Halloween Meltdown ’13: 10 Freaky-Ass Moments in Gaming History

No doubt some of this will be familiar from previous posts, as the horror genre has a relatively small pool of stand-out games to offer. Regardless, here are some of my favorite frightening moments in game history. They aren’t specifically Halloweenish, but I think they capture the feeling that the holiday demands (at least if you’re a horror fan). I’ve tried to find specific, one-off moments as much as possible, but YouTube isn’t always forthcoming on this point, so bear with me.

These are all from games that I’ve played, and which freaked me out in various ways at the time I played them. Some may not hold up today, but they were moments in gaming history that demonstrated, to me at least, how digital media can be really terrifying. I present them in chronological order in the hopes of illustrating some of the leaps and bounds in digital scare-the-piss-outta-me technology over the past few decades.

I feel I should add, for you gamers out there, that this list is intended primarily for horror fans who are not gamers (which I suspect is the case for most folks reading this blog). This small sample will hopefully illustrate to non-gamers the potential of horror video games to be scary.

Plenty of horror games have been released that I don’t mention here, including a great many on PC; this isn’t because they aren’t scary, but because I haven’t played them. I’ve been primarily a console gamer since the beginning, and so I can’t comment much on PC games; but if you have additions you think should be on here, leave them in the comments. (I know, I know–no Dead Space. No Condemned. The truth is I only played portions of the Dead Space games, and none of Condemned. Maybe I should, but I’m not sure they fit the theme around here anyway.)

1) Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, NES (1987/1988)

This game gets a lot of hate, primarily because it changed the Castlevania gameplay formula to something less like mindless jumping and whipping and more like an action/RPG. Admittedly, pathfinding (i.e., figuring out what the hell you’re supposed to do/where the hell you’re supposed to go) was next to impossible at times, but I still feel that this was a great innovation. And such atmosphere. You played as Simon Belmont, scion of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters, whose job was to reassemble the corpse of Count Dracula (he hadn’t been killed properly the previous time) and dispose of him once and for all. You hiked around haunted wildernesses and creepy villages and gathered the supplies necessary to do this. The coolest part was the daytime/nighttime transition: the music changed, the palette darkened, and if you happened to be in a town (supposedly the only safe place to be), horrible green ghouls started rising out of the earth to haul you kicking and screaming down to hell. The game also had some really brilliant music, arguably the most memorable until Symphony of the Night.

2) Friday the 13th, NES (1989)

This may not seem scary now, but when I was seven and played it for the first time it scared the crap outta me. I’d never seen a Friday film, but I knew about it (at that stage I was still terrified of horror films), and somehow the knowledge of the relationship to the films, and the weird music and other creepiness of the game, really got under my skin. Did I mention I was seven? This is Jason’s first appearance, the part that really freaked me out as a kid.

3) Demon’s Crest, SNES (1994)

This is a brilliant and, I feel, often overlooked game from late in the Super Nintendo’s life. You play as Firebrand, an erstwhile villain from the old Ghosts ‘n Goblins games, in a world overrun by demons. Demons, in fact, are the dominant society, and humans are nearly extinct. Firebrand rebels against the ruling order (for reasons I’m not really clear on), and spends the whole game trying to become powerful enough to take them down. In this scene, which is the very very first thing that you do in the whole damned game, you fight (and freaking decapitate) an undead dragon. Bitchin’.

4) Resident EvilPlayStation/GameCube (1996/2002)

Of course RE had to be on here. This was the cusp of the zombie craze–in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if RE was the spark that set the fire–and zombies still had the capacity to frighten. The idea is that the evil Umbrella Corporation has manufactured a virus which creates zombies, which are intended to be used as biological weapons (but of course that doesn’t go as planned). Improbably, the virus was developed in a secret lab in a mansion in the hills above the fictional Midwestern town of Raccoon City. You play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, members of a special police force sent to investigate a rash of disappearances in the hills near the mansion. Turns out those hikers didn’t just fall off a cliff or something. This scene is more iconic than frightening, but it deserves inclusion here because of how wild it was to see something like this on a console game system. (This clip includes the original PlayStation scene, and the remade version from the GameCube.)

5) Silent Hill, PlayStation (1999)

Konami’s answer to Resident Evil was a demonic town in the American heartland named Silent Hill. For whatever reason, the first Silent Hill is the only one I played extensively (though I don’t think I ever beat it). I skipped 2 completely, which apparently is a travesty, because it’s widely regarded as the best in the series and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in survival horror history. Something about the first game left a bad taste in my mouth (though fourteen years later I can’t explain exactly what that was), and I never came back to the series except for a brief stint with #3. I regret this, and one of these days I’m going to track down copies of all the installments I’ve missed so I can give the series its due. Anyway, in the first game you play as a guy named Harry, who is driving with his daughter Cheryl one day when they get in an accident just outside Silent Hill’s town limits. When you come to, Cheryl is gone, and you spend most of the game trying to track her down. Unfortunately, the town is overrun with demons, and it turns out Cheryl is actually the reincarnation (or astral projection, or something) of a psychic girl named Alyssa who suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the local cult. One of the most effective things was the use of fog to limit your sight distance, coupled with the magic radio you find whose static indicates the presence of monsters. You couldn’t see the assholes until you were right up on them, but you could hear the horrible static every time you got close. Super nerve-racking.

6) Resident Evil (GameCube version, 2002)

Lisa Trevor was an unbelievably frightening, invincible zombie who chased you relentlessly through a significant chunk of the GC remake of Resident Evil. You would get into the next room and think you’d be safe–this was over ten years ago and normal game logic still said that enemies couldn’t follow you to new rooms–but then Lisa’d be there and your shit would be totally free of its earthly confines. Maybe she wasn’t really chasing you–maybe she was just programmed to appear in specific locations. It’s been about ten years since I played the remake and my memory is a little foggy. But it created a sense that she was after you, and it was terrifying. The story was she was the guinea pig for all the early trials of the various zombie viruses that Umbrella developed, and the combination of viral strains somehow made her effectively immortal. The really grim thing was that she was just a little girl, and as she slowly went mad from the super-viruses floating around inside her, she became unable to recognize the people closest to her. Eventually she killed her own mother, believing that it was an imposter wearing her mother’s face. To rectify this, she took the “imposter’s” face and wore it like a mask. The viruses caused Lisa’s body to mutate in horrific ways, and the face she wore as a mask fused with her body so that now she is just a walking bucket of scary.

7) Fatal Frame, PS2 (2001)

My favorite horror franchise is scary from start to finish, and narrowing it down to a single scariest moment is impossible. (I actually had to fight to prevent myself from filling this list with moments from the Fatal Frame series.) In fact the truly scary stuff comes from the gameplay, when you’re in control and something unexpected happens. It’s difficult to translate that feeling to short video clips, though, so instead I’ve just chosen a couple of memorable moments. The premise: in an isolated mansion up in the mountains, a horrible ritual was performed in which a shrine maiden was sacrificed in a truly brutal manner in order to prevent a gate to hell from opening. It was performed successfully for many years, until the lady to be sacrificed made the stupid mistake of falling in love with some guy (gross!). She was no longer free of worldly attachment, and so the ritual failed. This was a century or so ago. In the present, you play as Miku, whose brother has gone missing–coincidentally in the very place where all this crap went down. There’s magic, reincarnation, and plenty of ghosts who try to kill you. Your only weapon: a magic camera that has the power to cleanse evil spirits. In this scene, the primary antagonist, Kirie, creeps up on you Ringu-style.

8) Fatal Frame 2, PS2 (2003)

This is from the second game in the series, and I suspect this, too, is not an accidental Ringu reference. The plot is directly connected to the first game, but in a confusing way in terms of chronology. Here, you play as Mio, who gets lost in a place creatively called the Lost Village with her twin sister Mayu. The village has a past very similar to the mansion from the first game: ritual to prevent demon stuff; ritual failed; ghosts happen (it’s actually really compelling and super terrifying, and the similarities in setting make a lot of sense in the context of the larger narrative). As in the first game, your character finds a magic camera (turns out their creator made a whole bunch of them, thank god). In this scene, which is fairly early on, you encounter a woman who tried to hide in a kimono box to escape the demons. Lesson 1: boxes will not save you from demons.

9) Fatal Frame 3PS2 (2005)

Okay, three games from one franchise? Is this cheating? The third entry is also connected to the previous two narrative-wise, but in a more convoluted way. Your character, Rei, whose fiance has recently died, suffers from survivor’s guilt, which causes her spirit to get sucked into a place called the Manor of Sleep every night. There you, yes, discover a magic camera and a bunch of angry ghosts. In this clip the ghost Rei fights is of a woman named Kyoka. Kyoka’s story is that she pined away for a man she fell in love with, who promised to return and never did. She waited for him, and every day she brushed her hair, because he always told her how beautiful it was. Eventually she went mad and brushed her hair until it fell out in clumps. She nailed the clumps of hair to the wall beside her mirror, because that’s what you do in these situations. (Start the clip at about 0:45, when you can see Kyoka’s mirror and the hair stuck to the wall.)

10) F.E.A.R. 2PC (2009)

F.E.A.R. is a first-person shooter franchise–not normally my thing, but there’s a major horror component, so I made an exception. But I’ve never been a hardcore PC gamer (not because I dislike PC gaming, but because I’ve generally lacked the hardware to handle current releases). I’ve only played the officially retconned Perseus Mandate and F.E.A.R. 2, but both were pretty freaky. The premise is, in the near future, an evil corporation has attempted to harness the powers of a little girl named Alma, a powerful psychic. They lock Alma up for years and years and years–she dies in captivity–and use her DNA to create psychic soldiers which can be controlled by other genetically-engineered soldiers with more of Alma’s gift. Unfortunately for everybody, Alma doesn’t stay dead. Or, I guess, she does, but she is really pissed about it. The games are a really fascinating blend of scifi action and supernatural horror (and as a fan of both genres, I very much approve). In F.E.A.R. 2, you get to see both child Alma, and adult Alma (her ghost is pretty schizophrenic), and adult Alma wants to get her freak on. Seriously.

10 things I would have in a “Monster Squad”-style tree house

While I normally wouldn’t go in for this kind of thing, something about Freddy in Space’s recent list struck a chord with me (most likely the fact that I too am a child of the 80s). So I present for your reading pleasure my own list of horror bric-a-brac, most of it from a bygone era, but some more recent stuff, too. And yes, since it’s me, there’s a disproportionate number of video games. They’re presented in no particular order.

Also, let’s assume that my hypothetical treehouse has a hypothetical cutting-edge entertainment center. While we’re dreaming, we may as well dream big, no?

Thanks to Freddy in Space for the idea. And of course, don’t be afraid to make your own.


 Lego Monster Fighters

I actually have the set pictured here, and in case the pic doesn’t adequately convey this, it is awesome. The whole Monster Fighters theme totally appeals to the Castlevania fan in me: classic monsters, creepy settings like graveyards and dilapidated castles, and a bunch of vaguely steampunk people fighting said monsters. Plus the ghosts glow in the dark.



Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
I posted about these horrifying stories from American folklore once before. They are so deeply entwined with my bizarre childhood that I’d be remiss if I didn’t include them here. Easily the scariest thing on this list, just by virtue of the illustrations, these books would form the backbone of many a long night in the Treehouse of Doom. Seriously, look at that freaking clown thing. They sold this stuff to kids. My elementary school teachers read these to us in class. Also, folklore!


Lisa, the unkillable zombie that stalked you through much of the game and was just the BEST. (http://www.cumberlandspaceman.co.uk/)

Resident Evil (2002 GameCube remake)

The port of the original Resident Evil to Nintendo’s GameCube was a watershed moment, if not in terms of sales, then in terms of sheer awesome, for the survival horror genre of games. The one thing lacking from the original PlayStation versions of the classic horror series (arguably) were decent graphics, something the GameCube version offered in spades. The remake also included a new mega-zombie, Lisa Trevor, who remains one of the scariest monsters in survival horror history, at least in my opinion. Like Jason Voorhees, Lisa kept a shrine to her dead mother. Unlike Jason, Lisa took her undying love a step further and wore her mother’s skin like a sweater, which her mutated body promptly absorbed and turned into flailing tentacles of despair. Brilliant.


Sae, the unkillable (until the end) ghost who stalked you through part of the game and was also just the BEST. (Fatal Frame Wiki)

Fatal Frame series

My favorite game franchise of all time, the series that started my obsession with ghosts and, to some extent, encouraged me to become a folklorist, Fatal Frame is simply too wicked not to include. Refining familiar J-horror imagery to a lump of pure terror, the whole series, which was released in the US on PlayStation 2, manages somehow to be more terrifying and simultaneously more beautiful than the huge majority of horror media. These games would always be playing in my horror treehouse… even when nobody was around. Oooooooo. Because ghosts.



A brilliant and underrated cartoon from the ’80s (and yet another instance of the hilarious accidental traumatizing of millions of American children), Inhumanoids was about the consequences of humans tampering with the environment, failing to respect the balance of nature, and giant-ass zombie dragons and shit. It was basically GI Joe with more monsters–same studio, same voice actors, everything. I wrote about its unbridled awesomeness once already, but I don’t think I adequately represented the pure bitchin’ factor of the toys. Of the ones pictured above, I only had the middle guy, Metlar. His power was that he could reach into his stomach through his mouth and pull out a handful of lava, which he would then throw at you. (Consider, for a moment, why you have not seen this. Now go YouTube it.) In the Inhumanoids universe, even the good guys were scary, like these sentient tree guys (I had one of these toys too, and it was wicked). Everything a kid needed to be screwed up for life, in the best possible way. These guys would be prominently displayed, maybe on little shelves built into the branches of the tree where they can glower down on intruders. Because I’m the coolest guy you know.


Super Naturals toys

These are fairly obscure action figures that I vaguely recall from my youth. I had one of the little ghost guys shown in the video. They were pretty simple: medieval-style sword & sorcery guys who happened, apparently, to be dead. Each figure had a flat front section with a holographic decal which, viewed from one angle, would show a more or less normal human-ish image. Turned slightly, it would reveal a spooky undead image (at least the bad guys would–apparently the good guys were lions or some shit). I only had one of these, but it was pretty sweet. My treehouse would feature the whole collection of them lined up in badass battle poses, possibly involving the much more intimidating Inhumanoids. That would be a hilariously lopsided fight.


The House with a Clock in its Walls

Another surprisingly frightening book for kids, with a ghostly encounter towards the end that is legitimately scary despite the Harry Potterish tone of the rest of the story. I read it once when I was very young, but I can’t say if I finished it or not–I may have been too scared. But I revisited it a few years back (I still have the copy my mom bought for me when I was a kid), and it held up. It’s a good story and further proof that scary stuff can be warm and ultimately life-affirming. But mostly scary, which is what matters. If you’re going to join my kickass horror treehouse club, you have to read this first.



What, you don’t remember Splatterhouse? The generic beat-em-up with a generic horror theme and crazy amounts of gore? There’s not a lot to say about this game, except that I vaguely remember it having a sort of forbidden fruit aura, due to the aforementioned gore. It wasn’t a good game by any stretch, but it stands out as one of the first horror games I can remember encountering in the arcade, and I think its freaky sound effects and gross character designs would add a pleasant ambience. Also, I can’t help but love the look of old arcade cabinets. All but extinct in the US, arcades used to be a big part of the cultural landscape, at least for gamer nerds like myself. Since the whole treehouse thing has a markedly ’80s vibe, I think this would be a good fit.


Ghosts ‘n Goblins arcade cabinet

Now this is a true classic. Ghosts ‘n Goblins was Capcom’s insanely difficult side-scrolling platformer that had you play as Arthur, a knight who is, understandably, a bit miffed that his ladyfriend was kidnapped by some demon guy. So upset is Arthur, in fact, that he forgets to wear anything under his armor beyond his stylish heart-patterned boxers. You get to see those boxers a lot, as every time the hapless knight takes damage, his armor explodes into a million pieces, leaving him to face the undead hordes in his knickers. You can see why I love this game so much. It’s horror-ish, but with a cartoony lightheartedness that I appreciate. And just listen to that music.


Castlevania series

The pinnacle of ’80s horror games, Castlevania remains one of my favorites to this day. It’s probably what started me on the path to horror fandom–I think I mentioned in a previous post how I used to own a toy bullwhip, and played a sort of live-action Castlevania with my younger sisters (no humans were harmed, I hasten to add). The whole Castlevania aesthetic is just great: the noble-but-ultimately-demonic vampires, the emphasis on undeadery (in contrast with contemporary ultra-sexy crap like Twilight), and the hero who alone has the power to stop them (in contrast with much contemporary horror where the heroes basically fight losing battles against unstoppable supernatural forces). These things have had a major influence on the kinds of supernatural stories that I like and the kinds of things I expect in good horror. Even the music and sound effects are iconic and underly much of my horror-ific (as opposed to horrific) imaginings.

* * *

Well, so much for my list. That was actually a great deal more difficult than I expected it to be. I’m wrecked, but it was fun thinking about what a younger version of myself might want in a horror-themed hangout.

Actually, if I’m being honest, this is all stuff I want now. 

Actually, if I’m being really honest, I already have a number of these. I’m really only lacking a suitable tree and basic carpentry skills.

And if I’m being extremely honest, a lack of skill or necessary knowledge has never stopped me before. So if I don’t post again, you know what happened.