In both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016), four wacky characters find themselves out of jobs and band together to form a supernatural pest-removal business, where paranormal investigation meets high-tech extermination. They’re called “ghostbusters.”
I can say little of depth about either of the films—especially the first one. The four male characters are sophomoric, and the comedy—characteristic of Saturday Night Live of that era—is bad and stupid. (Director Ivan Reitman, who died in February, also directed such gems as Meatballs and Stripes. Blech.) The special effects are so terrible they’re laughable.
Despite its coarse execution, Ghostbusters managed to tell a decent story that starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, and Rick Moranis.
Yet, the story got way better when it was reinterpreted and recast with four women: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. (And I didn’t mind screen time with the big, dumb receptionist, played by Chris Hemsworth.)
The 2016 version basically tells the original story with some freshening. The ladies are still sophomoric, but they are way funnier, the writing is better, and the special effects are much improved.
The remake contained lots of fun references to the 1984 version: the Ecto-1 mobile, the slime, the gluttonous ghosts, the Stay Puft marshmallow man, Hook & Ladder #8, and cameos my Murray, Aykroyd, Potts, Hudson, and Weaver.
The National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York, where I live, was dedicated a few years back, and I saw (and touched—don’t tell anyone) the original Ecto-1 mobile. Maybe someday it will visit your town too.
A Stir of Echoes is a 1999 supernatural thriller directed by David Koepp. It’s based on one of my favorite Richard Matheson novels (in fact, one of my all-time favorite novels). In the film, protagonist Tom Witzky is hypnotized by his sister-in-law, who gives him the post-hypnotic suggestion: “Your mind will be completely open, like an open door, open to receive everything around you.” This suggestion turns out to be way too open-ended.
In one scene, Tom switches on a baby monitor at his son Jake’s bedside. This is a metaphor for being open and tuned into activity “upstairs,” or on “the other side.” Tom’s psychic abilities have been switched on artificially. But his son comes by them naturally.
Jake “shines” like Danny Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. In fact, one scene in which Jake and his mother wander into a cemetery during a police officer’s funeral, Neil the cop follows them and discusses Jake’s psychic abilities much like Dick Hallorann in King’s 1977 novel. I can’t recall if the cemetery scene is derived from Matheson’s 1958 novel, but if it is, Matheson’s version is the original. Like Hallorann, Neil says of Jake, “Boy’s got the x-ray eyes. … Daddy?” Maggie affirms his perceptions.
Jake sees and knows things psychically and has an “imaginary friend,” Samantha—a departed spirit who haunts him because he can perceive her. This spirit relationship is like Danny Torrance’s “Tony,” who’s actually a mediumistic spirit guide. After Tom encounters a vision of Samantha, Jake tells him, “You’re awake now, Daddy. Don’t be afraid of it, Daddy.”
With another child on the way, Tom faces giving up his dream of becoming a rock star. Yet he laments that he doesn’t want to be ordinary. When Lisa hypnotizes him the second time, he receives the command to DIG. He’s not sure what it means, but he tears up the backyard and the house trying to follow through. When Maggie challenges him, he tells her, “This is the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. The most important thing I’ve ever done.”
His digging, searching for the truth, leads him to the answer he’s been seeking. It dovetails with the most important thing Samantha needs: justice for the crimes that caused her death.
This one’s got the supernatural, psychic and mediumistic abilities, and crime. My favorite combination. If you haven’t seen A Stir of Echoes, I highly recommend it. But be sure to read the book first!
The Others (2001), directed by Alejandro Amenábar, is one of my favorite supernatural horror/psychological thriller movies. It’s got everything I love: horror, the supernatural, the afterlife, mystery, suspense, Christianity, and Spiritualism. It shows what a haunting is like from “the other side.”
I could approach this film in so many ways. But I want to point out some things about darkness and blindness.
While the screen is still dark before the opening credits, a voiceover begins in which a woman says, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” This is the first instance of information coming from darkness that can be taken two ways: as a mother telling her children a bedtime story (beginning with Genesis chapter 1, where God says, “Let there be light”), or a medium beginning a séance with a table full of sitters.
Grace lives with Anne and Nicholas in her island manse which she keeps in perpetual darkness because the children are photosensitive and will die if exposed to strong light. Yet light in the darkness is exactly what they all need.
It’s 1945, and Grace, played by Nichole Kidman, is still waiting for her husband Charles to return from the war. The previous house servants abandoned their positions some time ago. The children bemoan the fact that, like Daddy, everyone disappears and doesn’t return.
Because they cannot leave the house, Grace homeschools the children using a religious curriculum. She’s a devout Catholic who spends much time indoctrinating the youngsters about such subjects as the four hells, notably limbo for children. As a Christian, she believes in the afterlife. But her rigid doctrine blinds her to the reality that they’re all dead. Their experience fails to align with her beliefs, so she cannot understand the nature of their plight. How and when will the light dawn?
Grace tells Mrs. Mills, the head housekeeper, that she doesn’t like fantasies or “strange ideas,” which she says the children entertain. But the children are closer to the truth—Anne, especially—than their mother is. Anne hears and sees “others” in the house, including a boy named Victor. Yet even the girl is in the dark about the reality of the afterlife.
Who are they? “Ghosts?” her little brother asks. She tells him they’re not ghosts. “Ghosts aren’t like that,” meaning people—like the kids, mother, and servants. Rather, ghosts “go about in white sheets and carry chains.” This is simply more misinformation that blinds them to what the afterlife and spirits really are like.
When Grace herself hears evidence of others in the house, she rushes into the “junk room,” where everything, like ghosts, are covered with sheets. She finds a Victorian photo album of the dead, its subjects all with closed eyes, and begins to see the light.
Grace determines to leave the house for town to fetch the priest, but on her way, she becomes lost in a fog so thick she cannot see where she’s going. Miraculously, she meets Charles returning from battle. Because he is so shell-shocked, he’s unable to shed any light on their situation—until Anne tells him the truth. Although viewers are still kept in the dark about this secret, the result is that Charles departs.
Things come to a head when Grace awakes in horror to find that all the draperies in the house have been removed, spirited away. The house is filled with light, ghastly light. The “others” are forcing her to see the light. Upon searching the house, she discovers a photograph in the servants’ quarters. All three of the servants are dead. She’s been entertaining departed spirits.
During the climax, Grace and the children at last find the “others” sitting in an upstairs room. The old woman, the “witch” that Anne sketched, is engaged in automatic writing, scribbling words she hears from the other side. Words that Grace and her children are screaming: “We’re not dead!” This is a primary tenet of Spiritualism: the dead are only so-called, for “We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the individual continue after the change called death” (https://nsac.org/what-we-believe/principles/).
I love how the books and movies required for my MFA course are tying into everything I’ve studied. I’m impressed with the writers’ knowledge of Spiritualism. For example, when Anne is dressed in her communion gown (looking like a ghost), her change into the blind old woman is a reference to trance mediumship and the Spiritualist phenomenon of transfiguration. This scene foreshadows the end in which the séance reveals “the other side of the story.”
Although the medium is blind to the physical, she sees in Spirit. Because of her contact with the other side on behalf of the living, Grace and the children do see the light. But only concerning their current state: they are dead, this is what ghosts are like, and the house belongs to them. Instead of allowing the light of their new understanding to enable them to move on like Charles, they determine they will never leave. The final shot of the gates being chained indicates that what remains within are only ghosts.
To disembodied souls, the “soul body” is just as physical and solid to them as their physical bodies were, and instead of moving on (because they don’t know they’re supposed to), they remain on the earth plane among people who are still physically embodied.
The only problem is that disembodied souls usually cannot make themselves seen or heard by those still living. When loved ones and helpers in the spirit world come to escort them away from the physical realm, they refuse to go because they don’t believe they are “dead” (physically) and have no concept or belief in an afterlife.
The danger for these souls is becoming stuck on the earth plane instead of progressing to the joys of life in the higher astral realms.
Lee Allen Howard, How to Tell If Your House Is Haunted
Backstory is everything that happened to the protagonist before the story begins. In The Anatomy of Story, John Truby calls this the “ghost.” The ghost is usually some negative event from the past that still haunts the protagonist in the present. This past trauma is the source of the hero’s current psychological and moral weakness. It’s his internal opponent, what Truby describes as the “great fear that is holding him back from action.”
In DEATH PERCEPTION, my just-released supernatural thriller, young protagonist Kennet Singleton’s backstory ghost is his father’s drunken violence, resulting in his father’s death and the loss of his mother’s eye. Lack of a good role model has crippled Kennet from striking out on his own; at 19, he still lives with his invalid mother in a personal care home and holds only a part-time job at a local funeral home.
However, Kennet’s natural hypersensitivity toward his father’s moods and abusive behavior birthed a psychic gift that blooms when an old prophetess lays her hands on him. Later he discovers that he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
When he begins believing in himself and using his gift to avenge the spirits of those who have been murdered (ghosts of a different sort), Kennet finds the courage to stand up for himself and forge his way toward independence.
Good stories dramatize the process of a flawed character overcoming past wounds on the path to wholeness. Even in a tale of horror and supernatural crime, Kennet’s “ghosts” find justice—and peace.
This was originally posted at http://buildingthebridge.wordpress.com, the site for my metaphysical and spiritualistic musings. From the acknowledgments page in the book: “We affirm that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism.” –Principle #5 of Spiritualism