I watched a lot of cartoons when I was a kid (I watch a lot of cartoons as an adult, too.) Chief among them, though, was The Real Ghostbusters. That show was my religion back in the late 80s and early 90s and it’s a cartoon that holds up remarkably well over the decades.
At least when it was initially conceived, the show was intended to appeal to both children and adults, as the Ghostbusters movie was a hit with both demographics. So with that in mind, the show had some remarkably intelligent humor that could be appreciated on multiple levels (hence that whole “holds up remarkably well over the decades” thing I said last paragraph). But it had something else, too. What was it?
Oh yeah. It could be pretty fucking scary.
And I mean that from the perspective of a six year-old, not so much a twenty-six year-old who has seen every Jason movie seventy times and jerks off to police photos of Carl Tanzler’s wife (you can Google that if you want, but believe me, you’ll regret it if you do.) When I was a tyke, there were moments in that show that just freaked me right the Hell out, making me wary of everything from bedroom closets to walking too close to the walls when going down a hallway (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Looking back now, it seems pretty evident that the writers, storyboard artists and vengeful overworked Japanese animators were trying their damndest to give kids nightmares. And God bless em for it. Because when I was a kid, I loved anything that could scare me and that’s why I kept coming back to The Real Ghostbusters every afternoon after school and every Saturday morning. Below are a collection of moments from episodes I vividly recall warping me, not in any particular order, save for the last installment, which did fuck me up something gnarly when I was four. Also, it’s a personal list based off personal memories, so if they don’t match up with your individual tastes… sorry?
5. The Thing in Mrs. Faversham’s Attic
There are parts of every house that naturally frighten kids. The basement, the bedroom closet, a crawlspace, that pit beneath a concrete door in the garage that as an adult you realize was used for repairing the underside of cars but as a kid you thought was a vault where dead bodies were stored…you know, places like that. The attic was one of those rooms in the house kids never went into unless they wanted to get scared. Writer J. Michael Straczynski decided to capitalize on that when he did this little episode.
The Episode: So basically, a little old lady named Mrs. Faversham has lived in a haunted mansion ever since she was a little girl, where some horrible monster living in her attic could cackle loudly into the night, shake the walls and scratch violently at the floor. Apparently, she put up with it for seventy years, but seventy-one was just enough. So she calls the Ghostbusters. Peter decides to give her free service because of a subplot revealing that his mom died all by herself while he was in the city trying to hit the big time and he carries a crushing, guilt-ridden psychological and emotional weight because of it, resulting in his need to treat all old ladies with mass quantities of kindness and respect. Damn, Straczynski.
Anyway we find out that Mrs. Faversham’s father, attempting a quick and easy means to achieving great fortune, went into the attic and summoned a demon from Hell. Things went wrong, so he trapped it in the attic and warned his toddler of a daughter to never, ever go in there no matter what she hears because holy shit you’re gonna die. That was freaky enough, but things get worse when the Ghostbusters go up there.
Turns out, the demon has turned the attic into his own twisted realm where he has complete control. Windows you thought would lead to an escape route outside? Nah, those lead to giant eyeballs and a mouth. The demon then makes the trapdoor leading downstairs vanish and then attacks the Ghostbusters with horrific-looking monsters assembled from junk in the attic (one of which has a fucking scythe for an arm; who in New York City owns a scythe!?). The demon makes his demands simple: he wants to kill (the already long-deceased) Mr. Faversham for trapping him in the attic for seventy years. He seals the demand by telling the Ghostbusters “You will bring! Or you. Will. DIE!” and sends them on their way.
The Trauma: Attics are scary enough as it is and it didn’t help that at my old house in Fairfax City I had a pretty big one (standing room! In an attic!) that only proceeded to remind me of the one from this episode. My mom was a holiday fanatic, so it seemed once a month she’d send me up there all alone to gather decorations. And not a second went by where I didn’t fear that the trapdoor was going to close by itself, disappear and then a monster with scythes for arms would pop up out of the Easter knick-knacks and shred me.
4. Mrs. Roger’s Neighborhood
Remember that bit I said earlier, about being afraid of hallways? Well, here’s some context which I can thank writers Len Jansen and chuck Menville for.
The Episode: An old lady named Mrs. Roger’s asks the Ghostbusters to come deal with her bizarre-looking and very-haunted house (they’re popular with the elderly, it seems). As the Ghostbusters go to deal with the house, they send Mrs. Roger’s to the Firehouse to chill out. It turns out that unlike kindly old Mrs. Faversham, Mrs. Rogers is actually a disguised demon named “Watt” who plans to open the Containment Unit and recruit all the ghosts inside into its own vicious army with which to lay waste to humanity. Oh, and Watt totally looks like a tyrannosaurus. The Devil’s tyrannosaurus.
Anyhow, to get the Ghostbusters out of his/her (?) hair, Watt created the haunted house to actually be one giant trap meant to slaughter the Ghostbusters once they stepped inside. Turns out the entire house is made from ghosts, so in effect, everything in it is alive (or dead, but you get what I’m saying). The knob and lock on the front door swallows the key so they can’t get out and every piece of seemingly inanimate furniture comes to life and attacks them.
This culminates in a scene where hundreds of clawed hands burst out of the walls in the hallway leading to the front door and start grabbing at the Ghostbusters.
Eventually the furnace comes to life and tries to burn them all to death. The Ghostbusters escape, return to the Firehouse, Peter gets possessed (which was pretty creepy, too) and Watt is eventually captured.
The Trauma: So yeah, that’s what I was talking about. It may look silly now (look at that one hand with suction cup fingers! Ghost of the Human Fly?), but when I was five it gave me nightmares and made me keep my distance from the walls when I was going down a hallway. Hey, a silly anxiety, but I was five. J. Michael Straczynski wrote an episode of “The New Twilight Zone” that made me afraid of wallpaper. Wallpaper. I think I wanted to be scared so much as a kid that I went out of my way to find the most mundane things frightening.
3. The Ghostbusters in Paris
This one’s a short little scene, but back in the day it seemed pretty gruesomely animated for a kid’s show in the 80s. Looking at it now, yeah, it still seems pretty gruesomely animated for a kid’s show from the 80s. Let’s thank writer Randy Lofficier for it.
The Episode: The Eiffel Tower is haunted. The Ghostbusters show up to bust the ghosts. You know the drill.
No, it’s this one scene I want to point out. A tourist sees “a man in period costume” and asks if he’d pose for a picture with his wife. The “man in period costume” is happy to oblige, providing they get a picture of his “good side”.
Wait for it.
Here we go.
The Trauma: No, it didn’t make me afraid of French people or historical reenactment weirdos. That little moment just creeped me out. Imagine the greyish purple slime being red and tell me that isn’t fucking graphic for a kid’s show.
2. Knock, Knock
J. Michael Straczynski hates kids. I’m sure of it. This episode happens to be my favorite from the series, partly because it’s really, really well-animated, and partly because it has some really amazing atmosphere. But I’ll point out the scene that made my skin crawl when I was little.
The Episode: Some subway tunnel workers find the Doomsday Door buried beneath New York. It’s an ancient Sumerian (Sumerian? Beneath New York?) gateway leading to “the Nether Regions”. That’s FCC-regulated Saturday Morning Cartoon lingo for “Hell, mother fucker”. The Doomsday Door tells the subway workers “Do not open until Doomsday” and laughs demonically. Naturally, they ignore this reasonable request from a Satanic head, open it anyway and all manner of horrible monsters come rushing out.
The Ghostbusters go down there to close the door and its pretty much just a collection of completely weird and freaky scenes in a dank cave for the remaining twenty minutes (oh, and some really bad music by a band called Tahiti). So the plot’s pretty water-thin, but that’s okay, because the fucked up scenes that Straczynski cobbles together are so weird and awesome, you really don’t care.
One scene has the Ghostbusters board a possessed train. They’re alone, the lights blink off, and then when they come back on: ZOMBIES!
Earlier in the episode that same train was shown being possessed while it had a full load of passengers. It has always been my impression that those zombies were the people that were unfortunate enough to be on the train when it got possessed.
Yeah, Egon! Blast that fucker’s head off! That’ll teach him to try to get to his minimum wage night shift mopping floors at an insurance firm uptown, trying to save up enough to feed his kids and get them an education so they don’t join an inner city gang, only to one night board a bullet train from Hell, get killed and resurrected as a zombie! Yeah! Fuck that guy!
So a lot of stuff like that happens. The one scene that freaked me out, though?
Basically, the Ghostbusters are walking down the cave and they hear this noise. They hide behind some rocks and see a ghostly ship coming up a foggy river. It’s a slave ship full of damned souls, forced to row aimlessly for all eternity. The skeletal Captain mocks them with dialogue such as “Look! Over there! More dirt! And what’s that? Oh ho ho ho, sorry. More dirt! Hahaha!” A damned rower responds, “But, that’s all we’ve seen for the last five thousand years! Dirt!” To which the Captain replies, “Hahaha! Don’t row so fast! We’ve got all of eternity…”
The ship then disappears in the fog down the river and the Ghostbusters basically do the equivalent, of putting their arms behind their backs and walking away while whistling awkwardly (Ray: “Did you just see what I just saw?” Wintson: “No.” Ray: “Me neither.”)
The Trauma: The entire scene is just bizarre and worthless to the plot, included only to fucking scare the pants off the six year-olds watching the show. The way it’s done is brilliant. You hear all these echoing, disembodied voices from the Captain and the slaves, but you never see any of their lips move. It’s just haunting and weird and terribly, terribly dismal. I mean, if this show had been written by lesser talents, the Ghostbusters would have blasted the Captain and rescued all those tortured souls. Instead, they just pretend like they didn’t see a thing and leave those damned rowers to their eternal torment.
So far as the trauma goes? It mostly just freaked me out, but it sort of also made me doubt that my heroes, the Ghostbusters, would come to my rescue if I was trapped in Hell. Thanks a lot, guys.
1. The Boogieman Cometh and The Bogeyman is Back
No, that’s not a type-o. They spelled his name two different ways for some reason.
Anyhow, if you have even the vaguest memories of The Real Ghostbusters, you probably saw this coming as my number one freakiest moment. Predictable, yes, but utterly deserving of its slot, at least where my childhood is concerned, ‘cause this one fucked me up royally. Thanks to writer Michael Reaves for the half-decade of sleepless nights.
The Episodes: The Boogieman DOES live in your closet and he DOES come out at night and he DOES want to scare the living Hell out of you or maybe do something much, much worse. We find out that Egon was terrorized by the Boogieman as a kid, thus instilling in him the desire to become a Ghostbuster and battle the supernatural. There may have been some sexual abuse in there, too, but for the love of God let’s not go there.
So you see, the Boogieman lives in this sort of Alice in Wonderland upside-down dimension where nothing makes sense and all the walls are lined with doors giving him access to every closet on the planet (so no, you are not safe). It’s kind of like that movie Monsters Inc., except that Mike and Sully aren’t nice guys voiced by washed-up comedians, but blood-thirsty ghouls out to fuck you up.
Anyhow, the Ghostbusters initially defeat the Boogieman by trapping him in his limbo dimension. He eventually escapes when Egon falls off the top of the World Trade Center (back when you could still conceivably do that) and got so freaking scared, his fear reached his mortal enemy and gave him the strength to break free. The scene where he returns is especially well done, as the Boogieman comes back through the closet in the Firehouse sleeping quarters and Egon basically reverts back to a nine year-old when he see the hideous Boogieman come shambling out; instead of fighting back, he cowers beneath the covers.
Anyhow, since the Boogieman isn’t a ghost, but a corporeal entity like you and I, the Ghostbusters can’t trap him and put him in the Containment Unit. So Egon decides to flush all his ethics down the toilet in the name of sweet, sweet revenge and builds a device called “the atomic destabilizer”. In his words, it will “turn the Boogieman into a ghost long enough to trap him”. Yeah. You know what would also turn someone into a ghost long enough for you to trap them? An AK-47. So Egon basically just murders the Boogieman and then traps his soul in a box.
Don’t fuck with Egon.
The Boogieman eventually returned for a third and final time in the 26th issue of NOW! Comic’s Real Ghostbusters series. He escapes from the Containment Unit when Samhaine (that pumpkin-headed god of Halloween guy) breaches it a few issues earlier and returns to his limbo dimension. He decides to get revenge on Egon by attacking a random kid in New York, beating him up and writing “Egon Spengler revenge” in blood on the wall. I’m not kidding you. The Boogieman isn’t a ghost. That isn’t red ectoplasm.
What penmanship, too!
So the kid goes to the hospital, Egon freaks the Hell out and swears to defeat his lifelong nemesis off once and for all. The Boogieman then shows up at the hospital to finish the kid off, Egon shows up, punches the Boogieman in the stomach (again, I’m not kidding you) and then traps him yet again.
The NOW! Comic series was always allowed to be a little darker than the cartoon itself was, but when the cartoon was so freaking dark already, well, what you end up with is the Boogieman writing death threats on the wall with the blood of children. You never saw this sort of stuff in NOW!’s Speed Racer or Astroboy comics, that’s for sure.
The Trauma: OH MY FUCKING GOD!
When I was a kid, I was already scared to death of closet monsters and monsters under the bed and all that sort of stuff. The Real Ghostbusters just came along and put a face to the monster I was certain would eat me in my sleep. And they didn’t disappoint. He may look silly as an adult (and the animators being unable to keep him on model for more than ten seconds doesn’t help), but when you’re six, that shit’s freakin’ terrifying.
The Boogieman is basically an amalgamation of whatever the character designers thought would scare kids. His gigantic head sports a face that’s suitably clown-like (with the elongated nose, chalky complexion, red lips and green hair), and as we all know, clowns are the brood of Satan. They go the extra mile by giving him a huge mouth packed with jagged teeth. He walks atop cloven hooves like the Devil-himself and reaches out at you with skeletal, clawed hands. I…don’t know what’s up with the tuxedo overcoat and bowtie, though. I think it’s a leftover from Everett Peck’s initial character design that got modified before it was animated:
Everett Peck was a real weirdo and all his designs for the show were insane like that. Hey, the guy created Duckman. Of course he’s nuts.
Anyhow, the Boogieman kept me sleeping under my covers until I was ten and I still think he’s one of the most horrifying renditions that the mythological character has ever gotten. The nice thing about the Boogieman is that he’s a very vague creature of folk lore with no real definite shape or form. He’s whatever scares you. And I’d say The Real Ghostbusters did his legend justice.