The Scariest Movie Ever Made: GHOSTBUSTERS II
Do you remember the first movie that prevented you from falling asleep at night? The first movie that haunted you every time you tried to close your eyes and risk entering darkness? Because I sure do, and it's probably not a movie you would guess. Actually, there is a 100% chance you'll guess it, given the title here.
There is not a whole lot I remember about being eight-years-old. Aside from being REALLY into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and crying every single time I went bowling, the rest is a blur of baseball games and piano lessons and skinned knees and spelling bees. But I remember Ghostbusters II. I remember Vigo the Carpathian. Also known as Vigo the Cruel, Vigo the Torturer, Vigo the Despised, Vigo the Unholy. And Vigo the Butch.
Terribly underrated due to the overwhelming reverence for the first film, Ghostbusters II manages to introduce a horrifying villain, even though, frankly, he does not do a whole lot. But sometimes less is more, especially to an impressionable young child who is more than willing to believe a brutal conqueror's angry spirit will live in a painting and try to steal your baby. Perhaps that is due to him being rooted in history; Vigo was loosely based on Vlad the Impaler. Hmm, I seem to remember another classic horror villain being based on old Vlad.
Slasher killers and real-life murderers never inspired any fear in my younger self; those things were real and could be explained, understood to an extent, and categorized. But anything with a supernatural basis? That's terrifying. We all have triggers and underlying fears that are a lot of times associated with and forever attached to films we watch as children, or even as adults. There is a reason I couldn't finish watching Mannequin when I was younger, and it had nothing to do with Kim Cattrall's acting. My mother laughed endlessly at me for that one. Let's not talk about Mannequin. And don't ask my mom about it.
“Now is the season of evil.” With those words Vigo the Painting becomes Vigo the Nightmare-maker, appearing as a giant floating head to shoot lighting into the eyes of Janosz, head of art restoration at the Manhattan Museum of Art, and to command him to steal a child to become his new vessel. From that point on a host of spooks, specters, and undead creeps are unleashed on New York City, powered by the river of ectoplasmic ooze flowing under the city. The “mood slime.” Created by negative human emotions. Yes, it's silly. Definitely not as cool of a plot as an interdimensional world-ender like Gozer from the first film, rolling into town as a 100-foot marshmallow man. Laugh all you want. Do you know who doesn't give a Carpathian fuck? VIGO. Vigo is going to possess you just by you looking at him. Vigo is going to lock you in your own photo room and set the place on fire, just for having the audacity of developing pictures of him. Vigo is going to twist Janosz into a ghastly flying nanny, riding a bicycle through the sky only to shoot his arm through the air twenty-feet-long to snatch your baby off the side of your apartment building. Your baby who couldn't previously walk, by the way, and is now somehow a daredevil stuntman.
As a kid I thought, “this is a force that can do anything he wants, with nothing to stop him, and clearly he'll be coming for me.” As anyone who's seen Ghostbusters II knows, there is absolutely something that can stop him. That would be the Ghostbusters, with their snappy one-liners, a bitching theme song, and a mood slime + Jackie Wilson-powered remote control Statue of Liberty. But you know how the mind of a child works. Obviously Vigo was going to come after me next, and I didn't have Bill Murray's email address. Email didn't even exist then. What followed after the first time I watched this movie was night after night of nightmares waking me up screaming, about the “painting man” coming for me. It caused my parents to declare that I was no longer allowed to watch Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II, which, when you write that as an adult it seems pretty laughable. Vigo, and his timeless evil, his warping of a formerly normal albeit creepy European doctor of art, had wormed his way inside my head and rooted himself in my psyche. There to stay, as it turns out. It's the hallmark of excellent character design. I mean, just take a look at the painting of Vigo itself. The violent bone structure of his skull is savage, neanderthal-esque. The menacing pose, confidently saying he has overwhelming power. The angry eyes locking on to you even as you try to look away. Don't even show a young kid the movie, just show them that painting and it will stick with them.
It highlights an interesting part about what shapes us as human beings. Sometimes we're scared of specific things based on what we grew up around, or events and traumas that happen to us as we mature. And a lot of times seeds are planted in our brains simply from movies or television we watch, that take root and freak us out about something that others would not give a damn about. I am not afraid of a painting. Paintings are not scary (despite what the new movie adaption of IT would want you to believe). This is realistically a comedy movie and is full of funny moments and dialogue. But the concept of a centuries-old malevolent spirit taking residence within a seriously creepy painting, and using it as a portal to reincarnate himself before taking over the world with good ol' fashioned head crushing and black magic scares me, precisely because Ghostbusters II put forth the idea and I absorbed it and believed to myself it was possible as my mind was still developing (it didn't hurt that the special effects were fantastic, and very convincing for the time).
There are many, many people who think that is not scary in the slightest. Probably a number of people who think that might be the dumbest thing they've ever heard, actually. But the radical thing about our brains is we each get our own unique experience; we each have fears that spook us out which maybe we're embarrassed to talk about or we talk about laughingly as we know how ludicrous they may be to others. My fears are immortal supernatural warlord ghosts and mannequins. And spiders, sure. Thanks almost entirely to Ghostbusters II and Arachnophobia and...yes, Mannequin. What are yours?