff to be ‘an ethereal spring bubbling from the Earth’s core’. Peter prefers the more mundane ‘apricot baby food’ comparison (Winston: ‘that’s a BIG baby’), but the tremors really start to kick in and panic rises (‘we’re underground…in an EARTHQUAKE!’ Peter quite reasonably quivers). The guys make a run for it, but one badly judged corner leads to Peter sliding downwards into the unknown, landing in a secret water pit. Covered in slime, Peter simply screams ‘I HATE this place!’ I wonder how the Turtles would take to this setting? No TV, no pizzas… but plenty of ghosts.

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That’s right, Peter hears a mumbling in the distance. Peeking through a tunnel entrance, he witnesses dozens upon dozens of ghosts listlessly trudging through the dirty water, one of whom marks the first instance of explicit nudity in this series. Seriously, you can see its arse!

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Peter’s stunned silence is interrupted by Ray, who appears to have got down to this secret pit room without making half as much fuss as Peter did. Ray’s enthusiasm-o-meter is still pushing 11 – he wants to blast them right there and then, but Peter says, for safety’s sake, that there’s too many, and that no one is actually paying them for this gig. Ray, bless him, just wants to do the right thing and trap the ghosts, but Peter puts his foot down. It’s too bloody late, anyway. And these occasional tidal waves of sewage water isn’t helping his mood. Meanwhile, Winston and Egon are still conducting research. We hear Peter’s ‘anguished scream’ in the distance, which Winston says he would recognise anywhere, which makes you wonder how often Peter is in pain. Egon however, is too busy looking maniacally deranged as he takes a sample of the orange goo in a jar, which results in the jar melting. Plastic, eh? Should have tried a glass jar, Winston jadedly comments. That was glass, Egon responds. Eat that, Winston.

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Ray and Peter have emerged up above, but Ray won’t let it go, so Peter bursts out with one of his most impassioned statements ever – ‘we can’t just go busting every ghost in town just because they’re there!’ Ray stands tall in the face of such cynicism – ‘but wouldn’t it be fun to try?’, he offers, bless him! Egon and Winston bring up some traps, which are the only way to transport the orange goo without melting their poor hands into mush. Egon hopes to analyse the findings – maybe they’ll get an answer in the morning. So here we are, back where we were at the start of the episode – bed time. Egon falls asleep instantly, and I love Peter’s simple but effective ‘I’m with him’, before he himself nods off. Winston’s ready to give up the ghost but Ray just won’t let it lie, leading to an exasperated ‘we’re supposed to go to sleep before the sun comes up, didn’t your mama ever tell you that?’ outburst from Winston. Ray’s obsessed though. None of this adds up.

We should go back there.

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That’s when Ray opens the door to leave his bedroom only to discover loads of orange goo! Most people would recoil in shock, but no, we get a ‘this is fantastic!’ exclamation from our most lovable ghostbuster. Now we come to the bit where I started taping the episode, having finally found a blank cassette that Saturday morning years and years ago. Ray has clearly set out to venture into the sewers without the others, but at least he’s brought Slimer for company, who can only bribed into going into the stinky unknown with the promise of some chicken. All he needed was the proper motivation. This is where my old screening stopped for more Motormouth/Ghost Train action and I stopped my recording, waiting impatiently for the second half. Now in the actual episode, the official ad break hasn’t happened yet. A minute or so to go before that.

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We follow Ray as he wanders further and further into the creepy underworld, armed with his proton pack and torchlight. The animation here is great – we really get a sense of how claustrophobic, dank and dark it is down there. Slimer is terrified. Ray outright calls him a coward, which is fair enough. There’s obviously ghosts down here, but can Slimer be killed by them? Admittedly, there was one episode where he was almost immersed within a big bad phantom, but apart from that, it seems he’s pretty safe from any real danger. Nevertheless, he’s very scared at the moment, and it seems the sewer knows it – there’s a hilarious bit where the spud floats out of a pipe tunnel only to be blasted a little further out by a gust of steam.

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Ray and Slimer then stop to take stock of their surroundings on a small balcony overlooking a deep drop, and this is when the ground beneath them completely collapses!

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This is when the episode really kicks into high gear. Ray falls down, down, down, into the water below, where he keeps sinking, struggling for air until he notices a massive plug at the bed of the water. His surprised reaction, mixed with the water, sounds awfully like Slimer’s voice. The real Slimer meanwhile, is circling the water above him, yelling for Ray, who swims to the surface, still enthusiastic, still thrilled, explaining all about the plug… but what’s this?

Ghosts.

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Lots and lots of ghosts, and this is one episode where minor-league ghosts, so often just an hor’s d’oeuvre in anticipation of the story’s bigger, meaner villain, actually come across as genuinely threatening. Loads of them circle Ray, almost helpless down here, were it not for his proton pack, who tries to blast them away, but it’s all in vain. He beckons Slimer to leave and bring back help, and the shot of Slimer flying away up into the swirl of sewage pipes, is great, helped no end by the excellent use of music. This is a terrific sequence, one of my favourite ever in any episode, and it only gets better as Ray does the utterly insane but actually only logical thing and go back under the water, where he swims towards the plug, blasts it open and, in an absolutely fantastic image, finds himself lost in a swirling vortex as he spins further and further down, whirlpool-style. His bubbly Slimer voice fades into nothing, and we fade to black. This is the real ad-break, and as cliffhangers go, this is one of the absolute best in the entire series. Where the hell is Ray going to end up?

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We fade back in and it’s daytime. Everything up above appears to be as normal, if you ignore the drain pipe that bursts due to all that orange goo inside. Janine is arriving at HQ for a new day at work, with food for Slimer, only she turns up to discover no one is there. Slimer does actually turn up right there and then, more panicked than we’ve ever seen him. He’s desperately trying to tell Janine what the emergency is, but she’s too distracted by his stink. He babbles and babbles incoherently, shows Janine Ray’s photo (to which she curtly demands ‘give me that’ – don’t know why I love this bit, it’s just so matter of fact, I suppose), coughs up the Ecto-1’s number plate and then screams the scream of the undead in order to get her to understand, which she does eventually, even if poor Slimer looks as though as he’s about to die all over again. His rapid nod in the midst of his exhaustion is funny though. You see, even Slimer is good value here, this is how great this episode is!

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Janine hurries upstairs and peeks through her fingers in the guys bedroom doorway, blindly asking if ‘everybody’s decent?’, which is a wonderful moment. I can’t think of any other kids TV shows that would throw in a bit like that. That’s why this show still stands up for people like me looking back on it. Given the previous late night, no one’s in the mood to wake up. Egon mumbles some apology to his mum about burning down the garage. Winston’s totally out of it. As for Peter, we see that he has some very, very unconventional sleeping practices – in this instance, he’s sleeping on his knees with his arse stuck out, perfect for Janine to give it a proper, and I mean PROPER good slap. Peter yelps in shock, and he demands an explanation. Janine lays down the facts. What’s more, if he’s not downstairs in record time, then he’s fired. Given that this is a woman who doesn’t make idle threats, it’s obvious that Peter better not muck about.

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Downstairs, Egon confirms that the orange goo is a lubricant (‘axle grease’, as Winston explains to a dumbfounded Peter) and with Ray being down there with the stuff, they need to rescue him. Janine feels the need to apologise to Peter after her intense threat, but he’s cool with it, if only for the reason that he and the others need to borrow her car given that Ray has the Ecto-1. Ray meanwhile, has woken up where that plughole led him, and he’s at the bottom of an even bigger pit. Amazingly, Ray’s still kind of buzzed about his adventure/predicament and notices a tunnel leading to possibly even more thrills, but a scary tremor puts him in his place.

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By the way, Ecto-1 remains right where it was left, in the middle of the road somewhere in the city, which did feel like an odd place to leave it earlier. As Peter says, Ray pays the ticket on this one. All around them, the tremors are getting stronger (say goodbye to that fire hydrant) and some quakes have already left some craters in the road, which Winston expertly avoids, though his ‘nice driving, huh?’ boast was only ever going to lead them collapsing in a newly-minted pit. Well, at least he got them underground, Winston says. Good point.

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Ray has decided to investigate into that tunnel, and he’s led directly into the room where the one and only Pillar of New York resides! The room itself looks like one of Hell’s waiting rooms, bathed in sickly orange light, whilst the pillar itself looks in dire need of greasing up. It appears to have some kind of hieroglyphics written on it, but what it means is lost to me. In one weird shot Ray walks to what we later discover is the blockage that’s preventing the goo from getting to the pillar, and his legs look really long, longer than usual. Just looks odd, that’s all.

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Ray susses that the pillar is a gyroscope that keeps Manhattan Island level, but in the midst of his joy of discovery, he’s failed to notice all those mean, evil ghosts appearing behind him. When he turns around there’s already loads there, and all he can do is blast at them.

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The guys meanwhile are on their way, only temporarily distracted by some overhead spectres, who conveniently lead them on the way to the pillar, but they have to negotiate the room where the platform that Ray was standing on fell apart. Don’t forget, what once was a huge pool of water has now drained thanks to the newly blasted plughole. Winston abseils to the bottom, ignoring Peter’s warning that the rocks at the bottom look slippery and slides his way down the plughole and almost breaking his back as he’s jolted still by his rope high above the bottom of the room below. Even Winston has to take stock of the impressive scale of his surroundings, but the sound of proton blasts coming from the next room snaps him back into focus.

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The guys will have to hurry, because Ray’s proton pack power has run out and he finds himself in a situation that, quite rarely for the series, looks as though he’s getting ready to give up and, yes, die. He laments, quite sadly, that he never expected to go out like this, all alone, and he even closes his eyes in scared anticipation of the final kill. There’s quite a scary bit where the ghosts approach him – one of them has this morbidly dead face that looks listlessly intent on finishing poor Ray once and for all.

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Luckily, a charged proton pack lands at Ray’s feet – the guys have arrived, and it’s blasting time. The ghosts are circling the pillar, so everybody has to make sure to just hit them, which they manage to do without resorting to trapping them – they simply fly away, leaving the guys to observe the majesty of the pillar and wonder what on Earth made it. Egon even throws in a reference to Atlantis amongst his guesses, but what really needs to be done is for the blockage to be blasted open so that the pillar can be freshly lubricated. The moment when the orange goo pours out of the hole and surrounds the pillar is most satisfying.

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Even better, the guys still get paid as they stopped the earthquakes, though I’m surprised Walter Peck didn’t show up at the last minute to accuse them of starting the tremors in the first place. Janine shudders at the thought of the pillar, refusing to believe it and thankful that she lives in the Bronx. Peter doesn’t believe it either, and he was there! But the city is safe, and everything is sweet. Janine takes a moment to praise the real hero of this episode. Bless Ray, content to just sit there watching Slimer eat and burp his way into episode fade-out. A fantastic episode this, one of the most rewatchable, not to mention one of the funniest and most atmospheric.

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PS: What’s with the image on the side of the building next to the HQ at the start of the episode. Is that Freddy Kreuger?

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The Real Ghostbusters Episode 28: Ghost Busted (1986)

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Okay, don’t shout at me. Don’t sue. Seriously, I did not write this episode. I had nothing to do with it. Don’t blame me if an episode of The Real Ghostbusters didn’t have any bloomin’ ghosts in it! Yep, in a move of outrageous audacity, the writers deliver an episode that features almost no spectral activity at all. I say almost because there’s a teeny, tiny bit at the end that does involve a ghost. Obviously Slimer is present in some scenes. Aside from that, this is as gritty and realistic as an episode of NYPD Blue. Except I don’t think an episode of that particular show feature a crime lord who actually went by the name of ‘Crime Lord’. Missed opportunity, Steven Bochco, missed opportunity. So yeah, this is the episode where the Ghostbusters become the Crimebusters. It was never going to be a long-term thing, this vigilante business, but I do like episodes where we go left-field and imagine what the guys would be like doing other jobs. In fact, before they settle on their destiny as crimefighters, we get to see just how useless they are at regular 9-5 occupations, and it’s quite humbling for them it must be said.

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Before that though, we get the initial drought, the lack of ghosts. Everyone at HQ is bored. Egon’s playing with his PKE meter, Ray’s lost in his comics, Winston and Peter are playing cards. Janine and Slimer have nothing to do. There is nothing, nothing out there. Then the phone rings. In a first for the show, the screen splits up into panels like a comic book so that we can see everyone’s instantaneous, manic reaction to the ring. What follows is even more wild as we get a range of jump cut/freeze frames (some of which are hilarious – see below) as we try and make sense of the melee that ensues as everybody tries to answer the phone. Janine’s victorious and 100% determined ‘GHOSTBUSTERS!’ when she beats everyone else to the call is a triumph of voice acting. It’s all for nowt however, as the caller is merely trying to sell them some swamp land in Florida. Everybody groans. Peter understandably assumes it was his dad on the phone. Regular viewers of this show will get the joke.

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So what’s happened is that the guys have become too good at their job, and there are no ghosts left, and with no ghosts comes no money. Egon predicts they will go bankrupt in fifteen minutes time. And so the eternal ghostbusting/crimefighting/littercleaning profession dilemma is raised – when your income, your living, depends on the presence of a bad element, what do you do when you clear out the bad element? Go poor? Well, yeah, you do! Don’t be selfish about it, be the bigger person and admit that you need to move on. What do you want, more ghosts, crime, rubbish? How self-centred of you. Well, since this is the eighties, this existential/are we selfish? issue is never raised as it’s all about making muthaphukkin’ money!!!!! And since the guys are not mercenary enough to open the ecto-containment and release some minor-league ghosts just to catch them and get paid all over again, they have to consider other jobs. Peter is absolutely appalled by this notion. He gets down on his knees and everything.

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But it has to be done. The Ghostbusters have to retire.

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The animation then does that old-fashioned thing where instead of fading to black, it shrinks to the size of a circle and keeps going – in this case, all four Ghostbusters are framed in this little circle thing, just so that we can really focus on the look on their faces and the horror that’s to come.

Cue – MONTAGE!

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Yep, a montage. This is the eighties, remember. Amazingly, the guys get jobs that you think would require some extra experience outside of being a ghostbuster. At least Peter sticks with science, but as we know he ‘never studied’, he proves extremely inept at basic chemistry, almost blowing up the laboratory in his new job.

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Egon, hilariously, tries to be a car dealer, but in an example of his overlooked physical strength (don’t let the glasses and hair fool you, he is one buff dude), he tears the door off the vehicle when trying to open it.

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Janine sticks with secretarial duties, but it’s clear she’s being intensely overworked.

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Ray becomes a zoo keeper, but is almost murdered by one of the residents, so he quits.

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Winston becomes a cabbie, but his attempts to get all NY surly arouse the attention of some beefcake lorry drivers, who tip over his car.

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Slimer, meanwhile, is resorting to petty crime to maintain his food addiction – he nicks a pretzel from some poor vendor and hides between a jewellery store and its security gate to enjoy his treat. This attracts the attention of a local criminal, who becomes fascinated as to how Slimer got through the security gate. He might have some use for Slimer…. the fact that Slimer’s a ghost is pretty much not commented on. Who cares, this is the Eighties. It’s all about the…you know. Cut to the guys and Janine later on, who just happen be complaining about their situation outside the very same jewellery store where Slimer and his new employer have broken into the store (the spud has been able to move through the doors and turn off the security). Slimer, paid off in chickens, is blissfully unaware that his new friend is stealing all the shiny goodies. He then notices his old friends outside the store window and goes to scream hello, which winds up the burglar no end. The guys and Janine notice the store’s being robbed and try to stop him. The burglar does that ridiculous thing where a cartoon character runs on the spot for about ten seconds before making an actual getaway, which gives the others plenty of time to catch up a little nearer. Peter apprehends the criminal by shooting an overhead fire escape, which just happens to land safely around him, instead of crushing him to death which was a lot more likely. Job done! Actually, that’s job done AND a $10,000 reward!

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Too bad we can’t bust criminals like we bust ghosts, Janine laments.

Lightbulb.

It turns out that Ray can reconfigure the traps to handle living people instead of ghosts. Er, what? It also turns out that Egon can reconfigure the particle throwers to act as bio-electric fields. Er, what? Actually, go back a sentence – did Ray say he could trap humans? Can you imagine a human being sucked into one of those ghost traps? How’s this going to work out? Janine throws in some sarcastic remark to deflate all of this enthusiastic but wildly far-fetched ambition. It’s welcome, but it turns out that this insane plan actually will work, as the next scene proves. We join a crew of bank robbers on the run who become shocked to discover that they’re being pursued not by cops but by ghostbusters! The robbers are clearly baffled as to why they’re being targeted (‘We’re not ghosts!’/’No, but we can arrange that’ – nice death threat from Winston there) and this is where we get to see how the traps and proton beams work. The latter suspends humans just like they do with ghosts, but the trap, totally unexpectedly, forms an electric cage around them! And there’s me thinking they would be shrunk and held inside the trap. I’m an idiot.

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The Ghostbusters are re-christened/re-branded the Crimebusters, complete with new logo and everything (the logo is exactly what you’d imagine it to be) and we get another montage, this time one of the spinning newspaper kind where headline after headline details the progress of our heroes. Crime rate down by 30%? Steady on, there’ll be no criminals left! It’s all going brilliantly, Slimer’s addiction is being taken care of and Ray quite rightly posits what could go wrong?

Crimelord.

There he is, at the top of his skyscraper. Well, it might be his. He might just be renting the top floor. Anyway, he reckons that the Crimebusters have gone far enough. It’s time to take care of them once and for all.

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Act 2 begins with the guys back from taking care of the trash only to discover that Janine has gone. A quick game of charades with Slimer yields mild results, but a note left behind from Crimelord is a lot more helpful. Crimelord is the top racket boss in New York. Crimelord is clearly bad news. He’s called Crimelord, after all. I think the writers just thought ‘sod it’ when it came to naming this particular antagonist. Anyway, Winston has an idea on how to save Janine. The guys actually do that huddle and whisper thing that all great shows do. It’s difficult to work out just what his plan involves, beyond finding Janine and saving her, and the frankly preposterous method of attuning the PKE meter to ‘Janine’s bio-rhythms’ could have only come from Egon. This method makes absolutely no sense, but we’re on a roll, so who cares. We all want Janine saved as much as they do.

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It turns out Janine is being kept prisoner in an ordinary looking building that’s actually a cover for a huge subterranean pit of stairwells that lead to a disused subway train storage area. This descent into the murky underbelly of New York prefigures the underground antics of the next episode, ‘Beneath These Streets’. Janine is being held up in one of the train carriages, and it’s all going slowly, quietly, tip-toeingly smooth in the guys approach to her until Ray trips on the train tracks and lets loose a proton stream (we’ve all been there, it’s nothing to be ashamed of).

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Crimelord’s gang start firing blindly and this is probably the first time the Ghostbusters have actually been shot at with real bullets (Slimer definitely takes a few, but he can handle it), but Egon electrifies the train tracks so that they magnetise and attract the guns away from the criminals. Fair enough. Janine is saved (‘what took you so long?’ is her typically acerbic response) and she wastes no time in embracing Egon, whom she is still unapologetically in love with.

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There’s still Crimelord to deal with though, so the guys use a helicopter (not Ecto-2, so this means they own two helicopters!) to reach his lair, backed with sworn affidavits from the chief’s hoodlums that he organised Janine’s capture, but he remains supremely cocky as he has protected himself with proton-proof glass. Also, his chair elevates itself for easy access to the roof and his own helicopter to escape in.

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So back in the non-Ecto 2 we go (Ray gets the most thankless line in the episode with ‘don’t let him get away!’) and we get a ‘copter chase over the streets of New York! The show also uses one of its rarely used themes, it sounds like something out of the 1930’s. I think. It obviously sounds incredibly 1980’s, like everything here, but I can imagine Eliot Ness sashaying to this beat. Since there are no ghosts in this sequence, I guess you could call this a good old, proper action scene – Crimelord uses his guns to take out the guys’ proton cannon (‘that’s cheating!’ Winston reather childishly moans) but everything’s alright when Winston uses his own proton blaster to kill Crimelord’s rotor blades, causing the copter to land on the spike of the Chrysler building. Ouch! That could have ended up very messily, but a weary sigh from Crimelord inside the perforated copter reassures us that the only damage inflicted upon him has been to his ego.

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Unfortunately, this latest success means that there’s no crime left, so we’re right back where we started. The end.

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Oh wait, the ghosts have conveniently timed their return so that the guys don’t have to sell off their second helicopter. However, since one of the ghosts is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, I’m beginning to think that my original theory of the guys secretly releasing their captive spectres in order to create more work wasn’t that far-fetched. Wasn’t Stay Puft trapped by the guys a few episodes ago? Never mind, Janine and Slimer have replaced the sign on HQ back to the old one, and Ecto-1’s logos have changed back to normal so quickly that I assume they were stick-on rather than paint jobs. A great diversion from the show’s usual formula, Crimebusters could have been an ongoing thing, but one thing would have had to have been sorted. Some inventive bad guy names. Crimelord? Please.

Oh sorry, I never did post a picture of their logo. Here it is.

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I told you it would be exactly what you imagined it would be.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 27: Doctor, Doctor (1986)

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David Cronenberg never wrote an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, but if he did… Doctor, Doctor sees the show venture into body horror territory. You know, body horror…. for kids! In his filmed introduction for this episode on the recent DVD release, Michael J. Straczynski said that his fellow crew members regarded him to be ‘sick’ and ‘disturbed’ when he presented his ideas for this plot to them. His sickness is our salvation. The Strac can always be relied to deliver a killer episode, and this one doesn’t let us down.

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To start with, we’re on a regular bust, nothing to get too scared about – the music is of the jaunty kind to suggest that acquisition of the spectre in question will be a doddle. You do get a refreshed appreciation for just how awkward and uncomfortable trying to run with a very heavy, unlicensed nuclear accelerator on your back is. Saying that, maybe the guys got these things licensed by now. It’s been a long time since the film. The ghost that’s being pursued is an ugly, ugly thing, though one with, and I quote Egon, ‘a lot of spunk’. Never gets old, that compliment. The chase ends up in a scientific research facility, and the music gets spookier – maybe this isn’t going to be a doddle. Egon does that stupid thing in telling the others – very quietly – to remain quiet, which always ends up with someone shouting loudly, ‘WHAT?’ It turns out that this research centre stinks – please note that this is not the first episode where Straczynski has made a reference to Peter’s closet being a dungeon of bad smells. The ghost, in its attempt to get away, jumps in and out of some vats containing a mystery chemical, after which the guys blow up an even bigger container of the stuff, nuking a chunk of the building and covering themselves with said gloop. After which they bust the ghost, but get this – it was a Class 3 spectre earlier, but the trap indicates it’s now a mere Class 2. You wot?

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In a confrontation with some understandably annoyed scientists – their workplace has just been destroyed after all – Peter takes extended pleasure in telling them that their boss was the one who gave them the all-clear to go and do whatever they want in order to catch the thing. The scientists sheepishly back off, and Peter makes a point of this kind of belittling being the most fun you can have without breaking the law. Even Egon digs all of this, a little put out that it was actually his turn to do all of this. Anyway, that’s all irellevant. They’ve got to get rid of all of these sticky chemicals that they’re covered in, stuff that’s, and I quote Peter, ‘worse than Slimer’.

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It takes an extended (off-screen) shower session and several layers of skin to get rid of the stuff. Cue choice dialogue – ‘I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had’, ‘I don’t want to be touched by anyone ever again’ – as well as a reminder that Slimer was one a living specimen when Peter threatens that he will ‘die all over again’ if the spud goes anywhere near him. So what exactly was Slimer when was ‘alive’? Such a mystery is instantly put out of our mind when Egon alerts the others to the fact that his forearm is BULGING and MOVING before our very eyes! Aaaaaggh! So alarming is this image that the show does the unprecedented thing and does a cliffhangery fade-to-black, unheard of this early into the episode. The thing is, it’s such a freaky moment that there’s nothing to do but fade-out – think of the children, after all.

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Fade back in and Janine shows up at HQ only to see Slimer very freaked out at the bottom of the stairs – the guys are upstairs, and it sounds as though their condition has worsened. And how. All four are covered with an extra blobby, magenta red, gloopy layer of skin that’s taken over all of their body, except for their heads, which was probably decided upon for many reasons, some of which may include that it would have been too scary. Their hands have not been spared though, which makes the sight gag of the little tea cups next to them all the more hilarious and totally contrived. When have the guys ever drunk tea? They definitely strike me as coffee people.

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Anyway, this has got too gross and horrible for it not to be given medical attention, so it’s off to the hospital we go, where the guys do that cough thing you have to do (except for Egon, who merely speaks the word ‘cough’) and their confidence in the situation falters when it’s revealed that the doctor with the stethoscope is performing the cough test with a make-shift extended stick and hiding behind what looks like the kind of super-sized, metal riot shield the police use at uprisings. What’s worse is that Peter never sorted out the guys’ insurance – probably used the money for magic beans, I reckon.

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Confined to bed, the guys are greeted by Janine, who brings them some gifts to cheer them up. Egon foolishly assumes Janine’s brought him all of his hi-tech gear like the Ecto-Difustriton, the Spectrometer and the Plasmometer, but all he’s ended up with is chicken soup with mushrooms, which looks more like tomato soup from here. Ray’s happier with his secret stash of doughnuts, while Winston, clearly the only one of the four with a literary persuasion, is given some Melville and Dickens to read, not to mention some Alan Parsons to listen to. Get in! Peter, hilariously, gets nothing. Janine simply reveals that she’s going to let him live, if only so that he can enjoy the hospital treatment he’s due to get. Even more hilariously, Peter says ‘kiss me, you fool!’ and we would have got a scene of Janine slapping him before the episode’s real cliffhanger arrives. Ray screams, and he has his bed sheets grasped over him. What’s the problem? Promise me you won’t freak out, he says. Off comes the bed sheets. His blobby body, his stomach to be precise, has grown an eye. A big, fat, single eye. Everybody freaks out. Fade to black.

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Fade back in and it’s obvious the doctors don’t have a blinking clue as to what to do. The guys agree. So therefore, the ‘eyes’ have it. Bad joke, but if you Peter, you wouldn’t be able to resist it either. Janine wants to know what the docs have in store for her employers. The chief doc says that it should take about 5-6 years to get this sorted. He also has a total aversion to Slimer, so he has to stay out of the way. Why? Because he’s ‘gross’. The guys meanwhile have to endure lots of tests, including urinating into a jar – don’t worry, we don’t get to see this, though Egon’s attempt to pass off nearby drinking water as pee-pee is met with a stern ‘I know karate’ from the clearly annoyed nurse. The other three, fed up with what has been an endless run of injections, go bonkers and chase the doc down the corridors in their wheelchairs, shouting nautical terms and temporarily dragging the episode down a bit. Still, at least you get to see Winston brandish what must be the biggest syringe known to man.

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Ray undergoes a test which involves a blowtorch. He goes insane as a result. Time passes, and Peter has grown an ear on his stomach. Yuck.

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Egon grows a third ear on his belly. Yuck, yuck.

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Winston gets a mouth, a huge, fanged mouth! This episode is ‘orrible.

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Peter does get to enjoy scaring the hospital staff though, one of which makes a passing reference to the guys needing to be kept apart from everybody else, but really, the whole quarantine thing is pretty slackly enforced, it must be said. The guys, covered in this disgusting stuff, all of whom have sprouted extra body parts, are going about freely in their wheelchairs throughout the hospital like it’s no big deal. Egon has figured that the original chemical, which absorbed the ghost when it jumped in the vat, has been sparked into life thanks to the proton blasts, but how to get it off? Well, the solution may involve Slimer – he just happens to be hanging around when the blob that’s covering Ray’s hand flies off in an attempt to attack the green spud. The guys decide to let Slimer hang around a little longer and yep, all of their blobby exterior goes bananas trying to get near him. Thr only problem is, the blob stuff is practically suffocating the guys in an attempt to get away. This stuff’s quite freaky, but the plan works – the guys are free of their second skin! However, the runaway blob matter has come together to form a distinctly freakier, bigger, uglier version of the ghost they caught at the start of the episode, and it wants Slimer’s ecto-energy. Who wouldn’t? Chaos predictably ensues. The chief doc laments the good old days when the hospital was nice and quiet, before all the sick people showed up.

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Weakened and exhausted by their former malady, the guys struggle to get it together to save the day, but Peter insists they do so for the sake of the patients. Besides, Ray says, they’ve got to save Slimer. This makes Peter reconsider their plan of action. That’s what I love about the show, no sentiment. Actually, that’s not true, but come on, you’ve never get one of the Thundercats who’d be happy to throw Snarf to the lions would you? Actually, Snarf and some lions would probably get on, given they’re all feline. You get what I’m trying to say though. The guys tool up, paraphrase the ‘smoking!’ chemistry of the film’s ending, and chase down the blob-monster only to suss out that it can’t be trapped because it’s not really a ghost. The proton beams don’t work either because it’s already absorbed proton energy and kind of likes it. So they just do the expected thing and just blast it and blast it and blast it until the thing just EXPLODES! This explosion takes out some of the hospital too, and the guys get covered – again – in gloop, but a week’s extra stay proves they’re entirely cured. Of course there’s the hospital bills to pay, but these match up to the guys’ service charge for taking care of the blob-monster. The same blob-monster that they themselves brought into the hospital. Which they also blew up a part of. Peter tears up the hospital bill right there in front of the doc – a nice touch, Egon adds – so he’s a litterbug as well as well as a mercenary.

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I love to hate these guys sometimes.

PS: The song ‘Doctor, Doctor’ by Robert Palmer doesn’t appear in this episode.

PSS: Okay, the song’s called ‘Bad Case of Loving You’, but you get what I mean.

The Delta Force (1986)

Mediocre, overlong, it’s got Chuck Norris in it… fun theme tune though, but even that gets old fast.

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Bart Simpson: Want results? You have to go to the Schwarzeneggers, the Stallones, and to a lesser extent, the Van Dammes.”

….and to an even lesser extent, the Norrises. Now I haven’t seen all of this guy’s films, but I’ve never gone out of my way to do so. Mainly because I just don’t think he’s an interesting action hero. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Delta Force, where his flat, taciturn, one-dimensional presence barely registers, but luckily he’s surrounded by lots of other actors and a tremendous first-act. This is probably the most famous of Norris’ films – at least it seems that way in the UK, where ITV would show it on a Saturday night every couple of years or so back in the nineties. Made during Norris’ tenure at Cannon Films, this is one of the few movies made by that studio that was also directed by one of its two founders, Menahem Golan. Norris had had a relatively decent 1985 – he’d made Code of Silence (still his best film and a lean, fine thriller) and Invasion USA (still his most gloriously excessive and OTT outing) but the high-profile The Delta Force proved to be a most frustrating experience – whereas many of Norris’ previous films had been all-out, explosive patriotic escapism, this one was loosely based on the real-life hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985. Of course, the likes of Invasion USA and other films like Red Dawn and Rambo were rooted in a contemporary attitude/anxiety about the United States’ role in the world regarding defence, foreign policy and whatnot, but actually basing a film on a real-life event could potentially result in an awkward tension between the complications of reality and the rather simplistic gung-ho escapism.

For a while though, the film turns out to be very effective – the film’s first fifty or so minutes, as a AWT flight (subtle, guys) is taken over by two Palestinian terrorists (Robert Forster and David Menahem), is nail-bitingly tense in a way no other Norris film had been or would be since. Oh wait, did I say Norris? Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered, because all the best stuff takes place on the hijacked plane, and Norris isn’t on board. The plane’s passengers includes the kind of big names that make this loose reworking of a real-life event feel a little like one of the Airport sequels (George Kennedy plays a priest! Hey, it’s Joey Bishop!), but the tension is palpable, and a lot of it is to do with Forster and Menahem’s performances, which are a far cry from the outrageously EVIL likes of Richard Lynch in Invasion USA – they exude a desperate, ruthless, brutal yet surprisingly non-cartoonish threat, even Forster, an American actor who doesn’t play up to stereotypes and plays it chillingly cool. A particularly effective stretch of this sequence involves a German flight attendant (Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla) being forced to single out the Jewish passengers.

The entirety of the plane sequence can be uncomfortable viewing, especially in this post 9/11 world, but it’s very well done. However, once we’re off the plane and Chuck’s Delta Force are on their mission to retrieve the Jewish hostages and US Navy divers who remain in the captivity of the terrorists, the film changes tack entirely and becomes a big fat orgy of explosions, chases and rescues. And the overall effect is ‘meh’. The Delta Force themselves are a mass of anonymous characters – only Norris and grizzled commander Lee Marvin stand out, the former by default and the latter simply by how old he seems to be for this sort of game. The action is big but curiously unexciting – an example of the low-stakes tension is a bit where Marvin tells the pilot to take off. However, the pilot says there may not be enough runway. Marvin insists. The plane takes off. There’s no close calls, no suspense, nothing. Elsewhere, bullets fly, cars crash and motorcycles shoot out missiles but the spectacle remains uninvolving. A lot of this is to do with Norris – the man has virtually no range. True, his cold efficiency means that his McCoy makes for an excellent soldier, but it also results in him being an extraordinarily dull character. And that pretty much kills the film dead, though the pedestrian direction and workmanlike script (‘choice’ one-liner after Chuck kills a bad guy hiding underneath a bed – ‘sleep tight, sucker’) during this part of the film doesn’t help. One thing the film notable for is the memorable theme music by Alan Silvestri, who’d already composed the terrific score for Back to the Future and the same year’s Flight of the Navigator. Here though, whatever novelty the Delta Force theme music has (and it is a cheesily fun track) is completely negated by the fact that it’s used in virtually every action scene. I swear, it’s used between five and ten times, which doesn’t sound a lot, but think about it – it bloody well is. By the end I wanted to buy a copy of the soundtrack just so I could take it to the back garden and smash it to pieces.

So what starts off as a mightily effective, if exploitative, action thriller ends up being another big bang empty vessel (or cannon, ha-ha) that is far too long at over two hours and despite its legacy as one of Cannon’s (and Chuck’s) more famous films, is doomed by not maintaining the credibility of its first act and not being trashy enough to be an all-out B-movie classic like Invasion USA. Stick with it for the first fifty minutes, then leave.