Originally broadcast from 1986 to 1992, The Real Ghostbusters is one of the most fondly remembered and beloved children's cartoon series ever. Based on the original 1984 movie, Ghostbusters, it reworked the characters and concepts to make them more acceptable for impressionable young minds. Well, in theory at least... In reality, The Real Ghostbusters featured an array of phantasms and nightmare scenarios that would chill a generation of kids and stick in their minds forever. The early years of the series (the original thirteen-episode season and the very long syndicated run that followed, here referred to as season two) in particular pulled no punched when presenting children with genuinely chilling monsters and stories. While the series became more overtly aimed at younger children as it went on, even some of the later episodes featured memorably unsettling baddies. In 1997, the sequel series Extreme Ghostbusters arrived, and its creators seemed to be on a mission to make the most gruesome horror material that they could legally get away with on children's television.
Out of hundreds of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, demons, banshees, vampires, trolls, Old Ones and werechickens, here are the thirteen most unsettling, bed-wettingly alarming spooks from both series.
13. Toy Behemoth
RGB S1: “Ghosts R Us”
The very first broadcast episode of The Real Ghostbusters focused on three minor ghosts, named Slug, Zunk and Snarg. These ugly Class Fives tried to run the Ghostbusters out of business by setting up their own rival busting service, “Ghosts R Us.” This wasn't enough for them, though, and so daddy spook, Slug, decided to recruit a powerful Class Seven ghost of his acquaintance, by the name of Turlock. We never found out just how powerful or frightening Turlock was, though, since he'd already been turfed out from his hiding spot in an abandoned toy factory by an even more powerful entity.
Described by the 'busters as a Class Ten vapour, this nameless horror topped the fictitious power levels for ghosts in The Real Ghostbusters (until later seasons pushed it even higher). Angry at being woken from its slumber, the Class Ten rampaged through the city and was only stopped by the Ghostbusters overloading the nuclear engine of the Ecto-2 helicopter (fortunately, there was apparently no fallout). To begin with, the creature appeared as an almost formless cloud of grey smoke, with a single eye, and in the moments before its destruction, transformed into a huge, grey worm. Neither of these forms were particularly pleasant, but it was the form it took to storm the city that sticks in the subconscious. Old toys are intrinsically scary—look at all the movies and TV shows that feature creepy, possessed dolls—but a fifty-foot tall mishmash of building blocks and teddy bear, topped with a demon-eyed, cymbal-smashing monkey is the stuff of nightmares. And that's before it shed a layer of mechanical flesh and revealed the face of an oriental porcelain doll.
12. Slime Ghoul
RGB S2: “Doctor, Doctor”
The Real Ghostbusters featured some utterly bizarre ideas in its syndicated run. A banshee pursues a pop career. Musical stones bring dinosaur skeletons to life. A man makes a deal with the devil to rid the world of chickens. Nothing tops “Doctor, Doctor,” though, for sheer freakish unpleasantness, and it's all down to one nasty spook.
The purple-tinged ghoul isn't the prettiest creature to begin with, sporting a withered arm and missing an eye. It's a pretty measly Class Three, as well, but it gives the 'busters a good runaround in a chemical plant before they finally corner it. A decent blast from the proton packs has the unfortunate side effect of leaching some of the ghost's ectoplasmic energy into an experimental chemical which promptly explodes all over them. They capture the ghoul and return to the fire station to scrub the muck off, but it grows back, erupting through their skin (off screen, thankfully), forming an impenetrable shell of purple goop around each of their bodies.
Naturally, the guys check into the local hospital in a desperate attempt for a cure to this revolting malady, but after multiple tests that baffle medical science, things get even worse, with the slime growing brand new body parts as the ghoul tries to reconstitute itself through the slime. First, Ray manifests a huge, swivelling eye in the middle of his torso. Winston develops a snaggle-toothed mouth, Egon a nose, and somehow most disturbingly, Peter grows a huge ear. Eventually, after a horrifying moment where the it almost smothers the guys, the slime and its additional organs pulls off them completely and recombines into a gigantic, even more misshapen version of the ghoul.
11. Animal Apparitions
RGB S2: “Rollerghoster”
When described, these ghosts don't seem too terrifying. The spirits of circus animals that were killed in a fire in the forties, the ghosts manifest when a carnival sets down on the former circus grounds. Egon takes exception to the carnival's use of the Ghostbusters' trademark and likenesses for the Ecto-1 rollercoaster, but the guys still come to the rescue when a dozen screeching dead animals appear and attack the customers. Well, eventually—at first they assumed it was a stunt. The ghosts took a bunch of people hostage and proceeded to animate the ride, turning it into a “Rollerghoster.” As unnerving as this plank-and-rail dinosaur beast is, it's the animal ghosts themselves that a really horrifying. Later seasons probably would have made these spooks cutesy and unthreatening, but early RGB pulled no punches. These things are monstrous, a bunch of screaming, malformed, approximations of recognisable animals. I mean, look at that elephant. Just look at it.
RGB S4: “Standing Room Only”
A strong, late-season contender for The Real Ghostbusters, Mee-Krah is a gigantic, Lovecraftian monstrosity that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone, living or dead. In “Standing Room Only,” Venkman builds a “ghost attractor,” so all the ghosts will come to them and the 'busters will never have to leave the comfort of their armchairs. Soon enough, dozens of ghosts are lining up outside the firehouse and patiently waiting their turn to just step into traps so that they can be safely deposited into the containment unit.
Naturally, the ghost attractor is no such thing and Venkman is the not the great inventor he thinks he is. The ghosts are fleeing from Mee-Krah, who rises once every thousand years to sweep across the land, devouring ghosts, ghouls and any ectoplasmic being it can find. A huge, cycloptic octopus (a cycloptopus?), Mee-Krah not only threatened all the ghosts in the area, it also emitted a field of heat so intense that it would reduce the land to desert. Indeed, Mee-Krah was supposed to have created the Sahara, Gobi and Death Valley. Fortunately for the Eastern Seaboard, Peter had accidentally created a kind-of ectoplasmic battery which had absorbed spectral energy from all the ghosts that had crowded into the HQ, which provided a handy overload to wipe out Mee-Krah—or at least send it back to whichever dimension it came from.
XGB: “The Unseen”
Of the many unsettling creatures features in Extreme Ghostbusters, Tenebraug has perhaps the most viscerally unpleasant MO of all. Trapped for millennia in the Orb of Moldova, Tenebraug was a demonic entity rated as a ludicrously powerful Class Thirteen, but still managed to be enslaved by a bunch of pagan cultists who used it to make sacrifices to the gods. While Tenebraug was a fairly nasty-looking orange blob, it was his favoured sacrifice that made him so horrific. Tenebraug stole people's eyes. All any unfortunate passer-by would have to do was look directly at the Orb, and their eyes would be pulled from their sockets, embedded into the very flesh of the demon. The ones flapping about on stalks are bad enough, but it's the mouthful of eyeballs right in the middle of the demon that's the most stomach-churning.
Somehow, archaeologists managed to get the Orb onto a plane and send it to New York to be unveiled in a museum, although it did slurp out the eyes of a customs officer, a cleaning woman and Extreme Ghostbuster Eduardo Rivera. Fortunately, fellow 'buster Kylie Griffin worked out that all you had to do was close your eyes when picking it up and then show it to the demon. When Tenebraug looked at the Orb, all the eyes were pulled back out of his body and returned to his victims. In spite of his lofty ectoplasmic class, Tenebraug was disposed of pretty easily, destroyed along with the Orb, keeping him from the top tier of ghosts in spite of his peeper-snatching habits.
8. The Dark Rider
RGB S2: “The Man Who Never Reached Home”
Ah, now this is a proper ghost story. Based on the story of Peter Rugg (a work of fiction that has developed into an urban legend), “The Man Who Never Reached Home” tells the tale of Simon Quegg, a malicious and cruel man of wealth. One night in 1887, after storming out of an inn in a rage for some slight, Quegg took to his coach and stated his intention to ride home. Ignoring warnings about the terrible storm that night, he declared, “I'll see home before the night is out, or by all that it holy, may I never see home again.” This was, of course, a very poor idea. For the next hundred years, Quegg would appear in the same area of New York, asking passers by the way to Providence, Rhode Island, and never believing them, before riding back into the night, all the while pursued by the terrifying Dark Rider.
Unlike most of the ghosts that appear in the series, Quegg and the Dark Rider aren't bizarre or horrific in appearance, or even particularly in action. It's the relentlessness of the demonic Rider and the desperation of Quegg in his hopeless quest to reach home that make this such a chilling story. Things become a little more complicated when he asks Ray directions to Providence. The readings the Ghostbusters take show that Quegg, the Rider and the horse and cart themselves are all spirits, and that the horse and cart are considerably more powerful than Quegg. Figuring that their different spectral levels will allow them to be separated, Ray tries to blast the cart, only to find himself trapped in Quegg's place. Eventually, Ray convinces Quegg to stand his ground and face the Rider, who is revealed to be Quegg himself—a reflection of his cruelty and malice. Facing his demons at last, Quegg can finally go home.
7. The Sandman
RGB S1: “Mr. Sandman, Dream Me a Dream”
In the universe of The Real Ghostbusters there's an entire race of Sandmen, who work diligently to keep mankind sleeping and dreaming contentedly. The rogue Sandman that fought the 'busters wasn't content with this, however, and set himself a mission to end all war and bring peace to the world, by putting all of humanity to sleep for five hundred years. He seemed to have missed the slight flaw in his plan, which would see everyone dying of thirst within a few days, but it's true, it certainly would be more peaceful then. One side effect of the Sandman's reign of snoozing was that his sleeping victims' dreams began to manifest in the waking world, leading all manner of bizarre and dangerous creatures to appear in New York. (All evil spirits start their plans in New York. The coming of Gozer must have done something very strange to the fabric of reality in the Burg.) Rampaging aliens and Easter bunnies were not so conducive to peace and quiet, but the Sandman still persevered, until the 'busters defeated him, with a little help from their secretary Janine, who dreamt of being a Ghostbuster.
What makes the Sandman so scary isn't his actions, but his appearance, and above all, his voice. His fat, blubbery albino face and puffy lips, combined with his spindly, feeble-looking arms make for an uncanny combination, but it's that wheezing, breathy voice that sticks in your head. Sweet dreams.
RGB S1: “Mrs. Roger's Neighborhood”
Another stellar entry from the first season of RGB, Wat was a towering demon lord that commanded a legion of spirits, and had plans to rule the mortal world. In “Mrs. Roger's Neighborhood” (sic), the 'busters went to the aid of a sweet little old lady named Mrs. Rogers, who claimed to be living in a haunted house. With most haunted houses turning out to be false alarms, the guys weren't too concerned, but when they turned up at 1313, 13th Street, the psychic energy was so high it shorted out the PKE meter. After taking sweet Mrs. Rogers to the firehouse for her own safety (along with her pet canary, Precious), the 'busters set about investigating the house.
Shock and horror, it was nothing but a trap! The entire house was comprised of spectral entities which did their best to trap and/or devour the Ghostbusters, while Mrs. Rogers was merely a disguise for Wat, who planned to open the containment unit, taking command of the spirits inside as his own personal phantom army. (Precious also turned out to be a gigantic demon bird that attacked Slimer, the fiend.) Wat only revealed his true form—a huge, hideous tyrannosaur-type thing with pink, gummy fangs—when he prepared to possess Peter. In Venkman's body, he would have been able to open the containment unit, but fortunately a precisely tuned particle beam was able to separate the man and the monster. Wat was quite easily trapped after this, but made a cameo in the Christmas special “X-Mas Marks the Spot,” along with the Sandman and most of the spooks battled during the first season, when Egon was forced to enter the containment unit.
XGB: “Darkness at Noon,” Parts 1 & 2
Extreme Ghostbusters kicked off with a two-part story that made it clear the spin-off wasn't going to shy away from revolting and horrific material. The first entity the new Ghostbusters faced was Achira, demon-spawn of Duaka, was a Mesopotamian goddess of disease and death that brought plague upon successive civilisations, destroying city after city. Around a thousand years ago, Achira was imprisoned underground using magical rites, beneath what would one day become New York. Achira escaped in 1997, approaching Egon's student Kylie in the form of her deceased great-grandmother, proceeding to possess her and use her as host for her latest attempt at the apocalypse. Working through Kylie, Achira infected numerous victims with a spectral plague, including Egon, inspiring him to recreate the Ghostbusters with his young students. Although they were able to separate the demon from Kylie, she was so powerful that Egon was forced to redesign his equipment so that it was able to contain her.
Achira took on many forms during the story, but her true appearance was pretty nasty: a serpent-faced woman with, instead of arms, slithering worms with their own wailing faces. These unpleasant wrigglers could even detach and attack people on their own. The really horrible part was Achira's habit of spreading disease; she infected her victims with hideous boils which were actually the demon's own offspring, and would grow in the victims' bodies and detach within a day or so to begin spreading disease themselves. That's a whole other level of horror movie nightmare fuel right there.
4. The Thing
RGB S2: “The Thing in Mrs. Faversham's Attic”
Seventy years before the events of this episode, Charles Faversham's attempt to use the occult to guarantee good fortune for himself and his daughter Agatha went horribly wrong. Summoning a demon that proved too powerful to control, Faversham tried to send the evil back to its own realm but failed. Managing to trap the Thing (called Belleranthon in the script) within the attic of his house, he forbade his daughter ever to go up there. The Thing spent the next seventy years growing increasingly mad, full of rage and hatred for Faversham, and expanding the attic into its own private universe. Agatha married and moved away, but after both her husband and father died, she was back in the house, somehow bearing the constant screaming and laughing from the attic until it was too much.
Mrs. Faversham (who must have married a man with the same surname as herself, in a slight logistical oddity) contacted the Ghostbusters, who entered the attic to face the entity. Given what happened the last time they helped an old lady with a haunted house, you'd have thought they'd be more careful, but Peter has a soft spot for dear old ladies. The Thing, with complete control over its little world and everything in it, animated every toy, tool and scrap of junk to use as bodies and weapons. After being threatened with being smashed, slashed and raked to death, the guys decided to give the Thing what it wanted: Charles Faversham. Fortunately, for all its unearthly power, the Thing wasn't too bright, and was temporarily fooled by Slimer in a coat and hat, and manifested in its true form: a tornado of ectoplasmic mist and hate-filled eyeballs. Once it got to near to the threshold of the attic, it was drawn into a trap and the horror was over.
3. The Boogieman/Bogeyman
RGB S1: “The Boogieman Cometh”
RGB S3: “The Bogeyman is Back”
One of the most prominent villains in the Ghostbuster franchise, appearing twice on TV and again in The Real Ghostbusters comicbook by NOW Comics, the Boogieman's raison d'etre is exactly what you'd expect: he lives to scare children. Unlike most of the monsters on the list, the Boogieman isn't a ghost or demon, but a fully corporeal living entity from another dimensional realm. His abilities include incredible strength and a scream that can knock people to the ground, but that's nothing compared to his ability to alter the very fabric of reality when he is sufficiently powered up. The Boogieman doesn't just scare children, he feeds on their fear, becoming larger and more powerful the more frightened his victims are. It's not hard to see why kids would be scared of him: while he's basically humanoid, his head is massively oversized for his body, and his legs end in cloven hooves. Still, at least he makes the effort with his clothing, sporting a tail coat and a nice bow-tie. Like the Sandman, his most unnerving aspect is his voice—a horrible, wheezing rasp.
What's makes the Boogieman so malicious is that he doesn't just scare kids and random; he seeks out particular children and victimises them again and again, cultivating a phobia of himself. One of his victims was a young Egon Spengler. Not only did his torment by the Boogieman lead him to beginning his researches into the paranormal, the normally rational Egon is still petrified of the creature. The Boogieman originally lived in a warped realm that led to every closet and basement in the human world via a series of interdimensional doors. Another significant problem for the Ghostbusters is that the Boogieman, not being a ghost, can't be trapped. In their initial encounter, the 'busters followed him back to his realm, where they found he was far too powerful to defeat, but Egon devises a “ghost bomb” which seals him in his own dimension. Unfortunately, a couple of years later, Egon nearly falls to death when battling a ghost on top of the Twin Towers, and his reaction to this trauma provides enough fear for the Boogieman, still linked to him, to break back into the mortal world. For maximum freakiness, the Boogieman takes over an amusement park and turns into his own private playground, before Egon figures a way to get rid of him for good. A modified proton beam is able to destabilise his atomic structure, essentially making him into a ghost so that he can be trapped (although “making someone into a ghost” is pretty much another way of saying “killing them dead”).
2. The Vathek
The Vathek are nether entities that are brought into material existence by the act of writing, influencing the minds of their authors to make themselves real. In the most viscerally disturbing episode of Extreme Ghostbusters, the author was J. N. Kline, a children's horror writer based on a mixture of R. L. Stine, Stephen King and, most clearly, Clive Barker. His stories, which are clearly not suitable for children, feature horrific demons which are blatantly the Cenobites from Barker's Hellraiser series. In a plot that borrows from John Carpenter's reality-warping In the Mouth of Madness, Kline is forced to write the ongoing nightmare of his creations' activities, so that they may remake the world in their image.
The leader of the Vathek, Crainiac, is an obese butcher with more than a passing resemblance to the revolting Cenobite Butterball, only with a buzz-saw embedded in his head. Gristle is a nightmare of dentistry, with a sewn-shut mouth and dentist's drills for hands. Worst of all is Corpuscle, a huge lump of blubbery flesh with eyes in his hands. Where his head should be is a doughy mass of flesh that moves very upsettingly when he talks, and distressingly erupts open into some kind of raw, tumorous foetus when he is enraged. Resiliant to the Ghostbusters proton beams, the Vathek abducted the 'buster Roland and intended to do to him what they did to all their victims: noisily operate on them to transform them into stomach-turning monstrosities like themselves. Forget what I said about Kline's books, the episode wasn't suitable for kids, not by a long chalk.
1. The Grundel
RGB S3: “The Grundel”
Finally, the number one source of nightmares for Ghostbusters kids of all ages: the Grundle. This softly-spoken maniac has the distinction of being the only ghostly villain to appear in both The Real Ghostbusters and the Extreme Ghostbusters, returning for a direct sequel that had more than a little of the Boogieman story to it, but taken to disturbing new extremes. While the third season of RGB had already begun to drop the scares somewhat, “The Grundel” was an exceptional script by J. Michael Straczynski (the original story editor of RGB, now better known for Babylon 5, and the creator of no fewer than four of the ghosts in this rundown). Easily the most disturbing of all the ghosts to face the original 'busters,' it's unsurprising that he was chosen to reappear in the sequel series.
The Grundel is a sinister being whose sole purpose is to corrupt children and infect them with his own spirit, transforming them into Grundels themselves. He selects children who have the potential to go bad, tempting them into destructive behaviour with his mesmeric influence. In the original episode, he tempts a young tea leaf named Alec into committing more and more dangerous pranks, including messing with the Ghostbusters' packs during a school demonstration. He apparently even kicked Mrs. Faversham's cat! Fortunately, Alec's brother Lee helped him back from the brink when he was on the verge of transforming into another Grundel, and the 'busters were able to trap him.
However, another of the Grundel's intended victims was a little girl named Kylie, who, ten years later, was part of the Ghostbusters team when another Grundel appeared. Egon was surprisingly dismissive of the idea, but Kylie and Roland made the rash decision of opening a break in the containment unit in order to speak to the original Grundel. When Kylie refused to play with the Grundel, he turned his attention to her best friend Jack, who then disappeared. The Grundel had been captured, but Jack spent the next decade gestating in a sort of cocoon, only to hatch out now as a new Grundel. Grundel Prime used his influence to persuade Roland's little sod of a brother Casey to free him completely, and the two Grundels targeted him as their next project.
Of course, the Grundel was busted again and Jack and Casey both returned to normal, but the relatively easy bust does nothing to lessen the horrific impact of the Grundel. There's a not-very-subtle and impossible to ignore undercurrent to the Grundel and his twisted temptation of children. Physically looking like a monstrous caricature of an old man in a hat and flashing mac, he spends his time peering through the windows of children's bedrooms, whispering to them to “Come out and play.” His behaviour around Kylie was even worse. He boasted of watching her sleep, claimed he had been dreaming of her, and when he was finally released, grabbed hold of her and said that he'd been “waiting for this moment for ten years.” It's incredibly disturbing and it's surprising it was ever allowed to go out on a children's show. (I'd also warn strongly about googling any of this, since there is some questionable fan art involving Kylie and the Grundel.)
Even if we don't want to dwell on the subtext of the Grundel, the fact that he transforms his victims into creatures like him also has worrying connotations. Egon simply took the Grundel at his word that he was the Grundel, the original monster. What's to say the Grundel faced by the Ghostbusters wasn't just another kid who had fallen victim to one of the creatures a long time ago?