Splatterhouse’s 2010 revival is crass, lacking in almost any subtlety and gorier than Mortal Kombat. You play as Rick, possessed by the Terror Mask, a rip-off of Jason Voorhees, fighting Dr. Herbert “The Reanimator” West across dimensions and time, pile driving, cleaving, and impaling his demonic minions in the hopes of saving your bombshell girlfriend Jenny. By all rights, it should be a forgettable bit of tripe, only for those who trawl the deepest holes of bargain bins.
Instead it’s actually really heartfelt, genuine, and arguably one of the better genre-piece games to date. Splatterhouse knew the odds were stacked against it (extensively so) and the expectations everyone had for it. Rather than buck the trend, it embraces its vulgarity and lewdness to convene far more relatable themes of love and loss. Well, that plus every excuse to have Jim “I Played Winnie the Pooh” Cummings chew every inch of scenery as the demonic mask that empowers and possesses you. Seriously, the man has enough one-liners to make Bruce Campbell jealous.
Like The Evil Dead, Splatterhouse goes all out within the small space it has to work with. While Jenny’s constantly held captive by West or one of his minions, she regularly fights back, even tearing up her old photos as a paper trail for you to follow. Most of these photos involve Jenny posing near-nude, but the more you collect, their nature shifts from lewd eye candy to a narrative device. You can see her and Rick’s relationship evolve over time, with later photos leaning into far more serious matters and Jenny fully clothed, such as her and Rick’s big date, or their rough patch where Rick got drunk and fooled around with someone else. This later comes up as a plot point for Rick’s side of things as well, where he has to face a demon fueled by his guilt over the affair.
Furthermore, Rick and the Terror Mask have a constant dialogue, fitting the story in amid the action like James Wan’s Aquaman. You rarely have to slow down for anything, allowing for a brutal momentum by every definition as you pummel through foes like tissue paper. Rick and the Terror Mask each have ways they develop, Rick growing more into the man he needs to be so he can finally propose to Jenny, and the Terror Mask into less of a dick. They learn to lean on each other and embrace what makes them such a great team.
This emphasis on strong characterization even translates into the execution moves, of which there are a staggering amount. Cummings’ portrayal of the Terror Mask is incredibly nuanced, ranging from comically “borrowing a hand” by ripping a demon’s arm off to turning into a rage-fueled, terrifying performance worthy of a horror villain when the stakes are at their highest. His psychotic monologues grow from an outside voice to meshing with Rick’s and your own. You want to smash West’s plans just as badly the worse things get. No matter how many mutant gorillas and possessed doll mechs West throws at you, the Terror Mask’s dialogue sets the tone of each story beat as well as the game’s roaring soundtrack.
Jenny and Rick are both metalheads to the core, so every major moment has some licensed heavy metal song blaring that perfectly captures the current situation. Rick even bonds with the Terror Mask discussing their favorite bands. It not only further displays the respect Bandai Namco and BottleRocket staff had for the tone of classic Splatterhouse, but for their intended audience. Rather than stereotyping Rick and Jenny, the game celebrates them and their passion. Instead of playing the violence serious like Gears of War, it’s played up so cartoonishly that the other elements can shine amid geysers of blood and giblets. It’s a combination that just shouldn’t work so damn well, but it does.
While the 2010 reboot was bashed by some critics for frame rate drops and glitches, the majority of these not only are negligible, but are honestly befitting such a raw piece of media. The combat is incredibly simple, yet oh so gratifying. Not only does Cummings fire off more one-liners than Spider-Man, but each is immediately impactful.
Regardless of if you opt for bare-knuckled fists, melee weapons, a shotgun, or Rage mode, you can literally tear your opponents limb from limb, then beat their friends to a pulp with those limbs. You can even pick up your own dismembered arm when it’s cut off and wield it as a weapon to even the odds. Stun locking enemies and finding loopholes to crush bosses is perfectly in line with the game’s tone. It’s hard to think of another brawler that’s this flexible and accessible. If Splatterhouse were more polished and traditional as an action game, it might’ve lost its charm.
Even the stranger moments like the 2D platforming sequences are packed with love. When you smack opponents with a bat during these moments, they’ll splatter and slide down your TV screen, smacking right against the fourth wall. I do wish these sections had more checkpoints, but they’re a wonderful tribute to the original 2D Splatterhouse trilogy, made all the better by bundling the original trilogy as unlockables in the game. Truthfully, other than one really glaring difficulty spike near the end of the campaign, the game runs fine, constantly rolling out deliciously twisted ideas and locations.
While Brutal Legend may be the most metal game to date, Splatterhouse is both a close second in that regard and easily the greatest grindhouse game, standing a full head and shoulders above the likes of WET and Marlow Briggs and the Terror Mask of Death. Its characters are charming, its world demands a sequel I fear we’ll never see, and its gameplay is superbly over the top. Any game that can make two characters repeatedly swearing at each other actually express their contrasting personalities in an effective way is far smarter than it has any right to be.
For all the flack it gets, Splatterhouse was wildly ahead of its time, capturing the same exhilarating brutality and dark sense of humor as Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal. Splatterhouse doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks, doing its job with a gusto and personality more games wish they could manage. Despite its torturous development cycle, the development team achieved something truly spectacular. So what are you waiting for? Rip and tear!