Anyone who’s lived in a sharehouse knows the grind of dealing with a run down property the owner seems to have zero care factor for while also dodging unannounced intrusions and ‘visits’, but Janet DeMornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) takes it to the next level in a horror-comedy that’ll have you burning that unsigned lease.
I got the chance to get hands-on with a demo build of Janet DeMornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) at SXSW Sydney’s rotating games showcase – and despite the hilarity of a landlord becoming a horrific witch and the metaphorical implications there, the horror elements are well and truly there, and I well and truly shit my pants (only metaphorically, for now).
The upcoming title by queer game making duo Fuzzy Ghost (the team behind Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg) is an escape-room esque jaunt set in an inner-city Sydney townhouse. The first-person title sees members of a queer share-house try to escape the home and their landlord, Janet DeMornay, who haunts the place (definitely with much less than the legal minimum notice periods under tenant law).
While exploring the terrace home that feels straight out of a real estate listing for any inner-city Australian location (although is based on an exact sharehouse the Fuzzy Ghost team did previously reside in), the demo amps up the tension with glimpses of horrific figures down hallways, standing in doors, and lurking in cupboards. While I’d normally boldly go forward in any sort of story-driven game, it only took one upfront sighting of the figure haunting the home to begin gingerly turning corners, hiding from the horrors brought forth by Janet DeMornay herself.
It’s not just apparitions and clattering sounds scattered across the two-story home that drive home the horror, though — a series of clever puzzles slowly unfold the story of a powerful witch and cursed magic that seems set to doom you to this property forever (and bring forth prosperity and property investment for those indulging in this forbidden magic).
While the puzzles don’t quite handhold you, interactive items within the environment slowly become important as you delve further into Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch). That console and remote in your housemate’s room might not seem too important initially, but that chest filled with DVDs later on begs to differ.
Of course, beyond the horrors of a powerful witch being your not-so-benevolent landlord, jumpscares abound, there’s also biting humour that resonates with anyone who’s ever found themselves in a shitty sharehouse. Your bedroom door is ‘bricked’ on first opening, but thankfully sorts itself out if you walk through backwards – the laundry can be accessed by knocking four times, but if you want the toilet, just knock once. The little ‘quirks’ of any run down home being leased out for an exorbitant weekly amount are taken up a notch and it makes for lots of laughs.
Perhaps my favourite moment in the demo for Janet DeMornay is a Slumlord (and a witch), though, is a brief infomercial you watch to solve yet another puzzle. Featuring the titular JDM herself, the dialogue is equal parts ridiculous and ominous — and I won’t spoil the contents for those keen to give it a go themselves, but I was cackling to myself the whole way through.
Fuzzy Ghost’s Janet DeMornay is a Slumlord (and a witch) is both a commentary on the horrors of renting “in a world run by landlords” and found family, all wrapped up in a bow on top of a hamper delivered by Janet DeMornay herself to our queer household just trying to survive. Just make sure to open the hamper, and don’t forget to let Janet in. She’d just like to see what you’re up to, right this moment, in her property. Never mind the curse worms or purple goo dripping off the stove – it’s all part and parcel of being a tenant.
Lead Image Credit: Fuzzy Ghost
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