Box Office Games

Box Office Games
House of Horrors

Brendan Main | 8 Mar 2011 12:33
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Given standard videogame mechanics, the movie treatment also lent itself to absurdities. Physically acting out everything a game character does is a good way to reveal how ridiculously adventure game avatars behave - constantly opening and shutting doors and drawers, sitting and standing. Open, shut. Sit, stand. Whatever the folly of Adrienne's horror movie predecessors, at least they had the wherewithal to not linger in the same place, opening and closing a drawer for five minutes. Adrienne's movement from one location to another wasn't particularly believable, either. Click to get out of a chair, and Adrienne would stand up, walk to the middle of the room, and look at nothing in particular until another click sent her loping off in this or that direction. It's in these moments between a player's actions that Adrienne looked not like an actor mid-performance, but a slumping marionette with her strings cut.

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Then there was the weirdness of the game's story itself. Phantasmagoria followed Adrienne and her husband, Donald, as they moved to a spooky old mansion with a questionable history. It's just the two of them and their cat Spazz, but as they poke around, they begin to suspect that they are not completely alone. Anyone who knows their horror movies knows that this is not going to end well: It was just a matter of time before Donald started to wander, wild eyed, until he was full-frothing, Jack Nicholson mental. Adrienne would do a lot of screaming and running. And Spazz was, clearly, mincemeat. But even as Phantasmagoria aspired to that basic premise, it drew its scares not from the legitimately creeping menace of a lover turned psycho, but from something far messier - such as the gut-flipping squick of seeing a woman's head popped like a pimple.

Stephen King, in a discussion of horror mechanics, separated them from most to least successful - first terror, and then horror, and then, finally, "the gross out." Phantasmagoria was heavily set on door number three. Deaths were of the Grand Guignol type: flesh stretched, eyeballs burst, and blood gushed everywhere. As Adrienne explored the mansion, she began to see visions of its perverse history. The house was once owned by Carno, a demon-haunted magician, who took to slaying a Bluebeardesque succession of wives through ironic and elaborate punishments. He stabbed one unlucky missus through the eye with a wine bottle. Another one got stabbed in the face with a spade, then fed mouthfuls of bloody mulch until she succumbed. A third was strapped down with a tube shoved in her mouth, forced to choke down gristle and animal entrails.

By compelling the player to witness these gruesomely elaborate deaths, Phantasmagoria reneged on its premise to place the player inside a horror movie. Instead of being able to influence events, we must watch helplessly as Adrienne witnesses these ladies getting the axe. All the while, Adrienne gawks, and blinks, and gasps - the stuff a horror movie audience usually does. After a few hours, a frustrated player might feel a bit like that dining wife with the funnel in her craw - strapped into place, forced to chew through wave after wave of this gore.

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