Goodbye, Dr. Spengler
This week the world lost Harold Ramis, screenwriter extraordinaire, from complications of an autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis disease. Ramis was 69 years old. New York Times author Douglas Martin called Ramis the “Alchemist of Comedy.” He is correct. Ramis was the driving force behind an impressive cadre of Hollywood blockbuster films.
My favorite was Ghostbusters (1984). And hands-down, Dr. Egon Spengler was my favorite character. I was captivated by the ghost busting scientific lingo that flowed from his mouth. Compared to the lustful Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and the chain smoking carb loading Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Spengler exuded quirky mad scientist. I ate it up. It didn’t hurt that I was a budding Annie Potts fan and was smitten with her infatuation with Egon.
Ghostbusters was more than a comedy. It reflected a shift in how movie-goers perceived horror movies. It was a hybrid genre motion picture combining humor with horror. Prior to the 1980s mainstream Hollywood films were categorized by a strict genre system. Rarely did a film cross genres.
Early motion pictures brought horror literary classics to life. Silent films often revolved around the genre. By the 1920s horror films were premised on supernatural creatures the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the werewolf. As the United States rallied after World War I and II, the studies created films based on mutated monsters. The Cold War was embedded in the growing theme that Americans should fear the nuclear inspired monster. Entering the 1960s, audiences were questioning the human psyche and the psychological thriller was born. Now the villain may appear as an ordinary citizen. The occult explosion carried the industry through the 1970s. At this time, independent filmmakers were able to make low-budget films returning high profits. Previously unknown screenwriters and directors were able to enter and claim their stake in filmmaking. The rise of the sequel and the horror movie franchise takes hold. Slasher films were replacing subtle film techniques. Now the audience saw it all. Gore was the name of the game. Add lusty teenagers and the film was sure to be a cult classic.
At this time, Ramis was finding his footing with comedy films. He completed Animal House, Caddyshack, and Stripes; all blockbuster movies. For Ghostbusters, Ramis was able to meld comedy with light horror movie themes. Genius. In all fairness, Ramis usually collaborated on his writing endeavors. But he brought a lot to the table.
Often when I am out on an investigation, I feel like Spengler et al as my team attempts to discern the situation. Lacking the supersized backpacks and matching overalls, I equipped with my sense of humor and intense curiosity. In the back of my mind I’m singing: Busting makes me feel good!