The generation that grew up with the likes of Mortal Kombat and Doom tend to take graphic violence in videogames as a given, visit for good or ill. Certain titles may, with a little help from the chattering classes, trigger a short-lived moral panic, but by-and-large we live in a world where a high-profile game in which players assume the role of a sociopathic cannibal can hit the stands without generating so much as a blip on the media outrage radar.
Despite the primitive blood-and-giblet rendering technology of the time, the Atari Age was not without it own controversies regarding violent content. The 2600’s small and terrible library of “X-Rated” titles is fairly well known in retrogaming circles, but there were also a couple of games released in 1983 by Wizard Video where the “adult” content was of the more visceral variety.
Wizard’s main line of business lay in the distribution of videocassettes, mainly of the low-budget horror variety, and both of their attempts to ride the 2600 gravy train were hastily coded jobs based on well-known ‘slasher’ flicks.
Halloween is the better of the pair, as it does make a nominal effort to reflect its cinematic source material and the programmer(s) even found a way to incorporate a crude chiptune version of the movie’s unforgettable theme music into the game.
Navigate two floors of a sparsely furnished home, lead some kids to safety, and avoid or delay the relentless pursuit of the sinister Shape.
And if you fail?
Well, you’ll get your head chopped off and your decapitated torso will run off the far side of the screen while the killer makes short work of the kids…all accompanied by quaint showers of pixelated blood.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on the other hand, puts the player inside the dead skin mask of Leatherface. The game is a fixed-point side-scrolling affair (the character stays put against a moving background) in which the proud carnivorous son of the Lone Star State must navigate a rudimentary series of obstacles in order to bag as much human prey before his trusty McCulloch runs out of gas.
At least, that’s what the developers intended…
…because what gamers got was an indecipherable mess where Leatherface’s signature power tool was rendered as a warty blue phallus that turns its victims into slices of French toast instead of dismembering them, which isn’t so much Tobe Hooper as it is Luis Buñuel.
Maybe Wizard would have been better of licensing a game based on The Exterminating Angel instead. (Atari’s Swordquest series of adventure games was an unofficial adaptation of the Buñuel/Alatriste/Pinal film trilogy.)
Recommended listening: John Carpenter – Halloween Theme (from the Halloween OST, 1978)[audio:1024jcht.mp3]
One of the most effective horror film themes ever composed, right up there with Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” and “Once Bitten” by 3-Speed.