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Technophobia: 10 Cautionary Tales for Gamers

Your mother was right: those games will rot your brain.

Here are ten (?!) horror movies for gamers. Thanks to the combined efforts of reader comments and my own loathsome late-night cable TV habit, catalogued below are, count ‘em, ten—not seven—horrific parables about videogames and those who have the misfortune to play them.

Note: To everyone who linked to TV episodes, those were also great.

These movies are, almost uniformly and without rival, the absolute shittiest the horror genre has to offer. Enjoy.

How to Make a Monster, 2001

A made-for-TV movie based, however loosely, on the 1958 horror flick of the same name. In it, a team of game developers are pulling all-nighters, attempting to finish their next survival horror title. But when lightning strikes an AI chip…

Yeah, I can’t really recommend this movie. At all.

Verdict: No.

“Bishop of Battle,” Nightmares, 1983

Emilio Estevez stars as a teenaged arcade rat whose game obsession results in inevitable, supernatural comeuppance. This is pretty much the greatest, most archetypical videogame horror story ever written, set in that remote era back when Berzerk could kill a man.

Verdict: Perfection, crammed into 26 perfect minutes.

Stay Alive, 2006

For a movie that nobody watched, Stay Alive is weirdly watchable. And although the movie title is supposed to sound ominous, I’ve always been reminded instead of a popular disco tune.

Anyway, the plot. A bunch of twentysomethings get a preview copy of a PS2 game. Then they start dying. Honestly? I remember being surprised by how much I liked the cinematographer’s use of color.

Verdict: It isn’t Shakespeare, but it might be free on cable.

St. John’s Wort (Otogiriso), 2001

A videogame artist (J-horror staple Megumi Okina) and her producer decide, inexplicably, to explore a creepy old mansion. The plot unfolds like a survival horror adventure game—think Silent Hill or Fatal Frame—but without the scares.

In short, it’s the Japanese version of Stay Alive.

Verdict: A stylized clunker with a weird, tacked-on twist ending, but one that I own on DVD anyway.

Brainscan, 1994

Recommended by Chris Person, SpatulaOfDoom

“The ultimate experience in interactive terror!”

Just when you thought it was safe for CD-ROM gaming to finally take off, Eddie Furlong and his post-grunge bowl-cut go on a murder spree from inside the game. And this was well before anyone ever thought to call videogames “murder simulators”!

My favorite part of the trailer is when the puddle of computer-generated blood pools into the shape of a compact disc.

Verdict: Rad.

Ghost in the Machine, 1993

Recommended by SpatulaOfDoom, carpboy

“And then there’s the movie Ghost in the Machine, once again from the the early 90’s, and starring Karen Allen. Brainscan and Ghost in the Machine are at least watchable.” —SpatulaOfDoom

I just realized this entry isn’t technically about gaming, but because of its thematic strength I’ll give it a pass.

Verdict: Thanks to its comparatively high recommendations, this might be one to add to the ol’ Netflix queue.

Arcade, 1993

Recommended by SpatulaOfDoom

“There was a movie in the early 90’s called Arcade. It starred A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsley.

Arcade looks about as childish as Spy Kids [3-D], but it did have enough violence and language to earn an R rating. It’s an awful fucking movie nonetheless. David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade, Batman Begins) wrote the abomination.” —SpatulaOfDoom

In spite of Spatula’s derision, this movie trailer is, for me, pretty effective—probably because I am still infatuated with the VR machine they had in the mall movie theater in 1993.

Verdict: Peter Billingsley…!

HALLOWEEN BONUS: Thanks to Zort in the comments, as well as three belated recommendations from Chris Person, I am adding three more movies to the list—bringing the list from its initial seven to a nice, round TEN.

Which brings me to a brief editorial note: in our collective strain to think of ten whole movies, the genre definition of ‘horror,’ at this juncture, becomes rather lenient. Does sci-fi/dark fantasy/suspense/action/thriller count as Halloween horror? Sure!

eXistenZ, 1999

Recommended by Zort and Chris Person

Does eXistenZ count as straight-up horror? It sure counts as bizarre.

I actually don’t remember this movie very well, but here’s what I can type from memory: Jude Law is in it. Christopher Eccleston is in it. Cronenberg directed it. And, uh, to play the game inside the collective dream, they put their hands into an alien vagina. That’s how it went, right?

Just seeing the trailer makes me want to go screaming to a psychotherapist.

Verdict: Yep, it’s horrific.

The Dungeonmaster, 1985

Recommended by Chris Person

Notoriously bad fantasy flick with a cult following. In it, a computer gamer with muscular legs wakes up to find himself… See? You don’t even need me to continue.

In keeping with the established format of this blog, I should really post a trailer. But this pebble-in-the-rough is so obscure, it doesn’t seem to have a trailer. So, in lieu of a grainy VHS dub, here is crisp footage of a young man earnestly synopsizing The Dungeonmaster instead:

Verdict: Why do people love this movie so much? So you don’t have to.

Game Box 1.0, 2004

Recommended by Chris Person

Game Box 1.0 is styled after some of the earlier entries on this list, and it is a glorious mess. In it, a heroic game tester (the guy from “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”) fights to avenge his dead girlfriend (the girl from “Boy Meets World”). Um. Here’s a trailer.

Verdict: Brain Scan 2.0.

There you have it: seven cautionary tales for gamers and three honorable mentions, each a story about the game becoming real; every one, a misguided masterpiece.

If you think of any more (and I’ll be pretty annoyed if you do), leave ‘em in the comments.

5 responses to “Technophobia: 10 Cautionary Tales for Gamers” »

  1. zort says:

    in hopes to annoy you, I’ll say eXistenZ wasn’t too bad either.. or was it?
    gotta go get brainscan for tonight now. 😀

  2. librarian says:

    DAMN IT! It crossed my mind, then slipped it again.

    While it wasn’t a parable, it was pretty freaking cautionary, extremely technophobic. A fine addition to the list.

    Edit: ADDED!

  3. SpatulaOfDoom says:

    Have a happy Halloween everyone! Enjoy yourselves tonight!

  4. Chris Person says:

    “I reject your reality, and substitute my own!”

    -Dungeonmaster
    -Adam Savage from Mythbusters, by way of Dungeonmaster.

    Possibly the only good thing to come out of that movie.

    Also, eXistenZ counts for a few reasons:

    1. It has guns that are made from the leftover Chicken Bones in Jude Law’s meal
    2. It has one of the best instances of the “Infinite Phillip K Dick Solipsism Loop” ever. Like, know that part of a movie where a person wakes up from a dream, then they wake up from THAT dream, then they wake up from the dream AGAIN? Imagine that with VR times three and you have the end of that movie.

    Also, I was going to add the failed Robin Williams Comedy “Toys” to the list, but I’m going to be doing a video Mashup with it soon and 11 is a weird number.

  5. Several years late, but check out Evolver. It touches on the dangers of games becoming too realistic and issues like rampant AI.

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