The image here pretty much sums up what I remember of the horror movies I watched as a kid. Those Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths that me and my friends would rent on Halloween, some schlock for boys who would enjoy the tawdry thrills of watching dumb teenagers get kiled by some cartoonish villain (who could always walk faster than his victims could run, oddly). Of course these movies included pretty actresses who, of course, would disrobe, possibly in the act of hooking up with one of their male friends, before being attacked by the killer.
Gee, were there some underlying themes in these movies?
Those movies led to the more self-aware Scream series which gave away to, frankly, I don't know what. I stopped paying attention to horror movies some time ago and view those slasher films as an artifact of the 80s and puberty and times long gone.
Last week, however, I was seeing a new teen horror play out before me. I saw no Freddy or Jason in it, but we had the teenagers, some dark woods, a log cabin where two of them, Michael and Jessica, were going to hook up. But this was a video game... this was the first effort to make a teen horror video game that I've ever seen. So, yeah, the pretty girl stripped to her underwear moments before some dark force yanked her out of the window of a log cabin and before her would-be boyfriend went running after her into the dark, snowy woods. The difference was that it was all interactive. Until Dawn is a PS3 game, controlled by the PlayStation Move motion controller. Unzipping Jessica's jacket is a swipe down with the Move. Running after her abductor is a tight squeeze of the Move's analogue controller while pointing the Move as a flashlight to break the blackness of night.
The developers are an outfit called Supermassive. They're aided here by indie horror talents Larry Fessenden, and Graham Reznick, who are helping write the game. (For more on their work, check the Glass Eye Pix website). They're putting together a self-aware horror experience of their own that tells the story of eight teenagers who return to a place — this place in the woods — where something terrible happened a year ago. Now they need to survive the night. Players will control all eight characters in different chapters. Any of them can live. Any of them can die. It depends on how you play, as the story will proceed either way.
Big-budget "horror" games aren't that scary these days. They play more as action movies that happen to include monsters and zombies. The indie developers behind Amnesia and Slender seem to be the ones going for the slower, creepier scares. Until Dawn looks like it's in between those poles. I watched about 20 minutes' worth, essentially the sequence shown in the game's debut trailer, and much of it is just Michael and Jessica slowly walking through the woods. They flirt. They find an abandoned snowmobile (look! a hockey mask!). They discover a mutilated deer. They wander toward a log cabin. She cajoles him to make a fire. This is a puzzle... while the player sometimes plays as him, sometimes as her (whoever holds the flashlight, essentially), the player now has to start a fire with some romance as the prize. But she can't find her cell phone and, as happens in this kind of teen horror, is eventually standing in front of a door just in her underwear. And then there she is being pulled through the door's small window, back-first, screaming.
The game certainly looks like a movie. There's never an on-screen interface. You poke around the environment, pick stuff up, move things around. You point the flashlight, maybe shoot a gun if you find one. The stories you'll play branch and intersect.
It's strange to encounter something so familiar, something so prominently part of pop culture and my own youth but that seemed to go away, only to see it back. This homage feels strangely fresh and designed to push all the buttons those old horror movies of my youth did... except this time, of course, we'll be pushing the buttons.
Until Dawn is slated for release next year, exclusively for the PS3. It's Move-only for now, but it sounds like the developers are looking into standard controller support.