Out of my crystal skull with Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd Atari Ghostbusters video game launch with Dan Aykroyd. Note the boxed Crystal Head vodka bottle on the table. Credit: Tim Soter.
Dan Aykroyd
Atari Ghostbusters video game launch with Dan Aykroyd. Note the boxed Crystal Head vodka bottle on the table. Credit: Tim Soter.

I’d been freelancing for a famous movie magazine for a couple of years when I was given my first overseas assignment. I think it was a try-out: something that, if I screwed it up, wouldn’t really matter. I was sent to New York to talk to Dan Aykroyd, ostensibly about a Ghostbusters video game, but really to try and score some details about Ghostbusters 3. This was 2009, before it was reworked as the current all-female iteration, which has been controversial because oh my God women. A third Ghostbusters film had been talked about for years: mostly by Aykroyd. But on this occasion it was clear he was probably more interested in talking about his vodka.

Aykroyd’s vodka brand is called Crystal Head. It comes in a funky bottle that looks like a crystal skull: the alleged pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artefacts, only thirteen in number, that are supposed to have mystical powers (as in the fourth Indiana Jones film we pretend doesn’t exist). I remember watching a BBC documentary—a QED or a Horizon or one of those things—in the late ’80s where they brought all the existing skulls together in the same room to see what happened, and then didn’t reveal the result, suggesting it had given them the willies. Maybe it was a hoax. Aykroyd likes his supernatural mysteries, but is obviously also canny to the marketability of a cool bottle. The contents, it’s trumpeted, have been “triple filtered through diamonds”. I don’t know what that achieves, but it’s bloody good vodka. Someone close to him told me a few years later that he’s already earned more from the enterprise than from his entire film career.

The trip was on Atari’s dollar. It was basically what’s known as a jolly. They don’t seem to happen quite so much anymore, but essentially the idea is that a company throws some money around giving journalists a good time, which they hope will get them some coverage for whatever they’re trying to sell. One of my colleagues had recently scored a helicopter ride over New York for the DVD release of Die Hard 4. The Ghostbusters gig, we were promised, would include a tour of the original film’s locations: the fire station; the library; the Zuul building; the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park, etc. This turned out, on arrival at the hotel, to be directions on a printed sheet of A4 paper. Myself, a guy from Atari and another journalist from the NME decided to undertake it anyway. The NME guy brought his friend along, who lived in New York. I learned the next day that he was the singer from We Are Scientists. I had never heard of We Are Scientists, and I still haven’t heard a note of their music. But the singer is a nice guy. And he knows his way around New York. If you’re visiting New York for the first time and you need a tour guide, I recommend the singer from We Are Scientists.

Anyway. On the day the actual work was to take place, various international hacks assembled at the W hotel on West 47th St so that Aykroyd could talk us through Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which, thankfully, turned out to be quite good. All the original cast, apart from Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, had provided the voices, it looked pretty and it wasn’t that difficult. It’s probably not one for the hardcore gamer, but it’s decent enough.

Aykroyd likes to make an entrance. Last time he was in our office he burst through the door unannounced shouting, “Deadlines, people!” In New York, he bustled into the press room wheeling an enormous trolley stacked with bottles of Crystal Head and proceeded to hand them out to everyone present. He then launched into his promotional spiel for Atari, which was as much vodka-digression as it was Ghostbusters-focused.

These days I am seasoned and cavalier and don’t bother to transcribe things that aren’t relevant to what I’m going to be writing. Back then I was frightened and I transcribed everything, so I can give you a taster of the ghost–vodka stream of consciousness that ensued. Perhaps the most amusing revelation was that Aykroyd had somehow worked crystal skulls into the game—or perhaps it was a happy coincidence, but the fact is that the game has a level where you’re assailed by ghosts that look an awful like Aykroyd’s bottles.

The vodka and the flying skull sequence in the game is inspired by the Mitchell Hedges skull. Did they make a game of Indiana Jones? Brilliant franchise. I want to see a third Ghostbusters movie made. I think this game is the third movie. The skull sequence in the game is great because you can play it over and over again. I would hope when we begin to get into distribution of the game we can do something with the vodka alongside. I don’t know if you’re allowed to give away alcohol? I’d send a case to the CEO of Best Buy to make sure they have the game and stuff. I figure the head works on its own, but it is a spiritual legend. In my website I reference the legend and a lot of people thought the website launching the vodka was a tease for Ghostbusters 3. And now we have the flying skulls in the game. Some way we’ll figure out a way where people can play the game and sip good vodka. You know what? There’s no law against drinking and playing video games. You can drive a car or fly a helicopter or a Boeing 747 on a flight simulator, while drinking vodka. If you’re of age. It’s for people 25 and up. It’s 60 bucks so we all have to have jobs to buy that stuff.

So it went on. And I don’t mean to imply that this was in any way a bad thing. He was also full of anecdotes about his family history and ancestral supernatural experiences. He’s a great raconteur. You could listen to him all day. Somewhere in there he said enough about Ghostbusters 3 that I got a feature out of it. Which meant that I was reliable and got more jobs. So what I’m saying is, Aykroyd, in part, is indirectly responsible for my career being what it is, despite his readiness to go off topic. So thanks, Dan. And cheers for the booze.

I probably should have declared my expensive bottle of vodka on the way back through customs, but I wasn’t apprehended.

Aykroyd also has a winery

aykroyd wine
Château Aykroyd. Credit: Carly Whittle.

Owen Williams (Yorkshire, March 2015)

Owen-Williams-AldermanOwen is a journalist specialising in film. He’s a regular contributor to Empire and Fangoria, and his work has also been published in The Guardian, Rue Morgue, GamesTM, All About History and various places elsewhere. He lives in Yorkshire with an academic and a cat. He mostly writes for print, but collects his haphazard online articles here. Twitter—@FlexibleHead.