Today marks 35 years since Ghostbusters premiered in theaters, so this week we’re asking:
Who is your favorite ghost in pop culture?
There is so little going on near my hometown of Worth, Illinois, located in the strip-malled southwestern outskirts of Chicago, that I’m grateful the area at least has a ghost to call its own. I have researched Resurrection Mary plenty over the years. The dance-hall queen is just looking for a ride home to Resurrection Cemetery around 72nd and Archer, and over the decades, apparently, many men have obliged. She usually leaves the car without opening the door without her drivers noticing; once she even burned her hands on the bars of the cemetery gate. Granted, I’m pretty ghost-forward, so I’m inclined to believe the multitude of reports that all recount her exact same physical description—blond, blue-eyed, wearing a white dress—and the experience of driving Mary home. There have been a number of (not great) movies based on Mary’s legend—all titled Resurrection Mary—including a 2002 film starring Wilford Brimley that moves the action to Kentucky (boo), a 2005 version (Dance With The Devil), and a 2007 version (“On a trip down Archer Avenue, you never know who you might run into”). So I would never bust Resurrection Mary. She’s the only thing remotely cool in my hometown.
Ghost’s Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is personable and sympathetic in this life and beyond—when the movie begins, he’s just a Demi Moore-loving banker who’s prepared to miss a morning racquetball session or whatever with his colleague and best friend Carl (Tony Goldwyn, providing an early glimpse of his future Fitz sleaziness) to stay up (and by that, I mean, sex up) with his wife Molly (Moore) around the old kiln. After Sam unwittingly stumbles upon Carl’s money laundering scheme, he’s killed by Willie (Rick Aviles) in a mugging meant to cover up the real motive for his murder. What does Sam do after being so rudely shuffled off this mortal coil? Does he become the Moaning Myrtle of his and Molly’s Manhattan loft? No, he continues to look after his wife, connecting with a psychic named Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) to communicate with her and solve his murder. He also takes ghosts lessons from a moody poltergeist, does cool tricks with a penny, a bathroom mirror, and steam, and finally, exacts justice with no collateral damage. Sam is just as good a ghost as he was a man, so not even the most diligent of ghostbusters could bring themselves to interfere with his mission—certainly not me, anyway.
There are many things that I miss about Scrubs, but what I appreciated most was its ability to break up both the sterility and absurdity with deeply human moments. On occasion, Dr. Perry Cox’s (John C. McGinley) brother-in-law Ben (Brendan Fraser) would stop by to partake in the torturing of JD (Zach Braff) and remind the audience of Perry’s softer side. Watching him show unabashed affection toward Ben was always a really nice break from his typical acidity, which made Ben’s sudden death in the season three episode “My Screw Up” all the more heartbreaking. Like a true buddy, Ben sticks around to shepherd Perry through his grief and guilt, complete with a few parting gags. The show’s choice to not reveal his death until the very end was a brilliant gut punch and makes it one of the most beautiful episodes of television in recent history. Watching “My Screw Up” now (whenever I have the emotional bandwidth for it, that is) always makes me appreciate how much Ben meant to Perry as well as what Fraser brought to Scrubs with every visit. And he was just as open and laid-back in death as he was in life, which Perry always fed off of nicely. I hope Ben is peacefully snapping blurry Polaroids in heaven and having a phenomenal time.
Look, look, I know: Beetlejuice is a dangerous pervert with boundary issues—including the boundary between just helping his “bio-exorcism” clients deal with a few pesky mortals, and outright murdering them. And yet, I just can’t bring myself to bring down the proton packs on a character who is maybe the perfect distillation of pure, uncut ’80s Michael Keaton, lying, cheating, and stealing his way through the afterlife. Spare me any animated series sanitizations, too. If I’m going to bat for the ghost with the most, I’ve got to accept him at his ghost to the mostestest. Sure, it’ll bring a few more truly crude puns and crotch grabs—and a lot more maggots—into my life, but what can I say? The guy knows how to party. (Just, uh, don’t bring him around literally any of the woman in your life; even for a dead guy, his attitude toward consent and harassment has aged disgustingly poorly.)
We’ve got scary ghosts and endearing/pervy ghosts, but how about a very shy ghost? I have to throw my support behind the Boos from the Super Mario series, because not only can they drive cars, play tennis, and own multiple mansions across the Mushroom Kingdom, but they also get very nervous about actually following through on ghostly behaviors. Traditionally, Boos will sneak up on Mario and his friends and kill them with a single touch, but only when Mario’s back is turned. If he turns around, the average Boo will blush, hide its face in shame, and freeze in place. There are other Boos that don’t behave like this, but they’re either big and scary or just small and lame, so it’s obvious that the regular Boo is the best kind of Super Mario ghost. Plus, a Boo is called “Teresa” in Japan, which is based on the Japanese word for “to be shy,” and that’s just extremely cute. How could you ever bust a ghost that is too self-conscious to be scary?
It’s not just because she’s played by Carol Kane, though to be honest, that’s probably a huge part of the reason for my choice. But the real appeal of Scrooged’s Ghost Of Christmas Present is the combination of bubbly vivaciousness and blithe cruelty, a one-two punch of charm that she might actually deliver, as, well, a one-two punch. The film’s retelling of A Christmas Carol largely rests on the shoulders of Bill Murray as Frank Cross, an Ebenezer-like TV president and avowed asshole who considers kindness and decency weaknesses that get in the way of profit. So naturally, he’s visited by spirits on Christmas Eve to change his attitude, and while they each have their own positive qualities (okay, the Ghost Of Christmas Future’s tortured souls stored in its ribcage are a bit of a turn-off), Present’s fairy-esque presence, light-hearted whimsy, and penchant for hitting Frank in the face with a toaster all make her the clear winner. She enjoys a good tickle fight, and has seemingly boundless enthusiasm for Christmas. It’s a win-win for any parties to which you may invite her; there’s a good chance she’ll knock out any douchebag who tries to mess with your holiday cheer.
From Beetlejuice’s spectral symbol of ’80s excess to another, though this one needed an animated follow-up to get, er, fleshed out: The first Ghostbusters movie didn’t even give its most charismatic scene-stealer a proper name, referring to “The Onionhead Ghost” (based on a discarded gag) in its script and necessitating a disclaimer on all Kenner packaging containing the “Green Ghost.” Those of us who came to the franchise through the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, however, have always known him as Slimer, the friendliest, hungriest class-five roaming vapor of New York City. Speaking in the inimitable, upper-octave chatter of Frank Welker, Slimer was a kid’s entry point into The Real Ghostbusters’ world of paranormal investigations and pseudoscientific babble, the sidekick who just wanted to help and be accepted by the PhDs who once crammed him into a high-tech shoebox. (Here he embodies the fate of all Ghostbusters fans: to think you’d be chummy with Venkman when you’re actually on Ray’s wavelength.) The little spud’s lack of impulse control only looks more endearing through the lens of personal responsibility; whenever I’m having trouble exercising those requirements of adulthood, I think of my friend Slimer, the sloppy green good boy from beyond the grave.
There are souls who return from the dead to cause pain, or to seek revenge, or because they’re lost. And some betray the very laws of mortality just because they’re not done talking to you yet. That’s what makes Obi-Wan Kenobi my favorite ghost. He used a rare and virtually unknown secret Force technique to come back from the dead because he still had a few things to say to Luke about his dad. The quickly introduced and then equally quickly ignored concept of Midi-chlorians never delved into the apologetics of how these magical germs facilitate the post-mortem transubstantiation of crude matter into luminous beings, but according to Wookieepedia, a Force Ghost is created through a technique that allows a Jedi to turn their bodies into pure energy. This is both a technically and thematically unsatisfying answer, since it just provides only enough detail to kill the esoteric mystery of a space wizard showing up from beyond the grave to harass Luke with weird little riddles and subjective musings on the nature of identity and objective truth. Force ghosts are a great narrative device for using a mentor character, and I hope we get to see a semi-transparent Luke show up in The Rise Of Skywalker.