Written by Jonathan Wojcik
October 4: The Extreme Ghostbusters vs. FEAR ITSELF!
The Extreme Ghostbusters vs. FEAR ITSELF!
The Real Ghostbusters dominated approximately a third of what should technically constitute my childhood, if I thought at any point that my childhood "officially" ended, so when the newfangled Extreme Ghostbusters materialized without warning in the late nineties, I was both intrigued and skeptical. Set a decade or two after the original show, the new team of hip college kids lead by an aging Egon seemed more than a little iffy at first glance.
Fortunately, the real stars of the show - the ghosts - kicked more ass than children's television knew how to handle. While franchise veteran Everett Peck returned for more creature designs, the equally amazing Fil Barlow took over for a lot of them, and together with a great writing team, spun tales of supernatural horror significantly more grotesque, inventive and gripping than any prime-time supernatural thriller. Any single specter in the series could have probably massacred the cast of Buffy, and once the monsters got me hooked, I even found myself actually caring about our new protagonists.
Almost any episode would be worthy of a Halloween review, and I certainly considered a countdown list of my favorite series monsters, but that's going to wait for another time. For the completely unfamiliar, I really just want to review a single episode, beginning to end - a favorite of mine entitled Fear Itself.
Before the introductory theme song, the episode begins by dropping us straight into the midst of a bust. This huge, hideous biker ghost has all the wackiness I loved about Everett Peck's earlier designs...and when its goofy head gets blown off, its tongue transforms into a not-so-goofy replacement.
This opening sequence just serves as a little foreshadowing, as Garret, the wheelchair-bound ghostbuster, gets trapped in a closet and has a minor panic attack.
Meanwhile, in the "A" plot side of town, a Steve Buscemi lookalike is overseeing the remodeling of an old building when his assistant discovers an entire secret tunnel system on the other side of a busted wall.
Steve Buscemi is advised for the umpteenth time in his career not to probe mysterious holes, and retorts that the only thing he's afraid of are heights. Unsurprisingly, the architecture immediately transforms around him and gives way to an endless chasm. We're shown the ghost around this point, but I'm not going to spoil it just yet.
Let me also take a moment to say that no, there is no clear footage of this series circulating the internet without a giant, ugly-ass "TOON DISNEY" logo that never ever goes away for a single moment. Would you look at that thing? Jesus. Were they afraid of someone like me doing exactly what I'm doing now, without crediting their stupid dead subsidiary for airing reruns of a canceled show?
...Anyway, the Ghostbusters are called in, finding traces of spirit activity but no sign of a bottomless pit. As it does in any proper haunting, the fun begins as soon as the team decides to split up. You know, to cover more ground.
Kylie, the cute goth chick, boasts that she's "not a screamer" (you know, for the kids) mere moments before splitting off from the group and immediately slipping into a pit of festering garbage, completely flipping her shit as maggots seethe over her entire body.
I like this situation a lot more than you probably wish I did.
Following the screams, the team only finds that the maggots have completely vanished, and deduce rather quickly that the spirit they're dealing with preys upon its victim's phobias.
No sooner do they decide to stick together than Kylie gets sucked through a tentacled, melting floor - hey, there's another one I didn't know I had! - and dumped straight back into another maggot pit.
Twice in one episode? They spoil me.
This time, the maggots meld together into one giant, depressed looking mega-maggot. This huggable grub probably wouldn't really be as distressing to a phobic as lots of little maggots that can get in your hair and undergarments, but I digress.
Meanwhile, the tech-head Roland makes the mistake of mentioning his own fear - his equipment breaking down - and his own proton pack starts to morph into an adorable, gnashing mecha-bug. The TOON DISNEY logo only stares, feeling nothing.
Did I also mention Slimer tagged along? He grew kind of annoying in the 80's show, but he's a little more toned down in this one. Also, he's afraid of Broccoli for some reason. Did you know this aired on TOON DISNEY?
This just leaves Garret and tough-guy Eduardo, who come across a coffin in the middle of a tunnel. Eduardo, terrified of his own death, thinks it's intended for him, until he's pulled through a wall and accosted by a vision of his own rotting corpse and the TOON DISNEY logo, each hungrier for flesh than the other.
Let me also just say that "It's me. I'm dead" is by far the most disturbingly funny way for your own corpse to introduce itself.
We already knew from the intro scene that Garret is a claustrophobe, and he gets sucked straight into the coffin with the TOON DISNEY logo until he convinces himself that it's all just an illusion, and that he has nothing to fear but fear itself. Yeah, that's kind of the whole idea here, Garret. Fear itself is literally coming to get you and trying to kill you. Even so, his flawed logic opens the coffin right up, and he's off to save his friends!
Busting in on Kylie, Garret and the TOON DISNEY logo reassure her that nothing they're seeing is real. They're just manifestations, and they can't hurt -
Oh. Well then.
Hahahahahaha. This wouldn't be half as tragic if you weren't already in a wheelchair.
Admitting they're all in real danger, Garret flees with Kylie from the demon fly-baby and rejoins the others. Backed into a corner, they decide the only logical course of action is an all-out brawl with each other's bogeymen.
The way the maggot tries to hang on with its mouth as it's pushed over a ledge to its death, into the waiting talons of the TOON DISNEY logo, is just heartbreaking. If it seems like I'm giving special attention to all these maggot moments, you're correct that that's exactly the kind of thing I would do, but they really do get more focus than almost anything else in the episode. This show knows exactly what I want.
Their fears vanquished, the busters at last follow their PKE readings to the very mastermind behind it all. The hideous, the all powerful...
...ITSE-oh. Oh, no.
Babby no :(
Yes, the ectoplasmic embodiment of fear itself also exists in a perpetual state of fear, itself. And why the hell wouldn't it? I've seen a lot of nightmare, fear and phobia monsters in horror, but this was the first time I saw one taken to this rather obvious conclusion, and Barlow's design is perfect. It's like some pitiful, embryonic fusion of a fruit fly with a dessicated chihuahua. It shivers. It squeaks. It has little pom-poms on its head.
You really have to love the team for this one - after all they were just put through, they have the common decency to acknowledge that the little phantasm is only scared, and in all the time it must have lurked beneath the old pub, it never hurt anybody until its territory was invaded. This is one of the few ghosts besides slimer that the gang doesn't trap and imprison, opting instead to just seal up the tunnels and let it live in peace.
Other ghosts, of course, wouldn't be so passive. The kids go on to tackle bone-eating dragons, eyeball-stealing cosmic horrors, tentacled tickle-clowns, deep sea horrors, cenobite proxies and more. Even today, few cartoons in children's television get this gruesome, this often. We all thought the use of "extreme" was just a corny trend back then, but in this case, it was an acccurate label.
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