Enter Phantasmagoria, the ultra-violent 'adult' video game of the 90s.
As Adrienne walks into the recently purchased house, she truly enjoys the feeling at the thought of living in a huge gorgeous mansion. But it should also be noted that a home with an uncertain headroom ratio and multiple doors holds a secret nobody wants to know and is also a harbinger of bad news. The enthusiastic tour continues through several rooms each harboring some form of interactive object ranging from a hidden brick to creepy sticky notes on her CRT computer screen, all accompanied with sinister sounding MIDI music. But a working condition electric chair and weapons armory isn’t something you find in a new residence. The townsfolk of the New England Island seem covertly fine but there’s this mentally impaired kid who does bad things to her cat. There’s no one to talk to except for maybe half a dozen characters. Unbeknown to her, the suspense slowly builds up like in any horror, thriller or mystery trope. Soon, things get weird. The wife starts to get nightmares, really bad ones. The husband loses his mind and goes on a killing spree. An evil spirit takes hold of the man of the house. Kinda sounds like The Shining doesn’t it?
Retro rendered background panels slapped together in a Z grade style cinematic making created using early blue screen technology, the video game would go on to feature full motion video, quicktime click events, torture devices, skinning of faces, bodily mutilations, bloody entrapments and violation of a women. This is Phantasmagoria, one of the goriest video games of all time. At the time of its release, which was before the 2000s, it was labeled adult, softcore porn and proudly held the tagline – ‘The most interactive multimedia horror story ever told.’
Released in 1995, a few years after another graphical adventure but non-horror game Myst, Phantasmagoria is an interactive point-and-click graphical adventure designed by storyteller Roberta Williams famous for the King's Quest series at the time. It was one of the first games to utilize full-motion video technology. Interactive movie games were dominating the video game scenario when Roberta Williams decided to attempt a horror game in a similar fashion. VCR games like Wing Commander III and Under a Killing Moon (which I still replay) were some of the popular games in the timeline.
Étienne-Gaspard Robert was a 17th century physicist turned illusionist who majorly influenced a form of horror theatre called Phantasmagoria. He cited “I am only satisfied if my spectators, shivering and shuddering, raise their hands or cover their eyes out of fear of ghosts and devils dashing towards them.” Maybe that’s what Roberta Williams wanted to achieve. Today, she is one among the few to be credited with creating the graphic adventure genre.
Published by Sierra, Phantasmagoria was its largest undertaking as it involved more than 200 people, 25 actors and took two years to develop and an additional four months to shoot live-action. A special studio was constructed at the cost of $1.5 million for this purpose. Hollywood professionals The Character Shop worked on the shocking designs for gruesome ‘slasher’ creature and body effects. 135 singers contributed to the Gregorian chant and much of the soundtrack mostly involved ambience to accompany exploration and heart-pounding beats to sync with chase scenes and to build up tension. Williams’ script was 550 pages long, 4 times lengthier than an average Hollywood draft. While most of the games featured 80 to 100 backgrounds, Phantasmagoria included more than 1,000. In all this 'Heaven's Gate' scenario, the budget blew up from $800,000 to $4.5 million. It all paid off in th end. Phantasmagoria became one of the best selling games of 1995 with more than 300,000 copies out in the first week although the game received mixed reviews from critics, which is understandable.
A cheesy, borrowed, done to death story idea involving mages and ghouls - the manor of a 19th century magician, Zoltan "Carno" Carnovasch (Robert Miano) is acquired by a couple looking for creative inspiration. Phantasmagoria puts you in the shoes of a mystery novelist Adrienne Delaney played by the beautiful diva Victoria Morsell and her husband Don Gordon (David Homb) is a photographer. In a previous life, this Zoltan guy loved black magic and used it to beckon a demon, which controlled him and murdered his wives. One of them is gagged and twisted in the neck by means of a horrendous machinery ; the other is stuffed with mud and stabbed in and out as she suffocates. The third one is impaled with a wine bottle and dies of eye injury. The last wife swallows animal entrails and chokes to death. Find the rest for yourself.