Ghostbusters, Luigi's Mansion, and the conquering of fear


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[It’s amazing how far we’ve come when it comes to popularizing ghosts. Medieval peasants probably thought the phenomena of ghosts were nigh unstoppable omens of destruction that spelled the end of your life as you know it. And then the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was created. ~Strider]

You might not realize it, but 1984’s Ghostbusters is one of the most culturally influential movies of all time.

Well, okay, you probably did know that already, what with the way the film has been seen by multiple generations of millions of people, inspired a number of catchphrases and slang terms, sold billions of dollars worth of merchandise, and ensured that Ray Parker Jr. would never have to work again. But what you might not have thought much about is the way the film fundamentally changed the way we view ghosts.

Never thought about it? Well, consider if you will the act of placing a horseshoe over a door.

This tradition dates back many centuries, and in addition to bringing good luck (as horseshoes tend to do), it was also said to prevent spirits and witches from entering your home.

Or, consider the act of using salt to ward off evil.

Whether you’re using the salt as a deterrent or an offering, whether the spirit is meant to be repulsed by the substance or satisfied by it, the fact remains that it’s intended to keep evil from drawing near you

And let’s not forget wind chimes.

Though seen today as a pleasant decoration, were originally crafted for the purpose of warding spirits away.

You’re probably thinking, “What does this all have to do withGhostbusters?” Well, think about it.

What do all of these remedies have in common? And what are they all missing?

Although they’re all meant to keep you away from spirits, none of them have to power to actuallydestroya ghost.

Time and again, it’s the same story: talismans, spells, and exorcisms can keep evil spirits away, but can’t hope to rid the world of their evil. We can only hope that the ghosts will be sufficiently bothered to go and terrorize someone else. Stories of real-life hauntings, like those investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, all end the same way: with the Warrens declaring, “Yep, it’s haunted,” leaving, and the haunting victims being forced to flee. Classic horror movies likeThe Exorcistconclude with the demon driven off, but free to possess again. EvenThe Ghost Busters,1973’s coincidentally titled Filmation TV heroes (who are, if you were wondering, the fakeGhostbustersto the other guys real ones), could not truly bust their ghosts; they could only use their Ghost De-Materialize to send them back to their own dimension, which they were presumably free to return from any time they wished.

Humans, in short, have not been given any hope of actually defeating a spirit in the cultural zeitgeist; in most cultures created across the world, we can only detain them temporarily, and always on the spirits’ terms.

At least, untilGhostbusterscame along.

The Ghostbusters, completely unlike any prior ghost-hunting heroes, were masters of a spirit’s fate. Their containment unit completely overtook whatever power a ghost had, permanently trapping it within the machine. It had no possibility of escape on its end. Its only possible salvation would be if any penis-deprived human shut off the device on the other side. And that’s not even counting the severe thrashing they gave to the likes of Gozer, aliteral godwho was not captured, butobliteratedby the team’s ghost-busting might.

With the release ofGhostbusters,the age of talismans and incantations was over. Our fictional spirit hunters (if not necessarily our real ones) were no longer limited to keeping evil at bay. Now, with the power of modern human technology, they could at last take away the dominance of the supernatural, leaving humanity as the new kings of creation.

Was it any wonder that this film caught on so massively with children? Children, who believe almost without exception that there are monsters in their closets and ghosts in their radiators, at last had a fantasy that allowed them to defeat such beasties. Buying officially licensed Proton Packs and Ghost Traps by the truckloads, primed and ready to use them against any spirit who might have come their way. Suddenly, ghosts weren’t so scary any more.

Ah, butGhostbusterswas only a stepping stone, a middle rung on the ladder to ghost destruction. For the Busters’ tools were all make believe and expensive; not only were they made up by Dan Aykroyd, they were also high-tech and high-priced, suitable only for handling by professionals. No child would be able to get their hands on one, even if they existed. For the ultimate ghost-smashing fantasy, we’d have to wait another 17 years.

Luigi’s Mansionwhose debt toGhostbustersis so obvious I won’t even waste time explaining it is set in an altogether different world than its precursor. Never mind that theSuper Marioworld is usually a very bright, fun, happy-go-lucky place, asMansionis probably the darkest-toned game set in that universe, but even so, there is a decidedly non-apocalyptic flair to the proceedings.

Otherworldly spirits inGhostbustersat their quietest wreck establishments, ruin businesses, and terrorize everyone in the area. At their loudest, they possess humans and attempt to take over the world. Meanwhile, the ghosts inLuigi’s Mansionseem entirely content to spend their time freaking people out and causing them bodily harm. What’s more, their entire motivation for getting Luigi into the house, or at least, their leader’s motivation is revenge for past defeats they’ve suffered at his and Mario’s hands. It all seems so petty.These spirits have conquered death and all they want to do is play mean-spirited pranks and get back at people who’ve (deservedly!) beaten them? Whatjerks!

And what’s more, where theGhostbusters’ghosties required extremely fancy, high-tech equipment to be found, attacked, and captured, Luigi needs only a flashlight, vacuum cleaner, and slightly modified Game Boy, a trio of devices that could be found in just about every household on Earth. They’re all that’s needed to banish evil spirits from our world for apparently forever. Some mighty, terrifying beingstheseghosts are.

These works’ re-imagining of the common specter from invincible monstrosity to petty, selfish weakling has done more, in my estimation, to quell our millennia-old fear of the supernatural than just about any other work of fiction. You can tell a child there’s no such thing as ghosts, but they know otherwise: they still hear the bumps in the night. You have to go a different route with them. My mom and dad tried to teach me that ghosts don’t exist, and it didn’t take;Luigi’s Mansiontaught me that ghosts are petty, wimpy fools, and oh, did I listen. My friends and I, we wandered into the dark without fear, safe in the knowledge that our common household items were all that was needed. And sure, we never actually did capture any ghosts since they reallydon’texist, after all but I know that, all thanks to a video game, I’ve never jumped at a noise in the night ever again.

Well, maybe a few times. But not often.