This ICHF was written by Title Known, who you can find at http://titleknown.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Art by Titleknown.
It’s odd how evil weapons aren’t really a common thing in horror. Sure possessed and hateful objects are a dime a dozen in horror, and fantasy is loaded with weapons with a dark and malign will from Stormbringer to Soul Edge, but you almost never really see specifically evil implements of fighting and death in fiction explicitly meant to terrify.
Well, aside from Laserblast, but we don’t talk about that.
However, there is also an example that counts to some degree from the world of video games, and that is what we discuss here today: The Terror Mask from the Splatterhouse series, one of the first true horror game series.
The long story short of it is, you’re a college student named Rick who ends up at a creepy old mansion with your girlfriend Jennifer. She gets kidnapped by monsters, you get left for dead, and you end up having to put on this mysterious mask you find there that offers to give you its dark power to save her.
Now, while it was not a survival horror game; and in fact was made even before that genre was even properly established; Splatterhouse was very much a piece of horror at heart, with fleshy abominations straight out of a horror film. And that even; to some extent; included the player character.
It’s no secret the original Terror Mask design looked a lot more like Jason’s hockey mask than the current skull-like design I’ve used as an illustration here, and it’s interesting to note because it does; in a way; show the mask’s dark power at a glance. True you are fighting nightmarish terrors, but through your resemblance to a famous cinematic monster yourself, you get hints that the power you use to fight is also malign.
And, you don’t even get to save your girlfriend. You literally end up killing her in a boss battle due to something horrible possessing her using her as a puppet. But, you do burn the mansion down and leave with your life. And, when the mask ends up calling for you in the sequel, with the cold promise you can save her from the underworld, you oblige, and call on its powers once again.
And, you do manage to save her. But not before being pursued by some gargantuan glowing terror left unexplained, implicitly more powerful than even the grotesque clot of flesh that is the final boss. But, even if you don’t know some things, you did save them by doing the Mask’s job.
And then, in the third game, the Mask comes again when; years later; Rick’s family he’s formed with Jennifer is under attack, by supernatural forces commanded by the very thing that chased Rick out of the underworld. How convenient.
And, the mask’s powers seem further expanded; allowing Rick to mutate his form eeven further with the Mask’s power, with the mask fusing to his flesh. And, in the end when all the monsters are gone, there’s the grand reveal: The mask was using Rick as his puppet to bump off the competition, so it could take over the world
And this reveal puts all of the above into context: The mask, as a being, is parasitic. It uses other people to do its dirty work, using them as its tools while allowing them to think they’re using it. And that is clearest when it dies.
See, Splatterhouse 3 has a good and a bad ending, The bad ending happens when Rick doesn’t reach the end of all the stages in time to save his family from being killed by the supernatural forces that stalk them. While the good ending happens if Rick manages to rescue everyone in time.
And, the major difference, is that in the bad ending when you defeat the mask, it gives a spiel of “As long as evil exists, I will live on.” But not in the good ending. In the good ending there’s every implication that it ends up destroyed for good. And, the difference is that, in the good ending, Rick has loved ones to go back to. Whereas, in the bad ending, he’s alone. Alone except for the mask. Which has always come back to him.
The dichotomization of the power of external bonds pulling one away from an evil weapon; and the failure state of such being left all alone with you and your horrid life partner, is a classic evil weapon trope. And the codependency it symbolizes is perfect for horror; as Splatterhouse shows in its story even just through the means limited by the conventions of games of the time. So, I’m shocked I don’t see that more.
As an addendum, while I mainly talk about the original three games, there was a reboot that went far more splatter-comedy, akin to Devil May Cry more than the grim grotesque moodiness of the original series. It bombed. But, I do think the series could see a revival as something slower-paced, moodier, with a more melancholy tone, to replace another series like that that the franchise’s owners; Namco Bandai; had that recently ended…
Yes I am saying Splatterhouse should be revived as a Soulsborne-type game. Hush you.
Editor’s Note: ICHF has really been lacking in Video Game characters up till this month, hasn’t it? A shame, as today’s entry shows there’s a lot to explore in that medium.