At Z Movies

Halfway to Halloween: Films to Get Your Spook On

The late Harold Ramis with Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, and Dan Ackroyd, who starred in the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria, VA – May 1 is the six-month mark to October 31. Halloween. All Souls Day. Spook Central! What are you gonna watch?

Recently, horror and apocalyptic genres have dominated the theater flick selections. At a screening of a political documentary in DC, the director and producer both bemoaned that doc distribution is difficult because they don’t generate competitive revenue in a market saturated with scary mutants and anti-heroes versus every kind of human and überman. 

There’s no celebrating halfway to Halloween without a reprise of the Ghostbuster franchise of the 80s. The beloved comedy has endured, enjoying a four-decade afterlife that so far sees no terminator. This sequel is a sequel squared, with the cast from the 1984 original film playing integral roles – not merely mugging it up for cameos.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) picks up where Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) and Ghostbusters (1984) ended. The world is saved from demonic spectral entities taking over the town by the ghost-busting heroics of the Spenglers and friends. The current release has Callie Spengler (Carrie Coons of The Gilded Age, Gone Girl), daughter of deceased egghead Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (the beloved and missed Harold Ramis), relocating to the metaverse of the metaphysical, New York City in 2024.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire unites the cast of Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) with the original 1984 Ghostbusting heroes. (Courtesy photo)

Callie moves into the iconic Ghostbuster headquarters, the landmark firehouse now owned by Winston Zeddemore’s billion-dollar tech startup, with her geeky Ghostbuster kiddoes Trevor and Phoebe.

In tow is Mr. Grooberson, the erstwhile middle-school science teacher turned ghostbuster and putative father figure, plus he’s Callie’s love interest and savior to the Spengler family. Paul Rudd deftly runs cheesy lines past the audience and cast that could only be pulled off by Bill Murray himself without cracking up.

Murray returns as Dr. Peter Venkman, along with Dan Ackroyd as Ray Stanz, Ernie Hudson as Winston, and Annie Potts as ghostbusting girl Friday Janine Melnitz. A few other buster alums are appearing, which I won’t spoil. Kumasi Ali Nanjiani joins the crew, complementing Murray and Rudd’s campy savoir-faire with his own tongue-in-cheek chuckles.

Emily Alyn Lind is an endearing addition to the cast as the spectral Melody. Her plaintive performance as the ghost who got left behind is captivating. She’s crafted a girl-ghoul with a soul. Melody is a far cry from Snakebite Andi in Doctor Sleep (2019), the sequel to The Shining, where her vociferous man-hater revenge angst is so palpable it hurts to look at her despite a Kewpie-doll visage. There must be a pic of Lind aging somewhere in a memory card because the 21 or 22-year-old plays a 14-year old then and now.

As with all sequels, there’s an inherent risk that the film relies heavily upon the expansive audience of the first film. Nothing so far upstages the OG Ghosbusters. Reinventing the PKE meter in 2016 with an all-female SNL-vet comedic cast was a commendable effort. Afterlife in 2021 proved to be more nostalgic, leaving fans a bit bereaved given the AI screen reincarnation of Harold Ramis’s Egon. Frozen Empire offers us smiles out loud that satisfy like an amicable family reunion.

In the immortal words of Ray Parker, Jr., busting makes us feel good. So what’s next in the franchise? Ghostbusting isn’t likely going to the great beyond any time soon. As of April 18 Frozen Empire had grossed a worldwide total of $161.2 million. Where else do you turn when you’ve busted blocks and paranormal disturbances for two generations? Make the prequel. Go origin!

The First Omen is the prequel origin story of evil before Damien. The retro 70s-stylized film is a nod to the heyday of the horror genre, such as The Exorcist. (Courtesy photo)

Speaking of origin narratives, another film to screen pre-Hallowscream is the prequel to The Omen. The First Omen is the latest of six (at least not 666!) films examining Damian’s accursed birth and life, the up-and-coming Antichrist. The 1976 original Omen starred Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, and David Warner and was directed by Richard Donner. It’s crafted in the 1970s Exorcist style of William Friedkin, who was not Catholic but profoundly spiritual. The scariest part of the original Omen was indisputably Harvey Spencer’s young Damien Thorn.

Omen aficionados and critics ranking Omens are fiercely loyal to crowning the 1976 Omen as the best, with the 2024 The First Omen in a close second. Omen III: The Final Conflict from 1981 starring Sam Neil as the then 33-year-old devil Damien is so seductive that you feel the need to run to confession.

The 2006 remake of the ‘76 Omen rates near the bottom despite an all-star cast with Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Pete Postlethwaite, and Michael Gambon. Their performances are remarkable and compelling. Near-bottom ranking is no doubt due to the fact these veteran actors cast a shadow on the OG, revealing the inherent flaws in the original story by Donner and Richard Seltzer.

Lee Remick and Gregory Peck portray Ambassador and Katherine Horn with Harvey Stephens as the devilish Damien in the original The Omen. (Courtesy photo)

The 2006 Omen, much like the 2020s with origin sagas, was sacrificed to the turn-of-the-century craze for successful cult-classic horror remakes. The First Omen stars Nell Tiger Free as Damien’s mother Margaret in a staggeringly raw performance. It’s nice to see Sonia Braga again portraying Sister Silva (as Sônia Braga – don’t ask.) Brit legends of stage and screen Bill Nighy and Bill Nighy give the film-rouge added gravitas.

Director, writer, producer Arkasha Stevenson delivers a stylized, nostalgic experience. The 70s setting complemented by Aaron Morton’s retro-cinematography are both evocative and provocative. This Disney-property film pushes the boundaries of even the 21st-century horror genre. The First Omen really goes where no Disney or Omen film has gone before – until now. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

There’s plenty to be scared of this fall. Until then there’s ghosts to bust, dances with devils, Kong to cheer on, and an apocalypse or two. So strap on your proton pack and load up the Super Soaker with holy water. When seas boil, mountains crumble, and the heavens may fall, where up is down and right is left with dogs and cats living together  ̶ you’re gonna need them!

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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