The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)


The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)
Dir. McClain Lindquist
Starring: Sonny Grimsley, James C. Morris, Mikah Olsen, Teren Turner
Genre: Psychological Horror Short

There is something charming and attractive about short films. There is an ingenuity and passion that tends to paint the screen over a small span of time and as a horror fan, I’ve come to see a lot of imagination and interesting effects while I’ve explored shorter works lately. The format brings out the need to tell a concise and engaging story that will leave an impression in less time than your average TV episode. It’s a challenge, and thankfully in the right hands, it can result in some excellent work.

I’ll be the first to admit that The Tell-Tale Heart is not my favorite piece of literature. I studied it to death in school, it’s been referenced in media all over the place- but I’d heard about a short film adaptation that, with some research, looked like a unique experience. Once I was given the chance to check it out for myself, my horror-loving independent film supporting self jumped at it, wary as I might be of the source material. Continue reading

Just Another Link in the Chainsaw – Sega Genesis – Splatterhouse 2 – 1992

Splatterhouse 2 (E) [x]_006.pngSplatterhouse 2
Sega Genesis
Namco
Genre: Horror Beat ‘Em Up
1992

Horror movies have a particular formula. A majority of films in the genre- especially in the late 80s and early 90s- will set up an improbable plot to place characters into a terrifying situation. When the character or characters who survive until the final scene reach the end, there is climactic confrontation. The survivors breathe a sigh of relief, and the viewer is left with some kind of indication that a sequel is inevitable. The killer-thought-dead’s eyes open, the phone rings in the house that’s supposed to be safe, the camera pans menacingly back into the forest; if the writers and director can allude that the terror is still lurking, they will.
Games in the horror genre aren’t much different, and the original Splatterhouse did the same thing. It wasn’t as effective in the console port due to some strange editing of the final scene. In the original ending in the arcades, however, once Rick has survived his nightmare and comes out of the other side, there is a solid promise that the evil he was involved with also survived.

It would be four years later that the Sega Genesis would see the sequel, Splatterhouse 2, come to life in the West. It came at a great time- the early 90s was a strong time for “in your face” gaming, even if it was a bit of a lull for classic horror. Aside from dropping most of the censorship between the Japanese and English versions of the game like the original, though, there isn’t a ton of information readily available on Splatterhouse 2’s development. Even if it’s not hard to see why it would have eventually spawned a sequel, I’ve heard plenty about the first and third games in retro circles, and the reboot gets a mention here and there. I’ll admit that my curiosity piqued so far as the lack of information on the second game.  Continue reading

The Foundation for the House That West Built – Turbografx-16 – Splatterhouse – 1990

Splatterhouse (USA)-0000.pngSplatterhouse
Turbografx-16
Namco
Genre: Horror Beat-em-up
1990

Despite some dabbling into the series, the Splatterhouse games have flown low on my radar for a while. There’s nothing in particular that has kept me from them. I played them a bit as a kid, but the only one I’ve played through was the reboot that came out a few years ago. It’s always been interesting to me but for a few reasons, it kept getting brushed aside for other franchises.

The strange part is that Splatterhouse has a myriad of elements I enjoy. The protagonist is a buff hockey-mask wearing figure, the story has elements of Lovecraft and slasher films, and it falls right into my retro wheelhouse. The excessive violence, even having been toned down before being released on American consoles, would have been right at home alongside games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat during the creation of the ESRB ratings and trials. The only thing keeping me from playing through the entire series was a lack of a Turbografx-16 growing up.

In an attempt to take a look back at the system and its library, I knew Splatterhouse would have to be one of my first stops due to how long the title’s been sitting in my backlog. Since the series has fallen into obscurity despite a relatively successful revival back in 2010, I thought it could be fun to check on the beginning of the series and how it evolved, not to mention how it holds up now. Continue reading

Scratching That Itch.io – Four Short Horror Games for the Season

I admit to being unable to commit to a game some nights, even if I’m hip-deep in the plot and I’m super excited about it. Bouts of wanting to check something else out will creep in on occasion. That almost always translates into having to start up another game which can lead to having another six to 100 hours of gameplay to complete. If that chain continues, my backlog starts to look a lot more formidable than it already is; a task that in and of itself seems impossible if you take a glance at what I’ve stored up to play.

Recently, I’ve been checking out some smaller games on itch.io, a website that prides itself on hosting indie game developers from all levels and genres. Some of the games have gone on to bigger and better things- “The House Abandon” episode from Untold Stories started here, for instance- so there is a lot of potential and folks trying to make it into the business of creating games. Not only that, but a lot of the games tend to wrap up within 15 minutes to an hour, perfect for scratching that need to check out a new game without having to commit to an entire campaign to do so.

In honor of the end of the Halloween season coming up (I mean, it never ends for me but for regular folks), I pulled aside a few titles from the site to check out and found a few that I enjoyed, whether it had to do with their potential or the actual final product. Bearing in mind that most of these games were created either for 48-hour Game Jams or other contests, the fact that folks are putting out pieces like this astonishes someone like me who has almost no experience in the game development field.

Maria1.jpgThe Missing Parts of Maria Gwodzek
senokos
2016
Horror Visual Novel
Run Time: ~20 Minutes
URL: https://senokos.itch.io/maria-gwozdek

Everyone’s had a time in their life where they wished things were different; a time where things seemed hopeless and if just one thing changed, it would feel like things would improve dramatically. What would you have given in that moment to ensure that you would land that date that would cure your loneliness or find that perfect place to live so that you could start a new life? The Missing Parts of Maria Gwodzek explores that premise, placing you in the shoes of Maria as she tries to find her way out of her mess of a life- and what she is willing to give up to get what she wants once she gets too deep.

Maria2.jpg
Created for the Asylum Jam, a 48-hour game development project, in 2016, the game feels a bit short- but what it does with that time has some gravitas. While Maria’s lot in life feels excessively disparate with the rapid description to set the game up, the empathy involved in the few choices of the novel got me thinking, and I was a bit surprised about what I was choosing by the end. The most striking part of the whole game lies in the visual presentation. Everything has a black-and-white minimalistic style to it with pops of two distinctive colors that feel more prominent as the story progresses.


Conclusion: The game feels like it could have been more effective as a longer novel, but it makes the most of its time and has some really interesting ideas. It’s well worth taking a half an hour and checking out.

SearchParty1.jpgThe Search Party That Never Came
Dizlen
2019
Stealth Survival Horror
Run Time: 15-30 Minutes
URL: https://dizlen.itch.io/the-search-party-that-never-came

Being a Final Girl or Guy in a slasher film is probably a bit tough. No one can help you, there’s a seemingly unstoppable murderer stalking you, and escape feels so close but so far. Slip up once, though, and that’s all it takes for you to wind up on the wrong side of a sharp object.

SearchParty2.jpg
This is the situation you’re thrown into in
The Search Party That Never Came. There is no real plot to speak of, but your objective as a would-be victim finding themselves in a warehouse district of sorts is to escape from a chuckling madman with a chainsaw as he searches the area for you. While the game starts out with a bit of a jump scare, it actually does a bit more with environmental lighting and sound effects to create tension as you try to figure out how to escape than I expected it to. It’s a bit rough graphically and design-wise, but seeing as it was a university project by the creator, Search Party feels like a passion project hearkening back to the early Playstation horror library and the few technical missteps are more charming than annoying, as they could have been.

Conclusion: This won’t leave you scared sleepless after its over, but the amount of potential and a clear love for the designs of the genre make this a pretty neat game to take a dip into, atmospherically and aesthetically.

Emulator1.jpgThe Emulator
T Allen Studios/Studio Snowspot
2018
Adventure Survival Horror
Run Time: ~30 minutes
URL: https://t-allen-studios.itch.io/the-emulator

The night before Halloween, Sean has lined up a dinner with his girlfriend, Sarah, and her parents. He arrives at the house, nervous but ready to spend a night with the Rourke household but as he arrives at the door, something seems… off. The power is out and even though dinner is still steaming on the table, there is no one to be found. It isn’t long before Sean finds a receipt for something from the Deep Web called “The Emulator”. While he isn’t sure what it is exactly, his night stuck in his girlfriend’s house will quickly shine some light on the situation.

Emulator2.jpg

Shortly after the plot kicks in, the player is tasked with finding a way to survive. The Emulator proves to be pretty open-ended with this objective, offering a number of ways to escape and put an end to The Emulator and its influence. While it has a limited soundtrack, this game’s aural and visual standard is fairly high. In a fun homage, you can set the graphics to PSX resolution at the start of the game (though I found the notes and dialogue a bit hard to read in that mode). As a pursuer, though, the Emulator appears to take on the form of some object in the house that, once approached, will spring to life, shifting Sean’s POV into red hues until it is outrun. Juggling this amidst searching the house for any way to survive is subtly tense and gets the player’s gears turning about what method they are going to use to get out. With multiple endings and a relatively simple-AI, The Emulator’s only real problem is that if you muck around in the Options screen a bit, you will most likely restart your current run by accident due to the interface.

If this is what the team can do with a week to a month or so worth of work, I’d love to see what they could do with more time and budget.

Conclusion: If you want a challenge that will get your mind working and has an interesting mythos set-up the more you explore, this is a fantastic way to spend a part of your night.

VHS1.jpgV.H.S. – Video Horror Story
pinataMAN
2017
Stealth Survival Horror
Run Time: ~10 minutes
URL: https://pinataman.itch.io/vhs-videohorrorstory

Some indie games don’t give you a premise- even more so when they are short and working as a prototype for a particular mechanic. What V.H.S. does is dumps the player into an environment, teaches them the controls, and lets them play around with their surroundings while avoiding death. Opening in an office building of sorts, V.H.S. places you in the perspective of a video playback (indicated by the ever-constant PLAY status displayed in the upper left corner) and invites you to escape a small office building with just a flashlight and the camera’s technology in hand. By using the shoulder buttons on your controller, you can slide the frequency on the camera left and right, an important mechanic as one frequency lets you see objects that define your surroundings like desks, chairs, and computers. The other frequency allows you to see the unearthly horrors that are stalking the area.

vhs2.jpg

This game- which is really more of a demo than anything- is incredibly short, offering a small playground to toy around with a very unique mechanic with little to no consequence. The deaths in the game could have been handled as obnoxious jump scares but are actually a bit creepy. Even thinking of this as a prototype that was completed in 48 hours, the game looks and sounds professional, even implementing controller support.

Conclusion: The runtime may stop most folks from spending the time with this game, but it’s worth a look, even if just to check out the neat gameplay and the relatively surprising ending. Please be aware, though- there is an epilepsy warning due to strobing lighting effects at some points.



Whether these games strike your fancy or not, it may be worth taking a look at the site to see if there is something that might. Aside from these bite-sized offerings, there are some full sized games on there and a ton of games that aren’t horror related. Seeing some of the other titles, I’m glad I’ve had a few friends who have recommended the site to me to browse around. For me, seeing some of the efforts from folks who are trying to make their own games or join development teams feels invigorating. It’s like having a friend who’s really excited to show you their work, and each of the games that I’ve seen has some kind of commentary from the developer about their process and aspirations. Even the forums for each of them seems to be more about constructive feedback than the usual comments you’ll see on platforms like Steam.

If you’re looking for some quick scares or some interesting game design work, feel free to check these out! If you have any suggestions for games to check out otherwise, I’d be more than happy to take a gander at some other games that folks have experienced on the site and would like to talk up.

Whatever you decide to do today, though- be safe, have fun, and Happy Halloween!

You’ll Have to See For Yourself – PC – Stories Untold – 2017

Image result for stories untold gameStories Untold
PC
No Code/Devolver Digital
Genre: Text-Based Horror
2017

Before all of the fancy graphical wonders and high-octane action sequences that developers have been crafting and hooking audiences onto in recent years, the wonders of the imagination ran free in a genre now referred to in most circles as “interactive fiction”. For anyone not familiar with these types of games, they tended to consist entirely of words describing the action and environment. From there, the player has to type out what they want to do with a series of commands or directions- want to go down that hallway to the north? “NORTH”. Think that desk might have something interesting? “LOOK AT DESK”. Everything was in your mind’s eye- for better or worse.

While the style has generally fallen out of fashion, there are plenty of folks who put together games akin to the old text-based adventures. One such group who has paid homage to the genre recently is No Code, the minds behind a moderately known game called Untold Stories. At first glance, it might look like the title card was swiped directly from an episode of Stranger Things. While it might seem derivative, though, it’s actually designed by Kyle Lambert, the artist who designed the posters for the show. Finding that out was step one to ending my hesitation about checking the game out.

Of course, amidst the ridiculous backlog hacking I’ve been doing recently, recommendations from trusted friends help pull certain titles forward. After a bit of praise from my buddy Brad over at Cheap Boss Attack (who you should totally check out, by the way), I decided to push up Untold Stories on my playlist since it seemed short and also seemed to have left quite the impression on my fellow horror gaming buff. I recently got to pop the game on and got ready to type my little frightened heart out. Continue reading