Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. So let’s take a look at this week’s jerk-off, and why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. Also, since I’m not a jerk, this is your spoiler warning for the 1984 movie, Ghostbusters.
William Atherton was born to play a jerk. He might be the nicest guy in the world in real life, but honestly, just look at that bearded visage and smug expression. Jerk city.
By the time Walter Peck shows up in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, the titular spectre-hunters have been making serious bank by ridding New York City of a ghoul infestation for quite some time. Using thermonuclear laser guns and a bunch of other futuristic gadgets, they capture troublesome entities and then house them in a sort of poltergeist-prison they’ve built back at HQ. Since ghost-busting is a relatively new vocation, our heroes are getting all of the business when it comes to keeping NYC spook-free, and baby, business is booming. Walter Peck, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency and is also a massive jerk, decides that he’s bored of living in a world free from ghosts and that he’s going to fuck the situation up, ASAP.
So, he rocks up to Ghostbusters HQ for a chin-wag with resident smart-ass Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) in order to assess potential environmental hazards caused by the ‘busters high-tech gadgetry and supernatural tomfoolery. Peter Venkman isn’t the sort of guy to parlez with a smug suit like Peck, and so he insults him for a bit until the angry EPA Agent storms off, vowing to return with a warrant. Later in the movie he shows back up with said warrant, a cop, and some guy who must be an engineer because he’s wearing a safety hat and knows how to flip a lever, and between the three of them they shut down the Ghostbusters’ containment unit, which promptly blows a hole through the ceiling of the building and frees all of the naughty ghosties that they’ve captured during the first half of the movie. Cripes!
Actually, the more that you think about it, the more Walter Peck kind of has a point. I mean, he works for the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ghostbusters did actually present quite a threat to the environment. He was kinda just doing his job in trying to assess whether ghost-bustin’ technology was potentially dangerous, and he was even courteous about it until Venkman started mocking him for no reason. But we all like Bill Murray, so I guess that makes it okay. Anyway, once Peter has finished childishly making fun of him, Walter Peck goes into full on vendetta-jerk-mode, and he’s got to be stopped.
The mayor is looking for somebody to blame for the ghosts storming the city, and Peck decides to point the finger at Peter Venkman and Co. He calls the Ghostbusters “consummate snowball artists,” and then accuses them of tricking people into believing they’re seeing ghosts using nerve gases and a light show — which seems like a bit of a strange claim to make literally ten minutes after he watched a bunch of ghosts escape when he shut down the containment unit they were trapped in out of spite, but hey, he’s a jerk. Who knows how these people think? Thanks to some smart-talking from smooth operator Peter Venkman, the mayor decides that he’s going to put his faith in the Ghostbusters, and throws Walter Peck out onto the street, and he presumably spends the rest of his days looking dishevelled in bars with his tie-knot down to button three, whining to anybody who’ll listen about how Peter Venkman ruined his life.
Jerk-Off Quote: “People think they’re seeing ghosts, and they call these bozos, who conveniently show up to deal with the problem with a fake electronic light show.” — Walter Peck, about ten minutes after seeing a bunch of ghosts.
Comeuppance: Walter Peck presumably loses his job with the EPA after ironically causing a massive environmental disaster by trying to protect the environment, and after the Ghostbusters’ climactic battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, finds himself showered by molten marshmallow, which either burns him alive like delicious, sugary lava, or just ruins his suit and gets stuck in his hair and stuff. One of the two.
Jerk-Off Rating: If his jerkiness was a Twinkie, it would be a Twinkie 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds.
Tune in next week – same jerk time, same jerk channel – to find out who’s next in our celebration of cinema’s ultimate jerks.