With the recent passing of Harold Ramis, the actor/director/writer who was involved with some of the best comedy films from the '70s through the '90s, I've noticed that much attention has been devoted to one particular entry in Ramis' oeuvre: the 1984 classic Ghostbusters. I was lucky enough to have seen Ghostbusters when it first arrived in theaters and the pop culture sensation it created, so I’m not surprised that it features prominently in every Ramis obit piece I've read. Nevertheless, while Ramis' passing is a significant loss for comedy movie fans, watching the public reaction to it provides a chance to reflect on how even the most unlikely talents can wind up creating a franchise that's beloved by fans around the world and across several generations.
Ramis found fame with a string of hit comedies that were released during the late '70s and early '80s: Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980) and Stripes (1981). Such comedies were known as “slob comedies”, rude and raunchy flicks with gross-out humor, nudity and jabs at snobby rich people. (When I was growing up, these films were the R-rated forbidden fruit that some of my prepubescent classmates would brag about seeing--first through cable TV, then later through VHS rentals--with all the naughty parts left intact.) As with most Hollywood hits, Ramis' early films spawned a handful of sequels and inspired countless imitations; yet when he teamed up with Dan Aykroyd to create Ghostbusters, he unwittingly stepped into the world of geeky franchise creation.
A set of Mego-inspired Ghostbusters action figures.
When looking at the Ghostbusters franchise as a whole, it’s astonishing how durable it has been over the years. Even though the film's only direct sequel isn't as fondly remembered as the original, that didn't hinder the popularity of Ghostbuster cartoons, comic books, toys and video games. Ghostbusters wasn't the first horror-themed comedy movie and it certainly wasn't the last, but few (if any) have attained the same level of popularity and longevity. It could be that the success of the Ghostbusters was heavily contingent upon when it was made, and that Ramis and Aykroyd's decision to apply the style of slob comedy to special effects-driven apocalyptic horror was the precise formula for success during a decade that is known for such spectacle-driven blockbusters such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Ramis. If I ever find myself carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on my back, I’ll make it a point to never cross the streams.