October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about killer games in horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing video games, classic board games, or even more classic parlor games. The act of gaming can bring out the absolute worst in people. It’s as if games naturally surface our own inner Niccolò Machiavelli, eager to surreptitiously cut our grandmas off at the knees so long as it means we can walk away with bragging rights as “the winner.” Battle lines are drawn on family game nights, forcing you to outwit and outlast adversarial loved ones, even if you’re only playing Wii Tennis. There may be no blood loss, but that doesn’t mean hearts aren’t ripped out of their chest and gnawed on by the very same people who also send you cheesy family newsletters every year.
That’s why, for those of us who yawn at the contention and rivalry that games breed, we can see that fierce competition for what it is so clearly is: the stuff that horror is made of.
While arguably no game night will be filled with more tension than the next one you host, this selection chosen by Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, Valerie Ettenhofer, and myself will certainly make you think twice about inviting over friends and family for another long, violent night of Wingspan.
10. Saw II (2005)
What’s better than one deadly room? Two deadly rooms! A whole damn house of deadly rooms! Saw II takes the original film’s premise and expands Jigsaw’s mad genius into a haunted house. No ghosts here, just your own wicked sins. While Tobin Bell‘s madman torments Donnie Wahlberg‘s dimwitted detective on the outside, eight supposed strangers stumble through various booby-trapped chambers. We’ve got pistol-packin’ peepholes and pits of needles. The violence is visceral and vicious, and it’s often staged using instruments we’ve all encountered with less deadly results (hopefully). You cannot deny how damn good Bell is in the role of the killer who lets the victims kill themselves, and for that alone, we gotta respect the sequel. Saw II pushes the franchise into gore porn delights, and you either go with it or cower. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Would You Rather (2012)
“Would you rather?” is a game that can tell you a lot about yourself, but it’s more fun for what it tells you about your friends. Namely, which of them are absolute sickos. There’s always one who knows how to up the ante with the most depraved ideas you’ve ever heard in your life. And Would You Rather (the movie) pushes those depraved scenarios from the hypothetical into the real world. Over the course of one horrifying night, a group of people desperate for cash are all subjected to a real version of the game where the stakes are life and death. With memorable, creative kills and characters worth rooting for, this deranged game night is both horrifying and a hell of a lot of fun. (Anna Swanson)
8. Escape Room (2019)
When it comes to horror movies focused on games, oftentimes, the game’s basic mechanics get thrown out the window the moment the mayhem begins. Who has time to review the rulebook when a phantom arcade cabinet is trying to pull you into hell? But following the rules is at the heart of why Escape Room deserves a spot on this list. Not only do our central ensemble of characters follow the rules of the game to a T, they keep following the rules even after they realize each room is filled with deadly booby traps. Like the inventive, gory games in Saw, the only way to survive this torture porn lite escape room is to play. Even if it is begrudgingly. (Jacob Trussell)
7. The Conjuring (2013)
If you remember anything about James Wan’s The Conjuring, it’s the clapping game. The film’s first teaser trailer was centered solely around the two chilling scenes where the game appears. The rules are simple. One person is blindfolded, and then in a Marco Polo format, they must try to find the other players just from the sound of their clapping hands. Despite the jumpscares being projected from a mile away, it’s the simplicity of the game that makes the sequences so unnerving. There are no overcomplicated rules that could mute the tension. Just the simple sound of claps from disembodied hands emerging from the darkness, trapping Lili Taylor inside of an unimaginable nightmare. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Brainscan (1994)
Much like how we see modern horror engage with emerging tech, from social platforms to virtual assistants, in the early 1990s, Hollywood loved to predict the horrifying future awaiting us if we indulge too deeply into video games. While a film like Albert Pyun’s Arcade may be more bombastic and what you’d anticipate from the phrase “video game horror movie,” Brainscan has far more meat on its bones. That meat is provided exclusively by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, who also wrote Seven, 8MM, and Sleepy Hollow. Is Brainscan as good as those movies? Of course not. But you can still see Walker sharpening the tonally bleak aesthetics he’d use in his later work, just with a heaping helping of cheese thanks to the Freddy Krueger-esque Trickster, played with magnetic energy by T. Ryder Smith. What I wouldn’t give to get at least one more chance to see that ridiculously fun character come to life on screen. (Jacob Trussell)
This list of the ten best games in horror movies concludes on the next page…
1 of 2 Next