Halloween is just hours away, folks! While some of you are out there meticulously preparing a wickedly spooky costume to spill keg beer on, us introverts are lining up a marathon of murder, madness, and the macabre. That’s not some alliterated threat I’m making. I just mean we’re going to burn up the devil’s birthday watching horror flicks in the anti-social solitude of our darkened apartments.
As a habitual gamer, though, I grow restless passively watching blood and guts tossed about. I also like to take part in the blood and guts tossing (this article will be used against me in court someday…). I like to keep in season with a rotating program of horror video games. From Silent Hill to Dead Space to that one about the mid-western cops in a zombie filled mansion (why the hell can’t I remember that game’s name?), I just find interactive scares far more stool loosening than the static frights movies hold.
So, here I am, between a tower of Carpenter and Romero flicks on the one side, a separate stack of survival and action horror games sitting on the other. And, thusly, I had my peanut butter cup moment. We’ve already got ourselves some examples of horror films brilliantly adapted into games (2002’s The Thing hurt in all the right ways) but the industry’s still missing out on some killer properties to mine for inspiration. Here’s my top picks for a few more genre classics that deserve to cross mediums:
5) From Dusk Till Dawn
This one of a kind cult hit saw the stylized sensibilities of director Robert Rodriguez collide with the witty, cynical screen-words of Quentin Tarantino. From Dusk till Dawn was Grindhouse before Grindhouse was a twinkle in either filmmakers’ eye. Where that double feature split apart its character piece (Death Proof) from its monster flick (Planet Terror), From Dusk till Dawn smashed the two schools of thought into one dripping package.
The entire first half of the film isn’t even a horror movie. It begins more as a “criminals on the run” sort of flick – closer to Tarantino’s domain of expertise – in which we follow the Gecko brothers, fresh on the lam after a robbery goes bloody. Seth (a cool but menacing George Clooney recently freed from the confines of television) and Richie Gecko (Q.T. providing creepy and unstable in almost too exact-to-life amounts) end up holding an ex-pastor and his two kids hostage as they bolt for the Mexican border in an RV.
The character work is riveting enough to make you forget all about the weird vampiric shit the back of the DVD box is talking about. But low and behold, once our cast makes it into The Titty Twister, the skeeviest, most Cheech Marin-filled bar in all of Mexico, the script suddenly transforms into this unforgiving slaughterfest featuring a horde of soft-skinned, screeching vampires and more dismemberment per minute than you’d think an R-rating could withstand. One moment Quentin Tarantino is fulfilling every fetishistic wish he’s ever had by soaking up Half-Naked Selma Hayak’s foot liquor, the next, 30 Days of Night breaks out in the expanse of a saloon. Any other film, the juxtaposition would’ve come off as downright fucking schizophrenic, but Rodriguez’s unique eye and Tarantino’s tongue-in-cheek nihilism make for one of the most satisfying bloodletting’s in vampire lore.
Technically, there’s already a video game based on this movie. And, technically, it’s smoldering garbage stuffed onto a CD-ROM. It’s not fucking awful. But it’s awful enough to merit a redo. Although, we will borrow one convention from that game: turning the property into a first-person shooter. I’ll wait until you’re done rolling your eyes, but then you have to hear me out.
Most developers would take a look at the source material – a talkative crime flick that gives way to a gorey, horror feature – and just base a game around the second half of the film once the bullets start flying and drunk bar patrons begin impaling vampires with pool cues. I say fuck that noise. What’s horror without buildup, folks? It’s senseless. And while mowing down the bloodthirsty undead pretty much smacks of senselessness, From Dusk Till Dawn can be more than an arcade shooter.
I want to see the entire opening chunk go without a single droplet of ghoulie blood. Follow the film’s pacing. Give me and a buddy a duo of wit spewing outlaws leaving a hot lead trail from Southern Cali to the Mexican border. I want to rob liquor stores, stick up banks, and wield six-shooters against the law. All the while, you learn the fundamentals of gameplay within the confines of a straight-laced FPS that sorta recalls Payday and Call of Juarez.
And, like the film, I want players to make their grand getaway. You elude the cops. You cross the border. You just want to unwind for drinks at a bar that caters to nasty motherfuckers evading the law just like you. Then, as in the film, shit goes bonkers as snarling vampires lock you in for dinner. Instead of being swarmed by police, you’re now entrapped by winged demons trying to pluck you from the ground and drop you to your death. It’s like Payday transformed into Left 4 Dead. But, if you can get over the sheer shock of the howling beasts, you’ll feel oddly prepared.
Learning how to cover your buddy as he cleans out a safe has taught you how to defend a bar top as he now tries to put together a molotov cocktail (because the bastards seem to really dislike fire). Taking point as he watches flank is the only way to dart from area to area. Patching up his gunshot wounds is teaches you to wrap up gnarly bites – and you’ll want to; the scent of blood in the air will send those things into a frenzy. Six-shooters, crossbows, shoties, and Sex Machine’s infamous pea-shooter make up your arsenal. But you’ll have to sometimes get creative with what you’ve got (Holy Water’s fine by itself, but a super soaker full of Holy Water just makes more sense, don'tcha think?). And if you think the majority of a game stuck in a bar isn’t enough, you’re right. This will have to do:
4) Return of the Living Dead
Save for George A. Romero’s impact on the genre (we’ll talk about Georgie in a tic), 1985’s Return of the Living Dead is one of the most influential zombie flicks in cinema history. Dan O’ Bannon, the writer behind Alien, sat in the director’s chair and introduced the world to the concept of the brain eating dead. Why brains? Who the hell knows. But the image of moving corpses groaning out “Braaains!” stuck like flesh on bones.
The film hinges on the idea that Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead was, in fact, based on an actual incident involving spilled government chemicals. A few drums of this zombie toxin are now stored in a medical supply warehouse’s cellar. A medical supply warehouse that’s conveniently located across the street from a cemetery.
Thanks to movie magic buffoonery, a Class A outbreak begins reanimating every body buried in that cemetery. Coincidentally, a group of stupid teens rocking an assortment of blinding ‘80’s styles happen to be partying it up in said cemetery. With the cosmos’ favorite mix drink, Disaster and Youth, stirred up, teen devouring good times are had.
RotLD, though thickly coated in B-Movie lacquer, is a competent black comedy that takes those old EC horror comics Stephen King cannot stop going on about and douses them in satire, eye-popping special effects, and gratuitous nudity. It’s the best kind of zombie story: the kind where everyone gets torn to shreds by the end. Plus, it had one of the most bitchin’ soundtracks around, filled to the brim with punk rock to surf rock, perfectly complementing the film’s tone and cementing it as the '80’s favorite zombie movie (Day of the Dead, eat your heart out).
Of course I want to keep it in the '80’s. Modernizing the setting would strangle the soul of the material. It’d be like trying to make The Warriors not about 1970’s gangland New York. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned The Warriors – Rockstar’s video game adaptation is the perfect mold for Return of the Living Dead: a brutal brawler that hems closely to the vibe of the film it’s based on.
Pick your misfit – each character having their own keen abilities – and leap into the melee chaos. Return’s brand of undead break tradition and are damn near indestructible by conventional means. So it’s your job to tear the very sinew off of their backs until they can’t so much as crawl at you. Bash their skulls into tombstones, knock them into open graves, smack 'em around with a shovel. Your environment is more useful than an M16 (which you won’t find because fuck those kids), so get creative and get mean.
And, of course, there’s always room for co-op. In fact, there’s things you would never have imagined possible when a friend joins the fray. Combination attacks allow you to literally pick apart enemies before your very eyes. Zombies getting too touchy? No problem, just have you and your bud grab each of its arms and pull in opposite directions! As Ma always used to say, when you can’t cut it off, pull it off. Your characters are far from Karate Kid caliber, but their flavor of rough n’ tumble will give those undead freaks plenty to chew on.
So long as the fun and gross spirit of the film is honored, and so long as the tunes remain bitchin’ (.45 Grave’s “Partytime” is a must-have track), Return of the Living Dead can prove to The Walking Dead’s and The Last of Us’ out there that the apocalypse doesn’t have to be such a fucking drag to gain an audience. The only question left is, do you wanna party?
3. They Live
Roddy Piper stars as a buff drifter named 'Nada’ just looking for some scratch and maybe some dudes to arm wrestle with. One day, Nada happens upon a magical pair of sunglasses that aren’t so magical since all they do is reveal the faces of the alien overlords that have infiltrated society Skrull style and control us through subliminal messaging within advertisements and the everyday bullshit we buy.
John Carpenter’s massively underrated '88 action-horror was equal parts political satire and Lovecraftian love letter. Even the aliens didn’t resemble anything traditionally extraterrestrial; their skinless visages looked like human skulls with giant mosquito eyes glued on – meant to personify the corruption rotting the elite from within. The film sought to parody over-commercialization and the gaping maw forming between the rich and the poor in our society, but most moviegoers were too mesmerized by the outer space skull-demons and Roddy Piper’s waxy acting to notice (Didja know that the phrase “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass” originated from They Live? That makes Roddy Piper Duke Nukem’s father).
Regardless, the film’s “B-Movie with Somethin’ to Say” attitude, iconic imagery, and the ever-lasting relevance of a corrupted, controlling class (albeit an alien skull-devil controlling class) has let They Live survive the years, now having reach cult status, and instituted as “Classic Carpenter” (unlike Ghosts of Mars… And everything since Ghosts of Mars).
I know we’re halfway through this, and my want for decades old horror films to be turned into video games should’ve been hint enough, but I’ll say it anyway: I am not a game designer. With that firmly in mind, here’s my pitch: Far Cry with aliens. Well, Far Cry in the city with aliens. Wait. That’s Crysis 2. Listen, just hear me out.
We’ll forgo the jungles of Far Cry for the streets of modern day L.A. Like Nada, you don the role of someone who comes across the sight-altering sunglasses, letting you see the world in black and white, revealing the truth behind the lies. Soon, you find yourself a part of a surging human rebellion that wants to take their city back. You’re tasked with growing the rebellion’s numbers by saving captured rebels and enlightening those still buying into the lie.
An open-world Los Angeles is your stomping ground, allowing you a labyrinth of alleys and hilly terrain to slip past your would-be executioners. Sabotaging broadcast stations and cutting off supply chains are quick ways to damage the aliens’ occupancy in the city, but given its size and their grasp, you have your work cut out for you. Avoiding the skull-demons isn’t always easy, especially when contacts and comrades you form allegiances with could actually be spies attempting to find your HQ.
'Course, when you are indeed all outta gum, you’ll be equipped to kick spectacular amounts of ass. First-person shooting comes heavily into play, but when you’re out, you can train your body to accomplish some disarmament techniques and bone-cracking CQC a la Far Cry 3. Apply pain in a discernible manner. Once your army is amassed and you’re finally of a Keith David physique, then can you begin hitting major alien strongholds in a push to reclaim L.A like the flannel clad warrior you were born to be.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
Scribed by Joss Whedon and shot by Drew Goddard (having written for Joss’ Angel and Buffy beforehand), 2012's Cabin in the Woods is to horror movies as Scream was to slasher flicks. But whereas Scream’s overt self-awareness led it to the conclusion that serial killer movies were inane, Cabin in the Woods concluded that bump-in-the-night terror was fucking awesome and that cliches are to be celebrated.
The film stars five well-adjusted, likable college students that gather for a weekend retreat at a cabin. In the woods. What happens next appears to be the song and dance we’ve grown accustomed to since Raimi’s The Evil Dead…
Except, it’s all nefariously orchestrated. The cabin, the barrier trapping these kids in the woods, the way their IQ’s drop and their libidos skyrocket, turning graduates into debauched fools. From within an underground facility, white collar stiffs are watching and manipulating this “ritual.” The goal: sacrifice these kids in the name of a long dormant god that slumbers beneath the earth. The catch: though the conditions are rigidly controlled, it’s still up to our kids how they die; whether they’re aware they’ve sealed their own fate or not.
Our gang of Scoobies are systematically offed and terrorized by a gamut of horror movie tropes and cliche creatures, up until they bring the fight to the white collar workers (who’ve been actively betting on how each kid will bite it). What ensues from there is one of the greatest third-acts in horror movie history. You’ve got Sigourney Weaver, dozens of monsters, a murderous unicorn, and Broken era Nine Inch Nails slamming the film shut. To hell with describing it; if you haven’t seen this film yet, your excuses not to are paper thin.
In the same way the film pays tribute to decades of formulaic horror, its video game counterpart needs to honor years of survival horror gaming. All the standby’s should be represented. Arbitrary puzzles, a plodding pace, backtracking, limited resources. If it were up to my vote, I’d even throw in fixed perspectives (but you kids seem to hate that these days – frankly, I miss it).
Remember Resident Evil: Outbreak? It’s okay if you don’t. It was a shit sandwich. The one great notion it had was its multiplayer, where a handful of survivors were tossed into sprawling environments, sometimes not together, and tasked with figuring out how to escape. That’d serve Cabin well. Imagine five survivors searching the cabin and the surrounding woods, each stumbling upon ritual items and calling forth their own unique monsters (my prayers go out to the poor bastard that summons the merman).
Sure, working together means you’re less likely to get snubbed out by a mythical beast. But dividing your efforts allows you to find an entrance into the lab much faster (it’ll never be in the same place because fuck those kids).
Now here’s the other side of the gameplay equation: it’s also a god game. While you’re out in the woods bleeding to death, a human player is watching you suffer, and laughing about it because that’s how they win! It’s versus with a sadistic twist. Assuming the role of the ritual’s overseer gives you the omniscient power over the slaughter. Blondie getting too close to the entrance? Guide her away with a chainsaw wielding deadite! Has the Stoner been staring at a puzzle for too long? Speed him up with a helping of “dismemberment goblins” crashing through the window! The jock find a secret tunnel? Well, sudden cave-in’s are the best cave-in’s.
Don’t let the power go to your head, though. Once those damn kids break into the facility, the only cave-in happening may involve your skull and this concealable bong:
1. Dawn of the Dead 
Told you we’d get back to Georgie. Romero’s 1968 claim to horror fame, Night of Living Dead, created the foundation for the modern day zombie movie. 1979’s Dawn of the Dead built a goddamn house on top of that foundation. I can confidently drop the “one of the” and lay it bare: This is the most influential zombie film of all time. 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, you name it… Dawn has inspired them all.
Poised as a loose sequel to Night, the story picks up some time after the initial outbreak of the corpse reanimating plague. While some groups, like National Guard and large assortments of trigger contented NRA-card carriers, make a solid go of defending against the undead, most of our major cities have fallen prey to the dead. Society is on the brink of collapse and more than few people have figured out fleeing is a better option than trying to keep the pieces together.
Two SWAT team members that decide to ditch their squad (after a grim wake up call), along with a news station helicopter pilot and his girlfriend, embark on a voyage to get the hell out of Dodge. Their travels lead them to a modern day fort – a Pennsylvanian shopping mall. Together, they go about cleaning the mall of straggling zombies and attempt to establish the center of commerce as a new home.
Dawn of the Dead was this miraculous, maybe even accidental, combination of slow cooking dread, gory action, and disarming emotion. Literally surrounded by adverse horror (the moaning echoing through the mall a constant reminder), the film becomes a character piece about an oddball group thrown together that, surprisingly, doesn’t bitch, bicker, and betray. They trust and protect one another, keeping each other safe and sane while the world quickly plunges into darkness.
Nothing good lasts, though; their retail fortress soon becomes their very own Alamo. But right up till the bloody end, Dawn shows us hope survives even when survival is hopeless.
This may be just about the only pitch where I feel like a straight adaptation is necessary. In every way possible, too. From the gray-faced makeup the zombies adorn, the late '70’s setting, and the pulsing Goblin score, to lifting our main characters – Peter, Roger, Stephen, and Francine.
And, unlike my other half-baked pitches, the main narrative shouldn’t feature a multiplayer component. Gameplay should follow one of my favorite formats: the closed-circuit open-world. Like Tomb Raider and the Arkham games before it, I feel the material is served better by an extremely detailed, multi-faceted, but compact, open-world. Your kingdom is the mall, with each of its levels, and the surrounding area.
The intro to the game would feature the SWAT assault on the projects building from the film’s opening. Here, you’d learn the basics of gameplay as you fight through zombies and tenants alike. Players would get a taste of one essential gameplay conceit that gives you an idea why it was so easy for the dead to take over in the first place: fighting zombies is fucking hard.
Not unforgivably hard, mind you – it’s a game, not punishment. But if you’re aiming for anything beyond headshots, good luck on your future endeavors as a four-course meal. Romero’s zombies don’t feel pain. Center of mass shots do nothing except spill their lunch on the floor. Headshots are key and scoring them quickly is a must. Think of these walkers as snail-paced missiles. Though stupidly slow, once they reach their target, mission over, partner. Yup. One bite and you’re done.
Pair this with limited ammo (in which more bullets can only be found in logical places like on a downed cop… whether they’re still wiggling or not), and suddenly survival depends on picking the right shot and when to not. And you’ll really want to consider that “not” part – one gunshot is all it takes to hone them in on you, so make sure you’ve got an exit strategy.
The increased difficulty is there to put greater emphasis on what would otherwise be mundane tasks for a video game. Just living day to day is an endurance test. Fueling up a truck is made a life or death situation as the noise attracts more dead than bullets in your gun. Clearing out a boiler room turns into an exercise of pure tension as rounding a dark corner could mean instant death. Your end is waiting for you every step you take, but your group is depending on you, so you take that step anyway, and the next one after that.