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