Eyes in the Dark – The 13 Most Chilling Ghosts of Fatal Frame
The Fatal Frame series offers some of the most heart-wrenching scares in all of horror gaming, and while various elements of the game all help enhance its scares, it’s the game’s ghosts that will keep you up long after you’ve turned the console off for the night. The series excels at showing you phantoms that will bore themselves into your mind’s eye to the point where you can feel the staring at you somewhere beyond your closed eyelids. Given all the time you spend trying to photograph them, looking deep into their sunken eyes and twisted forms as you seek that perfect shot, that only makes sense.
There are hundreds of ghosts throughout the series, but thirteen of them stand out for me as the most frightening. These are the things that haunt me even when the game’s over – the creatures that I wish I hadn’t spent so much time taking screenshots of at 3am.
Note: I do realize they’re pretty much just from the first three games, but personally, nothing in the fourth and fifth installments can touch these terrifying phantoms. Also, please excuse the quality of some of these photos. The PS2 isn’t exactly easy to get screenshots from these days.
Female Head – Fatal Frame
This thing is fairly tame as an enemy, honestly. It’s just a little floating head, flitting about on the air as it tries to rush through you. They’re mostly a nuisance throughout the first game, showing up with irritating frequency whenever you’re trying to just use the dang save point.
Even so, I swear that every single picture I have of this ghost is really, really messed up. There’s something in the pale white face and vacant eyes that give me the chills. I hate opening up my recent photographs and seeing it glaring at me. I feel something curling up in my guts when I snap a photo of one as it rushes toward me, its eyes cutting deep into me.
The Fatal Frame team did an incredible job on the faces even during the early days of the PS2, though. They could really get gruesome in many instances of the more sickening, brutalized ghosts, but the ones that looked mostly like normal humans were the most unsettling. They did an amazing job of finding a single feature and exaggerating it, or adding some element, be it an unblinking glance or some other thing, and using it to make these hauntings feel all too real.
This disturbing glare was captured incredibly well in the Female Head. I was never afraid to fight this softball enemy, but it often caught me by surprise with its deeply frightening glare.
Man Behind – Fatal Frame
The development team not only did an amazing job with their faces, here (the slightly too-wide open mouth and those white eyes are just…ugh), but they also showed their incredible sense of timing. Man Behind appears a little bit after you’ve gone looking through a closet. The game lingers in this closet as Miku (our protagonist) peers into it. This sequence feels like it takes forever, as you’re expecting something scary to show up in this dopey closet, but nothing does. Instead, you’re left alone and nothing happens.
A few moments later when you open a door, our dear dead Editor friend is right there, mouth agape. This one always catches me off-guard, as the developers have just convinced me that a ghost was there with the lingering closet shot, but left me hanging. While I’m still puzzled at the lack of a ghost in the room, I get gut-punched by this surprise appearance of a ghost right in a doorway.
Now, when you get scared that badly, many horror games will back off of you for a few minutes to let you catch your breath. Instead, a very short while afterwards, you’ll go to collect an item, only to find Man Behind popping up right over your shoulder as you close the item collection screen. I’m used to feeling safe while collecting items in games, or that they’d at least give me a few seconds to find my bearings before scaring me. Not here. Fatal Frame has just hit you with a hard, unexpected scare, but then does so another time right afterwards. That these happen so early in the game left me feeling like I’d never be safe as I played it.
Woman Brushing – Fatal Frame III
She just misses her loved one. Won’t you just give her a hug?
Woman Brushing has one of those looks that you really don’t want to see close up, with blood pouring from her mouth and all-too-intense eyes. It’s a lot to take in, which shows the strength of the game’s combat system. Defeating ghosts by taking their picture means forcing the player to look closely at these creatures. To really drink in their every detail as you take aim on that perfect snapshot. It makes you appreciate how frightening their features are, as you simply have to in order to get good at the game’s combat.
It doesn’t help that Woman Brushing seems to be enjoying this pursuit a lot more than many of the other ghosts. She seems pleased to see you, even if she’s definitely a bit off. This makes her energy in pursuing you feel that much more frightening, and you get reminded of that with every picture you take.
Fallen Woman – Fatal Frame II
We move a little from “Not quite right” to “Something is completely messed up” with this ghost. Although I may be downplaying things a little given the broken body of this unfortunate ghost. Watching it crawl along the floor as it lies on its back, using its back feet to push its shattered body forward, is something that is very hard to watch, creating a powerful revulsion and discomfort. It’s just awful to watch this ghost in motion. That’s not even factoring in one of her attacks, which involves her falling to the ground, head-first and screaming.
Despite her deeply-disturbing appearance, this all seems within the realm of sickening possibility. She is broken, to be sure, but doesn’t it seem possible that something with a mangled body like this could come creeping along the floor, shoved ahead on twisted legs as it reaches for you? Part of the fear with ghosts comes from their sheer humanity – they look like humans, but with something off about them. They don’t stray far from reality. They’re just horribly abused or injured people, right? A little more ethereal, but still people. They just happen to want to kill you.
Seeing her enraged and frozen in the most pain of her life, all while wanting to lash out at you, makes every encounter with the Fallen Woman into an upsetting experience.
Seductress – Fatal Frame
Not everything in Fatal Frame is out to kill you. Some of it is just idly sitting around waiting to scare the daylights out of industrious shutterbugs.
During your time throughout these games, you’ll often have to go find a spirit that’s lurking, almost invisible, somewhere in the stage. Your camera can detect these ghosts when they’re nearby, so it’s just a matter of following a visual clue to the right spot and snapping a photo of a shimmering light. Once that’s done, your path forward will open up.
Even if they can’t do anything to you, these frozen ghosts are still quite chilling. Many of their features are warped and distorted, making it hard to make them out very clearly, but you can often make out just enough to know that they used to be human. Suffering has just twisted them into these shapes that only contain a hint of who they used to be, resulting in these eerie images of spirits that seem to stare into your soul, or who are howling in unimaginable agony. They’re really hard to look at for any period of time, and one of the ones that bothered me most was the Seductress.
There’s something about that look over her shoulder and the milky eye looking back that makes me feel like something sinister has taken notice of me, and that I’ll be paying for that attention soon enough. They’re the eyes you can feel looking at you in the dark, invisible to you.
Limbo Man/Limbo Woman – Fatal Frame II
These two come as an unfortunate package deal. They build upon the idea of the frightening, mostly human ghost we’re seen previously, being covered in gashes from some fun times they’ve had at the hands of the Kusabi (our absurdly powerful nemesis in this game). It’s pretty scary to see these things floating your way, all cut up and looking at you with empty eyes.
What these two play upon is the game’s combat mechanics. Ghosts make for a fantastic enemy in a horror game because they don’t have to obey the rules that corporeal enemies do. Most games will have zombies or monsters come at you within the confines of the walls and floors around you. They have to follow the same halls that you do because they occupy a physical space. You get the odd one that bursts from a window or wall, but for the most part, enemies HAVE to use the same routes as you do. This gives you safer options, like hugging walls to keep from being surrounded or using bottlenecks to slow the rush of multiple foes.
The Limbo Man and Woman don’t have to do that because they’re ghosts. They can pass through objects and move through walls, meaning they aren’t bound by the spaces hey attack you in. So, when these two rush you inside a very tiny room, you’re at a massive disadvantage and they’re free to act as they please. These two often attack in narrow, difficult terrain, which forces you to really struggle to stay safe from them as they work together to surprise you. The result is often finding yourself face-to-face with one of these two just as they’re about to attack you, resulting in some jarring scares when you thought you were safe. They’re not terribly strong, but the intensity of their encounters, and how well they work together, will leave you frequently startled as they grab you from behind.
Broken Neck Woman – Fatal Frame II
The Broken Neck Woman is just plain disturbing to look at. Most of the other ghosts still look kind of human, even when their injuries are severe (like our dear Fallen Woman). This one just plain gets under my skin with her head dangling from a few strands of sinew and torn muscle. She’s the most gruesome edge of a possible injury, moving towards you like the living aftermath of a car accident.
She’s very hard to look at with her mouth opening wide, arms outstretched, but peering up at you from the wrong direction. She is a grim image of the horrible fates that we might meet with or witness in our lives, and her ability to turn on you with rage, seeking your end, paints a terrible picture of what the afterlife may hold for us. I can’t help but consider some very real ends I might meet while driving to work when I look into her cold eyes, and I fear for what lies after death if something suffering like this isn’t allowed to rest.
Inverted Woman – Fatal Frame III
Remember Seductress? This is another of those hidden, invisible ghosts that were always there, but you just couldn’t see them.
There’s nothing that really should stand out about the Inverted Woman, honestly. She’s just making a face of terror as she falls, having thrown herself from the roof. That look on her face just carves its way under my skin, though, for reasons I have a hard time articulating sometimes. Perhaps it’s my own fears of falling from a great height that make it seem so disturbing. Maybe it’s just how she looks so human, yet so savaged by terror that her humanity has left her in her descent.
Sometimes, horror works on something deeply personal that you cannot describe, though. It feels like it touches on something primal within you, and you reject it on sight even if you can’t really say why. The Inverted Woman does this to me, and I hate every moment I spend looking at this picture of her.
Girl Under Desk – Fatal Frame III
Fatal Frame III did something unique from the previous two games by giving you a safe place to return to whenever you weren’t in the exceedingly-haunted Manor of Sleep. You would go home once you’d freed yourself from the horrors of the night, sleeping in your own comfy bed, all tucked away from the frightening world in your nightmares.
Naturally, this place soon starts to show signs of being haunted as well. Bit by bit, things begin showing up. Ghosts look up at you from around corners, they meander the halls, and they glare back at you in the mirror (classic ghost move, there). This erosion of a place of safety, which once was a reprieve from the ghosts, is designed to wind you up even tighter, showing there’s no place you can find relief from the fear the ghosts cause. Many of these hauntings are placed just far enough apart that you start to feel safe again, only to get caught off-guard by some new horror In your house. That this is your home makes these hauntings feel intimate in their terror as well. It’s one thing to go to a haunted place, but something very different when the horror makes its way to your home.
Girl Under Desk shows up near the end of the game, lurking under the desk in your bedroom. If you’re like me, you’ll only just catch her out of the corner of your eye, give yourself a terrible fright. She’s just one of many of the creepy things that call Rei’s place home, though, but one that scared me far more than the other presences. Was this because it was in her room, the most personal of places in a home? That once it’s in your room, there is no place in the world you can hide from these ghosts?
Blinded – Fatal Frame
For starters, her eyes have been gouged out. She’s looking at you with still-bleeding sockets as it cries out “My eyes!” It’s a lot to deal with, and all within seconds of running into this terrifying, persistent specter. Encounters with her only begin to feel worse as you get more insight into how she had her eyes gouged out, too. Narratively and visually, she is horrifying to behold, even if I do pity her, deep down.
In combat, there’s even more to fear from her. She has a tendency to teleport behind you as you fight, often resulting in some damaging personal time with her. She often goes into walls, attacking from where you can’t see her, or pops up right behind you for a startling surprise. She also has some absurd reach and tends to stick close, damaging you quickly if you try to move to a safe range. The only thing you can do is try to walk quietly, as she only moves when she detects sound, making for an intense encounter each of the many, many times you run into her. She’s just a frightening, powerful foe.
I have a more personal reason to fear her, though. A friend of mine (who quit playing the game entirely because he started having vivid, awful night terrors from playing it, in case you aren’t sold on how scary it is) told me that if you made any noise throughout the game, she would show up. Any loud noises would bring her closer to your position at any point. That horrified me (although I think I may have just misunderstood his advice) so much that I WALKED FOR THE ENTIRETY FOR THE FIRST GAME. Not one step at a run. I was too afraid of adding on yet another encounter with Blinded.
From her story, visuals, actions, and a little bit of irrational fear, Blinded became one of the most frightening things I have ever seen throughout the entire series.
Idle Ghost – Fatal Frame II
If you’re not a doofus, you may have never seen this ghost. The Fatal Frame games hide a few terrifying Easter Eggs in them to scare you in places you might not expect. For this one, all you have to do is simply leave the game idle for a few minutes and you’ll be graced by a wonderful surprise haunting.
I can’t remember if I had gone to the bathroom or stepped out to get a snack, but I left the room with the game running for some reason. When I came back, all seemed normal, except there was this terrifying face looking back at me from the screen. It looked like the reflection of something standing right behind me, and gave me such a scare that my heart wrenched in my chest.
We all realize, deep down, that a horror game is just that: a game. Something we manipulate and control. It’s fiction that we can turn on or off as we please. We can release ourselves from it if we need to. The Idle Ghost plays with that sense of separation from the real world, as it hinted to me, in a very real, immediate way, that maybe the ghosts had traipsed into the real world. That my dabbling in fictional horror now had something dead and angry standing right behind me. It only lasted a split-second, but I was struck by just how strongly I felt that this terror was real.
Even if that doesn’t hit you, the Idle Ghost tells you that you’re never, ever safe while playing this game. You can’t even leave the game lying around without something trying to scare you. Every detail of the Fatal Frame games are built to terrifying, and even not playing was something that could be used against you.
Kirie Himuro – Fatal Frame
Kirie, the final boss of the original game, seems like a naturally-frightening foe. She can instantly kill you on contact during the last encounter with her, and you’re stuck in a very tight space. Plus, she’s got all these grasping arms, and the game’s whole depressing, yet horrifying story has been leading to this fight.
I don’t really find in-game Kirie that scary, though, but she has a personal connection with me. Like I said with the Blinded ghost, I had played it around the time my best friend was starting to have horrifying night terrors about the game. He told me stories of impaled forms on his ceiling and things creeping into his bedroom, and those raced through my mind as I played. I don’t really believe in ghosts now, but back then, I definitely wasn’t sure, especially after hearing these stories.
I started to feel like something was standing behind me at night as I played the game. Like something had stirred because I’d been battling fictional ghosts, and that it was watching me, growing ever closer every day that I played. My heart would pound in the night, and I would keep my eyes shut in the dark until I could reach for my lamp. Not sure why I thought that would help, but apparently ghosts don’t grab you until you look at them.
I could feel that Kirie was in my home, and that I had to finish the game quickly or she would come and do something horrible to me. I knew it was ridiculous, but my fear just wouldn’t let me shake it. This was something I felt burrowing far below the rational mind, and simply couldn’t escape from it without finishing the game. So, I pushed myself to finish a game that was terrifying me, eventually freeing myself of the ghostly feeling in my home.
I know it wasn’t real. But horror is not rational at times. Horror connects with you in a place beyond what you feel may be real. It touches on things beyond our space into something cosmic and eternal, and sometimes that means you feel fear for something you can only feel. Sometimes that means you’re letting nerves get the better of you, but the worst part is that you never really know for sure if that’s the case.
Was Kirie in my home? Was something there? Probably not, but even now, deep deep down, I wonder just the tiniest bit.
Crawling Woman – Fatal Frame III
When I can put my fears of potentially dying at the hands of a real ghost behind me, there is no ghost that scares me more in the entire series than the Crawling Woman.
Crawling Woman is the culmination of many of the things I’ve said made each of these ghosts so frightening. She attacks the player in an extremely tight space, as you have to fight her in a crawl space where your movement speed is so slow. You can’t quickly turn to face her as she rushes around this tiny space. You can only slowly, slowly turn and hope you catch sight of her before she grabs you. She has lots of room to maneuver, being able to pass through the beams under the house, but you can only move forward and backwards. It’s an unfair arena that’s far worse than almost any encounter in the series, making for a frightening battle.
She’s not broken or particularly mangled, but instead scurries about on all fours. It’s unnerving to watch how fast she moves, both from a combat perspective and from how eerie it is to watch. She seems so close to normal, yet that normalcy only makes her rapid crawling look that much more unnerving. It’s upsetting simply to look at.
It’s those eyes you see when she grabs you, though. Her eyes get so wide, her mouth open as she shakes back and forth when she wraps her hand around your throat. There’s this disturbing vacancy behind her eyes, like malice is all that’s guiding her form. And when you shake her off, she gives that horrible smile. You feel that she’s enjoying this encounter; savoring the pain she’s doling out to you.
I can’t stand looking into those eyes, so ordinary and yet so evil. She’s so close to looking normal, but that gaze and her movements make her monstrous nature unmissable. She feels like something that could be lurking under your bed or walking home behind you at night. It’s her eyes that I fear are following me when I turn off the lights at night. It’s her gaze that I can feel on the back of my neck.
The ghosts of Fatal Frame offer many different ways of terrifying the player, and many different ones will likely scare you in their own way. As I said, fear is personal, and sometimes something feels like it gets under your skin for nearly no reason at all. For me, it’s the eyes of the Crawling Woman, and in them, I feel a fear that death is nothing more than emptiness, anger, and pain.