127 min., 1990
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by Jerry Zucker
My rating: ★★★★★
I ain’t afraid of no Ghost…
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Ghost is one of my favorite nostalgic movies, partially due to the fact that it’s also one of the first movies I ever remember watching. As a kid, I would pop it in the VCR at least once or twice a month, and I honestly have no idea why. It’s not that it’s kid-oriented or has things that would at least capture a child’s attention, such as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or the awesome visuals and characters of Star Wars. It’s just a random, odd movie treading the lines between fantasy, horror, psychological thriller, and even comedy in bold and unique ways, so such qualities combined into one film left a big impression on me, enough to warrant repeat viewings for years.
It wasn’t until I got older and realized who exactly director Jerry Zucker was that I was bewildered that this movie even existed in the first place. This guy, along with Jim Abrahams and brother David Zucker made Airplane!, Top Secret!, Ruthless People, and Jerry even wrote The Naked Gun trilogy for his brother. Knowing all of this, it seems unfitting that someone so solely experienced in writing and directing parody would be the ideal fit to helm a serious story like this.
And that’s when I remembered something: Our leading performance is sometimes pretty over the top. The late Patrick Swayze brings a campy charm to his role of Sam Wheat, at least the part where’s he’s actually a ghost (spoiler alert! He’s actually dead most of the movie!…Wait…). Therefore, some of his reactions aren’t exactly understated; for instance, the look on Sam’s face when he sees his own dead body after being shot is priceless, as is a lot of his yelling. While not making a direct parody, it seems Zucker didn’t want us to take this story too seriously, essentially telling the audience, “Hey y’all, the dude from Dirty Dancing is a ghost. I wrote a scene where Leslie Nielsen fucks a chick in a giant body condom; get over yourselves and have some fun.”
Zucker balances this, however, by giving him genuinely scary things to yell at, such as…I don’t know, his own friggin’ dead body, seeing people’s insides as he passes through them, and this creepy as fuck nightmare sequence in which he wakes in bed next to this angel statue only to quickly cut to a Kubrick-style clip of the angel falling from his apartment window and shattering on the ground.
Also, while I found myself laughing more than jumping at Swayze’s scenes, I honestly enjoyed every one of them. Despite the character starting out as a stereotypical 1% 90s yuppie, I felt sorry for the guy given all he goes through, especially his initial struggles to fight his murderer Willy Lopez (Rick Aviles) with punches going right through him (contrasted with what happens later, which is one of the coolest revenge sequences I’ve ever seen), and if an actor can make me mourn his character’s losses and celebrate his triumphs, the he did something right, correct?
Additionally, given the subject matter, we have a glimpse into the movie’s assumptions that there is an afterlife. You either get beamed up to heaven with white lights and little angel bubbles (?) with peaceful, ambient music, or you literally get dragged to hell by paper-like Harry Potter dementors emerging from the shadows, moaning and screeching and all that good stuff. Those demons really scared the crap out of me as a kid, but looking back, they’re actually more campy than I previously thought. Again, this was probably purposeful on Zucker’s part.
Demi Moore’s role as Molly, Sam’s lover (or more appropriately, “ditto-er”, since he has trouble telling her he loves her back) gives us someone who is hurt but doesn’t know exactly how to deal with her loss, so she just reacts to the world in a tuned down and defensive status. When we see her at the beginning, however, her character is very much in love and happy, and provides one half of the ultra memorable and romantic pottery spinning sequence with Sam set to The Righteous Brothers, a scene only rivaled by the dance sequence they share toward the film’s climax.
Regardless, Moore ends up being overshadowed by the true star power of the movie: Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown, the fraud psychic/necromancer who we come to find actually isn’t a fraud once Sam seeks her help to warn Molly she’s “in danger, girl”. If Swayze’s performance is so serious it’s funny, Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance is so funny it’s funny.
Her reactions and dialogue with Swayze are absolutely hysterical to the point where I was still laughing out loud despite having seen the movie numerous times (then again, many of the jokes went over my head as a kid anyway). That, and her character is genuinely likable despite starting out as a con artist, so in a way it mirrors Sam Wheat: someone who we don’t particularly care for one way or the other to a genuine hero by the film’s middle and end.
Another noteworthy performance includes Tony Goldwyn as Carl, Sam’s “friend” who orchestrated his murder once he thinks Sam knows about his money laundering operation. He really knows how to play a sleazy, mildly demented and neurotic bad guy quite well. But my personal second favorite role in the movie belongs to the late Vincent fucking Schiavelli as the nameless ghost haunting the NYC subway who eventually teaches Sam how to move objects. He’s so creepy but also positively hilarious, he should have been a Batman villain…wait, he totally was in Batman Returns. Awesome.
Most of the people with whom I discuss this movie have either never seen it or watched it once and just forgot about it, and personally, I have no idea why. This film is fantastic and juggles so many different genres and performances in an admirable and almost poetic way. It’s serious but also really funny when it needs to be, not quite pure horror but with enough of its elements to warrant a couple jumps despite its occasional camp. It’s absolutely worth watching or rewatching; you’ll be glad you did.Have You Read...?