Phantasmagoria 2 Finds New Life Thanks to LGBT Fanbase and Star Paul Morgan Stetler
Sierra On-Line’s Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, also known as Phantasmagoria 2, was an odd release for the computer game giant in 1996. The sequel to iconic game designer Roberta Williams’ controversial FMV point-and-click horror game, Phantasmagoria 2 was a sequel in name and FMV format only. While Phantasmagoria was clearly inspired by movies like The Shining, with an ornate mansion at its center, A Puzzle of Flesh, written by Lorelei Shannon, takes place in a more mundane city setting and tells the story of a regular guy who is either on the verge of uncovering a supernatural conspiracy…or is losing his mind.
Phantasmagoria 2’s hero, Curtis Craig, is played by Paul Morgan Stetler. Curtis struggles with his mental health, has a dead-end middle management job, is in a bit of a love triangle and has confused feelings for his gay best friend, Trevor (played by Paul Mitri). Released in 1996, the game was notable for its inclusion of sexual themes exploring the BDSM community, as well as its take on Trevor, who is not played for stereotypical laughs.
At the time of the game’s release, Phantasmagoria 2 was not well-received by critics or commercially successful. Stetler, an actor who had been working consistently in regional theater, initially tried to distance himself from the project, which was largely dismissed as a schlocky interactive B-movie. But now, in 2022, Stetler has embraced the cult following Phantasmagoria 2 has amassed over the years and started Conversations with Curtis, an oral history project about the game, and in the process has gotten to know its many dedicated fans, many of them in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“As I’ve been embarking down this road, I’ve learned a lot about how much [Phantasmagoria 2] has meant to people along the way,” said Stetler, who noted that coming from the theater community gave him a different perspective on the game’s queer and sexual content. “I felt it was pretty tame, honestly,” he said. “Paul [Mitri] and I were just doing what we thought was fairly normal.”
At different points in the game, Curtis has sex scenes with his two female love interests, but his scenes with Trevor are different, more thoughtful. At one point, a confused Curtis tries to hit on Trevor, who gently rebuffs his advances. “What I like about that moment is that Trevor…I think he was the most mature person of all!” Stetler said. “He knew that wasn’t the answer.”
Trevor, like many of the characters in the wild game, is eventually killed by the game’s true villains, alien beings from Dimension X (so much for the psychological angle). But the character is only killed because he gets too close to the truth, rather than a variation on the “Bury Your Gays” trope in which queer characters are made to suffer because of their sexual orientation.
For a B-movie game released in the mid-’90s, Phantasmagoria 2 is shockingly nuanced when it comes to these themes. Stetler, who only recently came to fully appreciate the game’s devoted fanbase, now understands why it means so much to people.
“The amount of people that have told me how this was their first introduction into ‘it gets better, this isn’t abnormal, that these feelings are real, and that here’s a person who I can relate to,’ and here are people relating to that person in a real way…” he said. “I never would have imagined that. I feel very humbled to be a part of that.”
Check out Conversations with Curtis on Twitter @ConvosCurtis to find the latest updates on Stetler’s streams and interviews with folks involved in the development of the game. Stetler is also working on a special Kickstarter project digitizing unearthed VHS tapes of Phantasmagoria 2, which you can check out here.