Favorite games come and go, but Zombies Ate My Neighbors has stuck around for years with me at this point. I grew up primarily on two things: pop culture and horror movies. I separate the two, even though they’re pretty easily related, due to watching a good 250 or so horror movies in a summer vacation, cementing my love of the genre and the medium pretty early on.
While playing through the game, the references are easy to see to most horror fans. Vampires, hockey mask wearing killers, evil dolls- everything that makes an appearance has some kind of root in popular media. Some are fairly obvious, and some are a little less so. Given my affection for this game, I went online to see if someone had put together a list of these references, or if they even had some kind of speculation site that entertained what the inspirations could be for the multiple levels and their titles throughout the game.
I was pretty shocked to find that there isn’t one. If there is, it isn’t readily available, but I can’t imagine that this has never been written down or had some kind of analysis online. If it has, don’t tell me- because I decided that I’m going to attempt to hunt down the most likely inspirations for these titles and references in honor of October and the Halloween spirit.
So sit back, buckle up, and prepare for a whole lot of information on a whole lot of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and other movies, music, and pop culture references abound.
Clearly, there are also some rules to be followed:
– All of the sources must be from 1993 or earlier, as the game came out in 1993
– When possible, a horror or comedic source should be used as a basis for the entry. This one will probably be deviated from at least a handful of times, as some of the more obvious titles do.
Level 1 – Zombie Panic
Unfortunately, this does not make a great start to find the references that may be being called up by this classic game. The closest thing that I could find involving ‘zombies’ and ‘panic’ brought up a recent mod for Half-Life (if you call 2009 recent). Movies like Panic Room also brought the word into common searches, but none of these fall into the criteria to be legitimate possibilities for the opening level to Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
If anyone comes up with anything? Please feel free to let me know! Otherwise, at the moment, Zombie Panic is just a generic title for an easy and fairly generic level, and I may be okay with leaving it at that until I find otherwise.
Bonus Level – Day of the Tentacle
At no one’s surprise, LucasArts has been very self-referential. Many of their games have nods to other products that have been produced by the company. The first Bonus Level of ZAMN, while oft missed, is no stranger to this.
Day of the Tentacle is an adventure game that serves as the sequel to Maniac Mansion. The game centers around three characters, including Bernard from Maniac Mansion, who end up thrown across time and space when Purple Tentacle (again, from Mansion) take a drink of some toxic matter and winds up super intelligent- and super hungry for power. The game plays out as these three characters make their way through their respective times, helping one another through various means.
While the original game appeared on computers back in 1993, a recent effort by Doublefine Productions has brought a remastered version of the game to the public earlier this year, much to the delight of fans of the original.
Level 2 – Evening of the Undead
The first familiar reference in the main line of levels for the game, Evening of the Undead technically references a slew of movies. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead; the list goes on almost immeasurably. Given the context of the level’s title with ‘evening’ being near synonymous with ‘night’, I’m going to give the honor to the classic Night of the Living Dead.
Released in 1968, this movie follows a group of people holed up in a cabin, trying to keep themselves safe from the onslaught of flesh eating zombies that have started to plague the town around them. Conflicts arise and slowly but surely, they succumb to one another and the growing undead populace by various means. The movie is known for making George A. Romero a horror legend, and it is not known for pulling punches, both in story and carnage for the time.
Level 3 – Terror in Aisle Five
Around now is where I feel I should enforce that these references are entirely fan-based. While I’m trying not to make too many leaps to reach a logical conclusion (i.e. Zombie Panic), there may be disagreements with sources, which is entirely fair.
For instance, the inspiration for the title of Terror in Aisle Five, from what research was done, is a 1984 film called Terror in the Aisles. The word ‘film’ is used tentatively, as it serves as more of a commentary and documentary on horror films than it does an actual cinematic movie.
Guided by horror figures Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen, the film shows various scenes from horror movies and spoofs throughout the time and earlier, including Friday the 13th, Jaws, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Discussions on topics such as natural horror and the occult, as well as sex in horror films and villains themselves, all come up throughout the picture. The film was re-released by Universal Pictures (known for their involvement in some of the early days of horror) in 2012.
Level 4 – Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem
Before talking about the reference for Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem, I feel it’s important to delineate a difference between Zombies Ate My Neighbors and its European counterpart, Zombies. There are minute differences between the two, but some of the levels changed due to the desire to not utilize chainsaws in Zombies. As a result, using this title would result in some confusion, so the name of this level was instead changed to Lumberjack Hedgemaze Mayhem. This skews my origin for this title just slightly, but I think it still works.
This title immediately conjures up the image of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, whether just by the word ‘chainsaw’ existing in the title or the alliteration of ‘mayhem’ and ‘massacre’. Infamous as one of the original ‘slashers’ despite not being particularly ‘slasher-y’, the movie revolves around a group of teenagers who end up being terrorized by a grotesque assailant by the name of Leatherface (so called for the face of human skin they wear) and the rest of their cannibalistic kin. Upon its release, the movie was banned in multiple markets for its content. This did not, however, stop the movie from spawning a sizable film series and many other products across different mediums.
Level 5 – Weird Kids on the Block
Weird Kids on the Block marks the first level in the game that does not appear to reference a horror movie. In fact, it doesn’t reference a film of any kind.
It does, however, reference The New Kids on the Block, a Boston-based pop group from the 1980s and early 1990s. Anyone who grew up during the time, fan or not, remembers that screaming and crying crowds used to gather at their concerts and brandish their merchandise all over the place. Some of their most popular hits include “The Right Stuff”, “Step by Step” and “Hangin’ Tough”, though there are plenty of other people who could probably rattle off albums worth of songs. Whatever they did, they did it well, though. They’ve sold over 20 million albums. Despite the fact that they broke up in 1994, they experienced some of the success of the past when they reunited recently.
Level 6 – Pyramid of Fear
Deviating once again from the horror films and genre, Pyramid of Fear is actually a chronicle of Young Sherlock Holmes. Filmed in 1985, this tale follows Sherlock Holmes
meeting up with a young John Watson, as well, to investigate strange goings on at a boarding school.
There does appear to have been some kind of video game made of it, as well, but according to Wikipedia entries, it had very little to do with the actual movie. This does not appear to have been an actual story of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, however.
Level 7 – Dr. Tongue’s Castle of Terror
This level marks the first time in the game that our heroes meet Dr. Tongue, the main villain of the game and creator of the monsters running amok. Does this sound familiar?
Well, while Dr. Tongue could be representative of any of a number of mad scientist characters, give a surprise the player can find in this castle, he is easy to liken most to Dr. Frankenstein, given his hidden creating of a familiar looking monster in the back halls of the structure. The inspiration for the reference in this level, however, does not appear to be a Frankenstein reference.
It does, however, hearken back to a 1984 Commodore 64 game called Castle of Terror. The plot appears to be that a tavernkeep has had his daughter taken by a nearby Count, and he requests that you, the player, help rescue her. From how it appears, this game played a lot like first person adventure games of the same kind- Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited, just to name a couple.
Apparently, the game’s programmers came out some time after the release of the game to admit that there is no way to complete everything in the game, another fact that has gained this game notoriety.
Level 8 – Titanic Toddler
Yet another elusive title. Whatever I’ve tried, I can’t find a reference to a giant baby that fits any of the criteria and sounds remotely like the the title. The famous Titanic film didn’t come out until 1997. Films like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman hit the mark for the
theme, but it still doesn’t seem quite right.
Honestly, the only tenuous film connection I can make here is that Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, a sequel to the film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids starring Rick Moranis, hit theaters in 1992, the year before ZAMN came out. In it, the characters for the original are tasked with helping their youngs family member after an accident has the toddler grow to titanic proportions.
See? The plot works, and most likely, the movie was a hit when it came out, so it could have been the inspiration for the level in some way. There’s most likely a better connection here, though, that I have yet to stumble across.
Level 9 – Toxic Terrors
Another “close but not quite” reference comes in for Toxic Terrors, and while ‘toxic’ is a term used for a few big pop culture names, I pulled from this reference to try to match the theme of the level, despite this feeling like a generic title.
There is an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers from 1992 called “Toxic Terror”- well, to be more precise, there is a VHS tape that most likely had some other episodes on it that was called “Toxic Terror”. Given the popularity of Captain Planet at the time, it isn’t a far stretch to believe that this could have been part of the inspiration. In the cartoon, five teenagers are given the power over the elements to try to keep polluters of Earth from destroying the state of the planet, which sounds suspiciously like how this level plays out.
There is the possibility, for those more horror inclined, that this was also a play on The Toxic Avenger, a Troma film that fits the timeline better but not much else. I thought it might be worth a mention, though I won’t go in detail on that possibility here.
Bonus Level – Mushroom Men
Moving on to the tenuous and obtuse, the best match I could find for Mushroom Men was a movie called Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People. It’s a movie from 1963, and it’s Japanese, which means it sort of fell out of the rubric created for this source hunt. The movie centers around a group that becomes shipwrecked on a strange island where poisonous mushrooms are making people hallucinate and even become mushrooms themselves. This also appears to be pretty much the only film I could find where actual mushroom people exist.
While it’s still a bit out of the box so far as what we’re looking for as far as inspiration is concerned, the film was apparently very popular in the United States, playing on certain television stations frequently throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. That places it pretty much squarely into the range that we’re looking for, and while it’s unlikely that this is the exact source, if there is one, this is probably the closest we’re going to get.
Note after article was written: Looking at the pictures online of the Mushroom People from Matango? This might be closer than I thought.
Level 10 – No Assembly Required
For my life, I could not find even a remote reference for this title, at least not in the media. The obvious reference would be the ‘warning’ on the packaging of many children’s toys that read ‘No Assembly Required’ or, in most cases, ‘Some Assembly Required’. Given that the level plays out in a warehouse with evil dolls attacking your character, the play on words makes a lot of sense.
Level 11 – Weeds Gone Bad
Yet another one that I couldn’t find anything for. Everything that I could find that I even thought of either was made after the criteria (Girls Gone Wild, ironically) or just brought up questions about whether or not weed could, indeed, go bad.
An even shorter entry, I know, but if anyone has any ideas, by all means feel free to leave them in the comments. This really does sound like it could be so easy to find something in connection to, but in reality, all of my leads came up empty.
So there is your first batch of research on this topic. It may not be flawless, and there may be gaps going forward, but we’re going to drive through this list to find as many answers as possible!
Click here for Part 2!