Looking back at the 80s, sometimes it can be difficult to rank the best or most influential movies of the decade. There’s so many factors to consider like box office numbers, sequels, was the movie attempted to be remade, was it spun off into a television series or cartoon, was it merchandised to hell and back, how large is the fandom today, etc. There are certainly a lot of films that feel like they should rank right up there at the top. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Empire Strikes Back, Batman, Back to the Future, The Karate Kid. But there is one movie that has an undeniable legacy, that was such a huge hit when it was released in theaters that the film literally made immediate waves that ripped through other media from books and music to television and other films. That film is Ghostbusters. A few years ago I was amazed when I stumbled on one of the later episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, one of those really later episodes after Maggie and Sam (Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey) joined the family, where the characters of Arnold and Sam ended up decked from head to toe in knock-off Ghostbusters costumes. Now remember, Ghostbusters was released to cinemas in June of 1984, and the episode of Diff’rent Strokes hit television screens in September of the same year. Within less than 3 months that film had resonated so loudly that other productions were scrambling to work elements of the movie into their stories. In Hollywood at the time that would be considered light-freaking-speed. Not long after that I also found out that a number of animated cartoons also had Ghostbusters-themed episodes, a lot of which before the franchise itself would spin-off its own cartoon in the fall of 1986. So I thought it would be fun to track down a bunch of the television series that featured Ghostbusters or heavily Ghostbusters-related episodes from the 80s. So let’s take a look at the other Ghostbusters…
As I mentioned above, with a list like this you have to start with the first and quickest riff on the classic Ghostbusters which just so happens to be the September 29th, 1984 season 7 opener of Diff’rent Strokes titled “A Haunting We Will Go”! It was written by Ken Hecht and Bob Brunner. The episode opens with none other than Gomez Addams himself (John Astin) guest staring as handyman Mr. Owens who is at the Drummond residence to fix some electrical issues in the high-rise apartment. Arnold and his new step brother Sam (Danny Cooksey) can’t help but wonder why Mr. Drummond and his new bride Maggie are going to take a walk up to the Old Markwell place, because it’s perfectly obvious that the mansion is haunted.
Mr. Owens understand their concerns and proceeds to tell Arnold, Sam and their friends Dudley and Matt a spooky story about the old Markwell place and how Old Man Markwell is the ghost haunting the place. As Astin tells the story the episodes jumps forward an hour or so to Arnold and Sam investigating the old Markwell place on their own and of course, things start to get spooky.
Hands reach out of the walls to grab them; furniture moves by itself and glass nick knacks start exploding left and right. Of course, it turns out that their friend Dudley and his buddy Matt were playing tricks on them to make it seem like the place was haunted. But then shit gets real and unexplained spectral stuff start happening. Sam is abducted by a ghost and the rest of the boys escape.
When Arnold gets home he finds Sam safe there already. Astin’s character comes back in and reassures them that there are real ghosts in the Markwell place. So Sam and Arnold go back, but this time they’re prepared, dressed in Ghostbusters outfits that Mr. Owens helped them make, carrying crazy backpacks and “garlic rifles”. Weirdly the two try to lure the ghost out with a smoked turkey leg of all things.
Just as they’re about to really start investigating, Mr. Drummond and Maggie show up with Mr. Owens to end the foolishness. Right as they’re about to leave though, a “real” ghost appears trapping everyone in the house and sliming Sam and Arnold after they blast it with their garlic guns.
But the ghost turns out to be the very alive “Old Man” Clarence Markwell who has rigged his house so that it appears to be haunted. He’s been hiding from the world for 30 years because he spent a lifetime designing inventions, but invariably all of them were used for war. So Mr. Drummond offers him a job with a guarantee that none of his work will be used for nefarious reasons, and everyone celebrates in a perfect sitcom ending.
Now, let’s jump from prime-time television to Saturday morning cartoons and take a look at the November 18th, 1984 season 4 episode of The Smurfs titled “Smurfing for Ghosts” written by Patsy Cameron, Tedd Anasti, and Mark Seidenberg. Before I dive into this episode, I just want to point out that animation, particularly for non-Filmation cartoons in the 80s, needed a lot of lead-time in terms of scripts and the animation process. After the shows were written in the US, the various animation studios typically shipped them to China, Taiwan or Japan to be animated before having them shipped back to the states to be edited and fixed. I’m not positive what the process was like for Hanna Barbera productions, but even if they weren’t shipped overseas, episodes still took a long time to produce with traditional animation. So the fact that this episode debuted only five months after Ghostbusters hit screens is pretty amazing.
The episode starts with human character Peewit tending to Selwyn and Tallulah’s castle while they’re off at a Wizarding convention. He goes to bed and the castle ghost Fenwick frightens him on accident, and then Peewit learns that Fenwick’s unwanted, freeloading spectral family has decided to stay at the castle.
At the same time, back at Smurf village, Brainy Smurf has started a problem-solving center for his fellow smurfs. Peewit rushing into the village looking for Papa Smurf to help him solve a problem. Of course, Papa Smurf is also at the wizarding convention, so Brainy offers his services to solve Peewit’s problem. While the worst Ghostbusters ripoff tune in history plays, Brainy introduces Peewit to his newest invention, a Smufy Proton Pack known as the Automatic Smurfer (which uses an accordion-like fire stoker contraption to suck in ghosts through a funnel and contains them in a jar in the backpack.) This is probably the closet to a proto-steampunk proton pack I’ve ever seen.
So Brainy and Clumsy, equipped with a couple of automatic smurfers join Peewit and head back to the castle to catch some ghosts.
Brainy for sure is the Egon of this episode as he is just chock full of ghostly knowledge on the occult. Of course, the smurfs get separated from Peewit and they start busting the wrong ghost!
The rest of the unwanted ghosts get a whiff of the plan to eradicate them and they do their best to scare the smurfs away. Hilarity ensues for a few minutes and eventually everyone learns that the reason the family of ghosts have come to the castle is to celebrate Fenwick’s Ghost Day (I guess the day he died?) They all have a party and end up happily together as friends as every Smurfs episode should end. Though it aired in November, this is surely a great example of a Halloween Smurfs episode. Dig that rad Jack-o-Lantern and obvious Halloween cake below!
Let’s stick with the small-fry cartoon characters, but fast forward a year and take a look at the September 21st, 1985 season 3 episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks titled, “Who Ghost There.” This particular episode was written by Jack Enyart and it is one of the only episodes in this piece that will directly reference the Ghostbusters, not only as being a film in the world of the show, but also by name and we even get a Chipmunks rendition of the Ghostbusters theme song.
On a dark and stormy night, the chipmunks end up home alone because Dave is stranded downtown with a flat tire. The trio are super frightened by the thunder storm raging outside so they decide to turn on all the lights in the house, but then end up shorting out the breaker box using so much power.
They decide to light a fire in the fireplace (this so wouldn’t happen in today’s overly paranoid cartoons), and then they start telling stories to try and take their mind off the spooky night. Of course Alvin wants to tell scary stories which completely freaks out Theodore. Just when Simon starts to get Theodore calmed down, a giant tree uproots and falls down in the yard and the brothers make their way to the basement to escape the craziness.
Of course, while in the basement they find a note hidden behind an old brick that warms them that the house is haunted by a ghost. They decide they absolutely have to get rid of the spirit, and remembering that they just saw the Ghostbusters film they break out into song, belting out a fun Chipmunk version of the film’s theme song.
After running around the house chasing shadows, a hooded figure shows up at the house trying to get in. The boys grab some pots and pans ready to beat up the ghost when they realize that it’s actually Dave huddled in a blanket trying to stay dry from the rain.
The episode ends with a wink and a nudge to the audience as a real ghost ends up eating some milk and graham crackers the boys left out earlier in order to try and trap it. The biggest missed opportunity in this episode was not having the Chipmunks suit up in some sort of makeshift Ghostbusters gear, at least while they were singing the theme song and running around the house. But still, a pretty rad episode.
Next, let’s shift away from Saturday morning fare a bit and take a look at one of my favorite action/comedy syndicated cartoons of the decade, DiC’s Inspector Gadget. This season 2 episode, titled “Ghost Catchers” originally aired on October 22nd, 1985 and was written by Eleanor Burian-Mohr and Glen Egbert.
The episode opens with Gadget getting an assignment from Chief Quimby warning him about hauntings all over Metro City. We very quickly learn that Dr. Claw and his MAD inventor scientist Dr. Spectrum have invented electronically controlled specters called Ghost Globules to haunt the citizens of Metro City. The idea is to scare everyone into paying for a way to rid themselves of ghosts, which just happens to be a service they offer called the Ghost Chasers (the actual solution to dissolving the Ghost Globules is to spray them with rancid cooking oil.)
As far as Ghostbusters references in the episode go, Dr. Spectrum has a television commercial to advertise his Ghost Catchers services which is quick but reminiscent of the Ghostbusters commercial in the original film, and the Ghost Globules feel like variations on Slimer. Of course, while investigating, Gadget gets on the wrong track and follows a couple of folks dressed as ghosts going to a costume party. The mansion where the party is being held coincidentally just happens to be the next prime spot where MAD plans on doing a haunt. While two MAD agents are ordered to kill Gadget, Brain is there to foil all of their plans in secret (like in every single episode) while Penny makes her way to the scene to do the real investigating with her trusty computer book.
Also, though it’s a cliché, I just want to point out that Gadget can not recognize Brain when he has any sort of disguise on, even if it’s just a tutu.
While I was watching this episode (and another one before it that I thought was the Ghostbuster-themed episode), it dawned on me that the Inspector Gadget cartoons sure does make a lot of visual references to another DiC series, Heathcliff and the Cadillac Cats. In these episodes you can clearly see Heathcliff and the other cats in the backgrounds of scenes or in quick snippets during action sequences. So apparently a lot of these DiC shows are part of a larger shared universe. How 2020 of them! I also spotted a random Ultraman appearance in this episode!
The MAD agents think they’ve dusted off Gadget, so the enact their plan and let their Ghost Globules free on the party in a scene that is very reminiscent of Slimer in the hotel ballroom from Ghostbusters (including eating a bunch of food on the buffet and crashing a giant chandelier.)
When the “Ghost Chasers” show up, Gadget pushes them aside to try and capture the ghosts himself. In the scuffle he dons a go-go gadget gas-mask and picks up one of their oil guns. Between him and Penny they bust the ghosts and save the day, leaving Dr. Claw to curse them until he can come back and destroy them next time.
Jumping forward another year to 1986 and back to Saturday mornings we have a season 2 episode of Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling titled “Ghost Wrestlers”. The episode was written by Jeffrey Scott and originally aired on October 4th of 1986.
While the gang of wrasllin’ heroes is working out in Hulk’s gym, an old-time wrestler named Manny comes into the gym looking to reconnect and get some help with a problem at the boarding house, called Heavenly Acres, where he lives. It just so happens to be haunted by ghosts!
Of course, Hulk lets everyone know that they have to help out an old wrestler so the gang decides to go to the boarding house to investigate. After they have an initial scare (that turns out just to be Mean Gene Okerlund in a closet), the gang decide to spend the night in the creepy boarding house.
During the night each of the wrestlers is confronted by some spooky spirit and everyone except Wendy ends up bunking in Hulk Hogan’s room. After they hear Wendy screaming from her room, they’re all confronted with a floating spud of a ghost that looks a lot like Slimer, and then they and the residents of Heavenly Acres chase the ghost outside into the attached graveyard.
There’s a moment during this sequence when a snippet of the Ghostbusters theme ends up playing, which was kind of fun.
Unable to catch the ghost, Manny tells the gang that they need to go to the library and learn about ghost hunting. So, the next day they check out a book and then build make-shift proton packs out of old vacuum cleaner parts from the Junkyard Dog’s junkyard. These packs fire a pink slime intended to capture the ghost (this is 3 years before Ghostbusters 2 would do the same thing!)
When they go back to Heavenly Acres they hunt around for a bit before finding a clue that leads them to the real culprit behind the whole mess, Ethel, Manny’s girlfriend (who was trying to clear out the home so that she could find a secret stash of $100,000 left by a previous resident.
Of course they all forgive her and the residents decide to share the money to fix up the house. Honestly, I was surprised that the villains in this episode were the heels of the WWF led by Rowdy Roddy Piper. I think this is one of the rare episodes that doesn’t pit the two sets of wrestlers against each other.
The next big instance of Ghostbusters mania that I could find happens in an 1988 season 5 episode of The Muppet Babies titled “Bug-Busting Babies.” The episode was written by Hank Saroyan and originally aired on December 3rd of that year.
In this episode Scooter is obsessed with playing his new computer game about a spy who just also happens to be a window-washer. There’s a bug in the game though and it starts going haywire. Scooter tries to figure out what’s wrong, but doesn’t have much luck. The other Muppet Babies see a news report on the tv talking about computer bugs. so they suggest that maybe Scooter’s computer is infected.
The babies each take turns daydreaming how they can fix the computer bug problem. Fozzie thinks the computer should go to the hospital, but then Piggy imagines a computer investigation agency modeled after the show Moonlighting. Partway through that daydream Gonzo hijacks it and says they need to call the Bug Busters. They even sing the Bug Busters theme song!
So they Babies imagine themselves as the Bug Busters. They enter the computer world (in a weird reference to the movie Tron), though they get there by mailing themselves in a box (yeah, I know, it makes zero sense.)Since only a handful of the Babies were in the Moonlighting daydream, the newly christened crew of Bug Busters has to recruit some new members (riffing off the hiring of Winston in the Ghostbusters film as well as getting the gang together from the original Muppet movie) so they can flesh out the crew.
I love that they take a second to dip out of the daydream back into reality to contrast the outfits of the babies…
They make their way to the building from Scooter’s game and confront a giant bug, that they surround and eventually trap in their handy dandy bug-catching jar in a sequence that is very reminiscent of the ballroom scene from the original Ghostbusters complete with all of them using their proton packs to trap the bug.
In reality they Babies catch a cockroach in the nursery and Scooter explains that he figured out how to fix his computer on his own.
The next show I wanted to mention is still in the cartoon realm, but it’s the live action segments from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! that would wrap around each animated episode. The specific one I’m highlighting comes from one of the season 1 Friday episodes that featured the first Legend of Zelda story (called The Ringer.) This one aired on September 8th, 1989 and featured a live action segment with the Mario Brothers called “Slime Busters.”
The Ghostbusters aspect of this episode revolves around a segment where the Mario Bros HQ is overrun by green, slug-like, slime ghosts. Of course, they already called the Slime Busters to come and help, and the main slime buster who shows up is Ernie Hudson, very oddly playing himself.
Some horrible puns and jokes ensue as he attempts to bust the slime ghost. Of course, it turns out the ghost has possessed Luigi!
Ernie zaps Luigi who is hiding behind a pizza pan, even though he think it may turn Luigi into a drooling, mindless simpleton. All is right with the world though, as Luigi make it out okay, and the only issue is that the Brothers need to buy a new pizza pan (wah WAH!) Everyone does the Mario at the end and it’s pretty rad. These segments were not included on the Legend of Zelda DVD set (even though the other 12 live action Mario brothers sequences were), but an awesome youtube user was kind enough to re-edit the episode back together and you can watch it as it originally aired here.
The last instance of an 80s era show that makes a story-specific overt reference to the Ghostbusters films is a 1989, season 3 episode of the Ducktales titled “Dough, Ray, Me” with a story by Brooks Wachtel and written for the screen by Gordon Bressack. The episode originally aired on November 3rd of 1989.
In this episode Huey, Dewey, and Louie spend all of their money at the Duckburg video arcade and they rush home to beg Uncle Scrooge for a raise in their allowance so they can play more games.
He of course tells them no, that they need to learn responsibility and that they have to earn the money by getting a job. So, the boys, seeing Ms. Beakley pulling out her vacuum cleaner, get the idea to become the Dirt Busters, lean, mean, cleaning machines.
They basically dress up like the Ghostbusters but with vacuuming equipment. They even yell out their tag line, “Who ya gonna call? Dirt Busters!” After getting a whole dollar from Ms. Beakley they go over to Gygo’s hut to help clean up his place.
There they stumble upon his latest invention, the Multiphonic Duplicator, a contraption that can duplicate objects. According to Gyro, it works on the principal of molecular restructuring by audio disruption. Sure. Of course, the boys have him test it out on their dollar coin, and they get the idea to steal the machine to duplicate a ton of money and toys so they can have free fun all summer. Of course, being one of Gyro’s inventions there is a glitch, objects that have been multiplied keep doubling over time uncontrollably.
So, before they know it their duplicated money goes haywire and the whole town of Duckberg is overrun with money which cause people to freak out and inflation to go nuts in the course of an afternoon. Of course, the Beagle Boys break out of prison to take advantage of the craziness. Though the Ghostbusters aspects of the story are very short-lived, it’s still a fun episode. It’s also one of the rare episodes where Fenton Crackshell is heavily featured and does not don the Gizmoduck outfit.
In researching this piece I found a slew of other examples, though a lot of them tend to fall out of the purview of this site being more recent homages and spoofs. But there are a few from the 90s that have enough of an overlap with 80s era animated series that I felt they were worth bringing up as honorable mentions. First up is very short bit in a season 5 episode of Garfield and Friends called “Home Sweet Swindler” that originally aired on September 26, 1992.
In this short Jon, Odie and Garfield are taken in by a con man who secretly causes “damages” to Jon’s house and then he shows up as the appropriate repair man to fix the problem for a ton of cash. He keeps coming back until he finally bleeds Jon dry and takes the deed to the house from Jon. In a ploy to get him to leave, Garfield covers himself in flour and attempts to scare the swinder away by pretending to be a ghost. In the last gag, the swinder comes back as a member of the “Swindler Ghost Chasers” in a silly ghostbusters-esque getup that actually looks like one of the later Egon outfits from the Real Ghostbusters action figures line…
My second honorable mention is also a very short snippet from the Tiny Toons Night Ghoulary animated special from May 28th, 1995. In the special, there is a short segment with Furball being haunted by a ghostly Lil Sneezer.
In one gag, Furball dons a Mousebusters outfit with a full on proton pack and when he goes to zap the spectral rodent, Sneezer sneezes, ricocheting the proton blast and killing Furball. Now they’re both ghosts, doomed to annoy each other in the afterlife.
The last honorable mention comes from one of my favorite Nicktoons cartoons, Rocko’s Modern Life. The episode in question is from the 4th season, and originally aired on July 12th, 1996. It was titled “Feisty Geist” and was written by Tim Hill, and story-boarded and directed by Jeff “Swampy” Marsh.
In the episode Rocko and Heffer visit a psychic medium named Madame Doreeno and they’re inadvertently cursed by the ghost Mortimer Kahn (her captive spirit who can read the past lives of her clients.) Mortimer escapes and follows Rocko home, possessing objects all over Rocko’s house. The boys end up buying a liquid substance called Spirit Away that can supposedly get rid of ghosts that they load up in Proton Pack-esque water guns with backpacks and they hunt down the ghost in the house.
After tracking him though a bunch of objects in the house they finally trap him in a snow globe and return him to Madame Doreeno.
So, can you think of any other instances that I missed? Let me know in the comments!