The 1980s sometimes feel like they belonged to the Ghostbusters. That’s because, for me, the Ghostbusters were always around. The film came out when I was but a wee baby, but by the time I had a real interest in television The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with the Filmation series) was airing in syndication every afternoon on ABC. To go along with that series were numerous toys and action figures. Some were roleplaying toys and many came with a vial of actual slime – something my mother still can recall the smell of because she had to clean up so much of it. My first big Christmas present I can recall was the much sought after Ghostbuster’s Fire House. It had a whirling pole the figures could ride down and even featured room for Ecto-1 where it could burst forth from behind the double red doors just like it did on TV.
Being a cartoon about ghost hunting, The Real Ghostbusters naturally lent itself quite well to Halloween. There are dedicated Halloween episodes of the show, but almost any episode works. The show ran from 1986 until 1991totaling 140 episodes when it finished up under the title of Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Along the way Lorenzo Music was replaced by Dave Coulier as the voice of Peter Venkman, a truly horrible decision at the time. Arsenio Hall, voice of Winston, also left the show and was replaced by Buster Jones. The show was a DiC production with Saban providing the music including a redone version of the popular song from the film. The pilot, which the opening animation sourced, was animated by the famed TMS Entertainment production company in case you ever wondered why it looked so much better than the actual show, which actually looks pretty good all things considered as DiC basically shopped it around so TMS did some episodes as well as Toei Animation.
The inaugural season for The Real Ghostbusters was a tidy 13 episodes which ended with a Christmas episode. Proving that the Ghostbusters could handle Christmas as well as Halloween, “Xmas Marks the Spot” premiered on December 13, 1986 and would be the last new episode of the show for almost a year when season 2 premiered in November. While it may seem like Christmas is an odd fit for the property, there is one rather famous story that features ghosts prominently thus serving as the entry point for our special.
Yes, that story is A Christmas Carol. You don’t need me to recap it, nor do you probably need me to remind you that adaptations of that tale are the bane of Christmas specials. It’s been done, though in 1986 that feeling may not have been as pervasive as it is today. The Real Ghostbusters at least gets credit for approaching the old tale from a different perspective. It’s also a bit peculiar as it’s going to treat that story as if it’s fact. Essentially, the Ghostbusters are going to somehow stumble through time and bust the ghosts meant to turn Ebenezer Scrooge around. Scrooge is apparently really important to the existence of Christmas, and the Ghostbusters will have to mess around with time to undo their mistake and ultimately save Christmas.
The episode opens with the four Ghostbusters driving home from a job in upstate New York. The snow is coming down and visibility is poor, and so are spirits. Winston (Arsenio Hall) in particular is dismayed to be working on Christmas Eve and Ray (Frank Welker) is apparently responsible for a job not going well (something about a cat needing to regrow its fur). When Winston looks to find someone to share in his disapproval of working Christmas Eve he tries Peter (Lorenzo Music), but Pete couldn’t care less about Christmas. They soon arrive at a fork in the road and the strange thing is none of them can recall seeing it on their way in. Egon (Maurice Lamarche) tells Ray to take a left and as the Ecto-1 heads through the snow we see the turnpike sign has been knocked down and partially buried in snow.
Eventually, the Ecto-1 gives out and the Ghostbusters are forced to resume their journey on foot. For some reason, they decide to strap on their proton packs. Winston once again tries to get Pete to share in his misery, but Pete shrugs him off. As Pete walks off, Ray explains to Winston that Pete doesn’t really like Christmas because his dad was always away as a kid. Egon says his apparent careless attitude towards Christmas is likely a coping mechanism and Winston adds once you spend so long pretending you don’t care about Christmas, you start to believe it.
As the four walk, a strange vortex appears up ahead. They don’t seem to notice it, but they do notice the sudden gust of wind that tosses them into a snowbank. Once they emerge from the snow they’re surprised to see a village down below. Oddly, it’s very old looking, but they reason their must be a phone there somewhere. As they head off into town, we see a man with a boy on his shoulders head into a meat shop. The shopkeeper addresses him as Bob Cratchit (Lamarche) and he’s here for his Christmas duck. The shopkeeper hands over what looks like a Christmas sparrow, but Cratchit and his son don’t let it bother them as they head home. Once gone, the shopkeeper remarks to a woman in the store that Tiny Tim is always so optimistic and expresses regret that his father is stuck working for someone like Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Ghostbusters are walking through the streets of this village apparently trapped in time, but don’t seem to pay it any mind. They hear a cry up ahead and look up to a ghost draped in chains emerge from a home and speed off into the night. Continued cries from inside prompt them to run in. They head for the bedroom and inside they find an old man in bed and three ghosts: a female, a large bearded male, and a grim reaper like apparition. The Ghostbusters open fire while the ghosts reprimand them. They don’t care though and soon trap the ghosts.
A jubilant man jumps up and celebrates at the vanquishing of the ghosts. This old man (Peter Renaday) is positively delighted until Peter hands him a bill. He then sours on the Ghostbusters and initially says he won’t pay, but Ray threatens to set the ghosts free so the old man acquiesces. He tosses Ray a coin and at first Peter is ready to demand more money. Ray points out it’s an 1837 coin in mint condition and Peter seems to think it’s satisfactory upon hearing this. With the man not in possession of a phone, the Ghostbusters take their leave. Meanwhile, the old man heads for his window while talking to himself. He reveals what most likely already figured out, that his name is Ebenezer Scrooge, and feeling confident that he overcame the ghosts he declares war on Christmas!
The Ghostbusters, having failed to find a phone anywhere, return to the Ecto-1. To their surprise, the engine fires up and they head back to presumably take a right at the fork in the road. They end up back home in New York City and upon arriving Ray says he and Winston will take Pete with them to get a Christmas tree. Janine (Laura Summer) scoffs when she hears that and even gives them a “Bah! Humbug!” which surprises Egon. Slimer (Welker) even voices his displeasure at the prospect of a Christmas tree.
Ray, Winston, and Peter head for Fifth Avenue where they can apparently purchase a tree. Along the way they find everyone is not in much of a Christmas mood and when Winston wishes some random guy a “Merry Christmas,” he gets a “Bah! Humbug!” in return. When they get to Fifth, Ray is shocked to see no Christmas decorations at all. Instead, the visage of Scrooge is everywhere and there’s even books for sale penned by Scrooge himself about how he vanquished Christmas by defeating the three ghosts. A bystander (Marilyn Lightstone) even clues them in when she hears Ray talking about the ghosts. At this point they figure out what happened and quickly realize they need to get back to the firehouse before Egon places the three ghosts in the containment unit. Peter, on the other hand, doesn’t think this new present is so bad.
The three get back to the firehouse, but they find out they’re too late. Egon had just emptied the trap dumping the ghosts into the containment unit. The only way to set them free is to free all of the ghosts also locked up in there. Egon, even though he knew something was up, is still surprised to find out from Ray that they went back in time and captured the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. Ray is the one to break the bad news that they may have just killed Christmas.
As pedestrians on New York’s streets scream humbug at each other, the Ghostbusters are inside trying to figure out how to right this wrong. Peter recaps what happened (because this is the scene coming back from a commercial break) while Egon reveals a way to fix this. He explains he can open up a crack in the containment unit allowing him to enter. Once inside, he’ll have to find the ghosts and free them. The problem is, time is of the essence. It seems the past and present, as a result of that vortex, are operating simultaneously so time is passing in both. They can’t just go back to the point in time at which they trapped the ghosts. Confusing, isn’t it? Janine doesn’t see why they care about Christmas so much, and Winston uses her attitude to show Peter how he was acting, though he insists he wasn’t that bad.
Ray thinks it’s crazy for Egon to go in alone, but because of the time constraints Egon says it must be this way. The other three are to head back to Scrooge, for if Egon can’t find the real ghosts, they’ll have to play the parts. As they leave, Egon informs Janine he’ll need her help with this. With hearts in her eyes, she excitedly agrees though she insists she’s doing it for Egon and not Christmas.
At Scrooge’s home, the old man is already working on his novel while the Ghostbusters get set up on a rooftop. Peter is up first and he’s dressed as some sort of Tooth Fairy or something to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. He swings in through Scrooge’s window and knocks him over causing his glasses to fall off. Even without the glasses, Scrooge isn’t convinced by Venkman’s disguise and is confused why the ghost would return after what transpired earlier. Peter activates some flares and a flashlight he’s wearing on his head to complete the ensemble. He then produces a Viewfinder which is apparently going to serve as Scrooge’s window into the past.
At headquarters, Egon is basically dressed up like an astronaut with Slimer and Janine looking on. He has some ray gun pointed at the containment unit that’s on blast. It will allow for a small opening, I guess, while Egon’s suit will allow him to assume a molecular state that will grant him passage. The key part being he can only stay in that state for an hour. If he’s not back in time he’ll be trapped forever. He heads in and Janine heads upstairs to watch on a monitor. Inside the containment unit is basically like the movie Tron, at least the entering part. Slimer notices the ray gun machine is overheating, but he fails to get Janine’s attention leaving him to blow on it in a futile manner.
Venkman is apparently having an all right time at convincing Scrooge he’s a legit ghost. The Viewfinder is loaded with pictures of a boarding school that Scrooge either recognizes as his own school or he’s just old enough to confuse it for his actual school (that seems more likely). Meanwhile, Venkman is pushing him around in circles in a wheelchair and claiming they’re flying. He’s clearly running out of breath. Scrooge describes how he was left at school by his father who had no time for Christmas, but Scrooge didn’t mind because he always had his books and things. Venkman takes a seat and explains how Scrooge’s view of Christmas is wrong, and thus realizes his own attitude has been wrong this whole time as well (aww). He’s dismayed to learn that Scrooge hasn’t quite been convinced of Christmas’s worth though, and takes his leave the same way he came in though not without some difficulty.
Inside the containment unit, which now just looks like floating rocks, Egon searches for the ghosts. Janine is able to watch on a monitor and communicate with Egon via a headset. Slimer is still trying to keep the machine from breaking apart, but it won’t matter if Egon can’t find the ghosts. Meanwhile, Winston is swinging around the rooftops of old England dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ray isn’t sure they can keep this up for much longer.
Inside the containment unit, Janine urges Egon to give up, but of course he finds the ghosts at the last minute. He tells them to follow him and they say nothing and do as they’re told. At this point, many of the other ghosts have realized Egon is in there. This being the season finale, several ghosts from earlier episodes are shown and they start chasing Egon. This was probably rewarding for viewers who saw all of the episodes, though the only one I personally remember is Samhain, the Halloween ghost.
Janine heads downstairs and sees Slimer holding onto an open window and the ray gun machine about to blow. Egon then emerges with the ghosts just as the gun explodes. He closes the containment unit and returns to a more traditional state of being. He then implores the ghosts to jump in his trap citing he has no time to explain. Surprisingly, they agree.
Back in the past, Ray is dressed in a sheet and trying perhaps too faithfully to play the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He’s not speaking so Scrooge and he are essentially playing Charades. Egon arrives, still in his astronaut suit, and he races inside shoving Ray aside. He frees the ghosts then informs Scrooge what is to befall him this night. For his part, Scrooge seems dismayed that he has to endure another round of ghosts so maybe their work will be easier than usual. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Mona Marshall) then steps in to take things from the top. On the roof, the Ghostbusters get a minor lecture from the Ghost of Christmas Present (LaMarche) and he asks Pete if he too learned a lesson. Apparently, this whole time travel thing occurred because Pete had lost faith in Christmas. Well, it worked and Peter is totally onboard now. Present then uses his ghostly powers to send the Ghostbusters home.
Back home, the Ghostbusters are delighted to see that Christmas has indeed been saved. They gather round a punch bowl that looks like it’s just full of water and Pete is the one to propose a toast to Christmas. Winston remarks how he thought the tale of Scrooge was just a story (are we now trying to convince viewers it was real?) and he wonders aloud if other apparent works of fiction could be real. On cue, a booming voice is heard from outside and it unmistakably belongs to Santa Claus (Welker). He’s shouting out commands to the reindeer and giving a hearty laugh. Peter mugs for the camera and gives a “Why not?” while Santa goes into his routine, “Merry Christmas to all,” with the Ghostbusters finishing the line, “…and to all a good night!”
And thus ends a rather unconventional adaption of a A Christmas Carol. It probably is a little confusing for younger viewers who may have walked away thinking the story of Scrooge is true. If it also convinced them that Santa is real as well then I suppose the deception is worth it. It is a clever way to marry a brand like the Ghostbusters to Christmas. It’s definitely a bit contrived, especially the subplot surrounding Peter, but not annoyingly so.
Then again, I also have fond memories of this show. The personalities of the individual Ghostbusters all entertain me. Winston is the everyman and we’re supposed to identify with him the most. Ray is the more emotional one which is why he gets to deliver the dramatic news that they killed Christmas. Egon is the brain who is intrigued by everything, often reacting to things with a “Fascinating.” Peter is the one given the sarcastic remarks, much like his film persona, and Lorenzo Music’s performance is basically legendary. He’s just so good at deadpanning Peter’s lines that they don’t even have to be that well-written. This episode was light on Slimer, which is probably for the best. In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t join Egon or something in searching for the ghosts, but I don’t think he would have added much.
Visually this show has always been solid. I often associate the turn in children’s animation occurring with the Disney Afternoon, but The Real Ghostbusters is no slouch. It’s miles ahead of the likes of He-Man or Transformers and overall I found this one engaging from a visual sense. Peter’s methods of duping Scrooge were clever and visually amusing, as was Ray’s awful costume. Seeing the inside of the containment unit was probably thrilling for viewers as well. I don’t recall this episode specifically, but I recall other episodes that took place inside the unit as being among my favorite when I was a kid.
As a Christmas special, this one gets the job done. It may go the lame route in adapting A Christmas Carol, but it’s unique enough to get away with it. The episode has Pete learn about the importance of Christmas, though in a mostly superficial sense. There isn’t some grand meaning assigned to the holiday, we’re just supposed to accept that it’s good and people should like it. That’s fine, as not everything needs to get too preachy. The big question, of course, is should you watch this? If you like the Ghostbusters, then why not? It’s fine. It won’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it may make you laugh and is at least visually entertaining.
If you wish to watch “Xmas Marks the Spot” then your best bet is to either purchase it digitally or on DVD. The show used to stream on Netflix, but sadly it was removed this year. It’s on Volume I of the DVD release which contains 30 episodes and is probably worth it to fans of the show. If you have young kids who either liked the movies or enjoy spooky stuff in general, then you may get enough enjoyment out of it to justify the purchase. It shouldn’t set you back much should you choose to go that route.