Lest We Forget: The Real Ghostbusters and The Halloween Door

If we shall snark tonight on this Eve of All Hallows, let us snark with love… let us use the magic eye of the Internet to travel back in time.

Tonight, boys and girls, we roll back the clock and open… THE HALLOWEEN DOOR.

The Halloween Door was a super-rare special Halloween episode of The Real Ghostbusters that aired once, 23 years ago, on a Sunday night on ABC back in 1989. Like most of the really memorable episodes of the series, it was written by JMS. For the first and initial prime-time airing it had a unique opener and closer sequence, cut together from bits of the episode and bits of the promo reel and the other Halloween episodes – although these were stripped when the episode meandered into syndication. It’s not pants-wettingly terrifying like the Boogieman episodes – we’ll get to those another time – and sorry, Samhain isn’t in it either.

This episode is scary differently. Scary in a way that cuts to the bone. And sadly, the intervening years between now and then have only proven that we’ve failed to learn anything from the past. This episode’s villain? Why, I think he’s a scarier concept than all of the scariest RGB demons put together. This villain is here with us right now, this very day, this very year, and he’s always been here, and he’s always going to be here. And every day, every Halloween, every year, we have to fight back.

Also, it’s a musical episode. Did I mention it was a musical episode?

Here’s where I sidetrack to gripe that Lorenzo Music isn’t doing Peter Venkman for this special, because it’s so late in the original run that it pushes into the crossover toward Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters; I just really, really never got over the voice change and something about Dave Coulier’s take on the character makes my ears sad. Back when I had literally every episode of the original run on VHS, my prize possessions were twin copies of some episodes –  the syndication set somehow managed to broadcast episodes with variant voice tracks, so I had some eps that were duplicated, with both voice actors’ performing as Venkman. I wish I still had those tapes for so many reasons, but the reason I lost them is a long and dumb story that isn’t important right now.

Anyway, kids dressed as robots (oh, you get all the candy, kid!) and elves and various public domain bugaboos frolic in front of the Ghostbusters’ firehouse. It’s still daylight, probably like 2 or so, and the Ghostbusters are chilling out, getting ready for the night. Peter, as usual, has got himself a date after ‘our gig at the junior high this afternoon’ – at Donald Trump’s place. (See what I mean? The jokes, they loop. IT’S EERIE.) Note that The Donald wants to negotiate with Venkman to “buy the afterlife.” Coming from the guy who wanted to dump $5 big ones just for some college papers? Yeah, hard to say which of the two is the shadier at this point; I’m more than a little amused at the idea of Venkman selling rich dickwads some land plots in the afterlife. His dad specialized in selling ice makers to Eskimos, after all…

Ray gives Slimer an extended setup, noting that Slimer is going trick-or-treating with them, and that he’s chosen a ‘really scary’ costume. While Peter’s adjusting his tie, Slimer floats over in a rubber Peter Venkman head and one of the spare coveralls. Peter responds to this in pure Warner Brothers fashion by somehow manifesting a Slimer-head-mask and slapping “Peter” in the face with a giant wad of slime. I don’t want to know where he got it, and I don’t think you do either. Slimer whines (all too intelligibly; another sign we are Close To The End here, along with Peter’s mad dance of glee that he’d waited “five long years” to do that), and the Circle of Life is complete.

Meanwhile, Peter’s hot date shows up, causing Winston to slam his fingers in a file drawer (a rare reaction). Still, the ability for Slimer to speak coherent sentences gets a nice workout here, as he ‘imitates’ Peter and lays a big slimy wet kiss on Peter’s girlfriend (eeeek this ghost has SERIOUS boundary issues). Understandably peeved, Hottie departs, leaving the actual Peter flabbergasted. Peter attempts to call her back, but ends up shrieking “I LOVE YOU!” out of the firehouse’s front door…

I don’t want to think very hard about this shot.

to the Square Headed Bad Guy and his Hunchback Assistant. (“Why, we’ve hardly met!” This show was not afraid to Go There back in the day.) As they enter, Peter catches and confronts Slimer, and after a quick shot of mild body horror – the empty mask with Hottie’s lipstick on the flat lips – Peter sighs, “There are times I think life is one big bullet with my name on it.”

Cut to the entire cast, including the Slimer version of Louis Tully and Janine with her ‘softer’ post-network-mucketymuckaboo hair and glasses shrieking “You want us to do WHAT?” Squarehead repeats that it’s very simple: he just wants the Ghostbusters to help him ‘get rid’ of Halloween. (I have a feeling these two are based on real world people of the time, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…)

And at 3:33, we’re already off and running with The Real Problem of this episode, as Squarehead begins the first of SEVERAL rants. “Nothing wrong with Halloween? Nothing wrong with kids dressing up as ghosts? Letting their imaginations run rampant?” I guess it was probably too far to make the dude be wearing a cross and a white sheet, too, but the Moral Majority is running rampant and the show hasn’t even started yet. Like I said, the scariest villains are the ones that live in the real world with us, and we’ve got a prime example of one here! He hails from an organization calling itself “Citizens United Against Halloween And Lots Of Other Stuff We Don’t Like” – of which I think he and Lon Chaney there are the sole members. CUAHALOOSWDL really needs a shorter name, but I guess “Fundie Asstard” will do. He goes on to add that the ‘other stuff’ is “all comics, most television, toys, many books – but mostly Halloween. It’s fantasy. Not good for kids at all.”

Egon, ever the Embodied Voice of Logic, Reason and Science on This Show, starts to go for the books to explain to this moron exactly WHY “magic and mystery are important”, but Fundie Guy is having none of that and TAKES HIS BOOK AWAY. So the Ghostbusters retaliate by basically chasing Asstard and Friend out of the building with THEIR Halloween tradition, siccing Slimer after them by claiming they’re hiding candy on them. (case citation: “When Halloween Was Forever“, Venkman v. Spengler, and rebuttal Spengler v. Venkman)

Sulking, the Moral Minority stomps off, ranting to itself about how it’s going to make everyone pay pay pay, stopping to randomly destroy a pumpkin jack-o-lantern and be a total dick to a kid dressed like an angel along the way. Oddly, Fundie Asstard is named Dr. Crowley, which seems like an odd choice of referential name for a batshit fundamentalist who hates all things fun and spooky. Apparently they needed the PKE meter from the Ghostbusters to focus ‘the machine’, but Midget Dude lifted it from their workspace while they were talking. (Egon is about to be Doubly Offended; he and that meter are like, one and the same.) And like a good fundie, Crowley notes that stealing isn’t good, but they needed it – “So much for that moral dilemma.”

Now, you might think this is Too Damn Obvious and Less Than Subtle – I’d agree with you, but then I’d point at damn near any newspaper today and just about any quote from your average run of the mill Tea Partier or deep right Republican. Point made? Right. Onward then!

So, the Ghostbusters are onstage at Junior High That Might Be Jefferson But We Covered The Name Up So As To Make it More Like Anytown. The kids are all in costumes – pretty sure that’s a public domain version of Big Bird sitting right in front of the camera with its back to us – and Peter’s giving a spiel about where Halloween and trick or treating comes from.

Oh dear God, Egon’s sitting in the middle of a giant contraption that is either about to go Back to the Future or get up on robot legs and start shooting. Or… as the lights dim, it might be that we’re about to get the Ghostbusters’ version of “Stonehenge”… yeah, it’s pretty much that. Literally. There’s even the wolf howl. The machine is a hologram generator and that IS Stonehenge behind them and uhoh Peter has a microphone you guys here comes the singing, where are the little dwarves?

And here we take a sharp right turn into OH MY GOD WHAT AM I SEEING AAAHAHAHAH.

Eat your heart out, Giorgio Moroder.

So the sun sets behind Stonehenge and Egon comes up out of the floor holding a ball of light and some kind of primitive KEYTAR CONSOLE THING and Winston is singing lead and Egon’s like blowing magic pink dust out of his HANDS and seriously this is the best thing ever, vaguely kindred to ‘Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive and telling you to let the innocence survive and Slimer’s dancing with a ballerina…

Alas, while the innocent Fair Folk tenaciously frolic away, in Stereotypical Gothic Villain Castle Crowley is cooking up his own sad kind of ‘fun’, cranking up The Machine to start blasting Halloween (and oh American culture in general) back to the stone age. “Tell me it’s ready, Fairweather! The Electronic Positronic Anti-Halloween Machine!” This nasty bit of work ravages the city, firing beams that literally melt and blow up jack-o-lanterns, costumes, banners, and candy! And then the satire gets even more biting as books literally burn on screen:

“Say goodbye to scary stories! Say goodbye to haunted houses! Goodbye to Irving, Verne and Poe! Goodbye Dickens, Shelley;  goodbye Mister Bradbury – try not to take it personally.”

So yeah, we’re WELL beyond the scope of just plain Halloween censorship here, now. This whackadoo must be stopped! What happens if those beams hit the containment unit! Would it make GHOSTS disappear too? Also, how does this thing logically not just end up taking ITSELF out as its existence is dependent on the existence of Halloween and… oh. Right. Kids’ show. Okay, okay.

Happy nightmares, kids!

So the EPAHM starts going berserk, as these things traditionally do. The sky turns red (never a good sign EVER) and a demon does a giant GOATSE.CX on the sky and aw, CRAP! And uhm YIKES Fairweather just split his skin and is Hulking out into a big purple demon and “this is just what we were hoping for” with pointy teeth holy crap his FACE just melted off I take it back this is scary you guys. Yup, our Dear Fundie Asstard was being manipulated all along by the Forces of Evil (HMMMMMM)!

In true Dickensian fashion (pretty ironic, given you just erased him from existence), Crowley shrieks “Get away, why are you tormenting me?!” Fairweather (the demon) notes “It was easy to prey on people’s fears.” If only our real-world jerkwads could be outed as tools of the devi… oh, wait…

Then Fairweather drops The Killer Line while taunting Crowley, one that has stuck in the back of my head for 23 years: “You forgot the first rule of fanatics: when you become obsessed with the enemy, you become the enemy.”

Meanwhile, on the streets below, a light retread of Ragnarok n’ Roll is going on- winged demons chase some poor women with a baby into a clearly marked Dead End street, uh-oh! Naturally, Our Heroes are there to drive off the spooks. They drive around, trapping and bagging a few minor entities (Can’t be more than Class 2 or 3, any of ’em).

The Big Bad shows up – a red monster with multiple arms, slime-dripping tentacles and mouths and an intro song clearly stolen from the ’86 version of Little Shop of Horror – stomping down the city streets like ol’ Stay Puft, toward where Crowley is crapping himself in shock and awe. The demon’s name is Boogaloo, and sadly, he is not Electric. I’m thinking there’s a good reason Lovecraft neglected to have the Old Ones show up singing scat and moonwalking. Joss Whedon only WISHES he could have written this episode.

Side note: In a pre 9-11 New York, giant demons flinging fireballs at buildings and chanting ‘time for destruction’ just didn’t evoke the same kind of alarm it does now. Time has sadly made this sequence creepier. I also note what looks like a couple of quick edits in this sequence – I’m assuming these may actually BE post 9-11 cuts in the DVD version- pretty sure that fireball originally hit a building- but without the original air tapes to verify I’m just guessing. Also of note: the Stay Puft Man himself shows up in the haunting of pre-Disney Times Square; how did it get out of the Containment Unit?

After this song and dance number, the Ghostbusters are literally staring slack-jawed. They rush over to a TV shop (reusing a bit from Ragnarok here too, again slightly cut down, where the Ghostbusters react to a declaration of catastrophe on national television) and watch as Boogaloo takes over the broadcast, crowing that “The Halloween deal has been broken, so now we’re here to stay.” Oh, and then the TVs spew a boatload of slime all over the guys. Wasn’t that in the Tommy movie or something?

Egon lays it down for us. “2000 years ago, the Earth was infested by demons. But the Druids struck a deal: the worst of the demons would go off to the Netherworld on one condition.” Peter says, “Let me guess – they wanted us to remember them.” Because Crowley has literally destroyed Halloween, the Halloween covenant is broken, and now the demons have come back to reclaim the Earth. Pretty dark for a kid’s show, eh? While the Ghostbusters exposition, various playful demons are stuffing themselves up Ecto-1’s tailpipe (I swear that is not as filthy as that sentence makes it sound). Oh, and the Ghostbusters have exactly 30 minutes to break this crap up before it turns midnight and it’s demon party for all eternity. In quick order, they realize that the Containment Unit is about to become a new Ground Zero for the demon rave.

Janine (GO GIRL!), Slimer, and Louis are, surprisingly enough for this late in the series, holding off the demons from getting into the basement with a spare set of proton throwers, and doing a pretty damn good job of it, too. Well, until a couple of ghoulies get by and zip down the stairs. Slimer (somehow) picks up Janine and Tully and hightails it as the Klein bottle in the basement goes pop and all the ghosts start spewin’ out. It’s just not a real apocalypse until the Containment Unit blows, you know? A big ol’ tree of hell fire spews out of the roof, and I start looking for an Evangelion nearby, because, you know.

So, just to up the ante a bit, the car gets destroyed from inside, the proton packs are down to ten minutes worth of charge, and the firehouse is blown up. So naturally, the guys head off to go Face The Badness and Possibly Their Own Doom, because, you know. Heroes. Crowley manages to get their attention, dangling from the EPAHM, and Egon and Winston tear off to try and get up there and reverse the polarities and do Science on that to bring back the Supernatural. Peter and Ray get left playing demon bait and get nearly blown up a few times.

Except oops, the demons made a hash out of the EPAHM, so that’s out. Boogaloo, apparently up on his Earth culture, ‘lets his fingers do the walking’ and grabs Peter and Ray in a big stone hand. (There is no iron near by, alas.) Egon is trying to put the ruins of the EPAHM back together, but gets blown back by a short circuit; it’s unrecoverable.

Enter the cutest Deus Ex Machina EVER, a little blond pig-tailed girl named Emma wearing a pink sweater and a vaccuum strapped to her back. She’s holding the nozzle like a Ghostbuster. How she got in there and up the stairs and into the creepy fundie’s house  and how she can remember Halloween at all is… right, right, kid’s show, right. “I’m not afraid, come on you guys, let’s get ’em!” Egon gets An Inspiration from this.

Boogaloo taunts his prisoners by tearing up a clock tower and pointing out that they have two minutes before the promise humans made to honor Halloween is totally broken forever. Egon shoots down the stone hand (hm) and points out that they still have ‘one last weapon’. Prepare for Epic Speech Incoming, guys.

Emma-who-is-adorable steps forward with a big smile on her face. She has no shoes on her feet, her vaccuum nozzle over her shoulder, and an empty bag for trick-or-treating. She just waltzes right up to Boogaloo. “Trick or treat!”

Egon holsters his weapon, and he’s grinning, ’cause he’s about to smack this Class 9 down with the Embodied Voice of Logic, Reason and Science on This Show, by God. “Thought we’d forgotten about that, hadn’t you? Halloween is about more than pumpkins, black cats and trick-or-treating! It’s about kids rediscovering wonder!”

Ray knows an entrance line when he hears one.  “That’s why we play monsters, so we won’t be afraid of monsters any more! We take back the night once a year because it belongs to the children. They know the Halloween lesson: if you’re not afraid, it can’t hurt you!”  It can, however, pass legislation to make the things you like illegal and ban them from stores and censor your Internet and… wait, wait, wrong demons again, right.

A bit more speechifying, and Emma twisting the knife by being REALLY cute, and Boogaloo is forced to admit defeat. All the demons are yanked back up into the Great Goatse in the Sky, and hey, time rolled back by four hours, so they can still go trick-or-treating! Emma shakes Egon’s hand and runs off to find her dad. Egon grabs Crowley, who’s trying to sneak off, and looks for all the world like he’s gonna punch him up a jackass, for real.

Crowley has learned absolutely nothing. “None of this was my fault at all, it just proves my point! I’ll try again! I’ll double my contributions! And next time I’ll…” But Slimer gets one up on him by popping up with a, uhm, Boogaloo mask (okay) and scaring the tweed off him. He runs off, shrieking. The Ghostbusters crowd in for a group shot (where did Janine come from?) and all is well.

For a decade or so, anyway.

It’s time we all remembered the Halloween Lesson, don’t you think?

And from me too!