When Universal Studios Florida opened on June 7, 1990, one of the most epic and reliable attractions available was the “Ghostbusters Spooktacular.” I remember experiencing this show as a kid and being surprised when such a unique attraction closed just six years after the park’s opening. Since it was such a short-lived attraction, let’s take a look back at what made it so special.
This show took place in the New York area of the park in the location that currently houses Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. As a kid, I wasn’t a particularly big Ghostbusters fan, so visiting “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” was just another check off the park map to ensure that I did it all.
But that’s one of the things that I love about theme park attractions; you don’t need to be a particularly big fan of a franchise (or know much about it) in order to enjoy an attraction based around it. Take the movie “Waterworld,” for example. This was one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, yet “Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular” has been a hit at Universal Studios Hollywood since 1995 and numerous other Universal parks have recreated the hit stunt show themed around a flop movie.
When I entered “Ghostbusters Spooktacular,” I had no idea what to expect. Originally, the attraction featured the story of a tour guide showing you around one of the “Ghostbusters” movie sets, the Temple of Gozer. A few years later, the story was reworked to include a new storyline but continued using the same set and effects. In this new storyline, we would see a performer portray the role of Louis Tully (brilliantly performed by Rick Moranis in the movie) as he was trying to recruit new ghostbusters.
To be completely honest, the storyline of the attraction isn’t what I remember most. What I so vividly remember all these years later were the giant and believable “ghosts” that appeared on stage. I walked into the attraction knowing very little of what to expect, which is always the best way to experience an attraction for the first time. So, after the pre-show ended and the Temple of Gozer lit up, I was shocked by the effects seen on stage.
To be fair, the effects weren’t all that revolutionary. “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” used the age-old Pepper’s Ghost effect created in the 1860s (and made famous by Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ballroom), but did it on a scale and in a format that I hadn’t seen before. If you’re unfamiliar with Pepper’s Ghost, it is basically working with lighting and reflection off a piece of glass to make the image you’re looking at appear see-through or ghost-like.
In the case of “Ghostbusters Spooktacular,” the entire front of the stage was covered in glass, allowing for these animatronic ghost-like reflections to appear all over the stage and interact with the actors. It was a very cool thing to experience in person, and unlike The Haunted Mansion where you quickly ride by in your Doom Buggy, this was a full-length show where you got to sit and watch these effects unfold before your eyes.
The show did feature a lot of iconic characters from the film, including Slimer, but there were also new ghost characters to round out the cast. A fun fact for those of you who are fans of the cult classic horror movie “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” the Chiodo Brothers who designed the Klowns also designed the new ghosts in “Ghostbusters Spooktacular.”
I know that theme park attractions often can’t live on forever and that things need to be updated, but “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” was so unique that I honestly feel it could still exist today delighting audiences. At some point, the Ghostbusters as a franchise wasn’t as popular as it once was, but I don’t think that really should matter based on my previous “Waterworld” example. Universal was licensing the Ghostbusters franchise from Columbia Pictures to create this attraction, but the characters still remained in the parks on and off until 2005, so it’s not like it was a licensing problem in 1996.
Alas, in 1996, the flying ghosts disappeared for good to make way for flying cows when Twister…Ride it Out opened in 1998. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Twister…Ride it Out, but I truly wish they could have found another space to put that attraction instead of replacing the way-too-short-lived “Ghostbusters Spooktacular.” If you never got to experience this show in person, I highly suggest that you check out a video of it on YouTube. Sure, it’s not the same as seeing it in person, but it was something special and you should enjoy it any way you can.
If we’re really lucky, perhaps we could see some more Ghostbusters greatness in the Universal parks related to the upcoming reboot/sequel. Considering the appearance of the Ghostbusters house at last year’s Halloween Horror Nights, it seems that Universal still has a good relationship with the franchise – so much so that Ghostbusters was the centerpiece for the Halloween event and was featured in all of the marketing.
And now for a nerdy fun fact: Remember how I previously mentioned the Chiodo Brothers designing some of the ghosts for “Ghostbusters Spooktacular”? Well, at Halloween Horror Nights in 2019, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” also had its own haunted house. It would have been fun and super niche if there had been some sort of crossover or Easter eggs between the two houses. I would have loved to see some of those “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” ghosts once more.
If you’re like me and you still think about “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” every time you walk through Universal Studios Florida, it’s at least nice to have the reminder of what once was when looking at the Ghostbusters firehouse entrance, which the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster track now rides through.
Did you ever get to experience “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” in person yourself? If not, had you ever even heard about this show?
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He is the host and producer of “That Halloween Podcast,” a new show where you can hear Halloween-loving conversations with fantastic guests from the haunt, horror and entertainment industries every day this October. Listen and claim your FREE Halloween gifts at DePodcastNetwork.com.