in addition to film, the horror genre is found in all manners of places, such as novels, comics, toys, paintings, bobble-head dolls, and video games. it’s easy enough to find friday the 13th books, action figures and artwork, but, for some reason, the slasher genre has rarely been translated into video games. certainly horror is alive and well in the interactive entertainment realm, with several successful franchises jumping from the game world to their own feature films (e.g., house of the dead, resident evil, alone in the dark, etc.).
why, then, is there no rob zombie’s halloween movie tie-in game on the xbox 360 or a jason: the crystal lake years for my wii (maybe with wiimote swinging action to move the machete around)? why, when it seems so obvious, isn’t there an elm street game where each level is a different dream world? i suppose it’s promising news that there’s a saw game in the works, but why are the true icons of the slasher genre so absent in this one medium? well, as it turns out, this wasn’t always so.
michael, jason, leatherface and freddy all made video game appearances on early home consoles. the time of pac-man and mario bros. is where you need to look to find slasher film themed games… not the current age of violent games like silent hill: homecoming and grand theft auto 4. while we may have to go back further than expected, let’s take a look at the few times that slasher films have made the jump into the video game realm.
atari 2600 — in 1983 wizard video games released halloween, “the game where HE comes home.” the pronoun is a bit ambiguous as neither the box nor the manual ever calls michael myers by name, but i think it’s safe to assume the white faced guy with the knife is michael. created for the atari 2600, the player controls an unnamed babysitter. points can be scored in one of two ways — either by escorting children to safe rooms within the house or by finding the knife and stabbing michael. five children or two michael stabs equals a level up, with each level featuring a faster incarnation of ‘the shape.’ play continues until the player loses all three lives, happily represented by grinning pumpkins at the top of the screen.
the game was controversial in its time due to its violent content. if the babysitter is touched by michael, she is decapitated, featuring a death animation complete with spurting red pixels. the game sold extremely poorly, likely because most stores kept it behind the counter due to the controversy. wizard eventually went bankrupt and, while liquidating their merchandise, eventually sold the game with only a hand printed label (copies of which are now collector’s items).
not a horrible game by any means, my favorite aspect is that it retains carpenter’s haunting theme whenever michael appears on screen. a video of gameplay can be seen below.
the texas chainsaw massacre
atari 2600 — while halloween put you in the role of victim, the texas chainsaw massacre (also produced by wizard video games) puts you in the role of mass murderer, leatherface. your goal is to “murder trespassers while avoiding obstacles such as fences, wheelchairs, and cow skulls.” each victim slain gives the player 1,000 points and a life is lost when the player’s chainsaw runs out of gasoline.
i love the inclusion of franklin’s wheelchair as one of the obstacles you need to avoid, but this game is far more flawed than halloween. it’s too easy to get stuck on the obstacles (which have invisible pixels you can get caught on), the character/chainsaw models are crude even by atari 2600 standards and the loud beep used to emulate the victim’s scream is a near constant annoyance.
friday the 13th
nes — one virtue that the previous games had is that they generally followed the plot of the films they’re based on — a babysitter did need to protect kids from michael myers and leatherface did chase people around in the woods with a chainsaw. 1988’s friday the 13th game, however, plays a little looser with its source material, but ends up being a rather interesting (if difficult) early chapter in the survival horror genre.
in the nes adaptation of friday the 13th, you control six different camp counselors of various skills as they attempt to survive three days protecting campers at camp crystal lake. while jason is certainly in the game, you spend most of your time fighting various birds, wolves and zombies (the latter are, as the instructions explain, former victims of jason’s who have risen from the grave to do his bidding). now, i consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the friday the 13th franchise, but i’m fairly certain that jason did not control an army of avian and canine wildlife and undead camp counselors. maybe that was in part 5, which i usually skip over.
jason can show up in the cabins, outside or in the lake (where he swims like an aquatic bat out of hell, chasing down your boat). fights with jason become increasingly harder each day you survive. while the jason we know from the film’s rarely threatened children, in this game he will readily slaughter your group of children if you don’t rescue them fast enough.
optionally, you can also face down the decapitated head of pamela voorhees, which flitters around like an angry rubber bat on an angry stretchy string, striking at you occasionally. defeating the head of jason’s mother gives you special items (like her sweater, which protects one of your counselors from damage).
i recall two things about this game from when i originally played it in the 80s. i remember the awesome opening animation of the hockey mask, which gets stabbed through one of the eye-holes with a knife and changes color. and i remember that this game was damn near impossible. i’m not sure i fully understood what the goal of the game was, as all i can really remember is walking around, lighting fires in fireplaces and getting smacked down by jason whenever he’d stroll by. i think i eventually figured it out, but my chief complaint against the game is that it never really did anything to feel like a friday the 13th film.
a far more in-depth look at the game can be seen at sydlexia.
a nightmare on elm street
nes — ljn, who released the friday the 13th game for the nes also released a nightmare on elm street on the same platform. as in that game, you begin by fighting off various forms of wildlife (snakes, bats, dogs, etc.), but things eventually get more interesting. once you enter a house, the enemies become nightmarish creatures like skulls on legs, giant freddy gloves, etc.
the game seems to be loosely based on a nightmare on elm street 4: the dream master since you collect “dream warrior” power tokens that grant your character borrowed abilities (magic attack, throwing star attack, hovering ability, etc.). you fight your way through each building on elm street, working your way to a freddy boss at the end of each level. one of the more interesting aspects of the game is that it employs a transformation from the dream world to the real world from time to time, presenting you with different challenges and enemies in each. this ‘alternate version of the same environment’ gameplay is later used in the soul reaver, silent hill and h.r. giger’s dark seed games.
arcade/nes — while not actually based on a horror movie franchise, no discussion of old-school horror games would be complete without a mention of chiller.
imagine hostel the video game, and you’ve basically got chiller. while most horror games put you in the role of the hero fighting the monster/s, chiller puts you in the role of a sadistic madman bent on human torture. you score points by knocking flesh and bone off helpless victims who are usually chained to some wall or device. for example, score extra points by shooting the flesh off a man’s legs before shooting the crank on the guillotine to behead him. gameplay is spread across four locales, the torture chamber, the rack room, the hallway and the graveyard. once you’ve scored enough points in a room according to the ‘monster meter’, your total score is calculated on the oddly named ‘ectoplasmic tabulator.’
i never played this on the nes, but i do remember running into it as a kid at a local arcade. my friends and i would laugh at the absurdity of it all, in particular the horrible graphics and the low-quality computer screeches that passed for the victim’s screams. however, there were a lot of “omg, did you just see that!?!” exclamations thrown around… a reaction the game can still provoke today given its blatant disregard for good taste.
pc — while certainly not a classic game since it’s still in development, i thought i’d throw in terrordrome as a bonus.
what would be the coolest game ever made? i’ll tell you — it’d be a fighter with classic horror icons as the combatants — like soul calibur but with freddy, jason and michael myers. the rights issues alone dictate we will probably never really see a licensed version of such a thing, but terrordrome: rise of the boogeymen is a fan-made version of what i’ve just described.
while still under development, characters will include michael myers, freddy krueger, leatherface, ash, chucky, jason, herbert west, candyman, ghostface and more. a playable demo which includes the first four characters can be found at terrordrome-thegame.com. while many pages are still under construction, the site also includes screenshots, videos and character models.
i’m incredibly impressed with the models, locations, sound effects and special attacks. i’ve only played on a keyboard which i found a bit cumbersome, but i plan to try it out again using a controller soon. i am indebted to our friends over at horrorfilmmagazine for drawing my attention to this amazing little project; to read more about terrordrome, check out their in-depth look at the game.