Ghostbusters 2 – USA, 1989. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Starring Billy Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis.

In all of this horror movie watching and writing and talking, I feel like I keep coming back to films that scared me as a kid. I’ve mentioned the FOUR: Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and The Exoricst. I also referred briefly back to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Ernest Scared Stupid. Much sillier sure, but to a kid just as scary.

Another one that seems to keep popping up, either in my thoughts or comments from friends or conversations I’m having in real life, is Ghostbusters 2. And not in the “it’s so bad, it’s scary” kind of way either. A lot of people have memories of Ghostbusters 2 legitimately scaring them. Seriously. The Ghostbusters! Those guys aren’t scary, they’re hilarious!

I’ve watched the original Ghostbusters many times over the years. I think a lot of people agree that it is an awesome, awesome movie. Do I even need to explain why? Probably not.

I don’t think anyone will argue that Ghostbusters 2 is a better movie, because it’s really not. It’s a solid sequel but it’s not nearly as memorable and definitely not as quotable. It’s mostly just a nice vehicle to bring back characters we love.

But what makes it scarier? That’s one point everyone seems to be in agreement on, that it is definitely scarier.

I watched it again and yeah, it really is.

I mean, part of the reason for that is obvious. The first movie doesn’t have Vigo. Gozer is pretty cool and all, but Vigo is SCARY. Have you see this guy? He is an evil looking man. I wouldn’t want to be alone with that painting.

Ghostbusters certainly has some scary moments – the opening in the Library, the evil hellhound chasing down Louis – but for the most part the tone of the film is that of a comedy. More focus is put on the delivery of the one liners than in building the atmosphere.

Whether on purpose or not, Ghostbusters 2 has a creepier feel to it. Vigo’s portrait is intimidating but even Peter MacNicol as Dr. Janosz has his moments. Seriously, Peter MacNicol. He’s apparently capable of being a creep. Who knew? But the scene when he visits Dana after work, walks down the dark hallway with his eyes glowing… that’s some scary stuff.

Ghostbusters 2 is a lot darker than the first. Maybe not thematically, they are both dealing with ancient powers bringing about the end of the world, but in atmosphere and tone. The dark hallways, the underground abandoned subways, the entire museum. There’s just enough of it working on a level underneath the comedy that even if we don’t realize it as we’re watching, by the end of the movie we’re a little tense. It happens.

I think that’s maybe also why it’s so much scarier for kids. I feel we’re more in tune with that stuff when we’re younger. We haven’t seen a billion other scarier movies. We’re not jaded. Our imaginations are still running wild.

You see a cheesy effect as an adult, you laugh at it. See a cheesy effect as a kid though? Your imagination fills in the gaps and you see the idea of it, not just the poor execution.

It’s why the face melting scene in Poltergeist doesn’t hold up. It’s why Freddy in the alley was terrifying then but is silly now. It’s why Large Marge was scary.

Oh man, nevermind. Large Marge is still scary.

I think, for me, a lot of these things scared me so much as kid not because I thought the movies were real. I knew a movie was just a movie. The ideas behind it though? Well, why couldn’t ghosts be real? Why couldn’t a little girl become possessed? Why couldn’t the monsters really hide in the closet or under the bed?

The horror genre is so much about working on our subconscious, playing with our deepest, oldest fears. The fear of death, fear of madness, fear of sexuality… fear of the unknown. For a kid, these things haven’t been buried deep. The fears are so much more visceral. Sometimes all you have to do to scare a kid is turn out the lights.

Who knows what’s hiding there in the dark.