Five Best Horror Flicks Featuring Games

Video games and movies have always had a bit of a tenuous relationship—video games and horror movies even more so. While they’ve definitely been done with varying degrees of success, there are plenty of horror flicks that have either based their plots or their kills around a variety of games. Here are five horror movies that have called it “game over” for their characters.


ExistenZ

Somehow David Cronenberg was able to take his trademark body horror and apply it to the video game world. In ExistenZ, Jennifer Jason Leigh is a VR game designer that creates games for grotesque bio-organic consoles known as “game pods.” She goes on the lam with a security guard (Jude Law) as they try to escape the assassins of a rival company in a world where you can never quite tell what’s real. Equal parts Videodrome and Mulholland Drive, ExistenZ is definitely one of the weirder entries in Cronenberg’s filmography, but it remains an overlooked classic of modern technological horror that has been called “a game culture masterpiece.”

Wishmaster 2

Wishmaster 2 is an almost impressively bad straight-to-video sequel for the 1997 film Wishmaster. The plot doesn’t make any sense and the acting is positively terrible, but we’d be lying if we said that it didn’t include some innovative kill scenes. While the movie doesn’t actively revolve around games, it uses a casino to great effect as the evil Djinn sets up shop collecting souls by granting the wishes of casino patrons in horrifyingly misconstrued ways. Among these is a hilarious CG roulette wheel that sprouts blades and becomes a spinning wheel of death. There are also slot machines that deliver their payouts through the bodies of their players. The use of a real-life casino is a novel and unique setting, especially now when gaming scares are typically found online with horror based slot-themes based on scary supernatural creatures. The original Wishmaster was produced by Wes Craven and became sort of a cult classic of low-budget bad horror movies. But Wishmaster 2? It managed to top the original with terrible special effects and even worse acting, making it a must-see for B-horror aficionados.

Hellraiser: Hellworld

The eighth installment came at a time when most had pretty much given up on the series, but this straight-to-video release offers a somewhat new take on the Cenobite lore. This 2005 movie revolves around a group of kids that become obsessed with a game based on the actual Hellraiser series called Hellworld in a very meta self-referencing plot device. Sadly, the video game is barely featured, because most of the movie takes place at a party that’s a real-life meetup of players for the game where they’re set upon by the Cenobites. This one is for Clive Barker completists only.

Stay Alive

2006’s Stay Alive functions on the basic idea of a video game where if you die in the game, you die in real life. Admirably, the movie sticks to its guns and spends much of its time in the fictional game and features kill scenes about as good as a PG-13 film can offer. There are some surprising actors in this including Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle and Adam Goldberg, most recently seen in the first season of FX’s series adaptation of Fargo. Bonus points to Stay Alive for naming its main character “Loomis” in a clear reference to the character from Halloween.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Like Wishmaster 2, this movie didn’t so much revolve around games as it happened to use them well in its set pieces. By this point in the franchise, Freddy had become much more of a punchline, reveling in over-the-top slapstick and a ton of terrible one liners. There’s a reason that it’s widely considered the worst in the franchise, but there’s still lots to love, including some hilarious kills. One of the best remembered scenes from Final Nightmare is definitely the death of Spencer (Breckin Meyer). Played out in a 16-bit style video game, Freddy antagonizes his victim through the game from the comfort of a chair with a game controller. And, of course, he utters equally awful and classic lines like “Now I’m playing with power!” and “I beat my high score.” The entire sequence is downright hysterical and that alone makes Final Nightmare worth a look.

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Podcast Series Theme: Horror anime

Giant Robots and race cars, oh my

If there is anything that has brought the cultures of the East and West together, it is anime.  The Japanese, inspired by our own animators, sought to create shows and films that had depth of character and explored more mature themes, not only sex and violence, but pain and loss.  For American kids growing up in the 90’s, it gave us the animated shows we loved as children, only growing up with us, and speaking to our experience and tastes even as they changed.  These days, the influence is felt on both sides.  John Lasseter of Pixar has cited Hiyao Miazaki as one of his influences, and other seek to remake classics like Akira.  In Japan, animators draw on both the cinematic techniques of our luminaries and the stories we tell ourselves.  This was not instantaneous, however.  The arrival of anime on our shores is a story of decades, of dedication, of piracy, and of art.

Anime as we know it began with a man named Osamu Tezuka.  While other animators made children’s fare, inspired by Walt Disney’s work, Osamu combined that with a love of French New Wave cinema to create a story of a robot boy, Tetsuwan Atomu.  Made in the likeness of his creator’s son, he is rejected because he will not grow.  He finds a

It all started so innocently...
It all started so innocently…
caring home and he works to defend a society that rejects him.  It brought Japanese cultural issues to a medium unused to them, and it worked beautifully.  An American producer, Fred Ladd, became enamored with the show and thought it could work on American shores.  It was polished, sold to NBC, and after syndication the western world was introduced to Astro Boy.  Thus, the First Wave began.

Other shows followed suit, America was introduced to Gigantor, Eight Man, and Marine Boy.  The expanding role of television in the household helps these stories take hold.  This first wave peaks with the most famous show, Speed Racer.  This tale of a daring racecar driver and his family is eaten up by young boys everywhere during the Sixties.  Little girls also had a favorite in Kimba the White Lion, a show that you may have heard of for a completely different reason.

Anime’s impact on our culture slowed in the 70’s.  A newfound love of sci-fi due to properties like Star Trek and Star Wars brought us Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets.  However, interest from networks dwindled.  Shows had to be heavily edited not only for content (Anime at this point had no issues depicting violence or even death in their stories), but also to create a greater cultural relevance for Americans.  Fans, however, persisted.  They sought out the original runs, unedited by western networks.  They subtitles works themselves, at times simply providing scripts that could be downloaded or purchased and then read while you watched.  Shows were copied and passed around from person to person.

Animation creates new opportunities in storytelling.
Animation creates new opportunities in storytelling.
Anime continued as an underground culture until the early nineties.  In Japan, anime had suffused every genre.  There were animated action films, romantic comedies, period dramas, and even horror.  Additionally, the advent of the VCR created the OAV, or Original Anime Video.  This Japanese version of direct-to-video served a different purpose than in the states.  While straight-to-video is usually the home of low budget fare, the Japanese saw it as an opportunity to explore stories and themes that would not be accepted from television or film.  This explosion of media created three stories that would start the Second Wave of fandom and cement anime’s place in our culture, Robotech, Akira, and finally Sailor Moon.  Soon other shows like Dragonball Z and Pokemon followed suit.  Western studios began to collaborate and now each side feels the influence of the other.

The Medium is the Message

Anime works well for horror partially for the same reason books work well, or film, or even podcasts.  Animation is a format for telling stories, and all stories can be told through it.  The Japanese abandoned long ago Walt’s idea that cartoon were only for kids.  They can make you laugh, they can make you rage against an injustice.  I have long said that anyone that didn’t think a cartoon could make them cry should watch Grave of the Fireflies.  Of course, in this day and age there are several features that could do the same, but anime even involved emotion where western animation feared to go, like fear, revulsion, and dread.  Believing that this medium was valid for anything, everything was shown.  You can find tense psychological thrillers, and you can find buckets of blood and gore.  Both of these extremes are going to be explored this month.  That said, anime has its beautifully crafted masterpieces, and shameless cash-ins.  It has art, and shameless excuses to show tits or sell toys.  It is, after all, a medium, not a story in and of itself.

Animation is especially suited to particular genres, horror included.  The imagination is closer to free in the

Our own stories are taken, and seen in new light.
Our own stories are taken, and seen in new light.
animated realm.  While conventional cinema is limited at least by the abilities of practical effects artists and the endurance of its actors, animation can surpass those.  Make a killer who moves through the truly surreal landscape of a dream (yes, I know, Nightmare on Elm Street and Cell.  Watch Paprika and tell me there’s not a difference).  Make a boy, burdened by his new psychic abilities, grow like a tumor to the size of a stadium.  The only limit is your artistic skill and time.  Movies are coming closer with CGI, but the only way they will truly match it is to just become animation.  This unleashing of the imagination can also unleash the nightmares that dwell on the fringes of that imagination.  I hope this will inspire you to explore those fringes with us.

More on the podcast in the following episodes…

Anime Teaser
Episode 437 – Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend

Episode 438 – Perfect Blue

Episode 439 – Shiki

Podcast Series Theme: Horror Westerns

horror western

horror western“The funeral procession made their way out of town and up the slight incline towards the boneyard. The boy’s father, older brother, uncle and two cousins lugged his casket, faces cast downward. The preacher clutched his bible and hummed Amazing Grace. The womenfolk wept and the menfolk clutched their hats tightly against their chests . Dusk fell, turning the sky a deep, dark blue. Wooden crosses and name markers rose up to greet them as they made their way to the open grave, dug that very afternoon. The wasting-away disease that took the boy had worked fast, bringing him down in less than two days.

The pallbearers set the coffin down beside the grave and began tying on the lowering ropes. The boy’s mother wailed with anguish and was answered by the lonely screech of a nightbird. The preacher began his holy rolling, spinning yarns about pearly gates, still waters and eternal life in heaven. He told them the boy would be reborn in the blood of Christ and would rise to claim his unending reward.

He wasn’t wrong either. It just happened a lot quicker than anyone expected.

With shadows sweeping across the low hill, a knocking sound came from inside the coffin. It was faint at first but quickly became a frantic pounding.

“Oh dear Jesus we’re buryin’ my Henry alive!” The boy’s father fumbled at the latches on the casket while the townsfolk moaned and muttered, closing in around him. He couldn’t get them open so one of the boy’s brother’s grabbed up a rock and bludgeoned the latches till they broke. The moment the latches fell off the coffin lid flew open and the tiny figure of the boy sprang up from his silk-lined repose like a wildcat. He seemed very spry for someone who’d been shut up in a wooden box for most of the day. He surveyed the surprised funeral-goers with eyes that glittered red. He looked the same as always, small and comely in his best Sunday suit, but there was nothing of Henry in that animal grin. His skin shone white like marble and his teeth had grown long and sharp, glinting in the blossoming starlight. Before anyone could react, the boy spun and battened on to his brother Milt, sinking his new choppers into the other boy’s neck. Henry murmured with hideous pleasure as he milked blood from his brother’s jugular. Everyone watched in stunned horror, all mouths agape. Then a voice from the back of the procession called out.

“Back away from it.” It was the long tall stranger who’d taken up residence above the Yellow Dog Saloon. He’d pulled a six shooter from the holster tied down at his hip and pointed it at the tiny feeding figure. “I got silver bullets in this ’cause I thought somethin’ like this might happen…

 

Howdy Pard’ner

Stories of the “wild west” are a uniquely American phenomenon. Other countries and cultures have stories that stem from the development of their society but something about the expansion from one end of our continent to the other seemed to catch on, even while it was still happening. The western territories weren’t even all states when Wild West shows began popping up and travelling the country, spinning tales of gunfights, brawls, savage natives and pretty saloon girls. Brave sheriffs and cruel bandits became the new knights and ogres. Western fiction sprang up quickly and blossomed in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was helped along by the new method of storytelling–the movies and was a well established genre by the 1940’s with recognizable tropes and archetypes. We all knew the good guy wears a white hat, the bad guy wears a black hat and robs stagecoaches and trains, and Injuns (sorry Louis) could be either noble, or murderous, depending on the teller of the tale. Even now the west seems more exotic to most Americans than any other part of the country (except for maybe the deep, swampy south, butjoe lansdale good that often gets lumped in with western folklore anyway). The wildlife there is more dangerous and plentiful. Rattlesnakes, wolves, bears, tarantulas and scorpions all can kill you. There are less people and a lot more open space meaning that if something happens to you out there–you’re on your own. No one may find out what happened to you. You could meet a bad end and your body might just moulder to bones without anyone ever finding out. The characters of western fiction and folklore are larger and wilder. The women could hold their own in a fight, the men were stoic and all could shoot with pinpoint accuracy. The drunks were hilarious and full of wisdom. It was and still is a rich tapestry for writers to pull from. It is as strong a concept as sci-fi, romance or war stories with its own boxed set of terrain and player pieces (to use a tabletop gaming metaphor).

Which is maybe why it took so long for it to  cross pollinate with the equally well established horror genre.

When Worlds Collide

Of course since people started telling tall tales about the west there were a few spook stories thrown in there. Some of them were based on truth; the terrifying reality that food was no guarantee and sometimes people had been forced into eating each other (the Donner Party, whether exaggerated or not, is still the gold standard for American cannibals and the Native American Wendigo legend was born to help starving tribes rationalize their own need to turn to the practice when winters turned harsh) was fodder for both Yellow journalism and the penny dreadfuls. There were tales of ghost towns–places that had sprung up during gold and silver rushes and then dried up as quickly as the ore was hauled out–haunted by the uneasy spirits of gunfighters who’d perished out in the dusty streets. Still, the horror genre and the western genre didn’t get tossed together into a truly delicious and sought-after salad until relatively recently.

In the sixties there was the television show The Wild, Wild, West, which did combine some sci-fi/horror elements. This show is probably one of the earliest examples of Steampunk which is a breeding ground for horror westerns, though  of a very specific kind with very specific set pieces. There were also some kind of silly western/horror crossover movies around that time: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, and there were a couple of others that kind of straddled the line (most notably the American Clint Eastwood western High Plains Drifter) but it really wasn’t until the seventies that the two worlds collided and became their own legitimate subgenre.

It was DC’s comics series weird westernWeird Western Tales that gave birth to the term “weird west” and many of the best stories of its kind are still found in comics. Probably because comics, with their blend of images and words lend themselves to more gonzo storytelling and can go places that in prose fiction and films come across as silly, where in comics it can still feel genuine. In the nineties Joe R. Lansdale really helped define the Weird West movement with a number  off novels and short stories (including one  of my all time favorite shorts, Across the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks which can be found in the original “Book of the Dead” zombie anthology). Other writers began expanding the ideas, relishing playing in a sandbox that included gunslingers and vampires. Speaking of gunslingers, Stephen King himself turned the western mythology on its head blending it with both horror, sci fi AND Arthurian heroic fantasy in his “Dark Tower” series. The Deadlands roleplaying system refined it even more giving roleplayers a world to run around in and more fiction was created in that universe.

Part of what makes horror and westerns such great bedfellows is the mysterious nature of the American frontier. You have a huge, unknown landscape filled with who knows what, and you can put anything you want there. Monsters, ghosts, zombies–and face them off with the character types we associate with the western. What’s more hardcore than the idea of the Man with No Name firing his Smith and Wesson at a rampaging werewolf? What’s more seductive than the idea of hot, sexy saloon girls (aka prostitutes) who are also vampires (just think of Salma Hayek as Satanica Panemonio insalma vampire From Dusk till Dawn and you’ll probably say, “nothing.”)? The legends and folklore of Native Americans are also rich veins full of monsters, demons and  spirits. The possibilities are endless for creating badass horror adventures.

I could go on and on listing all the great horror fiction (including my own novella, The Blessed Resurrection) and movies but I’ll let you discover them on your own. It’s a genre I can’t get enough of and I’m very excited for us to be discussing it this month on Night of the Living Podcast. So put on your Stetson, load up your Colt with silver bullets, grab your best girl and lets ride into the sunset because, who knows what’s shambling along behind us from out of the dark canyons where the wind howls and the sun never shines.


Related Links:

Freddy’s review of Bone Tomahawk at Night of the Living Podcast the Blog!

Freddy’s interview with writer/director S. Craig Zahler

Louis’ interview with actor Sid Haig

Podcast Episode 433 – Phobia and Bone Tomahawk, featuring Bone Tomahawk Producer Jon D Wagner

Podcast Episode 434 – Djinn and Exit Humanity