Two of my absolute favourite things to look at with my human eyes are old computer game covers and horror-themed artwork, so obviously I had to write another article about spooky home computer game covers. Computer game covers from the eighties and “Halloween” artwork of the kind you might find on an old horror VHS or the packaging for plastic witch fingers – they both draw from a deep well of enthusiastically amateurish illustration which, to me, speaks to the very core of the Halloween season’s appeal. I hope you’re ready for a gaggle of ghosts, some distinctly un-threatening vampires and logos drawn to resemble all manner of bodily fluids!

Haunted House, TRS-80

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. As much as I enjoy the more over-the-top examples of horror cover art, there’s still plenty of room in my heart for something like this – a straight-forward evil mansion with a Bates Motel flavour and the title “Haunted House” in a dripping, ectoplasmic typeface. Who knows what terrible evil lurks behind the attic window of… the haunted house! Okay, so it’s probably ghosts, what with the haunting and all, but still.
One of the benefits of releasing your spooky computer game way back in the late seventies was that titles as straightforward as Haunted House were still available. The large amount of time I’ve spent playing spook-themed hidden object games tells me that nowadays it’d probably be called Ghostly Residence: Cursed Secrets or Cursed Ghosts: Resident Secrets or something very similar.

13 Ghosts, TRS-80

Also appearing on the TRS-80 is 13 Ghosts, with a cover that is a flat-out lie. There are only nine ghosts on display here. Ten, if you’re willing to believe that’s the ghost of a spider. I don’t mind too much, though, because they’re all pretty great ghosts. Somehow the ghost at the front manages to look extremely French, perhaps because he’s managed to retain his moustache after death. I guess you could call it a boostache, if you didn't care that your thoughtless words might cause physical pain to those that hear them.

Waxworks, Dragon 32 / 64

Johnny Stripedtie was a mild-mannered bank clerk with a steady job and a loving family – until the fateful day when the disapproving ghosts of Lincoln and Shakespeare commanded him to clean out the long-neglected fridge of… the waxworks! Can Johnny defeat the dread menace of a potato salad birthed in some long-forgotten aeon? Also Henry the Eighth is there. Trying to get to the fridge, presumably.

Bubble Ghost, Atari ST

Bubble Ghost is a game about a cute little spectre who has to guide a bubble through a mansion of bubble-bursting hazards by blowing on it. It is a surprise, then, that the game ended up with this cover for its Atari ST release. That’s not a cute ghost at all. That’s an angry ghost, a ghost with cheekbones that’d make a catwalk model jealous, a ghost that may well be constipated. It’s been through the “American Kirby game cover” procedure, except the machine was turned up to eleven and we got a ghost whose head has the same silhouette as a cartoon turd.

The Count, Atari Home Computers

Someone had a fun time with the felt-tipped pens, huh? What a great cover, packed with charming details, like the awful “love at first byte” pun, the castle gate being shaped like Dracula’s face and the hammer and stake lying in the driveway. Erm, I think that stake could have done with a bit more whittling, chaps. It won’t pierce the vampire’s heart, it’ll push it right out through his back. I don’t know if the gift-wrapped package is supposed to be to scale and it’s almost as tall as Dracula’s mailbox, but it does seem to contain a reference to the 1970 movie Count Yorga, Vampire. I haven’t seem that particular film, and now I can’t watch it because I’ll just be disappointed when it’s not about two vampire friends who like to buy each other thoughtful gifts. They don’t need a reason, it’s just nice!

The Count, Atari Home Computers

A different cover for the same game, and the “kid’s activity book” feel of the previous iteration has been replaced by a foreboding moonlit castle and an appearance by The Count himself – a fiendish creature of the night who looks as though he could be defeated by walking away from him at a brisk pace. Even if The Count did manage to catch you, his ridiculously large collar would make it impossible for him to get his fangs anywhere near your neck. I think he’s trying to make himself look big to scare away the other vampires.

The Count, VIC-20

Yet another Count, this time appearing on the cover of the Commodore VIC-20 port and hey, he’s handsome now! His collar’s still big enough that you’d be forgiven for assuming The Count’s in the middle of swallowing a large bat, but he’d definitely have a better virgin-enthralling success rate than the previous Count.

The Munsters, ZX Spectrum

Everyone’s second-favourite family of ooky, kooky weirdos got their own home computer game, complete with a cover that is (mostly) the exact kind of thing I wanted to find when I was putting this little collection together. It’s The Munsters as you know ‘em and love ‘em, although Grandpa Munster seems to have been replaced by Ted Cruz. Nice “Herman smashed through it” detail on the front door, too, and it’s even got a strong “horribly good software” pun. My only problem with this cover – and it’s quite a big problem – is the logo. I know it’s a fairly accurate recreation of the Munsters logo, but that was originally in black and white. On this cover, it’s a revolting shade of yellowy off-white that calls to mind pus leaking from infected wounds, gelatinous subcutaneous fat or, even worse, the custard you’d get with a school dinner. I feel quite ill just thinking about it, no matter how much I try to convince myself it’s supposed to be candle wax.

Spooky Castle, ZX Spectrum

Attempting to ward off a ghost with a crucifix? Oh dear, oh dear. What a blunder, the kind of rookie mistake you wouldn’t expect to see from even the most reluctant monster slayer. Everyone knows crosses are for vampires and you get rid of ghosts with either an exorcism, by completing the unfinished business that tethers them to the mortal realm or by sucking them up with a vacuum cleaner.

Frightmare, Commodore 64

I covered Frightmare last time out, and the original release had a relatively restrained cover that recreated the game’s title screen. Then it got a re-release with some far more obvious – but no less appealing – cover art. It doesn’t capture the essence of Frightmare’s gameplay, nor the unsettling dream-world the game tries to conjure up, but it does have a one-armed zombie and a creepy mansion. Three malformed goblinoids drag themselves out of the dirt, and you just know that they’re a right bunch of little shits. They’ve got that look about them, they’re clearly the hellspawned version of mischievous triplets who are forever pulling pranks, except their pranks probably involve eating kittens or stapling thing to tender body parts. I reckon they used to be quadruplets, but they tricked one of their brothers into swallowing a lit stick of dynamite, hence the explosion.

Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus, Commodore 64

I must admit, I included this cover purely for the shallowest of aesthetic reasons but come on – just look at that pumpkin! It’s huge, I wonder what it’s made of? Fibreglass, probably. Imagine all the fun you could have with a massive fibreglass pumpkin, like using it to reserve a seat on the bus or as a cage for especially ungrateful trick-or-treaters. Oh, and Elvira is here too. The kitschy, campy horror host and strong contender for the title of Queen of Halloween appeared in several computer games, all of which had cover art that emphasised Elvira’s, ahem, charms. I’m sorry, but it’s impossible to talk about Elvira without slipping into double entendres. It’s kind of her thing. A few years ago she released a Halloween song called “Two Big Pumpkins” and I’m sure you can imagine what that’s about.

Eric and the Floaters, MSX

Two things – no, this isn’t a game about a bloke called Eric who’s having trouble flushing his toilet, and yes, it does look a lot like the cover for Doom, if Doom starred Indiana Jones. Presumably these demons are the floaters of the title, and they’re all scrabbling at Eric in an attempt to grab the delicious baguette hanging from his belt. Yes, I know, you went to look at his belt but got distracted by Eric’s pronounced bulge. In fairness, it does rather catch the eye.

Chiller, Commodore 64

“The foulest stench is in the air,
The funk of nineteen eighty-five.
A grizzly ghoul with press-on nails
Is rising up to scare females.
No mention of the music nicked
from Michael Jackson’s Thriller,
just zombies grinding teeth upon
the cover of the Chiller!

James Herbert’s The Rats, ZX Spectrum

It’s a crying shame that there was never a videogame based on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It could have worked in so many different genres, from graphic adventure to first-person shooter, although I would have most liked it to be a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the manner of Night Slashers. Hmm, I don’t know what suddenly made me thinkof Darkplace.

Frankenstein Jr., ZX Spectrum

To create a monster with the mind of a man from the corpses of the dead is cruel. To then send that abomination to school is beyond cruel, it’s the action of a demented sadist. I knew a kid at school who was bullied because he wore a ponytail, god only knows the kind of abuse Frankenstein Jr. would endure the first time his arm dropped off during a PE lesson. You might be thinking “surely Frank would simply crush the skulls of those who mocked him using his unholy strength?” and he could but you know how it is, when you fight back against bullies you’re always the one who gets into trouble.
I actually really like the artwork on this one, with a cartoon style that makes it look very much as though it was based on a kid’s TV show. There was a kid’s cartoon called Frankenstein Jr., but this game has nothing to do with that.

At last, a game that actually has Halloween right there in the title, plus a cover that stars the witchiest witch I’ve seen a long time, the platonic ideal of witchness - the green skin, the pointed nose, the shoes that are eighty percent buckle. My only issues are that a pointy hat covered in stars is more of a wizard thing, and also her pentagram’s upside-down. Or not upside down, depending on how you look at it. Still, she’s a witch if ever a witch there was. I find myself drawn to her facial expression. Neither the typical evil snarl of someone who stuffs kids into ovens nor the gleeful cackle of a witch excited for the dark sabbath, it’s an expression that seems to say “uhh, I found this key, do you want it?”

Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, ZX Spectrum

This is a weird one, because it captures a lot of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins’ features well enough – the rising zombies, the carnivorous plants, the hapless knight about to get drop-kicked into an early grave by a demon bastard – but it looks so different from Capcom’s usual art style that to a more console-based gamer like myself it feels like it fell out of a parallel dimension.
It’s the Red Arremer who has seen the most changes, with the artist mistaking the demon’s wings for a cape. Oh, and he’s furry now. Very furry. We’re talking Muppet levels of fuzziness, and as a result the Red Arremer looks like Elmo from some god-awful “dark” re-imagining of Sesame Street.

The Last Vampire, ZX Spectrum

A very Christopher Lee-looking vampire on this cover, and the game’s hero must have spent more time on his evil-fighting studies than the protagonist of Spooky Castle because he’s waving a crucifix at the correct type of supernatural evil. Admittedly he is putting a lot of faith into his tiny cross, which raises a question: are vampires equally affected by a cross regardless of its size, or does a larger cross have a more potent vampire-repelling effect? Could you defeat a nest of nosferatu by making thousands of teeny-tiny crosses out of communion wafers and sprinkling them through the room like confetti, or would that merely give the vampires the same level of discomfort as wearing a heavy woollen jumper in August? Conversely, if you built a hundred-foot tall crucifix, had it blessed by all the cardinals you could muster and air-dropped it into the Transylvanian countryside, would all the vampires in a fifty-mile radius simply explode? These are important questions, people!

The Astonishing Adventures of Mr. Weems and the She-Vampires, Commodore 64

That’s one hell of a title, but I understand why this re-release cover whittled it down to simply She-Vampires. It’s trying to grab customers browsing the shelves, after all, and if the name She-Vampires doesn’t accomplish that then this cover art probably will. I think what we’re seeing here is the life-cycle of a She-Vampire: you start out as a mouldering corpse, enter a genie-like pupal stage and finally emerge as an Ann Summers model. The red basque is mandatory during all stages, and at no point does being a She-Vampire look comfortable. Awkwardly “sexy” outfits aside, the She-Vampires seem to have too many teeth even for, you know, a vampire. Watching a She-Vampire eat spaghetti would instantly destroy any erotic allure they may have once possessed.
Alternatively, you can choose to read this cover as the “complete” She-Vampire using her cape to stop people peeping on her sisters while they get changed, as one might do with a large towel on the beach.

The House on Damned Hill, ZX Spectrum

Because if you are building a house in a place called Damned Hill, you might as well go the whole hog and erect a massive hollow skull to live in. I’m not sure whether the addition of a wooden roof and porch detract from the terror on not, but the idea of someone or something trying to make their skull-house more of a home by adding a veranda is deeply amusing to me. Maybe rain kept getting in through the nasal cavity or something. You can’t tell from this distance, but I’m going to assume there are curtains hanging behind the eye sockets, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

“Gee, thanks for helping me dig up this grave, Mr. Werewolf! I knew I’d accidentally buried my favourite sling down there, now I can get back to practising for this year slingshot tournament! You’re the best, Mr. Werewolf!”

I Spy: Spooky Mansion, Macintosh

Finally for today, here’s the French cover for I Spy: Spooky Mansion. A little more recent that I’d usually allow for this kind of article, but if you can think of a better ending for an article about Halloween-y game covers than a plastic toy skeleton posing jauntily in front of a haunted house then I’d like to hear it. No, seriously. Tell me.

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