One of the things we here at Jack’s Attic love almost as much as horror movies is scary video games. Years before Raccoon City became infested with the living dead and before the streets of Silent Hill beckoned hapless victims, there was a visceral little game called Splatterhouse.
Much like the best horror movies what makes Splatterhouse work so well is it’s simplicity. Originally released in 1988, the premise of Splatterhouse is a tried and true one in the world of horror: Noted parapsychologist, Dr. West (a tip of the hat to Herbert West of Re-animator fame) has gone missing. Prior to his disappearance it was rumored that he had been conducting bizarre experiments in his mansion outside of town. Our protagonist, Rick and his girlfriend Jennifer visit Dr. West’s mansion for a school project. A sudden thunderstorm forces them to seek shelter in the deserted mansion. They soon find though, that the mansion is anything but deserted.
Once inside Rick and Jennifer are attacked by unseen assailants. Rick is knocked unconscious and left for dead. Jennifer on the other hand is kidnapped and dragged into the bowels of the mansion. Rick awakens to find that he is now wearing a strange mask, even more disturbing is the fact that he cannot remove the mask. Based on Dr. West’s documents Rick recognizes the mask as an ancient Mayan sacrificial mask. The design of the mask bares more than a passing resemblance to the hockey mask wore by Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series. The mask was recolored in subsequent release to avoid copyright infringement of the famous hockey mask. Rick discovers that the mask gives him incredible strength. Using his new found powers he sets off into the mansion to rescue Jennifer.
The meat of the game is a simple beat ’em up, side scrolling arcade game. What set it apart from similar games of the time was the amount of violence and gore it contained. While it was toned down a bit when the game was eventually released on home consoles it was still quite brutal by 1988 standards. Another feature which added a nice touch of atmosphere to the game was it’s creepy synth organ soundtrack.
All in all, Splatterhouse is one of those games that no matter how good graphics get, no matter how bloody games get it’ll still stand up against the best of them. We liken it to the cinematic equivalent of Night of the Living Dead or Halloween. Is it particularly scary? No not so much. Is it particularly gorey? Kinda, yeah, but not even close to today’s standards. What it does have going for it is a good, simple story, decent gameplay, a wide variety of weird creatures to fight and a killer soundtrack. In the world of horror video gaming, Splatterhouse is definitely a classic.
If you have trouble tracking down a Turbo Graphic 16 or a copy of the game fret not. It’s available for download via the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console for a mere 600 Wii points ($6).