Ghostbusters – 2005 DVD Review

This is one of the best comedy-horror spoofs ever made. Not only is it riotously funny; almost as important, the humor is never used as an excuse for feeble work. The special effects are as technically good as anything seen in a serious film; the plot is almost as tightly structured as genuine thriller; and director Ivan Reitman does a good job of conveying atmosphere — he even manages a few genuine scares along the way. In effect, this is a textbook example of how to handle a genre parody: do it as well as (or better than) the target, and then add the laughs.
There are lots of great scenes: the Ghostbusters’ initial encounter with a ghostly old woman in a library; their first successful trapping of a phantom (“a real nasty one!”) in a hotel; and of course, the climactic appearance of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, striding down Broadway like King Kong. (The scene is not just funny; it is also one of the most perfectly realized giant-monster-attacks ever filmed.)
In the leads, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis play off each other like a classic comedy team. Providing support as the serious scientists of the group, Aykroyd is the enthusiastic boy at heart, and Ramis is the stoic, logical one (a New Age Mr. Spock, in his own words). First among equals, Murray is the under-achieving mouthpiece of the group, the one who relies on charm and/or wit to compensate for his weak academic credentials. Sigourney Weaver is great as the damsel in distress, a role that starts out as almost a thankless “romantic interest” but which mutates into a hilariously seductive vixen, along with a parody of THE EXORCIST. Moranis gets lots of laughs as the nerdy accountant who constantly locks himself out of his apartment. And Atherton is fantastic as the man you love to hate, the officious EPA official who shuts off the Ghostbusters’ power grid, precipitating the release of their captured spooks.
To some extent, the straight-man role in this film is played by the ghosts: the special effects throw a variety of monstrous apparitions at the titular heroes, whose characteristic reactions then provoke the laughter (for example, when Gozer’s sky-high back-flip evasive maneuvers prompts Murray to quip, “Nimble little minx.”) But some of the effects are quite amusing in and of themselves, particularly the green “Slimer” ghost seen in the hotel (rumored, though never verified, to be based on John Belushi’s Bluto character in ANIMAL HOUSE).
Filled with spectacular apparitions and lots of laughs, GHOSTBUSTERS is a career highlight for most of the talent involved. Unlike many comedies from the period (STRIPES, CADDYSHACK), it does not work in fits and starts, stumbling from one comedy set piece to the next in search of the next big laugh. It really does work as a movie. If only most serious horror films were this good…


2003’s single-disc DVD of GHOSTBUSTERS has some interesting bonus features, but it is not quite a must-have. There is a “video” commentary (that allows you to see the commentator’s silhouettes [a la MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000] by using the multi-angle function on your DVD player); subtitled trivia, production photographs, featurettes, storyboards, and deleted scenes.
Presented in isolation, the storyboards are only mildly interesting. To the average viewer, this kind of thing is only notable when framed by an article discussing the development of the project from script to screen. You do see that the accountant Louis was drawn as a much heavier character, but nothing in this section explains why (John Candy was planned for the role before Moranis stepped in). Likewise, you see that Gozer was originally conceived as a man in a business suit (not the New Age punk woman seen in the film), but you will learn nothing about why the change was made. Fortunately, some of the storyboards are of some interest because they represent scenes that were not filmed. Also, a few of them are presented as before-and-after comparisons, with a split screen showing the boards above the finished sequences. Again some kind of audio commentary explanation of why changes were made would have made this more interesting.
The deleted scenes are disappointing. The film went through some fairly major pruning from script to screen with several sequences never completed (for example, the dream scene with Aykroyd and the beautiful blond floating ghost was originally supposed to be an actual haunting), but none of this is represented. What we get instead is mostly trivial little transitional bits that seem to have been edited out at the last minute. These clips look as if they were preserved on videotape, so the image quality is poor.
The featurettes include a promotional film made when GHOSTBUSTERS was released in 1984. There is also a cast-and-crew featurette with several of the stars looking back on the film and discussing its impact on their careers. And finally there is a special effects documentary that starts out rather stiff and stodgy before getting into some amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. There is also a before-and-after feature that allows you to use the multi-angle function to view a handful of scenes with and without the final optical effects.
The “Video” commentary for GHOSTBUSTERS (provided by director Ivan Reitman, writer-actor Harold Ramis, and co-producer Joe Medjuck) is amusing and often informative, but not completely satisfying. Even with three speakers, the conversation goes dead a couple times early on, before they hit their stride and begin relating a series of fun anecdoates. After this point, the only real drawback is that they sound a bit like insiders discussing material they all known so well that they do not necessarily explain it to us. For example, during the climactic confrontation with Gozer (Slavitza Jovan), they begin joking about “Jews and Berries.” No one bothers to explain clearly that this line was a Bill Murray ad-lib in response to Jovan’s Hungarian accent, which distorted Gozer’s line “Choose and Perish!” into what sounded like “Jews and Berries.” (Murray’s ad-lib didn’t make the final cut, and Gozer’s voice was dubbed by another actress to make it more intelligible to the audience.]
The GHOSTBUSTERS Double Feature Gift set released in 2005 is basically a repackaging of the old GHOSTBUSTERS DVD along with GHOSTBUSTERS II. The film is presented in widescreen only, and the menus have been slightly changed. Except for the subtitled trivia and the “video” commentary (which is now audio only), the new disc includes most of the old bonus features, plus a 26-page “Ghostbusters Movie Scrapbook.” This contains profiles of the cast, storyboards and stills, and a few tidbits about the making of the movie. It’s a nice souvenir, but it’s no replacement for Don Shay’s book “Making GHOSTBUSTERS.” Perhaps the best thing about the booklet is the back cover, which features a full-page mock-up add for Stay Puft Marshmallows (“Melt ’em! Roast ‘Em! Toast ’em!)

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – DVD Review

Is it possible that this film is so old that there’s no longer any snarky fun to be had making fun of its title? It was certainly possible that in 1984 Paramount Pictures was growing awfully tired of being known as the “Slasher Studio” with titles like the FRIDAY THE 13TH  series, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and APRIL FOOL’S DAY, giving the venerable studio bad press among powerful critics like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who railed against the the violence and supposed misogyny. The problem was that the films were all solid earners on thrifty investments, and studios are notoriously gun shy about killing golden geese. But once Paramount’s fortunes began to rise with a series of successful Eddie Murphy comedies and a string of blockbusters like FOOTLOOSE, FLASHDANCE, (and RAIDERS OF THE something or other) the studio must have felt that they could afford to cut the slasher films loose. Screenwriter Barney Cohen was tasked with killing Jason Voorhees (a job that no fictional character had thus far been capable of) and PROWLER director Joseph Zito was brought on board to send him off with style. An unusually capable cast was assembled, including then-heartthrob Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR, anyone? Anyone?), future star Crispin Glover, future child-star catastrophe Corey Feldman, and everyone’s favorite LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, Lawrence Monoson, all of whom contributed towards giving the film a feeling of professionalism and legitimacy that the series would never see again while the franchise was at Paramount.
As with the previous entry, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter picks up right where the previous film left off, with an apparently dead Jason lying on the floor of the barn at Higgin’s Haven. With the characters unaware of Jason’s medical condition, which prevents death, his body is brought to the county morgue where he promptly slaughters the attendant (Police Academy’s Bruce Mahler as the show’s only truly obnoxious character) and a nurse before heading back to Crystal Lake. Meanwhile, a group of teens (who apparently don’t listen to the news on the car radio) are headed out to the lake for a weekend getaway in a rented house, situated right across from the Jarvis home, with young Tommy (Feldman) teenage sister and future ‘Final Girl’, Trish (Kimberly Beck)living with their mom (Joan Freeman.) On their way home, the Jarvis’ meet would-be camper, Rob (Erich Anderson) who has returned to Crystal Lake for revenge against Jason for killing his sister years earlier (apparently she was the bottom half of Friday the 13th Part II’s notorious Twitch of the Death Nerve-inspired spear kill.) The arrival of twins Tina and Teri (Camilla & Carey More) completes the victim roster and we’re off to the races, with director Zito bringing a polished execution that the series hadn’t seen before or since.
Zito’s instincts for performance allowed someone like Glover to improvise moments like his stupendously insane dance; and had the series actually ended with this film it would be quite well remembered today. Of course, the spine of any Friday the 13th film is the kills, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapterhas some of the series’ most visceral deaths, displaying the same nasty edge to the violence that Zito brought to The Prowler and the crazy violent Chuck Norris vehicle, Missing in Action. The slaughter scenes here have more weight to them simply because we care more about the performers (one very impressive kill is implied by shadow play against the side of the house during a rain storm and nicely demonstrates creativity trumping gore.)
Besides the always entertaining Glover, a pre-Goonies Feldman is also very good as the monster-mask wearing, Zaxxon-playing Tommy Jarvis – a familiar character to many of us who were too young to see this film when it first came out, but snuck in anyway. Anyone who wonders why he was such a popular child star need only watch the scene where he peeps on a pair of naked teens from his bedroom across the way; the kid nearly always made something out of nothing. And while Kimberly Beck is a bit bland as final girl, Trish, and the phrase “dead fuck” isn’t nearly as funny as screenwriter Barney Cohen seems to have thought it would be, this would be the last time that pointing out the deficiencies of a Friday the 13th film would take up so little space.


It’s a shame that Paramount didn’t deem the film deserving of a Blu-Ray release (yet), but the new Special Edition DVD looks quite nice. Though inflation would drive the budgets of future installments up, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter seems practically epic when compared to the poverty row entries still to come, and the DVD’s image reflects the higher production standards.
To make up for the lack of commentaries on the last 2 Friday the 13th films, there are actually 2 tracks included here, the first featuring Zito, Cohen, and editor Joel Goodman, none of whom are under the impression that the film is anything more substantial than it is, but are rightfully proud of what they were able to achieve. The second is a fan track featuring directors Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) and Adam Green (the woefully under-appreciated Hatchet), which is actually quite fun. They’re both smart, savvy guys who grew up on the same horror feed as the rest of us, and they have a legitimate and heartfelt affection for Zito and the film.
As for the bonus features:

  • Buckle up for the 4th installment of the increasingly irritating Lost Tales from Camp Blood (see our reviews for the previous films for an explanation that we’re getting too tired and embittered to re-write.)
  • The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part 1 is a mock Investigative Reports-style documentary on Jason’s killing spree that is fun for a few minutes, but we ran out of steam long before it was even half over.
  • A more substantial extra is the documentary, Jason’s Unlucky Day: 25 Years After Friday, a brief but informative piece on the making of the film, featuring Zito, Cohen, SFX artist Tom Savini (who returned to the series for the first (and last) time since the original) and star Beck.
  • Jimmy’s Dead Fuck Dance Moves is an unedited take of Glover’s hysterical dance, where you can see other actors straining to keep straight faces.
  • The Lost Endingis exactly that, presented without production audio but with commentary by Zito and Beck.
  • Longtime fans will likely be most excited by Slashed Scenes, a 15min collection of alternate takes that offers the best look yet at the unedited murder sequences.

The only disappointments are that the show didn’t qualify for a HD release and that not all the extras from the previously released box set have been ported over (this really ought to be step 1 when studios double-dip on releases), so purists should hold onto their old discs. Otherwise Paramount has done an admirable job with this release. Highly recommended.