Predator (1987)

El Demonio Que Hace Trofeos de los Hombres…
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Predator is thirty years old this year, and you know what? It’s still a remarkably entertaining, spectacularly impressive piece of work, and the first of two films from director John McTiernan that catapulted him to the very top of the action genre. Die Hard is arguably the more accomplished of the two, but Predator is no mere warm-up. What’s particularly great about it is just how stunningly well made it is – compared to Arnie’s other films of this era like Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man and Red Heat –  Predator stands out in the way it showcases a director with an expert handling of action, suspense, atmosphere and intensity. As much as I love Commando and The Running Man, their direction is merely solid, whereas McTiernan is clearly a filmmaker of exceptional skill and confidence.
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Just like Die Hard, it has an dazzling attention to craft. Rare is the Arnie film where you can sit back and truly admire how it is mad. Its humid, oppressive South American jungle setting is utilised to remarkable effect – you really feel like there in the bush, with no escape. The camera moves in and around this world and you’re totally immersed. The cinematography, lighting and sound design is first-rate. Also, there’s a claustrophobic, intense and very memorable, all-encompassing score by Alan Silvestri that is loaded with killer hooks.
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The plot is utterly straightforward: bad-ass Major ‘Dutch’ (Schwarzenegger) and his squadron of soldiers – all-round nice guy and explosives expert ‘Poncho’ (Richard Chaves), intense, razor-happy medic Mac (Bill Duke), stoic navigator Billy (Sonny Landham), behemoth gunner and self-proclaimed ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ Blain (Jesse Ventura) and resident joker and communications operator Hawkins (Shane Black) – are sent by untrustworthy colonel Dillon (Carl Fuckin’ Weathers) to the jungle of what (outside of the film) is revealed to be the fictional South American country of Val Verde (as also depicted in Commando and Die Hard 2) to rescue a cabinet minister being held hostage by bad (read that as non-Americans) guys. Once the (failed) rescue is over and Dillon is revealed to have set Dutch’s team up on what could have been a suicide mission, the soldiers – plus Anna, a hostage from the raid – soon find themselves the target of an alien predator who appears to picking them off one at a time for sport and who can also camouflage itself within the trees. Totally outclassed by the Predator, the team are swiftly dispatched until only Dutch remains, culminating in a battle between human and alien…
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Of course, if you’re reading this review, the odds are you already know the plot, making the previous paragraph a complete waste of time, but I loved summarising the story and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Let’s move on, shall we?
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Strangely, despite being what you could reasonably argue is the archetypal Schwarzenegger movie, Predator is a unique entry in the man’s classic era. Rare is the Arnie film where he is part of a team – admittedly, it’s a team that’s wiped out by the end, but he doesn’t stand head and shoulders ahead of everybody else. For the most part he’s one of the guys, even if he is in charge. His musclebound presence is more than matched by most of his colleagues. Also, this is the only film of his, barring Terminator 2, where his adversary poses a serious, lethal challenge. The final act of Predator is a fight to the death, and unlike the no-contest finales of Commando, Raw Deal, Total Recall, etc, you actually fear for his character’s life instead of curiously worrying about the bad guys. Also, has any Arnie film ended with him looking so beaten down and forlorn?
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Predator eschews the traditional Arnie finale, which even at this early stage was becoming recognisable. You know, tool up, kill every motherfucker in the room, that sort of thing. In fact, you could argue that the typical shoot-em-up set-piece that would normally close every other Arnie film takes place a mere twenty or so minutes into Predator. The ambush set-piece, where Dutch and the guys lay waste to some cannon fodder in guiltily spectacular fashion could plausibly be the culmination of any other Arnie film. After that we enter new, unexplored territory. The first act of Predator, discovery of skinned bodies and quick Predator POV shots aside, plays out as a straight-up action movie. After that, the science-fiction and horror elements creep in. We’re not in Kansas anymore. This is new territory. Okay, if you take the film apart, you’ll recognise elements of Alien and Aliens, not to mention the plethora of post-Vietnam action films like Missing in Action and Rambo: First Blood, Part II, but really, it’s difficult to see the joins.
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For me, Predator was one of the first films that acted as an in-road to the horror genre, which I would have been too scared to approach at my early age back in the early nineties. Yes, it’s an Arnie film, yes it has enough firepower to level a small planet and yes, the machismo is through the roof, but when the second act kicks in, it’s essentially a slasher film with bells on. The Predator heat-vision POV material is straight out of the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th – but by playing around this gimmick, by making the Predator’s vision an essential part of his character and something that can not only be used to its advantage but also to its detriment (see the brilliant “he couldn’t see me” scene), you end up with a truly novel spin on a horror staple that by the late eighties, had become very, very old indeed. True, the whole heat-vision element wasn’t entirely original – you can spot it in embryonic form in Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 horror Wolfen – but Predator ran with it and made it truly iconic.
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The violence is also rooted in the horror genre – we’re talking gore here, people. It still packs a punch – it knows when to show stuff and when not to. Some of the worst stuff is left to our imagination, some of it isn’t. Also, the Predator’s M.O is hinted at but not really explored – later films in the canon would tell us more, but ultimately it was all unnecessary. The original Predator is still the best because it pretty much tells us all we need to know, and frankly, it makes his rituals and methods all the scarier. The special effects – cute electrical malfunctioning glitches and one ropey ‘camouflage’ shot just before Hawkins is murdered aside – are still amazing, and Stan Winston’s design for the Predator is, hands down, the best monster the cinema has ever seen. The film brilliantly teases us with quick hints as to just what exactly this creature is – a brief shot here, a camouflaged outline there, a shot of a hand, a trail of blood, and even when we’re very late into the film, it’s still wearing a mask. When that mask comes off…. wow. I mean, what can you say? I mean, you can say ‘ugly motherfucker’ if you so wish, but the design on that face is frankly extraordinary. Utterly repulsive, utterly fascinating and with a grotesquely dazzling attention to detail. I totally believe that I’m looking at an alien, and Kevin Peter Hall’s physical performance adds a hell of a lot too. He also played Harry in the same year’s Bigfoot and the Hendersons (or Harry and the Hendersons outside of the UK).
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The action is also tremendously visceral. The film has an arsenal and knows how to use it. The raid on the enemy soldiers is just kill, kill, KILL. Who were those bad guys? It doesn’t matter, they’re bad guys. Just kill them. Shamefully, this scene is utterly thrilling, and we all get off on those shots of evil bastards getting shot up or blown up or stabbed up or whatnot. There’s also the ‘stick around’ dispatching, which, thanks to Dutch’s outright glee during this moment, remains one of Arnie’s most hilarious one-liners. The bit where Mac begins what ends up being a outright destruction of a small section of jungle is outrageously executed. Scenes of preparation and booby-trap setting are gripping (if ultimately hopeless – these guys don’t stand a chance), and the Predator’s kills are still sudden, gruesome and full of impact. One extraordinary bit follows the brief moment of quiet following Billy’s death, when Poncho is suddenly killed (notable for being the only death in the film with virtually no build-up or warning), Anna goes for the nearest gun, Dutch kicks it away and lets rip with a fucking ENORMOUS onslaught of firepower, yelling as he does so, Silvestri’s score banging away and I, the viewer, gripped, pumped and breathless.
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 Ah yes, the score. Continuing to move on from the synthesised joys of his Delta Force and Flight of the Navigator soundtracks, Silvestri proves to be a master of the orchestrated score, rivalling the splendour of his Back to the Future work and delivering a pounding, militaristic, (surprisingly) sad, chilling and outright frightening array of timeless themes. One of my favourite moments of sound and vision in this film is the camouflage scene. When Dutch thinks he’s found some rest time, after having survived two death-defying drops and a brief but intense swim, the Predator suddenly lands in the river behind him… he crawls up through the mud and awaits what looks like certain doom, but thanks to the Predator’s compromised heat vision being unable to detect Dutch through all that mud, he moves on and walks away. This for me is one of the most gripping moments in the film – true, the script spells it out a bit too clearly with Dutch’s ‘he couldn’t see me!’, a line that I’m surprised the Predator didn’t hear and swiftly react to – but the direction, chilling score and that eerie slow-motion shot of the Predator walking away (don’t know why, but it used to freak me out!) makes it, more than any other moment in Schwarzenegger’s films, a scene where I genuinely feared for his character’s life. 
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As for the characters, well they’re two-dimensional for sure, but they’re vividly portrayed and acted with gusto – we all have our favourite Predator character, who’s yours? Dutch is the obvious choice, but what about the jokey, doomed Hawkins? The bad motherfucker (but ultimately doomed) Blain? The ever-so-slightly-crazy but strangely sad-eyed (and doomed) Mac? The no-nonsense, doomed Everyman Poncho? The sixth-sense blessed but ultimately crazy and ultimately doomed Billy? The cynical and bastardly but nevertheless he-was-still-Apollo Creed (and just as doomed) Dillon? Or how about the utterly non-doomed Anna? Mine was Mac. I loved Mac. I felt awful for him. His death always seemed the cruellest. He never stood a chance did he? And he never did have him some fun tonight, did he? Poor sod.
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Ultimately, Predator is one of the most purely enjoyable, thrilling genre films of the 1980s – it’s a precision-tooled, perfectly executed and still outstanding experience – its ubiquity (how many times has it been on TV now?) hasn’t dulled its edges. Watching it on a big screen for its 30th anniversary was like seeing it for the first time all over again, and given that I’ve watched it three thousand times already, that made for quite an evening of entertainment.
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PS: The end credits are a wonderful/hilarious montage of the main players, all of them smiling and/or laughing, as if almost to reassure the viewer, that they’re not really dead, that everything is okay. The one of Sonny Landham as Billy is amazing.
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PSS: A few years back, my good friend Mark and I recorded a commentary to listen to whilst watching the film. You can listen to it/download for free by clicking on the relevant link to the right!
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The Real Ghostbusters Episode 37: You Can’t Take it With You

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Ah, now this is more like it! I have a very, very special fondness for this one as it was one of the episodes featured in my wonderful and much-cherished copy of The Real Ghostbusters sticker album that I from the late eighties. The stickers for this episode just looked so spectacular (apart from the double-one of Ray and Egon in front of the Containment Unit – that was just okay). That’s not the only reason I love this episode, because for the first time since ‘Ragnarok and Roll’ we actually get an episode with some genuine peril and excitement. You know it’s serious, because Egon’s PKE meter stops working. That’s always bad. It also looks great (foreboding purple skies are a speciality here) and has a pretty cool plot hook. The title kinda gives away the ending, but come on, we never really thought the bad guy would actually win, did we?

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To begin with, an immense ecto-surge in the city (emanating from one of the local, suspiciously evil looking skyscrapers– remember, there was another one in ‘Ragnarok’) causes the Containment Unit’s alarm bells to go ringing in the middle of the night. Peter doesn’t seem to care – no ghosts have escaped from the unit, so what’s the problem? Egon and Ray rightly know that a non-corporeal rupture of this magnitude is too big a deal to ignore, so it’s time to investigate the cause. And the cause is –

Charles Montgomery Burns.

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Okay, his name in this episode is Mr. Tummel, but he is essentially a proto-Burnsie. He’s so greedy and obsessed with his money that he has no intention of giving it up even when he dies. He’s going to literally transport his cash and gold to the ghost world when he himself pops his clogs. I’m not even sure Burns has ever tried to pull off a move like that, even in a Halloween special.

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And just like Burns, Tummel doesn’t care about the adverse effects his plan will have on the environment either, firing his assistant when he dares bring up the subject. He scoffs at morality, contracts, the law, the Easter Bunny… wow, this IS Mr. Burns, isn’t it? He doesn’t have any hounds to release though, just a couple of musclebound guards to take out the trash. Unfortunately, by opening the door to the ghost world, Tummel has let loads of swirly-whirly spectres into the physical world. Not that Tummel’s bothered. His chair comes equipped with ‘ecto-shield’ and proton beam! God only knows how he managed to get all this put together, but it looks damned good. I mean, the interiors of his skyscraper are bloomin’ enormous. He has a flippin’ pyramid inside there!

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The guys enter the building (and in one fancy move, each of them walk into a room using a different door for no other reason than it looking cool), but it’s swarming with ghosts, who for some reason in this episode, leave a cobwebby (but definitely not actual cobweb) residue after they’ve been zapped. This isn’t explained because Peter does one of his standard interruptions on Egon. And the standard reason for his interruption is – who’s paying them for this job? He had the same issue in ‘Beneath These Streets’ if you’ll remember. His preferred plan is to wait until the public call in for them, and then they can get some sweet cash. Of course, time is of the essence, especially since Egon reckons that because of the ghosts’ fragile molecular structure, they could break up into separate, new ghosts, and so on. It’ll only take 15 hours or so for the world to be governed by chaos and what not, so forget the money. Unfortunately, despite racing against the clock, the lifts are not an option, because they look like this:

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How are they going to get to the top? The stairs? Did you see how tall this skyscraper is?Ray has an idea though. Let’s use a helicopter! The one they use isn’t Ecto-2 – maybe it hasn’t been replaced yet? Bit odd that Peter is surprised that Ray can fly one of these things. Er, they used to own one! Let’s forgo how they actually suddenly acquired this helicopter, and besides, it’s not very effective as it gets caught up in a storm and almost kills them.

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Luckily, one act break later, they land on the roof and then abseil down to an easy access point. Well, I say easy – when they smash through the windows, Egon ends up putting his foot right into a TV screen! Amazingly, he wriggles loose from it without rupturing any arteries or getting so much as a scratch.

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Peter has the right idea. He just picks the lock of the roof door (with a nail file – I love that Peter owns one) and walks downstairs. Here we get to have a peek at Tummel’s taste in art, which is very old and very gold. The guys find some of Tummel’s staff, who are utterly terrified at being taken over to the ghost world and being used as slaves. As Peter says, why be rich if you haven’t got a few poor people to push around?

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Arriving at Tummel’s lab (Egon is temporarily blindsided by all the fancy gear and insists on re-negotiating the research budget when they get back home), the guys are greeted by ‘Mr. Moneybags’ with a barrage of deadly lasers (cue one of the series’ rarely used action themes) and we get a rare totally non-supernatural set-piece. Egon reckons the only way for them to win is for Tummel to overload the amount of energy going into his scheme, thereby causing it to crash. Peter has the smart idea of tricking the old man into trying to convert the whole building into the ghost world. After all, where’s he going to live once he crosses over? Clever scheme, and it works – Tummel goes crazy mad with laughter and screams about taking ‘everything… EVERYTHING!!!’ and Egon just hopes that the overload will cause a power failure and not a huge explosion. Peter looks like he’s going to throttle Egon when he realises the stupid risk they’ve just taken. Egon, for all his smarts, does take some of the most insane chances in this series. He only just did such a thing at the end of the previous episode, which I’m sure you’ve already forgotten by now because it wasn’t very good.

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In the midst of all the laser madness, Tummel’s wheelchair gets blasted and the silly fool ends up being hurtled into the gateway to the ghost world. Meanwhile there’s far too much energy going about and the systems are overloaded and can’t be turned off. Computerised death – don’t you just love progress, Peter asks? Egon agrees before running off to the gateway, opening a trap (which he hopes will jam the signal from our world to the next as well as pulling all the released ghosts back home) and then muttering something utterly incoherent that sounds something like Popeye’s own ramblings.

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Winston saves him from getting crushed by a random piece of falling architecture and everyone runs out of the room, with Ray reassuring Peter that the five bucks he owes him can be waived if this plan goes south, which it doesn’t, though Egon is so impressed with all the ghosts returning home that he forgets the building’s due to go the same way. Cue a reference to Heisenberg a long, long, long time before Breaking Bad made this sort of thing cool and a sharpish exit via helicopter. Very sharpish in fact, as Egon and Peter are forced to hang off the side of the chopper and do so without complaint or fear (odd given Peter’s clear freakout earlier over the thought of abseiling). The gateway tries to ensare the guys, but Winston throws his proton pack out of the helicopter to shut it the hell up.

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They escape, but not before seeing a maniacal Tummel fly up and out of this world, just before the building itself is spectacularly transported over to the other side. A very bumpy landing follows – miraculously Peter and Egon (they’re still hanging on to the side, remember) are not hurt.

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Just like the title of this episode insisted, all of Tummel’s time and effort was for absolute nowt, as his loot just ends up crashing back down to Earth. Peter’s the first to discover this when a bundle of notes hits him on the noggin. I can imagine that must have hurt, but at least it wasn’t one of the bars of gold that hit him. That would have definitely killed him. There seems to be a moment where Peter considers taking the cash for himself, but just like when Murtaugh throws away the drug money that could put all of his children through college in Lethal Weapon 2, he wants nothing to do with it. The thing is, what is going to happen with that money? The guys drive off before the cops show up, thereby avoiding giving a very helpful explanation as to how all that money got there, not to mention why Tummel’s HQ has just suddenly vanished. I suppose the cops might do the right thing and give it to charity. I bloody well hope so.

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So, in conclusion we have the best episode of The Real Ghostbusters for quite a while – let’s see if that quality can spill over into the next episode, shall we?

SPOILER: It will.

PS: Sorry about the ‘ghosting’ in some of the above screenshots. The quality of this episode on the DVD is a little below-par.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 36: Hanging by a Thread

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This is not one of the more popular episodes of The Real Ghostbusters. And you know what, it isn’t very good at all. But I liked it better than ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Ghost?’, mainly because it’s pretty crazy. We start off with The Three Fates – three indistinguishable blondes in togas who spend most of their day playing with threads, each of which is the life and fate of a particular individual. Rather casually, they discuss the destinies of the lives they’re dealing with, though we never get to see them say stuff like ‘this man will lead a horrible, painful life’ or ‘this one will have no real reason to exist’.

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It seems like these three have a huge responsibility between them, and the local nearby demon, who may or may not genuinely be called The Lord of the Stench, wants to steal it from them, and more specifically the golden shears and thread used to create the fates of humankind. That way he can pass it on to his boss and sort it out so that the whole world will turn to evil! Nothing specific, from the sounds of it. Just evil. The demon has his own cocky, sarcastic underling and a load of minions who charge the Fates’ lair and attempt to steal the goods.

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However, the shears end up being hurtled out into the realms of time, which winds up the demon no end. Think about it, those shears could be ANYWHERE. ANYTIME. This could be the basis of an entire spin-off series, where the demons visit different eras and different places in order to find the lucky scissors and hoping that the next leap will be the leap home, but of course the shears end up in present-day New York. You know, where the Ghostbusters live.

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We get a few failed attempts to find the shears beforehand though. One of these appears to take place at the unveiling of the Brooklyn Bridge (which would date it to 1883) – upon realising that the scissors used to cut the celebratory ribbon are just regular snippers, the demon uses them to cut the cables of the bridge, destroying it and we can only presume, killing everyone standing on it. Wow, we’ve gone back to the sadism of ‘Ghosts R Us’ with that casual act of mass murder, haven’t we? Also, how can scissors cut a bridge? Why am I even seriously bringing this up? This is clearly an ‘anything goes’ kind of episode. The second attempt appears to involve founding father of the USA Benjamin Franklin, who is flying his kite in the rain (he was responsible for demonstrating lightning’s electrical content) but the demon has no luck. Most of the others appear to have the right idea (which is – where do most cataclysmic events take place in this series?) and head off to New York, and more specifcally Manhattan’s Garment District, which if you’ll remember, was where the episode ‘Cry Uncle’ featured a scene. The shears end up outside a boring shop owned by a boring man whose bored son wants more excitement in his life. Some demons on the opposite roof should sort that out. We don’t see these two characters again, by the way.

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Back at HQ, the guys are so bored they’re playing a ‘guess the ghost’ game where Ray shows the other three some pictures of spookie-ookies and they have to guess what they are. They all have pretty insane names – I’m sure I heard a ‘screaming willy’ in there somewhere. Luckily a call gets them out of their torpor and Peter is so excited that he literally jumps on Ray’s back to get to where he needs to be. Slimer and Janine are left behind. Slimer is such a wet blanket he gets freaked out by his own image (he was the next ghost to be guessed in Ray’s card game). The guys end up at the garment district, where the demons’ method of attack range from the pathetically lightweight (pelting them with clothes) to the seriously dangerous (pelting them with clothes set on fire), but suddenly the Lord of the Stench and his crew head off.  Ray’s proton pack ends up broken but a bit of duct tape gets the job done. He then cuts off the tape with the nearby SHEARS OF FATE and for no other reason that in order to get the plot going he takes the shears with him. Okay, it’s an absent-minded act, but seriously, it takes a lot to absent-mindedly put a pair of sharp scissors in your pocket and then run with them afterwards. Didn’t he feel a pinch or something? Peter blankly prides himself on his crew’s ‘fantastic service’ to the adoring public. We’re only 36 episodes in and he’s clearly already jaded with fame and success already.

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Meanwhile, The Fates are lurking nearby, and are concerned that the shears’ volatility puts whoever is in possession of them in grave danger. They really didn’t think this plan through very well, did they?

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The guys head off home, only to discover that the Stench’s minions have plastered themselves all over the outside HQ, in what is arguably the episode’s most arresting image. Well, it would have been an even better image if the animation in this episode was up to scratch, which it isn’t. The Lord of the Stench, rather brilliantly, order his minions to ‘SMITE THEM!’. This needs to be used a lot more in a lot more situations, like when Homer Simpson said something like ‘Oh, smiteful one, show me who to smite and they will be smoten!’, which to be fair is such a good line that no one could top it. A melee of seismic ripplicious proportions follows, and in the midst of the chaos, the Lord gets the shears. He boasts that his own boss, the Lord of Evil, will get to use them for all kind of nastiness. Weirdly, the Lord of Evil never makes an appearance. This is annoying. I mean, if you introduce a gun in the first act, you’d better use it in the third, you know?

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The demons scarper with the shears and the Three Fates unhelpfully show up afterwards. They explain the situation and Ray starts with ‘You mean the scissors that I -’, conveniently stopping before he’d have to admit he STOLE them, the thieving git. The Three Fates then absolve themselves of all responsibility by claiming that since it was mortals who complicated this, it is mortals who must resolve the situation, by delving into the Underworld. This is a bit rich. I mean, listen mate, if you’d had better security measures back at home we wouldn’t have been in this badly-animated situation to begin with, ya get me? There’s some twaddle about only having one hour to get them back and that they have to return to the exact spot they arrived in, and the guys are all cool with this, except Egon initially, who can’t believe all of this is all about a pair of scissors.

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The Underworld is a pretty cool looking place, all red skies, red rocks and cavernous interiors. There is a softly-spoken ferryman who will take the guys to wherever they want to go at a price. The guys don’t have the necessary twenty gold pieces, but they do have a lucky rabbit’s foot and a cheese sandwich. The ferryman is annoyed that it’s white bread and not pastrami or rye. The ferryman seems to have a lot of knowledge of the above world – he pines for a motor for his boat, corned beef for his sandwich, the poor man. More almost-cool visuals follow – lava springs, volcanic arenas – as I said earlier, if the animation had been handled with a little more love, this would have been a pretty good looking episode. The guys retrieve the shears in a forgettable confrontation but have almost run of time in the process. Using bad-writing logic, the twelve remaining seconds are stretched out to ludicrous point and the guys return home (Egon pushing them off into oblivion in the hope that they’ll reach the pick-up point quicker) – I don’t know how doing this would actually return them to the point where they had originally arrived, but I think I’m spending more time thinking about this episode than the original writers did. Oh well, they’re back home now. They return to the shears to the Three Fates, who don’t even thank them. They just disappear with the shears. I’ve realised I actually hate the Fates. They’re rubbish.

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Peter congratulates Egon on his canny thinking – you know, that it didn’t matter if Egon’s last-ditch plan was dangerous because ultimately he knew they’d be alright – but Egon admits he really didn’t think the plan going to work and had merely crossed his fingers. Peter falls down, Ray exclaims ‘hey, he fainted!’ and the episode ends immediately. Never mind that this is a weaker imitation of the ending to ‘Night Game’, this blasé conclusion sums up ‘Hanging by a Thread’ pretty neatly. It’s totally throwaway, clumsily staged, one of the worst looking episodes ever and is only better than the last episode by being a little funnier and being occasionally bonkers.

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The Real Ghostbusters Episode 35: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Ghost?

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This is not one of my favourite episodes – despite an apparently important emotional revelation at the end, the whole thing doesn’t really amount to an awful amount – the second act in particular drags out what little material it has to patience-breaking point.

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We start off with New York’s poshest wining and dining in one of the city’s finest restaurant (flies still get into the soup, mind). They’re doing their own thing, living their own priviliged lives, whilst outside ghosts are terrorising the regular folk, and the Ghostbusters are on the case. Inside, there is a very, very bored posh couple, both of whom have annoying voices, who are discussing the problem of their haunted house. Hubby suggests the Ghost Smashers (he read about them in the National Inquisitor – oh wait, that’s the National Intruder). Wifey, with her voice that sounds like she’s trying to talk and eat chewy candy at the same time, is not interested, and doesn’t seem to think much of her other half. The Real Ghostsmashers (sorry) end up following their spectral pursuit inside the restaurant. The guests are shocked and horrified (one of them screams just like Peter) and a food fight almost gets going (I hate food fights) but luckily for the restaurant and for us the impatient viewers, it doesn’t go anywhere.

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Hubby asks Winston for the Ghostbusters’ details but Wifey doesn’t want to associate with ‘ruffians’. They head back home to their very fancy place, but unbeknownst to them, one of the restaurant ghosts hitches a ride in their exhaust pipe (just like that bit in the film!). This ghost has a head that looks like a pine cone. It turns out that the haunted mansion’s supernatural ‘threat’ is none other than Wifey’s own Uncle Horace, who has one of the most annoying voices ever, even more annoying than either of the couple. He’s a really pathetic spectre too – scared of everything. The thing is, he doesn’t realise he’s a ghost. He’s also looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is. He keeps referring to it as his ‘whatever it is’.

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Wifey and Hubby dress up in sheets and chains to try and scare Horace – now you may wonder if dressing up as a ghost could scare a ghost, but in the case of wimpy Horace, it works. Far from a ‘depressing’ result, as Wifey feared. Oddly enough, at no point does Horace look down and notice that he has no feet. In fact, he has nothing below the knees. That might have helped him suss things out a lot sooner. Saying that, he even sees himself (or lack of) in the mirror early on and still doesn’t figure things out. He even flees moments of peril by moving through walls, but no, he never realises why he’s able to do such things. He’s stupid. Ugly too, according to Hubby. However, I do get an unrelated minor chill regarding Horace because he looks a little bit like the head prankster ghost in ‘The Old College Spirit’, who, if you remember, at one point transmogrified into one of the scariest monsters in the entire series. Maybe they were brothers? After the malarkey involving Wifey, Hubby and Horace dies down, it is hinted that there be that there could be some unresolved emotional issues between Wifey and Uncle Horace, with talk of her being ‘let down’ by him. Meanwhile, the restaurant ghost is now in the mansion, and he’s just a little pain in the arse, drawing moustaches on paintings, that sort of thing.

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Horace finds the Ghostbusters business card that Hubby left behind in his fright (the text of which has a cute throwback to ‘Troll Bridge’) and calls HQ – the poor guys have been working two days straight and want to go to bed, but promise of working for ‘old money’ act as a veritable Pro-Plus and off they go to the ‘pretentious but not ostentatious’ abode, where they try to lure the ghost out from its hiding place by pretending to leave (that’s one way of doing it, I suppose), after which Horace emerges from the fireplace only to blasted by proton beams. He doesn’t like it one bit. Oddly, we get an act break with no musical cue at all. Just the sound of screaming. If Horace was less of a nuisance, this would probably play out a lot more disturbingly than it does.

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We fade into act two, and somewhat sadistically the guys are still blasting the hell out of Horace. A reference to ghosts sets Horace’s radar off and he tries to protest, saying that he’s not dead, and that he’s going to sue them, and this is when he realises that he really is dead. The guys go off to find the real cause of the house’s destruction. Cue some ‘antics’ regarding gramophones (playing Dixieland jazz -see ‘Play Them Ragtime Boos’), Wifey and Hubby still pretending to be ghosts, and Horace still banging on about finding whatever it is he’s looking for too. Maybe all he’s looking for his feet and lower legs. He needs to find out what that thing he is looking for is though, otherwise he won’t be able to cross over into the afterlife and spare us from watching him being stubbornly rude to Ray and Egon. He gets in a cute reference to The Shadow at one point though as he tries to look scary, so he’s not completely without merit. After this, we cut to the restaurant ghost, who’s dancing in the air to the gramophone, but yelling with the same voice Horace was screaming with when he was getting blasted earlier. There’s some bloody odd soundtrack choices in this episode.

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There’s some silliness involving the restaurant ghost sweeping Wifey off her feet and dancing with her in the air, which leaves the guys in a quandary about how to blast it without his dance partner falling to the ground, but some rope swinging trickery from Egon saves the day. This is when Horace realises that he was looking for his niece all this time – and all he wanted to do was tell her he loved her. And it turns out she was upset with him all this time because he ‘left’ without saying goodbye. Bloody hell, had Horace known he was going to shuffle off in advance, maybe he would have sorted out his farewells more efficiently, but we can’t all arrange when we go, do we? ‘Let down’. Blimey. Oh well, at least everything’s resolved, everyone’s happy, and the final line of dialogue is the none-more 1980’s send-off ‘let’s blow this pop stand’, which I swear I heard a million or so times during my addiction to animation as a child.

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It’s an okay episode – a lot of goofing about, silly voices and no real threat. It’s also definitely the weakest episode I’ve reviewed so far. We need a pick-up.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 34: Banshee Bake a Cherry Pie?

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Blimey, that’s some absolutely dreadful punnery there with that title, and I’ll admit I was a bit worried revisiting this episode as it’s written by the same two people who delivered the underwhelming ‘Don’t Forget the Motor City’. However, this one turns out to be a proper chuckle! No mirth is in store for poor Peter Venkman though, for this is the second episode in a row where he has spent a lot of money on something fancy (last time it was a car, this time it’s a nice-smelling stereo) and within minutes, it has EXPLODED!

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Let’s backtrack a second – Peter has set up his stereo (on his bed?!!) and decides to test drive his new gear by playing an advance copy of the new album from Irish rock star Shanna O’ Callaghan, or just ‘Shanna’ as the sleeve indicates. You know you’re huge when you can get away with being referred to by just your first name. Egon, despite what appeared to be a brief flirtation with 20th century music in the last episode (he was looking for the ‘Queen of Soul’, remember?), is back to his snobbery towards the popular song form, hoping that Peter will be only listening to this rockin’ rock experience through headphones.

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The song starts, and to be honest, it’s just a relief that it’s not Tahiti. However, it’s not long before all hell breaks loose. Peter starts contorting wildly, Egon demands to know who this is, and Peter complies, unnecessarily adding that ‘she’s Irish’. Like that instantly explains everything. I’m suddenly thinking of that old Itchy and Scratchy cartoon where ‘Itchy falls foul of an Irishman’ and Milhouse exclaims ‘look out, he’s Irish!, the difference being that The Simpsons were taking the piss out of xenophobia, whereas Peter is just flat-out racist. Suddenly, he starts to levitate, the bed explodes, and so does the record player, right in the middle of the song! There’s something about funny about the way the song explodes just as Shanna is giving a sultry delivery of the line ‘with love/with love…’ Perfect timing.

And in case you needed to know, that song was called ‘Love Makes Me Live’.

A small supernatural presence makes itself present for a brief moment before disappearing, and suspicions are raised. Ray wears Ghostbusters undies, by the way. All of this commotion has left Peter’s recently acquired stereo destroyed, and Egon, working on the basis that Shanna is Irish, surmises that she’s a banshee. Banshees, as you know, bring chaos and mayhem through the medium of song, and Shanna may very well be the first of her kind to get a record deal. Normally banshees would bring about disaster towards a few indviduals – you know, whoever she was directly singing to, but in this era of mass-produced records and concerts, her impact could be far more devastating. Coincidentally, she’s playing a gig at Carnegie Hall in the city this very evening, and it’s going to be broadcast coast to coast over the radio! Thankfully her actual album isn’t out yet – Peter was ‘lucky’ enough to get an advance copy of the LP through a friend. Despite being exposed to Shanna’s powers already, he thinks they need some more evidence, and after the return of some New Jersey bashing (this show does not like that place), the guys head over to the talent agency to speak to the man responsible for taking care of Shanna. The agency is a right old dive – you think Shanna would be able to do better than associate herself with flame-twirlers, hippy singer-songwriters, ventriloquists and the sort, but they’ve come to the right place.

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They make a somewhat unnecessarily dramatic entrance, resulting in the destruction of the head of the ventriloquists dummy (making him very, very upset) and try to convince her agent Vince that she’s a monster. This doesn’t go down too well and he has them chucked out. Egon reckons that the reason this ‘mutant’ (Peter’s words) didn’t believe their story is because he is under Shanna’s spell. Winston reckons it’s because he’s pond scum. Or could be that their story sounds utterly ridiculous? Saying that, if the Ghostbusters came to me telling me such and such was supernatural, I’d be inclined to believe them on past evidence. However, as we already know, the Ghostbusters don’t seem to be popular with businesses or authorities, despite having saved the city (and sometimes the world) on a regular basis. Oh well, they’d better get directly to the source, and this means following a trail of destruction, which leads to a rehearsal hall guarded by an insane cleaner who’s had enough of Shanna-inspired destruction and clutter and wants to kill the Ghostbusters right there and then with his deadly weapon (a broom). This episode is bloody mad, I have to say. A lot of filler involving weeping ventriloquists and psychotic cleaners, and we’re not even at the halfway mark. We get huge spiders and bats later, and no one in the episode seems to mind, but more on that later.

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Kicking down the door to her room, the guys encounter Shanna, and she’s pretty wild looking – she’s a proper pop star, the real deal, and Peter’s instantly bewitched. She coos at him, and then walks out with her agent Vince (how did he get there so quickly?), after which the floor collapses beneath Peter and the ceiling starts to fall apart above them. That was an instant cliffhanger!

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An easily overcome cliffhanger too, as the guys pull Peter out to safety and drive off within seconds, but he’s still bewitched – stealing a poster of his beloved and having extended flights of fancy. This involves a dream sequence where he imagines he’s starring in the video to ‘Love Makes Me Live’ and that he’s Shanna’s wildly bequiffed, chest-exposing boyfriend (according to the VJ for Gasp TV, obviously), and they dance around in circles and run through lots of mirrored corridors. A good imagination is a joy forever, indeed. Oddly, Slimer makes an unwelcome appearing playing the sax. Peter can’t be too control of this fantasy if that little green spud has been able to inflitrate it. Egon then steps into Peter’s mind (beat that, Inception) and informs him that ‘he can’t have this fantasy’. Shanna seems a little annoyed by this, and this is the first time we actually get to hear her speak in a non-singing voice. The Irish accent is there, but I don’t think whoever was voicing her was actually Irish. We’re talking Oir-rish here, kids. I must add that there is not a trace of Irish in her singing voice either, but she wasn’t the first singer to Americanise her vocals and she wouldn’t be the last. Peter does his best to make Egon look bad by telling Shanna that this is the guy who gave his computer a girl’s name. Egon’s cool with it – he understands that Peter’s not in control of his emotions. Then there’s a really odd bit where Egon explains through the TV screen that whoever’s watching this video at home isn’t really watching it. This is all madness stemming from the mind of his good colleague, and by this stage of the episode there are so many walls of reality are crashing down that you could probably write a dissertation on the doors of perception using just this scene as your primary source.

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Back in the ‘real world’ the guys arrive at Carnegie Hall to speak to the building manager in the hope of stopping the concert, but he’s bewitched too. He’s poring over a magazine that reveals Shanna’s ten most secret secrets. I wouldn’t take too much stock in that periodical though – it misspells Shanna’s name as ‘Shana’ at one point. Still, Peter doesn’t care about typos – he’s too impressed with the manager’s tacky Shanna cap and Shanna jumper. Bloody hell, she’s not that great. By the way, secret #3 reveals that Shanna likes petite men with gentle voices and good grooming habits. It’s never explained why Egon, Ray and Winston are the only ones not under her spell, and it’s not explained how the guys acquire 80’s glam metal costumes and can blag their way around backstage so effectively, but Shanna’s too busy with Armageddon in mind to care. I love her ambition, by the way. She’s essentially slagging off all the banshees that came before her for their limited scope when she says that she’s ‘too talented’ to waste her time with small-scale destruction. She’s taking her sound to the end of the Earth…

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The guys burst into her dressing room, having promised Peter that he will get to meet Shanna in person, never mind that a) he already has and b) he almost died last time. Peter tries to protect her from the other three, and Shanna’s curious line of attack is to trap the only one of the four Ghostbusters who was actually on her side. She could have exploited his suceptibility and told him to attack his friends. She’s stupid. She’s also proper ugly too, as everybody discovers when they see her reflection for the first time. She’s got a blue face and a mouth like a vacuum-cleaner extension. This appears to break the spell that Peter and Vince are under, but she’s already made a run for it and is on stage, where her adoring public await her. Their adoration remains so constant that the animators use the exact same impressed shot of them screaming for more over and over again, despite the fact that at one point she conjures enormous spiders and bats to come down from the ceiling. The crowd don’t care. They’re lapping it up. Reminds me of when Bart Simpson imagines he’s a rock star and plays his latest chart-topper ‘Me Fans are Stupid Pigs’ to an overjoyed audience.

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Shanna’s audience are even more gullible than Bart’s – her first ‘song’ is absolute crap (it’s the same jazzy intstrumental the show knocks out whenever they want a party atmosphere going) and her wordless vocals are more off-key than Yoko Ono’s. That was just a warm-up, mind you. She’s about to play a song off her album, which is also called Love Makes Me Live ( a song that good just had to be a title track), but Egon has gone backstage and messed with the electrics (looking very evil as he does so) redirecting her vocals as feedback, which is a very clever way of ‘reflecting’ herself as a mirror would, but in vocal form. She changes back into a Blue Meanie and floats around the stage wailing, and the audience are still loving it! Sick bastards. They are essentially witnessing a mental and physical breakdown on stage, and the crowd want more, more, more. The kids had killed the man (in this case, woman) – it’s Ziggy Stardust all over again.

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In a last ditch effort, Shanna goes for the guys, but they trap her and the gig’s over. I would say the audience should have gotten a refund for their gig, but they really don’t deserve it. After all, they don’t seem to mind that Shanna has essentially been destroyed on stage. Aren’t they her fans? She’s dead! Now it’s all about Peter (despite him not having displayed any musical or vocal talent), the fickle fools. Egon escorts him off stage but the crowd want more. Vince tries to lure him back in with the promise of fame and fortune, and Peter even comes up with a name for himself – Dr. V (though he clearly is already fond of this title, check his number plate in the previous episode) – but life as a Ghostbuster is already too much of a thrill. The guys chant his rock star name as they drive off. What an odd episode.

By the way, here’s that shot of the crowd we keep getting.

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