Updated: Feb 14, 2022
If you're reading this, chances are you know what a PKE meter does within the Ghostbusters universe. But just in case: It's an indispensable tool for locating spectral presences. The PKE (Pyscho-Kinetic Energy) meter was introduced in the first Ghostbusters film, before the Ghostbusters themselves technically existed: The founders of the company, Dr. Egon Spengler (as portrayed by the late Harold Ramis) and Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd ), invented the device while they were still employed as professors at New York's Columbia University. The equipment also saw use in Ghostbusters II. In The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, the PKE meter made regular appearances, but was radically redesigned:
This version of the meter was the inspiration for the Kenner-produced toy. Mine is pictured below: It was a standard accessory with my proton pack, which has sadly been lost to the ages. This "PKE," as it's informally known, is pretty spot-on to its animated counterpart. I recovered mine from my parents' house. The red dial makes a satisfying click when turned.
The back still bears a piece of masking tape my mom applied, inscribed with "Fife." There's a pretty rugged belt clip, and the antenna spins via a finger-powered wheel. (Ah, the days before smartphones.) I showed off this toy in second grade, the day after other kids refused to believe I had a PKE meter!
The Kenner PKE is a priceless piece of my past, and I keep it displayed on my Ghostbusters mannequin. Yeah, you read that right. My Ghostbuster wife hates "Mac," as she's dubbed him. He's not that creepy, is he? Message me with your thoughts!
(Mac, laying low in the background of the above photo, is adorned with the hat I was given by Larry Ann Evans, when the Retro Injection crew took our Slugs: The Movie road trip to Lyons, NY.)
Here's the Kenner PKE meter, in a commercial touting the virtues of outfitting small children with projectile launchers.
The following compilation from Ghostbusters shows Ray and Egon, along with Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), as they brave their first encounter with the paranormal. You can see how the PKE is utilized by Egon to track down a ghost, and also in confirming the possession of Louis Tully (Rick Moranis).
While appearing to be an appropriately high-tech device, the actual movie prop was fabricated from rather humble means: a shoe polisher! Specifically, the Iona SP-1. (If "SP" doesn't stand for "shoe polisher," I'm through with this unpaid gig.) The creativity behind the design of the PKE blows the mind, and once you witness the iconic device in its original form, you'll never be able to view the films the same way.
When you have a prop this cool, you want to get all the mileage you can out of it. In a bizarre coincidence, both films which recycle the PKE have connections to professional wrestling and aliens! (It's a toss-up which is more real.) The meter is used as a communicator in John Carpenter's excellent 1988 film They Live, which features "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, and as a tracking device in 1991's Suburban Commando, starring Hulk Hogan. (Notice the latter film didn't receive an adjective.)
Now that we've brushed up (Get it? Shoe polisher?) on our PKE meter history, let's bust into that promised review! (Get it? Bust? I'll be here all week!)
The whole point of having a PKE meter is to make a big production out of walking around. A 2018 release from Spirit Halloween, I would hesitate to call this fine replica a toy, even if it's basically marketed as such. At the suggested retail price of $35.00, this totally presentable PKE is an absolute steal. The only other mass-produced movie meter was released as an "adult collectible" by Mattel under their Matty Collector line in 2010. Originally selling for $65.00, prices have skyrocketed to over $300 in the last couple of years. I bet a lot of Ghostbusters are kicking themselves now: The Spirit PKE meter has only slight cosmetic and electronic differences to the Mattel release! It seems as though the ectoplasmic bubble has burst on the once-coveted Mattel PKE.
Once again, my Spirit meter, retailing for $35.00:
And the currently $300+ Mattel version:
The Spirit PKE meter has a decent weight to it, and doesn't feel cheap at all. Holding the meter for the first time and experiencing its features was a rush, almost like reliving my youth. The size is also pretty close to the movie prop, obviously proportioned for an adult. There are Ghostbusters fans who quibble over minutia, but no one in the real world will notice anything wrong with this accessory. With complex lighting, synchronized sound effects and hot motorized action, this is the best PKE meter you can buy, unless you want to pay tons extra for the slightly more screen-accurate Mattel meter. The Matty Collector PKE has minor weathering details, but you could easily take a silver Sharpie to this meter and achieve the same effect.
Update: I decided to take my own advice.
Press the silver button on the right, and the PKE meter does its thing for a few seconds. The button on the left makes it run indefinitely, or at least until the two AAA batteries are drained. Press the left button again, and the meter shuts down. Here's a video of my PKE, because I live to up the ante.
The big point of contention about this meter within the Ghostbusters community seems to be the belt clip on the back. (In the film, it was worn in a holster on the belt.) Granted, the PKE would look more streamlined and be a more film-accurate realization without it. However, this product is from a Halloween costume company, and can hardly be blamed for its user-friendly design. Because the clip is removable with some effort, it's almost a non-issue. I'm don't feel the need to ditch my clip in favor of a holster, and I doubt anyone will question my Ghostbusters fandom over it. There are limits even to my OCD, and the belt clip feels like an unofficial nod to the Kenner meter. And here's another win for the Spirit PKE: The power switch is on the bottom of the unit, more discrete than Mattel's visible placement on the tip of the handle.
I should also mention, lest I seem a Spirit shill, that I find many of the company's other Ghostbusters costuming and props to be sorely lacking in authenticity. The PKE meter is their sole home run, in my opinion. UPDATE: The Spirit Halloween Ecto Goggles are actually quite good.
The PKE's AAA battery compartment is accessed right above the power switch; you'll need a Phillips screwdriver to open it. My meter came ready to go, equipped with genuine JIAFULI batteries. Despite their "extra heavy duty" proclamation, the PKE's packaging basically says these batteries are junk, intended only for "Try me!" purposes. They got swapped out for Duracell at first opportunity.
Ordering directly from Spirit Halloween was, perhaps appropriately, a nightmare. I had a pre-order on this meter for over a month, and reserving merchandise from their website wasn't easy. A credit card expired during the wait, and I had to cancel the order until fresh plastic came in. Then I made another pre-order. Meanwhile, the prop was popping up in Spirit retail stores. Why were walk-in customers getting their PKE meters before people who had pre-ordered them? The whole scenario reminded me of that Seinfeld skit about taking reservations.
Impatient, I went to both of the Spirit stores in my area, and neither one had the meter (although they both stocked the retched Spirit proton pack, which in fairness can look okay after modifications). My pre-ordered PKE was supposed to ship out "on or before" September 15th. After that weekend had passed, and I hadn't received a shipping notice, I checked the Spirit Halloween website only to find the shipping date bumped back to September 30th. Horror stories were also circulating about Spirit indiscriminately cancelling pre-orders. I wanted my meter for New York Comic Con, on October fourth. Time was running out. New York is a hotbed of otherworldly activity, and I needed to be able to navigate it. Enter Amazon Prime: Within three days of ordering from the site, a PKE meter was in my possession (pun intended). I had already cancelled my second Spirit pre-order, and moved on with my life. As an added bonus, Amazon shipped in a proper cardboard box, as opposed to Spirit's "plastic bag special." While I'm extremely happy with the quality of Spirit Halloween's PKE, I will never deal directly with them again.
You should definitely add this meter to your ghostbusting arsenal, and don't be surprised if it increases in value. We'll bow of out this review with both of my PKE meters, evidencing a lifetime of... I'm not sure I want to know.