My eyes darted from restaurant to art gallery to warehouse as I hurried up a sleepy waterside avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, desperate to catch sight of my desired location before I’d be late. Then, like a beam of light—or, more appropriately, a glowing proton stream—my eyeline met what may just be the most recognizable icon to spring from the past 30 years of pop culture: slathered on the black brick wall of the otherwise unassuming BBQ Films studio was the unmistakable “No ghosts!” illustration, welcoming me, and a number of early birds eager to get a gander before opening, to Ghostbusters HQ.
Before even crossing over to the right side of the street, positive energies abounded. Swarms of properly costumed Ghostbusters hurried in and out of the building, preparing for the impending disclosure of what I might call the most elaborate theme party I’ve ever been to. I watched a pair of craftsmen toil over what I later recognized as a Ghostbusters-themed skee ball game; I was greeted by a possessed Louis Tully, seeking the Gatekeeper and touting a tub of buttered popcorn, and totally unshakable from his role; I delightedly ogled every inch of the Ecto-1, a genuine film prop on loan from Sony, parked in an open garage for attendees and passersby to enjoy. This was all before my tour even began, mind you.
If it seems like I’m getting ridiculously effusive right off the bat, it’s because that’s exactly the kind of attitude that emanates from every corner of Ghostbusters HQ. Despite cooperation with Sony on its development, this recreation of that fantastical and facetious world first brought to life in the 1984 hit comedy wasn’t born as a “publicity stunt.” Every actor, producer, and crewperson on hand—many of whom play more than one of these roles, I’ll add—is a volunteer who boarded Ghostbusters HQ based only on a love of the films.
This is clear as soon as you set foot into the facilities; an actress playing Janine, with a spot-on nasal whine, will give you the rundown on each of the many stations you’ll want to engage with during your stay at the event. Truly committed to the reality of spectral phenomena, the first section you’ll hit will invite you to report any ghost sightings you’ve experienced in the past, dictate details of aforesaid phantasms to a professional sketch artist, and even have your own brain scanned for paranormal possession. Scans of my friend and colleague’s cranium fed projections of some kind of crab-shaped ghoul to the corresponding monitor; we were warned by professionals to tread lightly around her.
This commitment to the universe by every single participant involved is what makes Ghostbusters HQ so impressive, but there’s an additional element at play that separates such a phenomenon from others of its ilk. Chatting about the event with BBQ Films’ own Gabriel Rhoads, just a few feet away from a diligent and detail-oriented proton pack safety demonstration, I realized that Ghostbusters is unusual among the kinds of properties that ordinarily warrant this degree of fan frenzy.
As it is first and foremost a comedy, Ghostbusters demands that you only take it so seriously. The levity doesn’t come at the expense of devotion, but instead insists upon an entirely joyful experience of engagement.
That means you can put your all into a lecture on the science behind psychokinetic energy—as one particularly adorable actor did, armed with lab coat and chalk board and preaching to a crowd of engaged auditors—that all boils down to a single enthusiastic punchline: “That’s a big Twinkie!” It means that you can bend the canon enough to have presentations delivered by Oscar Venkman, Peter Venkman’s “ahem…stepson” (as they put it) and professional Ghostbuster in his own right. It means, more than anything else, that by whatever means you opt to enjoy Ghostbusters is yours to claim.
Though wholly dedicated to its cause of spreading Ghostbusters love, Ghostbusters HQ was by no means didactic, judgmental, or exclusive. Men and women alike cosplayed as professional busters, some sporting names familiar to the franchise and others unique handles. Accompanying this lot were the likes of a possessed Dana Barrett—“There is no Dana, only Zuul!” she reminded us—who doubled as the production’s director, a chilling take on the library ghost, and a young woman manning a station as a dynamite Janosz Poha from the second film.
Even the performers who embodied original characters never abandoned the act. Two Murray-esque wiseguy Ghostbusters operated a parapsychology station identical to the one seen in the very beginning of the original movie. In short: Guess the card correctly or get a shock…yes, a real electric shock. Few succeeded, but no one could help but laugh over the duo’s deadpan antics.
Smaller attractions—such as a cursed refrigerator, an ectoplasm observatory, and a library cabinet electronically programmed to open its own drawers and periodically spit out its cards—were strewn about the room, which became increasingly packed with Ecto Cooler-sipping fans as the night carried on. The hours led up to a preview of the forthcoming documentary Ghostheads, with the producers on hand to answer a few questions before one had to dart out to witness the birth of his child. (I’m not kidding.) The evening culminated in, naturally, a presentation of Ghostbusters, merging the worlds of dream and reality in one fell swoop.
Of course, I remain duly impressed by the tactical labor put into the event. But more than that, I am in awe of how abundantly joyful the whole ordeal is from top to bottom. Though we occasionally witness the sour points of certain fervent fan bases, Ghostbusters HQ is proof that the only real point to engage with any piece of fiction or pop culture is for the fun of it. Every single person to cross the bridge into the ghost-busting realm was invited to love the franchise as much as and in whatever form he or she felt inclined.
In fact, the entire time we were on set of this gallant endeavor, enlivened beyond anything I expected by the love of volunteers and visitors alike, I was only ever given a single, solitary instruction: Don’t cross the streams.
Get another look at what Ghostbusters HQ has to offer!
Images: Chris Gregory
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist, and is very much NOT ‘fraid of no ghosts. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.