Threnody to Slimer: our insatiable hunger for nostalgia

Rather than reviewing Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Eliza Janssen uses one character as a microcosm of the entire, self-cannibalising legacy sequel project: green, mean, slobber machine Slimer. Vale.

I haven’t seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I’ve seen every other Ghostbusters movie, including the latest sequel Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, currently getting the cold shoulder from critics and the box office.

From 1989’s good-enough direct sequel Ghostbusters II through to the manbaby-exploding, female-led 2016 reboot, no entry beyond the original 1984 comedy has accepted the truth of that film’s laid-back, lightning-in-a-bottle success. They’re all brimming with way too much desperate proton energy, forgetting the low-key appeal of SNL stars snarking at one another, being pervs, and deadpanning about fictional supernatural tech.

And Slimer. They forgot the one-joke, sight-gag, gross-out purity of a green glob dashing about the screen. Is Slimer a human who died of gluttony and is trapped in this legless, phlegmatic form for all eternity, unable to complete his unfinished destiny on earth and descend into hell? (Let’s be real, Slimer is not making it into heaven.) Is he some other paranormal entity, like Frozen Empire’s frost-demon, or the original film’s shapeshifting demon Gozer? I don’t care. Slimer simply is. Or was.

It’s for all these reasons that I didn’t bother checking out Afterlife, a shameless attempt by original director Ivan Reitman’s sell-out son Jason to synthesise Stranger Things with the tearful tantrums of the 2016 films’ haters, who claimed that a charming and accidentally iconic 80s comedy was a work of art with the same historical and personal significance as the Quran. The chick Ghostbusters had besmirched a foundational nerd text, these losers cried, and Reitman saw an opportunity ($$$) to overcorrect and make something even more pointless and obscure to the original IP. In her review of the film, Fatima Sheriff confirmed my greatest concerns: “This is a film filled with such reverence for the original that every twist which could have made the mildly tense, darker atmosphere worthwhile is avoided in favour of doing exactly what you’d expect it to do.”

A “mildly tense, darker atmosphere” carries over somewhat into Frozen Empire, with the stakes and tone still feeling precariously raised from the original two films in the franchise. But there’s also an ooky Monster of the Week, threatening to send New York into an eternal ice age.

There’s a bloody enormous cast; with a sweet lesbian love story for Spengler’s geek granddaughter McKenna Grace; parenting drama for Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon; waaaay too much comic relief from Kumail Nanjiani (where’s Rick Moranis when you need him?); a good chunk of story for Dan Aykroyd; nice appearances from Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts; and about two-and-a-half lines of dialogue for a very paycheck-ready Bill Murray. Who you gonna call? Not Murray, he’s busy phoning it in already.

Meanwhile. Finn Wolfhard, front and centre in all of the film’s promo but barely appearing in the film itself, is entirely overshadowed by the return of my king and redeemer Slimer. While the rest of the cast blasts pesky spectres and uncovers clues about the ancient antagonist, Wolfhard’s mission revolves around trapping everyone’s fave glob of snot, who has set up camp in the attic of the GB’s firehouse, slobbering and snacking atop a pile of fast food wrappers. It looks like the team behind Frozen Empire have gone for a combination of practical puppet effects and CGI to necromance Slimer back into the franchise—and don’t get me wrong, he’s a welcome presence. Especially when compared to Afterlife’s fully-CG wannabe poser Slimer who is teal instead of ooze green and is called Muncher. UGH!

In 2024, Slimer is even allowed a heroic moment, scarfing down a pepperoni pizza that is possessed by one errant, villainous ghost. But he’s (pronouns? idk) still a somewhat heartbreaking apparition when compared to his boneheaded origins. When this Slimer saves the day and ascends through the ceiling, Wolfhard screams with delight: “I know that guy!” Do you, child?

Slimer was invented by the 1984 film’s writers Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as a winking homage to their fallen Second City and SNL castmate John Belushi, who was initially cast alongside Aykroyd in an early draft of Ghostbusters. Already infamously troublesome for its stinky smell on set, the grotesque puppet was known as “the Onion Head Ghost” by the film’s crew, before being officially deemed “Slimer” in the 1986 animated series The Real Ghostbusters.

Special effects artist Steve Johnson needed six months and $300k to create the beast. “That was the most annoying, horrendous experience I’ve ever had working with art directors, producers, and directors, ever”, Johnson told Bloody Disgusting in 2018. “‘Give him 13% more pathos, put ears on him, take his ears off, less pathos, more pathos, make his nose bigger, now his nose is too big, make his nose smaller…’ I almost fucking severed my own head during that process.” At his wits end, he completed the final design over the course of one night and three grams of, uh, proton dust: “I pulled out a stack of headshots of John Belushi, poured…cocaine on it and started chopping lines up.”

From his conception through to his anarchic, merch-ready appearance in the original film, Slimer was born into anarchy. And yet, when I saw Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire at a special premiere screening, publicists had a captive Slimer hologram perched atop a display of emptied popcorn buckets. He’s back, and hungry as ever!, the diorama cheerfully implied. I felt no cheer. I saw myself in the jiggling entity’s greed, his insatiable stomach for unhealthy old material. For Slimer is a ghost, and cruelly cannot ever digest the food he so craves; every Twinkie, every kernel of buttered popcorn passes through his non-butt and splatters onto the floor. Unspoiled, the food can then be recycled by Slimer again. And again.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire was fine, really. My screening’s audience heartily enjoyed it, laughing and whooping, perhaps feeling a sense of retribution that Muncher had been abandoned in Afterlife’s rural Oklahoma setting and their old, dead, glob of a friend had returned. They bloody loved the mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, basically a Minion-ized bastardisation of the original film’s destructive deity (“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). But something ached in the pit of my stomach as I headed home, the hologram tech now absent from the cinema lobby, packed away until the next inevitable Ghostbusters movie debuts.

I can seemingly do this forever—seeing focus-grouped, mercenary rehashes of old original stories—and never be sated. In 2024, we are all become Slimer, consumer of expired trash. We grip onto one, gross joke we laughed at when we were young and needed the sustenance, and force it down our gullets, even though we know it can’t possibly taste as sweet as it did then.

And no, I’m not saying I want a Slimer standalone movie. In which Tim Robinson plays a garbage-guts candy factory owner in 1800s Manhattan who is boiled alive in his own vat of taffy and emerges as the green ghoulie we all know and love. And there’s a pink girl Slimer with a bow on her head, and they woo each other, Lady and The Tramp-style, over a plate of rotten spaghetti. And he creates a bitchin’ new dance called “The Slimer” that becomes a city-wide craze. I’m serious. I couldn’t possibly fit in one more bite.