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This article contains Ghostbusters: Afterlife spoilers.
The dream of ever getting a Ghostbusters 3 faded long ago. There were false starts and rumors throughout the 1990s—and the 2000s too—that a sequel was this close to materializing. And yet, by the time Harold Ramis tragically passed in 2014, the likelihood of ever seeing the four original Ghostbusters standing side by side seemed impossible.
Which is one of the reasons Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife is such a surprise. Very much the closure longtime fans of the first two movies craved, as well as a possible backdoor opening to a larger Ghostbusters cinematic universe, the film comes from a talented filmmaker determined to honor his father’s most beloved work. It also seeks to serve that movie’s most ardent fans.
Hence Ghostbusters: Afterlife being stuffed up the proton pack with homages, easter eggs, references, and various other assorted nods to the original flicks. There are demon dogs, ghost traps, and even one exceedingly familiar flattop haircut on display here. So without further ado, here is a guide that tries to catch all the free-roaming vapors.
Ghostbusters: Easter Egg Guide
-The first easter egg we see does not feel like a callback to Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters. Rather it appears to be an homage to another early modern blockbuster which clearly had a significant impact on Jason Reitman. As we witness supernatural activity occurring above a mountain in the American heartland of Oklahoma, the spectral ghost cloud which gather looks quite a bit like the extraterrestrial airspace created by UFOs over Devils Tower in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). This is an early suggestion, perhaps, that Jason is going to take this material in a different direction.
-We still quickly get a slew of Ghostbusters nods in the opening prologue as as we watch a man who is meant to be Egon Spengler reach his lonely farm and hold up a rusty ghost trap. But when his larger plan to capture the incoming demonic entity fails, he returns to the house and pulls out his old PKE Meter for a loving extreme close-up. It’s not clear why he does this other than to anticipate exactly when his fate will come…
-When the spectral form of Zuul kills Egon, the smoke invades beneath the door, and the demonic come out of his chair’s armrests. This recreates the scene where Dana Barrett is attacked and possessed by the same demonic entity in 1984. Although a CG Zuul face coming out of the smoke is a new touch.
-It’s also revealed in the opening that when Zuul has not possessed a human, it flies around as one of those reddish-pink spectral dots first established in Ghostbusters after the ghost containment unit meltdown at the firehouse.
-When our central family of Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) reach their inheritance on Egon’s dilapidated plot of land, they see Egon has scared off locals by spray-painting ominous passages from the Bible’s Book of Revelations, 6:12: “And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the moon became as blood.” This references one of the creepier moments in the original film where Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) debate whether Christianity is a mythology, and if the Bible predicting the dead rising from the grave has anything to do with their peculiar line of work.
-Inside of the “Murder House,” Phoebe and Trever seem to ignore the stack of books that goes up seven or eight feet in the background. This calls back the first bit of evidence of a haunting the guys found in the New York Public Library back in ’84, although Bill Murray rolled his eyes at the time and then snarked, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.”
-When the three younger Spenglers are forced to hide under a kitchen table due to an earthquake, the shot looks intentionally reminiscent of Ray, Egon (Ramis), and Peter Venkman (Murray) also hiding under a table from ghosts in the courtroom scene of 1989’s Ghostbusters II.
-It should go without saying, but Annie Potts is a welcome presence in everything she does, including her cameo here where she reprises the role of Janine Melnitz. Apparently, she and Egon resumed their flirtation from the first film some time in the ‘90s or 2000s since she’s no longer with Rick Moranis’ Louis, and it’s hinted she lived for a long while with Egon in this house.
-This might be tenuous but introducing Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd) as a bad teacher by having him show his middle school class Cujo (1983) seems like a nod to the fact that Mr. Grooberson (like certain other characters in the original film) is going to be attacked by a monstrous dog. Cujo also starred Dee Wallace, who played the mother in E.T. (1982), another seminal Spielberg blockbuster of the same era as Ghostbusters, and that one was about a family without a father getting involved in otherworldly adventures….
-When Podcast (Logan Kim) takes Phoebe on a walkabout around their supposedly boring town, the kids pass a sign for the discontinued Shandor Mining Company. This is the first clue that the cult responsible for the Gozer attack in the 1984 movie also had something to do with this town. Indeed, a man named Ivo Shandor was the leader of that cult who designed the evil building on Central Park West.
-The art-deco inspired hieroglyphs that Podcast shows Phoebe on the mountain recreate in two-dimensional tableaux the layout of statues on top of Dana Barrett’s apartment building from the first movie.
-After Egon’s invisible ghost leads Phoebe to his full ghost trap, she brings it to school to show Podcast and (inadvertently) Mr. Grooberson. He uses this opportunity to then teach them about the forgotten history of Ghostbusters from ‘80s New York. Afterlife then amusingly inserts a lot of unused and/or deleted footage of extras and even Aykroyd and company as if it were news reports from the time.
-Grooberson shows the class that day the film Child’s Play (1988).
-When Egon’s ghost leads Phoebe to his secret lab, she discovers the entrance requires sliding down a pole, just like the firehouse in the original movies.
-The hidden lab includes Spengler’s original jumpsuit and a number of spares. His lab also features the red and mysterious piece of lab equipment we saw the Dean order be removed from Columbia University at the beginning of the original movie.
-In the background of the same scene, you can spot several old 1980s television sets with the same inexplicable green geometric graphics and obsession with expanding brain activity which decorated Egon’s lab in the 1984 movie.
-Phoebe discovers how to call the living Ghostbusters by watching their oily salesman commercial from the first film. This one is actually a nice touch. It’s all too common that cheesy TV ads like this from yesteryear would be saved 40 years later as a bit of kitsch on YouTube.
-When Phoebe and Podcast first try out the Proton Packs she says “switch me on,” just like Ray did to Peter when they go on their first ghost hunt.
-During this same scene Podcast is wearing Ray’s ghost goggles. To this day, their purpose has never really been explained, but I can attest that as a child of the ‘90s, I thought they were the coolest damn thing in the world and always wanted a pair. Looking good, Podcast.
-The entire presence of Ecto-1 is an “easter egg” of sorts to the original film. But the real kicker is that when the main kids are pulled over in it by the cops, they open the glove compartment to find the car’s registration. Instead they discover Egon’s last Twinkie. It’s one of the better nods, homaging Egon’s infamous “Twinkie Theory” about the end of the world.
-Meanwhile one of the film’s most groan-inducing callbacks happens in the next scene when the local sheriff (Bokeem Woodbine) quotes the Ray Parker Jr. song and asks, “Who you gonna call?”
-In the film’s most overt homage to Ghostbusters II, Phoebe uses her one phone call to dial that number from the ’84 commercial on YouTube. In 2021 it goes to, of all things, Stantz’s dubious “Ray’s Occult Books” shop from the sequel. More than 30 years later, he’s still trapped at the same bookshop which is looking a lot more tired on the other side of the internet revolution. He’s even using the same phone. It’s fitting but depressing for poor Ray.
-In the scene Ray alludes to both original films when he cracks, “In the slammer, huh? I’ve been there once myself.”
-Ray also has “Revelations 6:12” tattooed on his arm. Apparently in the nearly 40 years since the first movie, he’s become a believer.
-I don’t know if this counts as an homage, but the joke that Pete Venkman, of all Ghostbusters, was able to succeed at reentering academia by becoming a professor of advertising is kind of delicious.
-Ray waxing nostalgic about the “Reagan years” is a bit amusing since the original film has been criticized (even sometimes by members of the cast) for being in retrospect an ’80s fantasy where smug American academics go into the private sector to start a business and immediately get rich despite the best efforts of an intrusive EPA.
-The extreme close-up of stone work collapsing and a red Zuul eye glowing is an obvious redo of the shot of Zuul escaping its statue in the first film.
-Paul Rudd’s character ending an awkward date night by buying a pint of Baskin Robbins is a double whammy of product placement by offering (likely pricey) advertising of 31 Flavors and also calling back to Rudd’s previous shameless plugging of Baskin Robbins in Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015) where his pre-superhero characters is introduced as working at Baskin Robbins. He then gets fired, but the screenplay continuously name drops the company throughout the rest of that MCU flick as a “joke.” But the ice cream franchise only gets one shoutout here.
-Rudd’s Mr. Grooberson sadly doesn’t get to enjoy his ice cream because he is soon beset by mini-Stay Puft Marshmallow Men who look like the giant monster from the ’84 movie but are now the size of actual marshmallows. It’s shameless fan service but is admittedly one of the funnier sequences in the film. You can love the little guy who keeps walking on the grill even as he melts so much you might not even stop to wonder why Stay Puft would keep the same mascot after it attacked the Columbus Circle.
-Grooberson finding Zuul eating dog food is a nod to Louis initially thinking someone brought a dog to his party in the first film. And Zuul causing Gary’s tires to deflate before consuming him is an awkward attempt to callback how the patrons of Tavern on the Green watch Rick Moranis get devoured by a demon dog and return to their meals nonplussed.
-Trevor mocking Podcast and Phoebe for saying “I did some digging,” feels like a general tweak on how dated that line is from many old movies, including Ghostbusters, since now everyone can do similar bits of broad “digging” on Google.
-When our core Scooby Gang returns to Shandor Mining and go into the abandoned interior, they find an art-deco like statue of a very familiar looking flattop. Why hello, there, stone Gozer.
-Inside the mine, they also discover Ivo Shandor’s tomb—although he doesn’t look quite dead does he? At first, I thought this was an error since his grave says he died in 1947, and the first film told us he didn’t begin believing humanity was too sick to survive until after the First World War. But technically he could’ve started his secret society in the early 1920s and still lived on to ’47. In any event, having him here feels a bit perfunctory since the film does nothing with his reanimated corpse (or getting J.K. Simmons to play him).
-On the wall, the kids find etched in stone various dates related to catastrophic disasters throughout history, including the Tunguska Blast of 1908. It’s believed in that fateful year that a meteor airburst over the plains of Siberia caused 830 square miles—and 80 million trees and an unknown amount of people—to be obliterated. It’s also mentioned by Ray (inaccurately) as being a 1909 inter-dimensional event in the ‘84 movie.
-When the kids get home and find their mother sitting in her chair, she has the same possessed heavy-breathing as Dana did when she was possessed. She also paraphrases the famous line by rasping in a demonic voice, “There is no Mom, only Zuul.”
-After Demon Mom escapes, the kids come up with a game plan and don the Ghostbusters’ flightsuits. In this scene, Podcast finds and wears the same goofy brainwave equipment adorned by a possessed Louis in ’84.
-Demon Mom putting on a gold dress as she consummates her relationship with the Key Master (Demon Grooberson) echoes the red number worn by Demon Dana.
-After getting freaky, Demon Mom and Demon Grooberson arrive at a temple under the mine which looks exactly like the one on top of Dana Barrett’s building from the first film. They eventually also turn into Zuul dogs like Dana and Louis did. Their union brings back Gozer in the flesh while the same evil pink entities we once saw swarm over NYC now blast past the prairie.
-In the montage of hauntings around town, the only overt repeat I caught was the decayed corpse-ghost of a local resident showing up at the diner. At first I thought it was the same creepy cab driver from the ’84 movie, but the handlebar mustache suggests he’s a local… from maybe a century ago.
-The climax begins in earnest when a discombobulated Gozer comes out of the cornfield to attack the main characters who’ve retreated to Dirt Farm. The appearance of Gozer emerging from the crops feels like a subtle nod to another ‘80s touchstone about ghost fathers and their adult children, Field of Dreams (1989).
-As all hope appears to be last for Phoebe and the Scooby Gang, and their plan to use grandad’s glitchy giant ghost trap seems to go up in smoke, a ray of sardonic sunshine comes through when we hear the words “Hey Flattop!” This is an overt wink, wink to Ray saying, “Aim for the flattop!” in ’84.
-Meanwhile Ray gets a repeat of his confrontation with Gozer 40 years ago where he refers to her as “Gozer the Gozerian” and demands she “depart this world immediately.” Clearly remembering these old-timers, Gozer asks in a more sneering fashion now if Ray’s a god. Somehow, even with four decades to think about his error, Ray still hesitates to give the correct answer until Winston reminds him what he said last time: “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes!” And so he does, although not in a particularly convincing manner.
-The OG Ghostbusters try to beat Gozer the same way they did last time by crossing the streams of their weapons. But that strange little Checkov’s proton pack trick doesn’t work this time. Maybe because they were aiming it directly at Gozer instead of her temple/doorway to another dimension?
-In what might be the ultimate easter egg from any film—and one of questionable taste—a digital recreation of Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler appears to help his granddaughter and three old partners win the day. And even Peter’s dry but understated, “I thought you might show up,” seems to be an acknowledgement of Bill Murray and Ramis’ estrangement, which was reconciled on Ramis’ deathbed.
-Podcast being covered in vast amounts of marshmallow goo inside the Ecto-1 is a callback to how all the Ghostbusters (sans Murray) looked at the end of the first movie.
-When the ending credits begin, Ghostbusters: Afterlife uses the original 1984 movie’s title card.
-The first post-credits scene features Sigourney Weaver returning for a cameo appearance as Dana Barrett. Still enjoying her character’s taste for flannel from Ghostbusters II, she appears to be happily married to Peter, however unlikely that sounds.
-Peter and Dana are also playing with Pete’s old electroshock device and ESP-testing cards. Peter even confesses he used it to only shock the guys while leaving the thoroughly psychic-free girls alone so he could date his students. Yeah, Dana, he does deserve another shock for that.
-The final post-credits scene begins by reminding viewers (or showing to those who never watched DVD special features) that there was a deleted scene in the original film of Janine giving Egon a souvenir medallion from the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. We cut to the present and she’s still holding the other one she had.
-Janine carries the coin with her into her meeting with Winston, who really has done well for himself. Janine gets him to admit that he’s paid to keep the lights on in Ray’s bookshop all these years. But he confesses it’s because while he became a rich man in the ‘90s, he never enjoyed life more than when he was a Ghostbuster.
-Winston paraphrases a line he said when they (wrongly) thought they beat Gozer back in ’84. “I had the tools and the talent.”
-We also see Winston seemingly dream about reincorporating the Ghostbusters in earnest when he tours the abandoned old firehouse from the original films. And downstairs it appears the ghost containment unit has been on this whole time. Its blinking light promises new adventures (and possibly familiar dead faces?) down the road as well. If there’s another movie, I would bet the farm that Slimer’s in there.