Written by Dr. Jose
This week sees the VOD release of Beyond the Gates, a brand new nostalgia-inducing horror movie starring scream queen Barbara Crampton. In the film, two brothers tasked with selling their missing father’s video store uncover a VCR board game called “Beyond the Gates”. The mysterious game holds clues to their father’s disappearance – but also puts anyone who plays it in danger. We here at iHorror love creepy board games, so we’re totally on board for this one.
For those unaware, video board games did actually exist. Stuck having to compete with the popularity of the burgeoning (and frankly awe-inspiring) home video game craze while simultaneously trying to cash-in on the VCR boom of the ’80s, board game companies came up with the bright idea to start releasing ‘video board games’. They were no different from your regular old board games, except you had to watch a video while playing in order to have any idea of what to do. They were about as time-consuming and clunky as they sound. And could the phrase “watching a VHS while playing a board game” sound anymore more anachronistic and antiquated?
The idea to exploit the current media trend to sell a board game lives on (who hasn’t played Scene It on DVD?), and it’s the archetypes that deserve the credit. Below are some of the original spooktastic titles that made a splash on the video board game scene.
“Nightmare” (released overseas as “Atmosfear”) is clearly the direct inspiration for Beyond the Gates and perhaps the most recognizable and best known horror video board game. Players can assume the identity of either a ghost, witch, werewolf, vampire, zombie, or mummy, and their goal is to defeat “The Gatekeeper”, a shrouded figure who barks commands in a thick, unplaceable accent. Like many a successful horror movie, the makers franchised the hell out of the game and followed it with three “sequels”. And just like how the video boxes for so many old horror films were actually better than the movie itself, the commercial for “Nightmare” is far more exciting than the actual gameplay.
“Doorways to Horror“ came out in 1986 and was not only one of the earliest horror video board games, but one of the earliest video board games in general. Released by Pressman Toys, the game saw players watching clips from old horror films, hitting pause on the VCR, and then rolling a die – which determined the ‘power’ of their ‘spells’ – to (hopefully) defeat whatever monster was onscreen. It’s your basic Dungeons and Dragons-style gameplay. The makers of the game were clearly aware of the hokey vibe of the whole thing and had some fun by filling the video with all sorts of puns and groaners to keep players at least somewhat interested.
It wasn’t just original ideas that were thrown into the video board game format – well-known properties were also being given the special treatment. One of those was The X-Files, which, at the time, was at the height of its popularity. The weird thing about “The X-Files Trivia Game“ is how straight-forward it is. You’d think the makers of the game would want to take advantage of the show’s colorful cast of monsters, creatures, and aliens, incorporating them into the gameplay somehow, but no – you just answer some trivia questions about the show. The snooze is out there.
“Video Grin ‘N’ Bear It“ is technically classified as a humor game, but there’s nothing funny about its absolutely terrifying host, a puppet named Hysterical Eddie. Looking like a mix between Rik Mayall and The Joker, the puppet was designed by the UK creative team, Spitting Image – the same group behind those terrifying celebrity caricature puppets that were so popular in the ’80s. Throughout the game, Eddie makes a chosen player act out ridiculous requests with everyday household objects, while everyone else must sit and watch, but not laugh. The back of the box describes a chainsaw-wielding Eddie as “a bit mental”, so you definitely don’t wanna get on this dummy’s bad side.
With the participation of several different authors, including Agatha Christie, Behind the Screen and The Scoop were both successful radio serials from the 1930s. Flash forward 50 years and both stories are released as the VCR board games “Agatha Christie: Behind the Screen“ and “Agatha Christie: The Scoop“. While both games play like your typical Clue-style murder mystery (a murder victim, lots of suspects, and clues that must be gathered to finger the perpetrator), it’s “The Scoop” which stands out due to its modernized look and feel. With its faux news reports and sleek ’80s graphics, players might think they’re instead watching an episode of Forensic Files or America’s Most Wanted.
This list is just a starter: there are plenty more video board games out there! Have a freaky favorite that we missed? Sound off below. Beyond the Gates comes to VOD on December 9th.