Splatterhouse Sows Unease Through Relentless, Disgusting Gore
Splatterhouse inarguably takes players to someplace dangerous. The game’s mansion is full of all kinds of gruesome horrors that happily kill you if you’re not careful. Despite the danger, as an action game, it’s not terribly scary. You can kill most anything in it with a single swing. When you kill something, you turn it into a goopy, bloody smear, though. Not that these seeping, ooze-dribbling monsters weren’t gross before you hit them. It’s these disgusting visuals, and your part in creating them, that give the game its power to horrify.
‘Splatter’ is very much a key word in this game.
This action title sees you losing your girlfriend, Jennifer, in a terrifying mansion. The place is crawling with gross, pus-dripping creatures, too. Luckily, you find a mask that gives you enough power to squash these things with a punch. Or a two by four. Or a thrown wrench, if you really want to get gross. From here on, you’ll have to stomp your way through the goopy halls, squashing and pulverizing anything that stands in your way.
This usually means a lot of hitting things so hard they turns to pulp. Which can feel pretty empowering! Mostly, though, it makes Splatterhouse feel disgusting. Everything in the game, from the monsters to the levels themselves, seem to be covered in slime. Littered with gory body parts. Strewn with mysterious fluids. Everything seems to be slobbering or drooling unknown liquids. Enemies burst with fluids against the walls when struck. They’re like wet, fleshy balloons filled with noxious liquids. This place is utterly sickening.
I do mean place, too. The building is full of pulsing seas of flesh. Dismembered hands crawl across discolored floors. Is that some corrosive goop or the burst corpse of some rotted, ancient thing filling that hole in the floor? Even the walls look alive near the end of the game, rippling and pulsing as a beating heart flings unborn fetuses into the air. Faces that seem to have been torn off of people just fly around. Creatures puke disgusting fluids onto the floor. Almost everything in the game has been designed to unsettle your stomach.
This creates a feeling of revulsion as you play the game. This, in turn, encourages an interesting kind of fear. While I’m generally scared of monsters trying to kill me, death here seems like it must be so much worse. What sorts of ghastly liquids are swimming around inside of these monsters? Sprays out of those mouths as they bite down on your neck? Splatters across the walls when their bloated, quivering bodies strike you too hard? It’s not just that you’ll die, but that you’ll die in a kind of sickening agony under a pile of rotted flesh and poisonous liquid.
This was a clever move in an action game, too. In many action titles or beat ‘em ups, you’re a strong character fighting multiple enemies. It’s you smashing through armies of enemies with little besides your fists. You’d have to be overwhelmingly powerful to do that. So powerful that you really don’t have much to fear from a few enemies, goopy or not. Especially so given how just one swing can often hit a foe so hard they burst. Splatterhouse uses that disgusting enemy death to make you feel an unease despite your strength, though.
It does so by making you feel disgust as you play. You know you need to run up and hit these creatures to progress, but how close do you want to get? What will happen to you when your fists strike a monster? What will happen to you if you miss and that smelly, sloshing thing touches you? While nothing much happens that’s abnormal for a game (get hit enough and you fall over and die), it plays with the mind if you focus on it too much. And it’s hard not to focus on it when gore surrounds you. A part of you has to wonder about it.
I typically feel like a powerful force in action games and beat ‘em ups. I’m capable of fighting and winning against a ton of enemies, after all. I may lose as the odds are against me, but I’m not terribly afraid. Given how easily you can dispatch enemies in this game, I wasn’t feeling too afraid to play Splatterhouse. It was the revolting bodies, the gruesome aftermaths of each hit, and the promise of what this all meant that made the game unsettling and disturbing to play. Nothing happened, gameplay-wise, to create that aversion. It’s hard not to let the imagination run wild when you look at all of the gore around you, though.
It also created an interesting tension in the moment-to-moment play. I often tend to exchange punches with enemies in beat ‘em ups. As long as I came out on top, no big deal. I’m not keen on getting punched in the face, but I’m not afraid of it. Splatterhouse plays things differently with how it uses disgust. It’s far less appealing to get clobbered by some sticky, seeping mass of bone and flesh than an extended fist. Simply put, you don’t want these creatures to touch you.
It’s impressive in its grotesqueness, too. Every inch of the game is filled with large, disgusting things. The enemies take up a large portion of the screen so you can appreciate their torn, broken bodies. So you can really savor the splat they make when they hit a wall or when your wrench cuts their bodies apart. The shredded flesh and oozing pus that spurts free. The other foes that will literally feast on the spilled innards. Splatterhouse wants you to take it all in and really, really appreciate the mess. To really take in what death in this house will mean. While some games only hint at their gore, this one puts it front and center. That way, you can really soak it in. Appreciate what the monsters in this mansion want to do to you.
Some games use humor with their gore, but Splatterhouse is serious and unflinching with its depictions. It’s so ridiculous that it teeters extremely close to being absurd, but not so far that its gruesome events and actions don’t churn the stomach a little bit. Games like Mortal Kombat feature a similar over-the-top violent style, but there’s something about these twisted beings (and the game’s few plot points) that make this one feel more unsettling than ridiculous. It’s a fine line, and most games cross it to keep the extreme gore palatable, to an extent. Not this one. Splatterhouse goes for a grossness that feels uncomfortable to look at. One you can feel smearing your body as you work your way through it.
With that focus on gore comes an unease as you explore Splatterhouse. While it may be hard to fear something you can smash to fleshy lumps in one swing, the grotesque nature of the enemies and environments make you uncomfortable. Sickened by what you’re touching, and what you might become if you die. Disgusted at the thought of what it must feel like to hit one of these things. To feel wet flesh rip and bone splatter. In preying upon our sense of revulsion, it finds a way to make us feel sick and disturbed as we play through it. Even when it’s not terribly ‘scary’ to play it, it does make us afraid of making contact with anything within the game’s world.