Columbia Pictures released Ghostbusters in June of 1984 and it was an immediate success at the box office. Fueled by a slick marketing campaign and a hit single with a popular music video that was constantly replayed on a then new MTV, Ghostbusters would become the most financially successful comedy of the 1980’s. That is quite a feat for a decade that produced so many classic comedies. Clearly Ghostbusters was primed and ready to sell a slew of merchandise.
The problem is, despite a premise that so easily adapts to toy making there weren’t any kind of toys ready to roll out in the summer of 1984. In fact, no action figures would be produced until Christmas of 1986! This is difficult to believe in a day and age when movie based toys are released in stores before the movie is in theaters, but the movie Ghostbusters never received any kind of action figure treatment until the 2000’s. I would assume there were some kind of licensing issues at play because a movie with so many big name actors was sure to gain notoriety. When the action figures were finally released in 1986 they were based on the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters rather than the film.
When the cartoon versions of the Ghostbusters finally began hitting toy store shelves in late 1986 they were eagerly grabbed up by a public craving Ghostbusters toys. Kenner obliged by producing all four Ghostbusters, an assortment of monsters and ghosts, and several role playing toys. Not satisfied with selling each main character only once however, Kenner began releasing the four Ghostbusters in different attire with action features called “Fright Features” in late 1987.
By 1989 the cartoon was still running strong and the film Ghostbusters II was on the horizon. Not letting up on their cash cow Kenner developed their third versions of the four Ghostbusters called the Screaming Heroes. Each figure had a port on it’s torso and came packaged with a ghost that would attach to the port. When wound up and then activated, the Ghostbuster would start flailing and a high pitched whine would be emitted from the ghost. Yes the sound came from the ghost even though it was the Ghostbuster that was supposed to be screaming. It never sounded much like a scream either.
Kenner seemed obsessed with making action figures of the Ghostbusters acting frightened. The refrain in their theme song was “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” so I’m not sure why Kenner wanted them to look like pansies. Kenner took a lot of creative liberties with this toy line. Not only were these re-released Ghostbusters dressed in gear they never wore on the show, but very few of the ghosts produced were ever on the show either. To me it seems like a no brainer to put characters kids watch on Saturday morning out on toy shelves rather than original creations. Then again, I never made millions of dollars while Kenner cleaned up with this license so I suppose I’m not in a position to criticize. Back then you could slap a Ghostbusters label on practically anything and people would buy it. How else do you explain this:
I remember receiving the Peter Venkman Screaming Heroes figure for my birthday in 1989. While sitting on the front porch my neighbor across the street was riding down the sidewalk on his bicycle with the training wheels still attached. As he rode by he shouted “hey Eric I got you a Peter”. Today if someone told me that I would assume it was some kind of euphemism. Sure I would be flattered, but I wouldn’t be the slight bit curious. At that time however I knew exactly what he was talking about and it wasn’t in reference to Mr. Pecker. “You’re not supposed to tell” was my reply. I’m not making the conversation sound any better, but the point is that I knew I was getting a Ghostbuster and there would be no element of surprise. Surprise is over rated anyway.
Later that day I would peel open my package to reveal my Peter. What did it look like?
Peter Venkman came with a rather angry looking specter named Ghoulgroan, a ghost trap, and some kind of a gun. I don’t remember that gun at all so I assume it was lost approximately 19 seconds after ripping the toy from the package. The trap became an important part of my Ghostbusters arsenal however. Before this figure there was no way to get a ghost trap in the action figure line, so it was an important accessory. Peter himself was dressed in a yellow jumpsuit with some kind of grey vest on. Surprisingly my spell checker doesn’t recognize the word “grey” but prefers “gray”. Screw that.
Wind Peter’s arms up and attach the ghost to his stomach where the port on his vest is located. Activate a trigger on his back and his arms start spinning around 360 degrees rapidly while the screaming sound is emitted. Unfortunately this means that his arms lack “usual” articulation and when you move one, the other arm also moves in sync. He also looks permanently shocked. That said, it was a fun toy to play with and the action feature got plenty of use. However, if this was your only version of the character you were screwed. He lacked a proton pack and didn’t have his iconic Ghostbusters uniform on. These figures were great to play around with as long as you had the standard versions of the main characters, but if you relied on these alone you really had to stretch your imagination.
Kenner kept releasing other versions of the main cast through 1991 but this was part of the last wave I would ever own. As 1989 marched forward Batman would go on to divert attention away from the Ghostbusters and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would continue to gain momentum. By the 1990’s with no new films on the horizon and the cartoon series beginning to show it’s age the franchise began winding down. For me the Screaming Heroes represent the last gasp of Ghostbusters at the top of the toy heap.