Butcher Blockis a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them.Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
For fans of gory slashers, it’s hard not to fall for the quirky splatter charms of The Mutilator. The opening scene establishes the movie’s strange tonal blend of obtusely sweet and darkly violent, and essentially sets up the entire plot as well. It begins with a quaint depiction of a family celebrating the patriarch’s birthday; mom is in the kitchen baking a birthday cake and only child Ed Jr. is in the living room cleaning dad’s gun as a surprise. Except, young Ed Jr. didn’t realize the gun was still loaded and manages to kill poor mom. Cut to many years later, where a well adjusted though not so bright Ed Jr. is in college and in need of a vacation spot for his buddies over the fall break. His dad unwittingly offers up the beach condo, and the friends are off. Too bad, of course, there’s a killer on the loose.
Directed and co-written by Buddy Cooper, his only film credit, and a cast comprised of actors who also only ever worked on this film, The Mutilator doesn’t play by many of the slasher rules of its era. In short, it’s kind of a mess, and yet it’s endearing because of it. The film’s lead protagonist, Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler), and his friends might win the prize as the most oblivious characters in a slasher ever. They arrive at the condo and seem to take no notice of how strange the décor is; massive fishing gaffs and weapons adorn the walls, and then there’s the weird photo of Ed Sr.’s dead friend. As in, his corpse. When Ed Jr. comments, “That’s strange. My dad’s battleaxe is missing,” with a shrug and then continues about his day, well, it’s no surprise his group didn’t catch on to the killer despite it being no secret at all.
There’s even an oddly fit theme song, “Fall Break,” which was also the film’s original title. Its upbeat, catchy tune and lighthearted lyrics is more apropos of an after school special than one of the decade’s goriest slashers. And boy is it gory. The slasher announces its killer’s identity pretty much right away, leaving only the intended victims clueless that they’re in any danger until it’s too late. Lucky for us this killer has a serious grudge and a penchant for mixing up his weapons.
The deaths are slow and gloriously brutal. A disembowelment by chainsaw, decapitations, machetes to the face, pitchforks to the throat, fishing gaffs where no fishing gaff should ever go, are drawn out in excruciating detail and yet none of it holds a candle to the insanity that’s the finale. The kills are fun, but more than that they look good. That’s because Mark Shostrom was involved. The mega talented artist behind the special makeup effects of beloved classics like Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, and so much more elevated a plucky slasher into something the MPAA was afraid of. Shostrom and special effects makeup artist Anthony Showe (Chopping Mall) split up the kills when it came to designing them.
The excessive gore meant the MPAA wanted to give The Mutilator an X-rating. Releasing it unrated meant it was difficult to secure screenings, and eventually Cooper trimmed it down to an R-rating. From there it fell into obscurity on VHS for years, only recently getting a legitimate high def release. The Mutilator is an offbeat slasher that stands out because of its unique sense of fun and its excessive gore. It’s the rare film where its flaws actually work in its favor, and the special makeup effects work is stellar.
Of all the classic horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft has had one of the most significant influences on contemporary horror. Along with creating Cthulhu, it’s Lovecraft’s exploration of cosmic existentialism that has had the most impact on the genre. Throughout numerous mediums, horror artists continue to examine this idea of cosmic anxiety and terror; and what better way to explore it than through annihilating death metal.
“I’ve loved sci-fi horror ever since I was a kid,” guitarist/vocalist Dave Davidson of Revocation shares. “I would go to blockbuster with my mom and beg her to rent me all the classics. I really loved The Thing and the Alien series. [Those] were my first exposure to the world of science fiction and horror.” Davidson’s love for these genres is the foundation for Revocation’s seventh studio album, The Outer Ones (Metal Blade).
From the moment the album begins, Revocation dive into a world of sci-fi insanity and horror adrenaline. Each song presents technical death metal thrashing, exuding madness and brutality. In regard to Lovecraft’s writing, Davidson shares, “A few years down the line I discovered Lovecraft and quickly realized just how strong his influence was on [horror] as a whole. Lovecraft interests me in a number of ways; he was probably the first writer to create a world of horror on such a massive scale. Sure there were concepts of ghosts and aliens before him, but the whole idea of cosmic entities older than time that ruled a multiverse was pretty unfathomable.”
He adds, “I also enjoy his writing style in general; it can be descriptive and paint a macabre picture, or it can be intentionally vague. [This] lets the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks to create something truly terrifying in their own minds. Finally, I dig the allegorical nature of his works. In many of his stories, the human character is trying to meddle with forces beyond their control, and their lust for power often brings about their own demise. I think it’s an interesting reflection of society.”
Davidson says that while the record focuses on a lot of horror/sci-fi storytelling, the music itself is the first factor. “For me, it all starts with the music first; I need to let it inform me in some way. Hearing an entire song, or even just listening to sections of riffs, will start to conjure certain imagery in my mind.”
“From there, sometimes I’ll start with a title or just scrawl out a few lines on a page. It takes a while to get the ball rolling, but once the ideas start flowing I kind of obsess over it until I feel satisfied. I’ll usually go back and make some changes here and there as any writer would, but generally, once the first verse is done the lyrics really start to flow.”
Davidson unleashes some of his best storytelling throughout each song, captivating listeners with bizarre and haunting imagery. “There’s a few songs influenced by Lovecraft’s tales on the new [record],” he shares. “The opening track [‘Of Unwordly Origin‘] is based off of ‘Dreams In The Witch House’. ‘That Which Consumes All Things’ is about a lesser-known short story of his entitled ‘The Colour Out Of Space’. That one is particularly interesting because the entity in the story has no real form; it’s just an amorphous cloud that saps the life force from this small farm town. [Lovecraft] was able to take the creepy ethereal nature of a ghost, but turn it into something alien, which was an interesting twist on a classic which I appreciate.”
He continues, “Not every song [on the record] is inspired by Lovecraft though. ‘Fathomless Catacombs’ is a story that I created; [it] involves three grave robbers that break into a haunted cathedral in search of wealth in [a] luminous tomb in [these underground] crypts. Their avarice leads them deeper and deeper into the labyrinth, [where] they realize that the luminous tomb was merely a cursed illusion meant to draw them in. They end up being cursed by the evil presence in the crypts, damned to roam eternally in the lightless maze.”
The Outer Ones is one of the strongest releases in the Revocation discography; its ominous tone and masterful technicality emit pure chaos. Horror and metal make for an extravagant combination of art forms; they are both aggressive and can tap into the taboos of human existence. Davidson recognizes these traits and hopes that the record will represent them (or at least get people to headbang).
“I think [death metal and horror] share a mystical and thought-provoking quality that can be both intriguing and terrifying at the same time,” he shares. “Both art forms are meant to be confrontational and push the viewer or listener out of their comfort zones. I tried to capture that horrifying expression of ineffable madness present in Lovecraft’s work on this release; at the very least hopefully [the record] make people want to bang their heads.”
You can purchase a copy of The Outer Ones via the Metal Blade website or Bandcamp. And you can listen to X below. And if you want to catch up on previous articles of Metal & Mike, you can find those here. You can also follow me and my work via Twitter.
With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Throughout most of 1987’s Predator, the title creature hunts the elite military rescue team in stealth, using its tech and the jungle as camouflage. It isn’t until his final battle against Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that the alien’s true face is revealed, and it’s glorious. That design became iconic, and Predator spawned three sequels and two crossover films. But when development and production began on Predator, the bloodthirsty hunter had a very different look.
Originally, visual effects company Boss Films Studios was tapped to create the creature effects. In an early meeting between the team and the film’s executives, Boss Films was presented with designs that had already been handled by a production designer, with the instruction by director John McTiernan that this was the alien he wanted the effects team to create. Reptilian with backward bending legs, tall, and gaunt, but with a much, much different head that was almost canine in its shape. The design of the head was awful, but it was the backward legs that the effects team was concerned about considering this was to be filmed in the actual jungle.
By now, the story is well told about the first actor to fill the Predator’s shoes; Jean-Claude Van Damme, eager to show off his martial arts prowess. The only problem is that he had no idea what he’d actually signed up for. His first day on set had him gearing up in the creature’s suit, a matte red version to offset the greenery of the jungle so the effects team could render the invisibility effect later. Van Damme didn’t know this aspect about the creature and believed the red suit was the actual design. He also didn’t know that his face would never be revealed. Needless to say, he wasn’t a fan in the slightest.
More importantly, it quickly became apparent that this iteration of the character simply wasn’t working. Logistical issues aside, the smaller, leaner creature going up against a team of heavyweight bodybuilders just wasn’t very scary. Schwarzenegger recommended his friend Stan Winston to design and create a new Predator. Winston had a good feeling about the longevity of the character and didn’t want to let his friend down, so he accepted. But it was by no means an easy road for his team; production was stalled and waiting on the new iteration of the creature and time was extremely short.
Winston found inspiration from a painting in producer Joel Silver’s office of a Rastafarian warrior. While working on a sketch of the creature on a flight to Japan for Aliens, director James Cameron suggested adding mandibles. It was this great concept and design that allowed for the rest of the creature to have a humanoid appearance. The last piece of the puzzle? Seven-foot-four-inch actor Kevin Peter Hall to portray this version of the Predator. Now Dutch and team had a serious reason to fear for their lives. A great design, a fully animatronic face, and a giant of an actor all came together within a span of 6 weeks with Stan Winston Studio crews working around the clock, seven days a week, to deliver one of horror and sci-fi’s most iconic characters of all time.
Half wolf. All cop. Dirty Harry, only hairier. Lowell Dean’s Canadian import WolfCopunloads a barrel full of campy werewolf puns into what can only be described as an after-dark beast that is 100% #myshit. Balanced low-budget horror comedies like Dean’s are a dime a dozen, typically too interested in low-rent humor to respect gory practical craftsmanship. Constant in-jokes rattle off laugh after head-shaking laugh, but in addition to four-legged-themed hysteria, WolfCopis a stellar werewolf addition with or without stores named “Liquor Donuts.” Criminals in little pig masks. More fur than your grandma’s coven of feline companions can cough up during a weekend visit. Moral of the story? Get ready for a howlin’ good edition of Drinking With The Dread – poutine and maple syrup not included.
Leo Fafard stars as Lou Garou (“loup-garou” is French for “werewolf”), an alcoholic Woodhaven Deputy Sheriff who spends most his nights blacking out off duty. It’s commonplace for Garou not to recall his previous night’s shenanigans, never cause for concern until he wakes up one morning with a werewolf curse. A WereCop curse? No, a WolfCop curse! Under the glow of moonlight, Garou transforms into his precinct’s freakish secret weapon – aided by accompanying officer Tina (Amy Matysio) and oh-so-Canadian “sidekick” Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry). Who’s a good bad boy!
WolfCop, as you can assume, cannot be contained – but he’s also no naturalist werewolf either. Garou’s alter ego stuffs inside his Woodhaven uniform, blasts hand-cannon rounds, and quips lines like:
Criminal: “The fuck are you?”
WolfCop: “The fuzz.”
Fafard’s performance is everything late-night heroes are made of, one part self-deprecating alcoholic, one part untamed wildman, one part big-dick swingin’ werewolf. Shaken until enraged and irritated, then unleashed upon thugs who are mauled three ways from Tim Horton’s. He’s even got a pimped-out “WolfCop Mobile” like some kind of urban legend granted government funding.
Rule #1 of WolfCopis “expect the unexpected.” Not only does Dean employ the phallic imagery of Wolfy’s manifested confidence, but beat-by-beat surprises keep gimmicks fresh. Is there a hilarious romantic prison sequence? Check. A bodily werewolf transformation complete with elastic flesh rips and gushing blood that bids for the decade’s best? Double check. Booze-soaked antihero dramatics, gruesome face rips (think MacGruberthroat rips), practical werewolf makeup, crazed cultists? Check ‘em all off with the fervor of a thousand flaming Dr. Pepper shots. Down to “Little Red Riding Hood” in her seductive wardrobe.
If I were a spiteful sonofabitch, one of my rules this month would be “Drink whatever WolfCop drinks.” I’d have to be a real bastard to do that…
Proprietors of pun-ification and enthusiasts of hybrid subgenre ambition should be most excited about WolfCop. For those who don’t like their horror slathered cheesy melted curds? That’s what alcohol is for. Lowell Dean is responsible for crafting one of my favorite midnight exploitation flicks in the last however many years, one whose inappropriate barks equal its for-the-jugular bites. You better be drinking Molson Goldens or Labatt Blues while Lou Garou hazily tries to piece together why his hangovers now come with flesh stuck between sharpened teeth.
Highlight moments include but are not limited to:
WolfCop’s toe-claws puncturing through Lou Garou’s shoes.
Jonathan Cherry (incredibly underrated character actor).
Musical cues (country rock metamorphosis, cheesy love ballad during a conjugal visit).
Soundtrack by Shooting Guns.
Fafard’s pitch-perfect drunken creature acting.
Decapitations, face-clawings, and a middle finger to CGI.
He’s a WolfCop! What more do you *really* need?!
Ready to drink along with a supernatural champion of the degenerate art form? Here are the WolfCopDrinking With The Dread rules!
Drink whenever Lou Garou/WolfCop takes a drink.
Drink every time the moon is shown (no matter the color).
Drink whenever someone says “Liquor Donuts” or the shop name is seen.
Drink whenever someone says “Drink N’ Shoot” or the words are seen.
Drink TWICE for every wolf-related gag/pun (piggy masks, etc).
Drink TWICE every time WolfCop kills someone.
TAKE A SHOT in honor of Lou Garou’s first bloody-as-all-hell WolfCop transformation.
One last time, let’s cheers our tall boys of Chicken Milk Stout to stay WolfCopthemed (see: Another WolfCop) and summon Lou Garou’s buzzworthy superpower. Horror creatures are just too proper these days. Vampires with perfect dictation and Frankenstein monsters who look like Xavier Samuel. WolfCop is the dirty-mouthed, filthier-minded predator in justice’s clothing and his methods couldn’t be better suited for Drinking With The Dread. Here’s to a sloppy savior who thwarts evil and gets the girl all before sunup, no matter how many assholes he’s gotta chow down on. Break the law, incur his wrath. Go ahead, make his night.
Today is Video Games Day (or a Wednesday as I call it) and given our focus here at Bloody Disgusting, it’d be rude not to mark a significant point in horror video game history.
So I thought perhaps the best way would be to look back at a game that is arguably one of the first proper examples of horror (and survival horror) in the digital realm. The 1982 title, 3D Monster Maze.
This Sinclair ZX81 game created by Malcolm Evans tasked you with escaping a 3D maze (one of only a handful of games to use 3D space since 1973 when Maze Warwas created). Oh, and it happened to feature a Tyrannosaurus Rex that would hunt you down and eat you if you failed to escape its chompy jaws, so you can see where the horror element comes in. This is perhaps the first of many memorable player-hunting AI beasts, and that’s a pretty interesting club.
Evans had previously been working on satellite technology and computer control systems in aviation before he found gaming stardom with 3D Monster Maze. While today a hit game is usually borne of passion and a dedicated team, Evans, on his own, had simply made this game to test out what the Sinclair ZX81 was able to pull off.
Considering the limitations of the machine, Evans truly did push the underpowered home computer to new heights. Despite its simplistic black and white visuals, 3D Monster Maze required a 16K RAM pack just to play it (the standard ZX81 had just 1K), and for the time, it made for an incredibly effective experience. The maze was procedurally-generated, and the dinosaur itself had various states depending on how close or far you were to it.
The T-Rex hunts you from the second you move and only gets less aggressive in its search the further you got from it. Given the limitations on sound (the silence is almost deafening) and visuals, you’d be at a major disadvantage here, but handily there’s a status bar that keeps you informed of the slavering prehistoric carnivore’s proximity to you.
I say handily, but in truth, it just made things more stressful. The set phrases did a fine job of escalating panic as the game coldly informs you that a hulking meat eater has seen you, and soon after gives you a nudge to say ‘hey, that T-Rex is practically breathing down your neck now’ (signified by the alarming phrase ‘RUN HE IS BEHIND/BESIDE YOU’). You can outrun the T-Rex of course, but you do then risk losing your bearings turning down a dead end and offering yourself up as a light lunch for your toothy nemesis.
Failure was greeted with a withering statement on your performance. A bit of humor to prod you into entering the dino’s lair once more. If you want to see a typical round of 3D Monster Maze in action, there’s a nice, brief run here.
I first played 3D Monster Maze in the late 80’s while games were relatively new to me. The fumbled panic caused by seeing the T-Rex in the distance or having the status bar warn you of its impending approach has stuck with me for many years and looking back, it, alongside catching the last twenty minutes of The Terminator after sneaking downstairs late one night, were key building blocks for my love of horror and the sweat-inducing thrill of being chased in video games.
The likes of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Alien Isolation to me, feel like natural progressions of what 3D Monster Maze pulled off, and while the teeth have been taken out of that game thanks to the passage of time, the memory of reading ‘REX HAS SEEN YOU’ still elicits a small shiver.
The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of ‘80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.
Predator is one of the best action/horror/sci-fi films ever made. It’s a lean, polished, and propulsive machine that delivers exactly what you want while continuing to surprise you. Making a sequel to Predator felt like a no-brainer. There were so many fascinating avenues that the first movie opened up. And when it comes to expanding the mythology of the Predator, Predator 2 is a definite win.
Changing the setting to a big city like Los Angeles was an obvious but welcome move. It feels like a natural progression of where the Predator should hunt next. The best scenes in Predator 2 often have to do with how the Predator interacts with this new environment. An extended sequence on a subway or a menacing shot of the Predator on the side of a building gives us a cool aesthetic to stick the Predator into. It’s even used for some effective comedy when the Predator smashes into a bathroom and the tenants think there’s a prowler in the house. As far as making use of the urban locale, Predator 2 does a fine job.
The film’s best asset is director Stephen Hopkins. Fresh off the kaleidoscopic A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Hopkins discards former director John McTiernan’s grounded sensibilities and gets wacky. There is a kineticism to Predator 2 in the shot choices that makes the whole film feel bonkers in the best way. Even the editing has a sense of humor to it, with a character’s unexpected decapitation turning into a bit of gallows humor. And Hopkins is clearly a fan of effects because every gag in the film gets plenty of attention. A tracking shot of the Predator walking through a puddle and its camouflage malfunctioning is made awesome thanks to Hopkins’ direction. Not to mention the numerous additions to the Predator’s weapons and the delightfully gory results they produce. The best one has to be the razor wire net.
And the best part of Predator 2 is how it adds to the Predator mythology without taking away from what happened in the first film. It doesn’t try to explain or justify certain unsaid things from Predator. Instead, it simply expands upon natural ideas the first film implied. For example, the first film never suggests that the Predator has been to Earth before. For all we know, this is the first time they’ve ever visited our planet. Predator 2 is able to suggest a larger history just by showing us a certain item that the Predators have in their possession. We also get to see a skull trophy case that implies the Predators have hunted species all across the universe. And sticking in an Alien skull is a wonderful bit of fan-service that also makes the audience realize just how formidable the Predators really are.
But, in all honesty, Predator 2 is as frustrating as it is fun. Turning the story into another mystery surrounding what the Predator is makes the sequel retread too much familiar ground. That’s made doubly disappointing as the plot involves government agents with prior knowledge of the Predator. Why the movie didn’t make one of these agents the perspective character is a baffling choice. Instead, we get Danny Glover as a foul-mouthed loose cannon cop. Glover isn’t bad in the role — in fact, the casting of this movie is downright excellent — but none of the characters are as cartoonishly enjoyable as they should be. And I’m not even going to touch the over-the-top racially insensitive sub-villains in this flick.
Still, Predator 2 is worth the price of admission. Between the strong effects work, direction, and clever expansion of the Predator lore, this is a sequel that puts in the work and reaps the benefits. It’s a clunky movie but succeeds at keeping the title monster fascinating and awesome. And we’re clearly still clamoring for more.
PC gaming, due to its open, ever-evolving platform, has the benefit of the largest video game library around and naturally, that means it’s home to some of the best, most diverse, PC horror games of all time.
Some have been pioneers, some have flipped the established rules on their head, and some have brought horror games and the medium itself to a whole new level. There’s so many to choose from and making a condensed list is far harder for PC than it is any other format, but damn it we’ll try!
So here’s the PC horror games that most deserve to be in any collection. A mix of old and new(ish) that represents the best examples of where horror has been shaped on PC.
The setting is a key point in building the right atmosphere. Bioshock is a game that expertly builds its otherworldly atmosphere with one of the most iconic locales in video game history; the undersea city of Rapture.
So much of the story behind this decadent city’s fall from grace can be found in its design, and the result is a fascinatingly macabre tragedy that unfortunately for you, isn’t quite done yet. The way shadows fall on the wall, the manic, hushed rambling of the Splicers (humans mutated via self-inflicted genetic monkey business), and the guttural roar of an enraged Big Daddy are just some of the intimidating and scary moments that dog you as you delve deeper into the still-decaying city.
Bioshock may well be remembered for its twists and quotable dialogue, but Rapture is what makes it one of the most compelling PC horror games of all time.
F.E.A.R. is almost a laughably typical mishmash of pop culture movie concepts wedded to a digital form. Essentially this is a John Woo movie smushed together with turn of the century Asian horror and while you can be cynical about that, it doesn’t stop F.E.A.R. from being a truly interesting horror with a massive action bent.
While the original is not necessarily the best, it is the purest form of its concept, and that concept leans into its horror a bit more. It’s also a pretty decent shooter, one that deserves a better standing in history.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Not enough games are about the cat and mouse chase for a serial killer, and far fewer are as unflinchingly brutal as Condemned: Criminal Origins.
You play as FBI agent Ethan Thomas, out to capture a serial killer who has framed him for the murder of other serial killers. Of course, the suspects being killed are all connected to investigations our agent has been involved with, so he’s looking especially guilty. You’ll be looking for evidence, dusting for prints and fighting off dangerous criminals
What makes Condemned tick is its sickeningly crunchy melee combat. The game’s first-person perspective is used to great effect as weapons such as rusty pipes and box cutters do some disturbing damage to foes. Throw in the twisted hallucinations Thomas is increasingly afflicted by and things somehow take an even darker turn.
Its investigative path is a frustratingly linear one, but there’s enough meat on Condemned’s bones to flesh it out beyond this. There’s few PC horror games as visceral as Condemned.
The 7th Guest
At this stage, 7th Guest may be something of an acquired taste, but if you truly want to sample a slice of important vintage PC horror games, then this is an essential title to get your hands on.
One of the first video games on PC to be entirely on a CD-ROM, 7th Guest puts you in the befuddled shoes of an amnesiac wandering a mansion, trying to piece together your own past, which is naturally just a touch on the grisly side. What follows is almost a prototype for what Resident Evil would be, as it featured live-action scenes and a variety of puzzles.
The game was so packed full of video for its 1993 release that it required two whole discs. That didn’t stop it doing gangbusters and pushing the CD-ROM drive into popularity alongside the like of MYST.
7th Guest is not as scary as it once was, but it’s such a fascinating and ambitious product of its time. You owe it to yourself to experience it as an enthusiast for PC horror games as it helped to shape PC horror games for years to come.
American McGee’s Alice
While these days the most disturbing things that concern Lewis Carroll’s creations are films that feature Johhny Depp, there was a time where former Id Software developer American McGee really twisted the world of Alice in Wonderland into a grotesque work of art and we got some pretty beloved games out of it.
McGee’s own eccentric and dysfunctional upbringing would serve as inspiration for this dark sequel to Carroll’s novels. Alice loses her grip on reality after her family is killed in a fire, and after a lengthy spell of catatonia, she returns to Wonderland. Because Wonderland is a product of Alice’s mind, it has mutated into a hellish mirror of itself, so none of the inhabitants are quite as she remembered them.
American McGee’s Alice was, even for the year 2000, a tad too mechanically straightforward to attain classic status, yet the combination of sumptuous visual design and an inspired musical soundtrack helped it gain significant popularity and a solid fanbase.
System Shock 2
Any extended conversation about Bioshock is likely to land back on the game that it owes a huge debt to; its spiritual forefather System Shock 2.
Ken Levine and Irrational Games had a significant hand in both, and if you’ve played Bioshock, but not seen fit to discover its parentage via this 1999 sci-fi masterpiece. You are aboard a starship in the not too distant future and are tasked with stopping the outbreak of a genetic infection (that’s had a nasty effect on the crew).
There is combat and exploration fused with RPG elements (a novel fusion at the time) as you creep around the cyberpunk-inspired halls of the ship. System Shock 2 is part action RPG and part survival horror and it’s easy to see where its legacy has led in the last 19 years.
Nowhere is that more evident than in it the reveal of the crazed AI SHODAN. Even if you know next to nothing about System Shock 2, you’ll likely have seen the striking image of the AI construct, resplendent in circuitry. SHODAN’s manipulation of the player is an iconic moment in gaming history and highly influential on the plots of several high profile games that have come since.
The game hasn’t aged all that well, even if it does remain playable. The proposed remake of the original game is taking its sweet time, however, so this and the recently updated 1994 original, are the best ports of call.
System Shock 2 may have had its own impact on video game history (horror-tinged or otherwise), but Sierra and Valve’s Half-Life is arguably even more important.
The misadventures of Gordon Freeman at Black Mesa sees a portal to another dimension opened, spreading strange and hostile alien life throughout the underground research facility. Mute scientist Gordon Freeman looks to escape the chaos and proves himself to be a dab hand at combat along the way.
The early hours of Half-Life are where it gains its horror badge. The buzzing intermittent light in the facility has the possibility of hiding the facehugger-esque Head Crabs, but its what they create when they latch on to a human host that really gets creepy.
Visually-speaking, Half-Life is obviously a tad dated, but in terms of how it plays? It more than holds its own and remains an immensely tense and enjoyable experience right up until that ill-fated final act.
Oh and there’s a sequel, but who remembers that?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
The haunting real-life Chernobyl seems like a smart place to set a horror of any description given the radioactive disaster area holds plenty of its own myths and legends to begin with. GSC Game World certainly made good use of it for 2007’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, throwing a variety of horrifying mutants and perilous survival in an almost alien environment that happens to be grounded in reality.
S.T.A.L.KE.R. really kicks your backside when it comes to survival. Not only do you have to struggle against the mutants (which include invisible and psionic monstrosities) and the radiation, but there’s strange anomalies, potential starvation and bleeding out from injuries to contend with. This isn’t the most pleasant experience then, but the harsh brutality of this world is exactly why it gained a following with players seeking a more hardcore survival horror.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, unfortunately, got upstaged by the return of Fallout, but the Chernobyl-set series is still a PC favorite for many. It even got a spiritual Battle Royale successor in Fear The Wolves.
The easy option here would be to pick Doom II: Hell on Earth, but frankly, that should already be on everyone’s PC/console/kettle. 2004’s Doom 3 is here however because it’s a different beast. One that revels in slow-burn tension and scares and it’s among the best examples of PC horror games around.
That was the major criticism of Doom 3 upon release, that it was too slow for a Doom game, and to be fair, it is for most of the time. The thing is, Doom 3 is actually very effective in its application of trudging horror in its opening hours. The clang of pipes, the threatening mutter of something unseen, the undefinable shape in the darkness, all this and more help ratchet up tension and paranoia to excruciating levels.
When you do see something, the grotesque Hell Beasts are a massive step up in visual design from Doom II. The John Carmack-created engine and its impressive lighting system accentuate their grisly looks while the disconcerting soundtrack provides added menace.
Doom 3 is not the best in Id Software’s near 25-year-old series, but it is the most ambitious departure, and more often than not, it works.
Left 4 Dead
There have been many offshoots from Valve’s Source engine post-Half-Life 2. Among them are the insanely popular Counterstrike, the critical darling Portal, and a co-op multiplayer horror that became an instant classic.
Left 4 Dead sees four players teaming up to escape a nightmarish zombie apocalypse (back when zombies weren’t in every other horror title) by working together and strategizing.
The great thing about Left 4 Dead is that it nails the undependable nature of co-operating under stress. Acts of boneheaded bravery and weaselly cowardice are a common occurrence when the pressure piles on. If your team can’t keep their cool and avoid panic then chaos soon reigns and your blood is spilled (and the shouting matches can begin). There’s a dynamic personal story to each game of Left 4 Dead that so many multiplayer efforts have tried to emulate since.
Many PC horror games play on the fear of solitude, Left 4 Dead plays on the fear of deceit and cowardice.
Penumbra: Overture/Black Plague
The first two episodes of Frictional Games’ Penumbra PC horror games series set up so much of what modern indie horror became and that alone makes them an essential part of any retro horror collection.
Overture sees a Phillip, a physicist who follows his dead father’s letter to Greenland and ends up trapped in a mine, forced to live on the spiders that occupy it.
This ordeal begins to deteriorate Phillip’s mind and things go more than a little sideways. It’s a clunky first try at the Frictional psychological horror template that would evolve into Amnesia: The Dark Descent and SOMA, but it’s fascinating to see the building blocks in action.
Black Plague improves on the template and kicks off at the point Overture ended, with Phillip returning as the protagonist. This time he’s in an abandoned base full of the undead and the threat of an ancient Inuit entity. It’s a fine slice of creepy psychological horror, and as with Overture, it’s not shy about tackling mature, darker fare.
Neither game has aged well mechanically despite being just over a decade old. That shouldn’t prevent you from ‘enjoying’ two of the biggest head-trips you’ll find in the realm of PC horror games.
Folklore and fairy tales have been around for centuries, long before the written word, and they were often quite brutal and bloody. Moral tales full of fairies, goblins, mermaids, dragons, and various other magical creatures that featured cannibalism, murder, and dismemberment to keep children in line. Sounds like horror, right? When fairy tales lean hard into their horror roots, that’s when the real magic happens. Here are 10 great horror films that blend the two together to unleash fairy tale carnage:
With The Nun arriving in theaters, now is the perfect time to catch up with director Corin Hardy’s feature debut. This dark fairytale is part creature feature, part body horror, and all Irish folktale as it follows a British plant conservationist and his family as they discover the hard way what it means to ignore warning signs and invade the territory of fairies, banshees, and changelings. Forget Tinker Bell, these fairies are truer to their origins; monstrous, mean, and deadly.
Snow White: A Tale of Terror
This horror twist on a fairy tale classic declares itself far removed from its Disney counterpart straight away, with Snow White’s father brutally performing a cesarean section on his dying wife to save his child. The film also imbues its wicked stepmother, Claudia (Sigourney Weaver), with a lot more sympathy as she tries again and again to bond with her stepdaughter to no avail. Also starring Sam Neill and Monica Keena, this take on Snow White is steeped in blood, sex, death, and Satanic ritual.
The original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, wasn’t quite the uplifting story it’s been made out to be in recent decades, and Agnieszka Smoczynska’s feature debut sticks true to the origin story while setting it in a 1980s Polish cabaret. Mermaid sisters Golden and Silver come to shore and fall right in with a nightclub’s house band. One falls in love, the other lusts for human flesh, but both become rising stars. It’s a genre-bender unafraid to get weird, bloody, or tragic.
Based on a Czech fairy tale that tells of a couple so desperate for a child to the point where the husband carves one out of a log that sort of resembles a baby. The log baby comes to life, much to the joy of the erstwhile parents, but it happens to have an insatiable appetite. Otik is strange yet sort of cute, until it starts eating. When food doesn’t satisfy, it turns to hair, then animals, and then people. A wooden monster baby with a never-ending lust for gluttony means this won’t possibly end well.
The Company of Wolves
What if the story of Little Red Riding Hood didn’t have a wolf, but werewolves? Then you have Neil Jordan’s dreamlike Gothic horror fantasy film The Company of Wolves. A sort of anthology that weaves in Little Red Riding Hood among other werewolf centered fables, it’s hinged together by Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen, a young girl maturing into womanhood. Angela Lansbury plays her grandmother. Remember, beware men whose eyebrows meet.
While The Company of Wolves opted for a lush fairytale aesthetic, Freeway gives Little Red Riding Hood a modern twist. Reese Witherspoon plays Vanessa, a teen on the run after her mom and stepfather are arrested on prostitution and drug charges. On the way to her grandmother’s house, she crosses paths with the film’s version of the Big Bad Wolf; serial killer Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland). An over the top satire, this version of the fairytale isn’t traditional horror but it is horrific. As if serial killing isn’t bad enough, Bob is a violent child pedophile.
It’s difficult to discuss dark fantasy horror films without mention of Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar winning Pan’s Labyrinth. Influenced by fairy tales, his childhood experiences, and lucid dreaming, del Toro crafted a fairy tale story of his own. Set in post-Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia and her sickly, pregnant mother move in with her new stepfather, the cruel Captain Vidal. Ofelia may or may not be the resurrected Princess Moana of the underworld, tasked with quests by the Faun to acquire immortality and entrance to her kingdom. Ofelia’s tasks mean encounters with child-eating Pale Man, but it’s not as brutal or as scary as the real world.
This horror fairytale just recently came off the festival circuit and entered limited theatrical release this summer but keep an eye out for this touching tale that’s as sweet as it is tragic. Told in two parts, it follows Clara, a nurse hired by the wealthy Ana as a nurse for her unborn child. The women, both lonely, form a strong bond, but Ana’s pregnancy is not quite human, and their lives are irrevocably altered on a fateful night. A modern-day fairytale that retains that sense of whimsy and parable leanings, Good Manners features one of my favorite horror subject matters. I won’t spoil it, though, as this one is best discovered going in blind.
An Estonian dark fairy tale story set in the 19th century, this stunning black and white film is a pagan folktale full of werewolves, ghosts, witches, magical beings called Kratts, and Satan, all while the plague looms near. Grounding the story of magic is peasant girl Liina, who longs for village boy Hans. But Hans only has eyes for an aristocrat’s daughter. There’s humor to balance the darkness of the 19th-century village, and the deep dive into Estonian folklore feels simultaneously magical and nightmarish. It’s also a bit disorienting with an untraditional narrative style, so this one will only be for fans of surreal slow burn stories. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Tale of Tales
Based on a collection of stories by Italian poet Giambattista Basile, Pentamerone, this dark horror fantasy film is an anthology that delves into the earliest versions of well-known fairytales. Three stories about obsession, all taking place in one kingdom, this fairytale isn’t afraid of gruesome bloodshed. Monstrous fleas, aquatic dragons, ogres, witches, and a vain king who prefers to flay the skin of his victims, this is not a bedtime story for kids. It also boasts a large ensemble cast of recognizable talent like Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, and Vincent Cassel.
On paper, the casting of Taissa Farmiga in Corin Hardy’s The Nun was a fun and perhaps even inspired choice, as Taissa’s sister Vera Farmiga is of course synonymous with The Conjuring Universe, starring in the main series of films as the real life Lorraine Warren. In execution, however, it has proven to be one of the strangest casting decisions in recent years.
Obviously, this article will contain spoilers for The Nun, so feel free to turn away now. Also, this is not a review of the film, but if you’d like to read ours, Scott Weinberg has ya covered.
To make one thing perfectly clear right off the bat, I am personally a big fan of Taissa Farmiga, an incredibly talented young actress who has been killing it in the horror genre. Farmiga, in many ways, is a modern day “scream queen,” a frequent star of “American Horror Story” who turned in perhaps her best genre performance in 2015’s horror-comedy, The Final Girls.
Taissa Farmiga is great. I love Taissa Farmiga.
Now here’s the problem. In The Nun, Taissa Farmiga plays Sister Irene, who for much of the film has not yet actually committed to being a nun. Over the course of the film, we learn that Sister Irene has paranormal super-powers, so to speak, as her whole life she’s had visions that eventually allow her to overcome the evil entity Valak in Romania, in 1952.
Yes, The Nun is set in 1952, twenty years before the events of The Conjuring. And Taissa Farmiga is exactly twenty years younger than her older sister, Vera Farmiga. And yet, The Nun‘s biggest twist is that there’s not actually a final act twist at all. Somehow, Taissa Farmiga’s Sister Irene does not actually grow up to become Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren.
The Nun‘s connection to The Conjuring films, instead, is far less compelling, with the final moments of Corin Hardy’s film taking us directly into a scene from The Conjuring; it’s in those final moments that we learn that a character from The Nun was actually the same man featured in footage Ed and Lorraine Warren showed off to a classroom in The Conjuring.
It was a possessed Maurice (aka “Frenchie”) who introduced Lorraine to Valak.
So why then was Taissa Farmiga cast to play Sister Irene in The Nun, a character that ends up having no connection whatsoever to her sister’s Lorraine Warren? It’s a downright befuddling choice, to say the very least, as Taissa Farmiga and Vera Farmiga look *so much* alike. Taissa is a dead ringer for a young Vera, and the film’s timeline works out perfectly for Sister Irene to have eventually moved away from being a nun and into being a demon-fighting hero. And again, Sister Irene and Lorraine Warren even have the same set of supernatural skills.
Essentially, the film seems to be working overtime to set up Irene being Lorraine, or at least a relative, but then nothing ever comes of the seemingly obvious connection. It’s not just a huge missed opportunity, but also a hugely confusing aspect of The Nun. Literally *any* actor could’ve been cast to play Irene, so why Vera’s doppelganger if it means absolutely nothing?
The decision is especially confusing because The Nun actually does jump ahead 20 years in its final moments, from Taissa to Vera. And yet, there’s weirdly no link between the two. If you left the theater wondering whether the film had poorly conveyed to you that Irene and Lorraine are the same person, well, just know that you weren’t alone in being incredibly confused.
Granted, the real life Lorraine Warren never spent any time in her youth as a nun, but when have horror movies ever been beholden to reality? The Nun easily could’ve had a compelling connection to the core Conjuring films, showing us a young Lorraine’s very first battle with Valak. By not featuring that twist, the film’s casting instead muddies its own waters.
I’ve always been a disaster for horror games. I get interested in the characters, the stories or even unique mechanics that some of them offer, but it’s hard for me to take the first step. Even with one or several friends alongside me, I could never shake off a particular feeling whenever I’m traversing new scenarios. And I think that a big part of my fear comes from the uncertainty that doors hide within.
In some games they are a mere illusion, serving a purpose of decoration or design with an unsurprising “blocked from the other side” message. But in the horror genre they take a starring role and depending on the studio’s vision over what they want to accomplish in the game towards the player’s feeling, they’ve made different use of them throughout history.
Back when Resident Evil was trapped under console limitations, doors were used as a mask for loading screens whenever you entered a room. But if like me, you were lucky enough to go through it without this in mind, they were a mystery. In a matter of seconds, you would start thinking what could be expecting you on the other side of the door, firmly holding your gamepad and trying to remember how many bullets you had left.
They served a purpose, technically speaking, but the developers were well aware of their potential almost to the point of worshipping each one of them. There are 167 door load screens in the first Resident Evil, including some ladder and gate screens as well.
Games like Amnesia and Outlast started to treat them differently. Instead of a slow, meticulous pace, these both modern takes on the horror genre had you constantly escaping from danger, including a key difference: you can’t fight back using weapons. In each, doors became both a way to defend yourself from your own sanity or terrifying, surprisingly fast patients. But they were also an obstacle in certain situations, and it didn’t take long for you to regret closing every door behind you when you’re forced to turn back in order to escape.
Under these two visions, Resident Evil 7 managed to find a balance. During my first minutes into the game, everything was going fine while I was roaming through Baker’s house perimeters. Yet an eerie, familiar sensation came to me once I opened the door on the back, finding myself against a pitch dark room. I immediately paused the game and started streaming it, so a friend could later join me on the distance to keep me company.
While the influence had a leading role in the first part of the game, it didn’t take long for Resident Evil 7 to remind me that I actually had an inventory with weapons on my disposal. But doors were no longer in a leading role with a loading screen, and I’ve had several tools to defend myself now.
And yet, while a new standard was starting to finally settle down, Paratopic showed up with three completely unique ways of using them within. This lo-fi surreal experience does a lot in under an hour, but doors carry some of the most memorable moments of the story.
Stranded in the forest, taking photos of birds and enjoying that is perhaps too calm, we find a cabin. There doesn’t seem to be anything inusual at first: a mattress and a pair of empty food cans showcase a mundane picture. But there’s a closed door beneath it, and the sole response we get are a few knocks from inside if we’re insistent enough. It remains a mystery that can be completely skipped if you choose to ignore it, but ever since I did nothing but wonder what’s behind that door. This moment became such a huge collective question that the developers decided to answer it in the Definitive Cut edition.
The second door in Paratopic has a completely different momentum, being opened abruptly by kicking it and immediately followed by a fleeting glimpse of violence, surrounded by the dark synth sounds of the marvelous soundtrack. The third, however, involves an elevator along with probably the slowest sequence in the game. The player is set to wait in a room, watching how it slowly descends to the floor. It might seem like a moment of respite, but you start feeling anxious, scared. If there’s something in that elevator, you have no way of escaping. And, when you least suspect it, the door opens…
Even after witnessing dozens of different mechanics and moments surrounding doors, there are still new ways to experiment with them. The importance of them to horror, even if it’s just a sound or a transition, shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s in the attention to detail that doors proved to be much more intimidating than they actually should be, forcing you to think twice about investigating a room or making you jump once you hear one being slammed on your back. But every time, it’s about now knowing what’s on the other side, and it’s one of the most valuable elements that horror games can offer.