Collins’ Crypt: Who You Gonna Read? GHOSTBUSTERS! (and GHOSTBUSTERS II)
Strange as it may seem given when I grew up (the 1980s) and my love of horror, I kind of missed the boat on GHOSTBUSTERS. Since I was able to watch "real" horror movies by the time I got HBO in 1987ish (i.e. after the film had long passed its near-daily airings), I just never got around to it. It wasn't a total blind spot; I watched the cartoon a couple of times and had a few of the figures (blond Egon with "if you raise his tie his jaw drops" action!), so it wasn't like I was simply unaware of its existence - it was just not something that consumed much if any of my day to day existence. An airing on one of the big television networks that I recorded on the VCR was the first time I finally saw the movie in its entirety (well, "entirety" - it cut a few moments, including the infamous oral gag), and that would have been right around when the 1989 sequel was due to arrive soon.
As for GHOSTBUSTERS II, I didn't wait as long to check it out, renting it when it came out that holiday season, though I spent more time on the accompanying jigsaw puzzle than I did watching/rewatching it. I enjoyed some of its gags, but even at 9 years old I thought it was weird how Bill Murray sat out nearly all of its action scenes and felt Vigo was a distraction from the more interesting "New York's anger is manifesting" concept. Basically I was unimpressed, and since it didn't live up to my (measured) opinion of the original, I doubt I ever even saw it again until college, when the two films were released on DVD. My opinion of it didn't change, but watching the first film (possibly for the first time "uncut", certainly for the first time without being cropped) was a minor revelation; not only was the film much better than the cropped/cut version had me believing, but a number of its jokes certainly played better to a 20-year-old than an 8-year-old (Venkman's "What a crime..." response to Dana telling him nothing happened in the bedroom being one notable example), and my deeper appreciation of its cast - and old-school practical FX - had me finally getting why it was such a big deal.
Add in the "third film" video game from 2009, with its repetitive action and even more repetitive dialogue ("Ow! That was OW there!" - Peter Venkman, every 12 seconds), and it was easier for me to lump GHOSTBUSTERS along with things like THE CROW and HIGHLANDER: really good movies that unfortunately got saddled with being part of a subsequent, mostly forgettable franchise. In fact, I didn't realize HOW big a deal the brand was to some people until the 2016 version was in production and the dreaded "Ghostbros" started coming out from under their rocks to tell Paul Feig that he deserved to die or whatever. From my perspective it was no more "important" to anyone than say, CADDYSHACK (another '80s staple with a lousy follow-up, and a number of shared personnel), but apparently it had a core fanbase as rabid (if not as plentiful) as Star Wars or Christopher Nolan's, who would get angry at - among other things - pointing out the fact that GHOSTBUSTERS II wasn't very good. And Gozer help anyone who'd dare go further and admit that the 2016 one was superior to it, which I also believe to be true (I won't be reading the comments for this piece, I suspect).
Given my overall lack of enthusiasm for the brand, I rarely paid any attention to the films' production histories, though through cultural osmosis I did learn somewhere along the way that Dan Aykroyd's original drafts for the first film were much different (the team was already formed when the film began, they would go into other dimensions, etc.), which made me excited to read the novelization for the film when it was republished by Titan Books this spring. As any novelization fan knows, these books - particularly from this time period - often went off course from the finished film we knew, because the authors would be working from older drafts of the script in order to have the book out on time, since they couldn't exactly get new script pages emailed to them on the regular. So I was hoping some of that material might have found its way into the novel, assuming that would be the reason for its exorbitant costs on eBay and the like (often well over 100 dollars for used copies).
Alas, it follows the finished film pretty closely, with the rare diversions mostly being familiar to anyone who watched the deleted scenes section on the DVD (such as the unhappily married couple who finds the ghost in the Sedgewick Hotel), though the blow job scene is presented in its original context (Ray and Winston investigating a military fort, where Ray tries on a soldier costume and then gets blown - yes, it really happened, not a dream as presented now). Other than that, the biggest addition is probably the continued presence of the two homeless men played by Murray and Aykroyd; the deleted scenes offer one quick bit with them but the novel has them popping up throughout, offering a layman's perspective on the unfolding events. We are also treated to a few bits of backstory (presented as inner monologue, not full-blown sequences) that may or may not be of Mueller's complete invention, such as Venkman's past as a carnival worker or Ray's fractured relationship with his siblings.
That said, the tone is markedly different. Granted, Murray's performance as Venkman can be grating and even a bit creepy (his introduction with the grad student in particular), but even to someone who generally likes the character and finds him funny in the film, he just comes off as a total jerk throughout Mueller's novel. His interactions with Dana, in particular, have little of the affection Murray's actual performance conveys, so all that's left is a guy being way too aggressive with a woman (and no, this isn't a "things were different then" thing - again, Murray makes it work in the film itself). Also, Mueller seems a bit... horny? The librarian - played by a near 60-year-old in the film - has her aged halved and gets an inner monologue about how she hasn't had any physical connections in a while and supplants her desires by reading the Kama Sutra, and he curiously decides to give Egon a backstory about how he'd peep on his peers as a teenager to track their STDs. What?
Thankfully, the sequel's novelization had a different author (Ed Naha), and Titan has packaged the two of them together in this one volume. Funnily, the opposite happens: while Mueller's novel lacks the humor that made the film so memorable, Naha manages to improve on the lackluster sequel with his take. The film had some late-game reshoots and edits, but the novel was written prior to those changes, so we get extended Slimer scenes (originally Louis got his Ghostbusting experience with repeated (failed) attempts to capture Slimer around the firehouse) and the original fate of the Mayor's prickly assistant (played by Kurt Fuller), who instead of being fired is eaten by the pink slime around the museum. The completely excised Eugene Levy cameo (as Louis' cousin) and a full scene of Ray being possessed while driving the Ecto-1 are also included, so basically you get a little more action than the film offered. And without the weird backstories Mueller kept including, it almost reads like a cross between above-average fan-fiction and one of the "evil overtakes the city" horror novels that littered bookshelves in the 1980s (and my own, now). It still doesn't really satisfy as a followup to the first film, but if you imagine the second film didn't exist and this was commissioned as an original tie-in novel, it's nowhere near as big of a letdown. Plus, there's a joke from Venkman (not presented in the film) about a certain New York businessman of the '80s that... well, no longer reads as a joke, let's just say.
Also, I just want to point out the weird coincidence that even though the two novels were written by different men, both of them somehow manage to take Winston's most famous line from the films ("I love this town!" and "I hate jello," respectively) and give them to Venkman. On the other hand, both films had a Ray and Winston-centric scene that was removed and had snippets used (without the original context) in the films' respective mid-movie montages that are presented intact here, so Winston fans who are rightfully annoyed by his diminished presence in the films (the first one has an excuse, at least) can enjoy a little more of the character - and then feel the knife twist as Venkman gets to steal his thunder both times.
Hopefully there are more novelization reprints coming from Titan and/or their peers, as some of them tend to be quite expensive (you need a small loan to get the FRIDAY THE 13TH ones), and that's if they ever pop up on Amazon or Thriftbooks at all. If you're a collector then sure, a reprint isn't gonna cut it, but let's face it - few if any of them are going to be worth more than their original cover price (with inflation of course), so if you just want to actually read them, the reprints are the best way to do it. I pity whoever has paid 150 bucks for the first movie's adaptation, though for the $9.99 Titan is asking, it's certainly an interesting way to relive the movie, and as a bonus you get what I feel is the superior way to take in the middling sequel.