You join me as I’m watching Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, part of an ongoing project involving watching the whole series, offshoots like Freddy vs Jason and more recent reboots, in a bid to decide which of them is my favourite! And by the end of this piece, dear reader, as well as having accompanied me on a journey of discovery through Splatterhouse 2, I’m hoping to have an answer for you! Actually, it’s really just an excuse to watch them all again. I did the same for Halloween recently, including the brand new Halloween Kills (which was also my first visit to a cinema since the second new Star Wars sequel, The Last Jedi), finally landing on the original 1978 movie, but closely followed by its distantly-related sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Anyway, 1986’s Jason Lives picks up the action from the year before’s previous instalment, A New Beginning, with that one’s protagonist, Tommy Jarvis, heading back to the scene of the crime to dig up Jason, destroy his body and put an end to his hockey mask nightmares. Unfortunately he resurrects him instead, when the fence post he’s using to stake him turns lightning conductor, and the resulting Frankenstein-action prompts another return to Crystal Lake for a fresh piece of massacre. This one’s interesting because it was originally planned to have been shot of Jason and have Tommy turn bad guy instead, but everyone hated New Beginning so much they changed their minds and went full on supernatural with Jason instead! I might not be sure about favourite Friday the 13th yet (although this one’s definitely in with a shout!), but I can be sure that Jason Vorhees will take some beating as my favourite slasher! No words, just unstoppable force and endless creativity with a machete. And that hockey mask is just so iconic too, which is as good a place as any to jump over to Splatterhouse!
At first glance, everything about the original 1988 Splatterhouse Namco arcade game screams Friday the 13th and full-on Jason Vorhees, from the look and feel of the promotional artwork to the hockey-masked main character sprite in the game itself. We’ll come back to all not appearing quite as it seems here shortly, but it plays the part too, with you dishing out his trademark violence across a relentless gore-fest, the likes of which I’m not sure we’d ever seen at the time; again, we’ll come back to that! Given the unintended horror-show that was the actual Friday the 13th game we’d had on Spectrum and Commodore 64 in 1985 – as well as the one that wasn’t far behind on NES – it’s all sounding pretty marvellous so far though, even if Jason does quickly turn out to not be Jason at all… Kind of!
Here’s the thing – despite beating the arcade game years ago, then the marginally less Jason-infused (in the West, at least) but otherwise pristine PC-Engine port a while later, then doing it all over again on both systems on a regular basis right up to just last week as I write this (which is what actually inspired my Friday the 13th odyssey!), I think I like the sound of Splatterhouse more than actually playing it! And that’s a shame indeed, because, superficially at least, everything is there for it to be an absolute favourite of mine. It just isn’t! And now we’re getting to why we’re getting to its sequel, but first we need to go one more sequel along, because, from what I’ve played of it, I have a feeling that Splatterhouse 3 might become an absolute favourite of mine! The evolution to Streets of Rage-esque beat ‘em up brutality, the exploration, the lovely mid-life Mega Drive sheen to everything… I’ve only played the first level, but everything in that level feels great. And then I stopped because I needed to experience Splatterhouse 2 before I never looked back. I just didn’t until now, so here we are!
Right, let’s quickly head back to the original. It’s a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up and occasional platformer that sees you as Rick Taylor, who, together with his girlfriend Jennifer, has sheltered from a storm in West Mansion, also known as “Splatterhouse” due to talk of grotesque experiments by its owner, and missing-in-action parapsychologist, Dr West. Now, I’ve been out in plenty of storms, but while I might sometimes decide to unleash an umbrella, I’ve never felt the need to take refuge in someone else’s house, especially one known as Splatterhouse, but that’s where we are, so as the door slams shut the second they enter, I have very little sympathy for whatever caused Jennifer to scream… You then wake up in a dungeon under the mansion, where you’ve been resurrected by the Terror Mask, some kind of Mayan artefact (but definitely not a hockey mask) with a life of its own that attaches itself to Rick’s face, transforming him into an unstoppable, supernatural monster that’s ready to go Rambo – or, indeed, Jason – on hordes of hideous evil as he searches for Jennifer. He eventually finds her, she transforms into this giant freak that he kills while she begs for help from somewhere within, and off he goes again on a reinvigorated rampage through the now-living hell of the mansion. As he escapes, the mask has one more go at killing him by summoning the wonderfully named Hell Chaos monster, which dies into a sea of lights as the mask shatters and Rick does a runner from the burning Splatterhouse.
Like Jason, we can be sure it’s never really the end though, as the credits close with the Terror Mask reinstated back to its laughing whole, and we’re left panting for Splatterhouse 2! Before we get there though, whether we’re talking arcade original or PC-Engine conversion, the original is an eighties slasher movie come to life, whether it wants to dress it in a ridiculous alternate storyline or not! And, like the best of them, it’s heavy on the violence and heavy on the gore, which is perfectly captured in its video nasty pixel art and menagerie of sleazy, oozing, monstrous villainy and disturbing bosses. The trouble is that once you’re past how it looks (and the lovely thud of a plank of wood on head), facing off against them is reliant on a very repetitive and not very exciting cycle of trial and error to see the next bit… If you’re so-inclined, which I clearly am, but I guess we’ve now got to the bottom of why it isn’t an absolute favourite of mine despite that, so we’re good to move on!
It’s not far to go to reach Splatterhouse 2 (or Splatterhouse Part 2 in Japan) though – it’s set just three months later, with Rick still wracked by guilt and dreading every night, because “in the clutches of sleep, the nightmares begin!” And they’re always the same, with the sounds of Jennifer screaming in the dark and then going silent. And from the silence, the infernal ramblings of the mask begin again. “Rick, we can save her… You know we can… Remember the power… Remember how much you liked it? The house, Rick… Jennifer’s waiting… And I’m waiting for you.” If we jump to Part 2, the Japanese version, we do get a bit more in its variation of the introduction: “You can help her, Rick! She isn’t going to die. If you want to save her, you must find the hidden house. You will find the secret of bringing life. I will give you the power.”
Either way, Terror Mask ends up back on your face, and we begin the familiar always onwards left to right 2D side-scrolling slaughter, as you search for Jennifer all over again. It might be set only three months in the future, but we actually had to wait until 1992 for Splatterhouse 2 to be released by Namco, exclusively on the Sega Mega Drive or Genesis, keen for the maximum cash-in after the unexpected success of its PC-Engine or TurboGrafx predecessor, particularly in North America. All of those parental warnings must have had the desired effect!
This really is the classic cash-in too, because it’s just more of exactly the same with a 2 slapped on the end! And that means more gore, more goo and more of not a great deal of gameplay! The manual informs us that if we want to save Jennifer, we’ll need to crunch through hordes of zombies and other beasties, and unless we learn control, they’ll turn us into another stain on the wall. One button for attack and one button for jump doesn’t take that much learning though, and you’ll soon be a master of the punch, low kick and high kick! Irony aside, pulling off the very useful slide kick does take a bit of mastery in stress situations, requiring you to jump then hit attack and diagonal down as you land; even then it’s still a bit hit or miss, just like in the first game.
There are weapons you’ll come across to help you out though, with pipes and fossilised leg bones for bludgeoning, a chainsaw for chainsawing, a shotgun and a potassium bomb in a bottle. The sound effects do a great job of bringing these to life too, with that dull whack of pipe hitting ghoulish head being a particular favourite! And all the while we’ve got the Mega Drive does The Munsters spooky soundtrack meandering along in the background, which isn’t quite Castlevania Bloodlines, but still does a great job of ramping up the creeped-out tension, and more than enhances the game’s campy-schlock atmosphere.
The real stars of that atmosphere are the environments though. Stage III and its foul river setting are the perfect example of this, with the kind of undoubtedly haunted swampy woodland creating the same backdrop that Scooby Doo and his Mystery Machine have driven by a hundred times, and some subtle parallax effects moving the river along behind you, together with the occasional monstrous floating corpse! The bayou is ominously rich, and detailed in a semi-cartoon style, full of earthy colours but occasionally punctuated with a splash of gothic decadence. And as you walk along the perilously cut-up muddy bank, leaping over churning floodwater, unsure if one of demon piranha things is hiding somewhere below its surface waiting to pounce, you’re also trying to flying kick your way through a bunch of insect-like bouncing purple horrors!
In reality I reckon that this ongoing spectacle is what kept me plodding on through Splatterhouse 2’s eight stages, with a little help from the password system that lets you restart at the last level you got to, which is very much a legitimate way of experiencing them! The game begins with you travelling through what might be the ruins of the original mansion, in a stormy, dark pine forest, then into a battle down an elevator shaft to hazard-ridden tunnels, before emerging into that lovely swamp. From there, you’ll find Mayan temples, hell portals, be chased across lakes by a giant Lovecraftian squid, fight through an impressively well-stocked library, laboratories filled with the evil remnants of insane experiments and more besides. And every one, in its own special way, is a visual treat!
The same can be said for a lot of the bosses, although apart from the four skinless hanged babies and their lethal vomit, I’m struggling to remember much about them. There’s big nasty faces and writhing organic messes of ventricles and pipes, and spiders and even more organic messes, but where the first game embraced either creativity or just all out terror in its bosses (I love you, sack-face two-chainsaw guy and flying scarecrow skull thing!), they just seem to have run out of ideas here and gone for fairly generic shock value, albeit, as said, very nice looking shock value all the same!
Your main character sprite has evolved a bit though. He’s now much more chiselled and generally well-defined in his unorthodox sleeveless martial arts outfit kind of thing – a Jason Vorhees at the gym look maybe, although you might not recognise him with his new mask! When the North American TurboGrafx-16 version of the original came out, they’d already changed the classic Vorhees hockey mask to a red and black thing to avoid any legal problems, but from here onwards the mask is very much skull-like, so no one would ever make the Jason Vorhees comparison again, except when they viewed him from the side…
Because we spent time setting the scene for Splatterhouse 2 by talking about the original game, when it comes to gameplay I really don’t have much more to add. It’s more of the same simple fun for a while, then you have to start learning patterns to get past the hard bits, then when you can do that you have to do it again. And that’s a bit of an ask across eight stages of more of the same, but it seems like I was so-inclined once again and I guess it was worth it. I just can’t see myself coming back like I do with the first game when the mood takes me. It does mean I can finally jump to Splatterhouse 3 though, and I’ll be sure to report back on that soon!
Before I do, I promised to also report back on my favourite Friday the 13th, and the votes are in! As an aside, as I write I just finished watching the 2009 reboot again, possibly for the first time since it came out, and it might be me getting less selective in my old age, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected! Good-looking Jason, some great kills and far less hairy gratuitous nudity than you get in the originals! Definitely not my favourite though… Honourable mention to Friday the 13th Part III for the best use of protruding objects you’ll ever see in a pair of early eighties 3D glasses, and also to Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan for being so wonderfully cheesy!
As much as those two are a joy to watch though, I’ve got to go with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter as my absolute favourite in the series. Despite the name, we’ve still got another five movies before Jason Goes to Hell, not to mention going to outer space in Jason X, and meeting up with his old mate in the very underrated Jason vs. Freddy! Back in 1984 though, this fourth film in the series was supposed to be the end of Jason, just like at the end of its predecessor… Now he’s escaped from the sexy morgue his carcass was taken to after that, and headed back to Camp Crystal Lake to let loose on the locals and the latest group of drunken, sex-charged teens that simply can’t stay away despite everything! It’s a beautiful movie, trying it’s own thing, delivering some brutal kills, nakedness, a great final scene with a very young Corey Feldman, more brutal kills, more nakedness, and the most insane dancing you’ll ever see in a movie from Crispin Glover!
And that’s Splatterhouse 2! I’ve really enjoyed the movie interludes here, and I’m thinking we could do something similar for A Nightmare on Elm Street sometime, doing the full works and looking at either (or both) of the unrelated NES and Commodore 64 games. Please be certain to watch this space!