Being a big fan of the horror films and games, I thought my second "game art" feature should focus on artwork from the genre. What you're about to see are images that adorned the boxes and instruction manuals of games intended to make your blood run cold. You may notice that most are from older games, and that's because the covers of most modern horror titles (like Silent Hill and Resident Evil) tend to be surprisingly understated (read: boring).
Halloween (Atari 2600, 1983)
Art Grade: B
When it comes to horror flicks, "Halloween" stands as a timeless classic, and this looks like a movie poster for the film. Halloween and violence go hand-in-hand, and this cover celebrates that fact. It's clever how the knife blends into the pumpkin, and the orange border looks terrific. I really wish I owned this box, because it's a rare prize.
Chiller was an NES shooter of marginal quality and questionable taste, but this box cover simply kicks ass. Suitable for framing, it has a Creepshow vibe. Decrepit graveyard? Check. Boney hands reaching from a grave? Check. Ghouls lurking in the shadows? Check. There's a thunderstorm in the distance, and check out the writing on the gravestone: "Dead people are cool." Suddenly I know exactly what I want my gravestone to say!
This cover depicts the quintessential haunted mansion design. As a kid I owned a Disney Haunted Mansion book-and-record set, and it contained lavish illustrations very similar to this one. The fog surrounding the house looks creepy enough, but why are all of the lights on? A single light in the attic window would have been far more effective. It's a shame that a cheesy "Free Movie Pass Inside" graphic covers the ghoul on the right, because he's one scary-looking dude.
I have mixed feelings about Haunted House. On one hand, it's one of the few Atari 2600 box covers that doesn't embellish the game to ridiculous extremes. You can see several elements of the game including a spider, bats, and the pair of eyes like those you actually control in the game. I sense terror in those eyes - as if it just witnessed a hideously pixelated ghost! On the other hand, is this the best Atari could do? They should have incorporated more, like maybe a candelabra or some crooked steps.
You have to wonder how much Atari paid "Grampa" (from the Munsters TV program) to use his likeness on this super-lame cover. Considering the show was cancelled in 1966, I don't think it resonated with the target demographic (unless Atari was aiming for the senior citizen crowd). It's not even a good drawing! That blood drop on his chin looks more like a red mole, which if you think about it is a lot more disgusting. Considering the wide variety of ghouls in the actual game, this cover does the title a grave disservice. It shouldn't come as a surprise though, because in Atari's waning years they couldn't seem to do a damn thing right.
Nicely capturing the quirky style of the actual game, this cover is rendered in a tongue-in-cheek, retro style. I really like it! The zombies look like they were lifted directly from that badly-colorized version of Night of the Living Dead. Their green hue is a dead give-away! Notice how the woman in the foreground is behaving exactly how all chicks do in horror movies. Instead of fleeing to safety they are too busy screaming, flailing their arms, and tripping over every branch in sight. Notice that spiral red spiral pattern swirling in the background. Not only does it convey the feeling of being caught up in a hopeless scenario, but it also has a hypnotizing effect. In fact, if you're still reading this, you're already hypnotized. You will get me a beer now.
Despite it cartoonish appearance, there's a lot to like about this cover. It's certainly more compelling than the game itself. The floating skull and lurking ghosts look a bit silly, but the devil is in the details. The crooked tombstones, cast iron fence, twisted tree branches, and distant moon all add to the spooky atmosphere. And check out that cool mansion in the distance! It's not quite evident from the scan, but my game box is in pretty bad shape. That's because an Ebay seller thought it was perfectly acceptable to mail a brand new game from Brazil to the USA in a paper envelope! Common sense is not nearly as common as you think!
Imagic had its share of intriguing box covers, but this one is just plain cheesy. That vampire might look a little more intimidating if he weren't 15 years old! C'mon now! The most striking part of this image is the doorway in the background. You can make out a bat and a figure who looks a heck of a lot like the vampire Nosferatu. If you've never seen that classic black-and-white film, you're missing out on the scariest vampire of all time.
Namco threw everything but the kitchen sink into this one, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude! It's an eyeful. The game's main character is being attacked by everything in the entire world. There's a purple alien bearing down on him, a ghost swooping in from above, and a horde of zombies converging from the background! If that's not enough, there's a green octopus pulling on his legs. A freakin' octopus! The next time you're having a bad day, just remember this guy's predicament! Personally, I'll never complain about anything again.
Some may find this cover disturbing, but it's nothing compared to the original film (which scarred me for life, by the way). Too bad it's so unfaithful to the movie! The guy on the right looks like some kind of detective, but there was no character like that in the film. And I sure as hell don't remember Leatherface smiling! The best part of the cover is somewhat obscured in the background. There's a woman hanging from a post, and if you've seen the film you know she's hanging from a freakin' meat hook! It's an unsettling detail most people would never even notice if it weren't brought to their attention. You're welcome!
Images from Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre courtesy of Atari Age.
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