Of all the twenty episodes available on VHS in the UK back in the eighties, ‘Don’t Forget the Motor City’ was arguably the one I cared least about. It’s a pretty insubtantial outing, though not without its occasional pleasures. Take the first scene, which is pretty hilarious, it must be said.
Peter’s out on the road in the big city, claiming without modesty that he was ‘born to ride the highway in his new car, a wild guy with some wild wheels’. The thing is, his car looks boring (despite the ‘Dr. V’ number plate) and Peter himself has never, ever looked so uncool. He has his sleeves rolled up, he’s wearing a half cap/half beret monstrosity, he’s even, I suppose ‘beatboxing’ to some unheard song (probably Tahiti, eek) … yet he has the nerve to roll his eyes over towards who I’m assuming he’s regarding as a square in the car next to him. He then tries to play it cool with the blonde in another car, and she actually seems impressed, until Peter’s horn starts to go off (hee hee) and causes a total racket – what’s this, eh? A new car with a dodgy horn that won’t stop blaring? Plus it won’t start? Peter’s flabbergasted that a brand new car that he spent ‘thousands of MILLIONS of dollars’ on is already a write-off. Back at HQ, in a fit of rage, he sees fit to call the car a vivisectionist, which is definitely the oddest insult I’ve ever heard hurled towards a vehicle.
Saying that, it’s not a car for much longer. The thing practically implodes before our very eyes. Peter is extremely angry – not just at his car, not just at his lot (he wanted that car ‘more than anything in the world’, but as Ray points out, he said the same thing the night before when the last of the ice cream was eaten) but at the ‘happy, contented, smug’ lot who are going about their business, laughing at Peter from their cars. Peter has a nervous breakdown and intends to go out and beat others up with a desk lamp – Ray tries to stop him, but to no avail. The others tackle him and bring him back to HQ to relax and do the right thing – Peter intends to call the president of Generous Motors and give him an earful down the line, but coincidentally the President calls him first, pleading with the guys to come to his place and sort out all the haunted cars that have just come off the production line. This could have made for a seriously suspenseful episode, given that there are loads and loads of cars set to explode all over the city, but instead we get some silliness with gremlins instead. The guys are asked to go to Detroit to Generous Motors HQ, and there’s something particularly melancholic about Peter’s excitement about going to the Motor City, given how badly downhill the place has gone. They even hope to meet Aretha Franklin there, but she’s only ever referred to by her ‘Queen of Soul’ title.
Arriving at the HQ in Detroit, Egon asks the cabbie if he knows where the Queen of Soul lives, to which the car drives off. Obviously this is one of those annoying questions that gets asked an awful lot round these parts. I never pegged Egon as a soul fan – we know he loves classical and opera from an earlier episode, and there’s no reason why he can’t mix and match his genres, but I just can’t see him cranking up Motown Chartbusters over the weekend. They investigate the factory, which, aside from the busy reception area, is a place that seems to be running by itself, which makes it particularly spooky. The guys and Mr. Abernathy (the president of GM) witness a car being self-assembled, but it explodes after the finishing touches have been made. Egon, after asking if it’s the employees causing the damage (fair point – even though it’s always the ghosts responsible in this series, it doesn’t hurt to assume otherwise) PKEs the place – there’s no reading as such, but there’s definitely a supernatural presence, and it’s in the cafeteria, starting a food fight. This may seem lightweight for a Ghostbusters scene, but one look at the flying drinks cans and I’m instantly reminded of a shocking scene in the Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive, a film I watched late night on Channel 4 when I was young. In that film everything electric/electronic turns evil, and sometimes the chaos is funny (a cashpoint telling some poor sap played by King himself what to do with himself) and sometimes horrific (kids getting steamrollered), but there’s one scene which combines the two. I’m talking about the scene where the baseball coach is trying to get a can of drink from a vending machine. He puts the money in and all of a sudden a can shoots out and hits the bloke right in the nuts. Needless to say I cracked up at this bit, and then another can shoots out at hits him right in the forehead, killing him instantly. All of a sudden I wasn’t laughing. Maximum Overdrive is not a good movie as I recall, but that bit was so well done it put the fear in me and then some.
So back to this episode, and even though there’s the distinctly unthreatening presence of flying sandwiches, I’m always wary of the cans during this bit. Ray’s impressed with the airborne menu, Egon’s not impressed with the carnage (‘I take this very personally’) and Peter is appalled by the stale sandwiches he tries to dodge. Interestingly, Peter’s the one who seems to be taking all of this chaos the most seriously, with Egon being the one joking around. Learning from their victory in ‘Killerwatt’, the guys work out that they need to unplug the vending machine to stop the chaos, and using a table to shield themselves, they do so! Simples! Still, something’s not right – Egon does a bit of PKE sleuthing, and yep, hiding there in the corner of the cafeteria are lots and lots of gremlins.
The factory opened during WWII (a boomtime for gremlins, apparently) for aircraft manufacture, but a particular section of the plant was shut off… until today. And by today, I mean 1986. Inside the sealed off section were gremlins, and now they’re hungry for anything mechanical. Turns out they can’t leave anything mechanical alone. Don’t remember seeing anything like that in Gremlins. Those little blighters couldn’t leave anything at all alone. Mr. Abernathy suggests they move the gremlins to another factory, but the guys are disgusted by his lack of morals. Gremlins however, aren’t ghosts, so their equipment’s not going to work so well.
A weird and foolishly dangerous plan involves putting Winston on a conveyor belt, presumably towards his death – seriously, he’s directly in the path of where the cars are put together! He tries to make the best of things by stretching out and relaxing, and even gets proper comfy when the seats are arranged and he gets to have a proper sit down– but then the gremlins bind him with the seatbelt. Winston tries to threaten the gremlins with the threat of imminent busting, but the ‘jerks’ are having none of it. What the hell exactly was the guys’ plan here? Winston arrives at the other end of the conveyor belt where the guys hope to meet him, but they find him sealed inside what looks like a demon car, a demon car which becomes demon-shaped.
The guys have to be careful (that would be a first for this episode) not kill Winston inside the car, so their plan is to drain the demon of petrol (which involves Ray siphoning the stuff the sneaky way – yuck), and it works, but Winston’s NOT HAPPY. He tries to blast them, but instead of proton beams, his particle thrower shoots out…. confetti? How did the gremlins pull that one off? Even working within the logic of this episode, this makes no sense.
Anyway, Egon and Ray put together a hideously ugly new car which remarkably changes from pea-soup green to blue in the space of a single shot. Ray thinks the car is beautiful. Egon is personally very excited about it. The reason to be excited is that it is ‘indestructible’, which really winds the nearby gremlins up to no end. The car is put out on display, spotlit and sparkling. We discover that Ray has a tuxedo the same colour as the car, which is the reason he’s such a lonely man, Peter surmises. This same gag is repeated by the gremlins a minute or so later, which I thought was overkill. The gremlins surround the car, armed with weapons of destruction, but before they get a chance to lay waste to it, Egon presses a button and it changes into another car entirely. They try and destroy that car, but it changes again! The next phase of the plan involves something inside a huge box, but the thing won’t open – it looks as though the gremlins have sabotaged whatever it was the guys were planning, or something (the logic in this episode is really flimsy) so Peter climbs up above the box, experiences vertigo and does some mad bungee jump to life the box up, revealing a huge dome, which he manages to swing towards and kick over the distracted gremlins. Fair enough. No wait a minute, not fair enough! This isn’t good writing!
With the gremlins forever occupied by the constantly changing car (and underneath the dome, they’re essentially trapped), now is the time to consider just exactly how Ray and Egon managed to create a car that manages to regenerate itself until the end of time. Like I said earlier, this makes no sense even within the logic of the Ghostbusters universe. There’s not even some kind of corny explanation as to how this was achieved. The writers don’t even bother. And that’s the end of the episode, except for a coda back at HQ where it turns out the guys did get to meet the Queen of Soul, probably in-between sessions for ‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me’ with George Michael, which was a big hit the following year. The song the guys sing to Janine (appallingly, it must be said) is of course, ‘Respect’, something I don’t have much of towards this episode, definitely the worst of the one I’ve reviewed to date.