by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief
How do you like your horror: out of the corner of your eye, or straight up in your face?
This question is at the heart of whether or not you’re going to like the ultimate prize for the Cutteridge Ghost Stories Bundle: the Demonic Cutteridge Estate.
Personally, I prefer my horror to be more psychological and subtle. Our culture today seems to think that “horror” must consist of buckets of blood, hacked-off body parts and really bad nu-metal. The only reason we have such a cultural fascination with zombies right now is because they’re the last politically-correct enemy we can go after.
And frankly, I find it all rather boring. I vastly prefer the psychological build-up of the old Silent Hill games versus the “boo!” jump-out-at-you theatrics of Resident Evil. The terror of Fatal Frame, as far as I’m concerned, is vastly superior to Left 4 Dead. It’s much the same story in movies: Hostel and Saw do absolutely nothing for me, whereas Jacob’s Ladder and The Entity scare the ever-loving asterisks out of me. The Scream movies are a joke to me, whilst The Others is just farking disturbing. And while there’s no shortage of people who love to decry the low-budget scares of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, those are two films that still disturb me to no end (the house scene, at the end of Blair Witch, is ten different kinds of OMGWTF frightening).
The reason why I’m asking how you like your horror is because it’s going to have a direct impact on whether or not you like Juggernaut’s Demonic Cutteridge Estate, awarded after completing the Ghost Stories Bundle. If you are, say, the type of person who likes Wes Craven’s sort of horror, you’ll feel right at home. If you are, however, more of a Rod Serling fan, you’ll probably be left cold.
Juggernaut’s Cutteridge Estate works because it taps into one of the great suspense triggers for horror: the sense of being watched.
We live on a planet that has been near as makes no difference completely dominated by our species. And our societies have, in the last fifty or so years, built up enormous levels of comfort and relative security for us to enjoy. But buried deep within the medulla is that fight-or-flight fear that whispers in your head: that despite all your tools, you are still prey. That should the world go askew, you are woefully under-prepared, and not the top of the food chain when it comes to raw survival.
The scariest predator is always the one which cannot be seen. Always. The moment you reveal that predator, the human brain has a chance to size it up and start evaluating how to defend against it — or attack it. We move from the reptilian part of the brain to the mammalian brain. But if you’re kept off-balance — if you know you’re being stalked but you can’t see who or what is hunting you — then you’re stuck in the reptilian brain, which closes down around you and has you running or hiding. This is why, by the way, nighttime is almost always scarier than daytime: you can’t see what’s hunting you until it’s practically right on top of you.
I’ll give you a personal example. I used to take night classes at San Francisco State University, since I was working during the day. The restrooms in the building I was in had chalkboards on the walls of the toilet stalls. I never paid them much attention; they had the usual juvenile obscenities and solicitations scrawled upon them. But one in particular caught my attention; all it said was,
YOU’RE BEING WATCHED
Now think about the setting for a moment. You’re in a bathroom stall, late at night, surrounded by strangers. And SFSU is out in the avenues, where it’s constantly foggy, rainy and cold. And your pants are down around your ankles.
That one message got inside my head. Yes, it was a prank. And, at the time, I was teaching martial arts and in the best shape of my life; when physical violence is part of your everyday world, it takes a bit more to actually get your blood pressure going. But those three words whispered in my head: what if you really are being watched?
It’s amazing how you look at the same setting differently.
The best horror is the horror you can’t see — or, at the most, you see it fleetingly, out of the corner of your eye. Hence why The Entity, Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch are all so disturbing, and why early Silent Hill games are far better than their younger brethren.
And why the “regular” Cutteridge Estate is, ironically, scarier than the Demonic Cutteridge Estate.
Before we continue: please keep in mind that I’m encouraging you to purchase the Cutteridge Ghost Stories Bundle (with furniture). The furniture alone is worth the price tag — we decked out the HSM clubhouse with it, and it was ridiculously fun to watch the furniture attack team members as they got close to the various pieces — and the mini-games which expand the Cutteridge Estate itself are very fun.
No, my disappointment is with the final prize, which is the Demonic Cutteridge Estate. On one hand, it has some genuinely nice touches; the estate’s been given a decrepit Silent Hill “otherworld” treatment and the front gates slam shut when you try to leave (which had me recalling the girl who got her hand crushed and torn off by the gates to the Stauf mansion in The 11th Hour), but that’s about it. Compared to the regular Cutteridge Estate, this new setting feels horribly…static.
The regular Cutteridge Estate has a lot of dynamic elements to it. Mysterious ghosts appearing and disappearing. The scarecrow running past the window. The weeping woman in black. “Help Me” appearing on the mirror. Kitchen cabinetry exploding. Glass shattering. Weather effects. And the Ghost Stories bundle only adds to this: you get to explore a corn maze, capture a ghost, follow clues left by childish drawings, perform a ritual to unlock a secret room…it’s a hell of a lot of fun. More importantly, though, it’s the tension of uncertainty: the sense of things in flux. Of being watched.
Demonic Cutteridge Estate, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any of that. There are some weird pulsing tentacles in a couple of the rooms, an odd tentacle monster in the pond next to the house, another tentacle monster wrapped around the offshore lighthouse, and a tentacle UFO above the cornfield. I haven’t seen this many tentacles since a Miko Mido cosplay convention.
There are two problems with this. First off, having such static “monster” scenery allows me to study it in safety. This moves me out of fight-or-flight reflex and back into the mammalian brain, which looks at these tentacle monsters and thinks they’re rather silly. The second problem is that tentacle monsters are incongruous with what’s come before.
If you’re unfamiliar with the dramatic principle of Chekhov’s Gun: it states that if you fire a gun in act three, you must show it hanging on the wall in act one. If you show a gun hanging on the wall in act one, you must fire it by act three. The problem with the Demonic Cutteridge Estate isn’t the estate itself, despite its rather static environment; the problem is that it violates Chekhov’s Gun, by failing to follow up with the foreshadowing it laid out.
What should be in the Demonic Cutteridge Estate? The ghosts. All of them. If this is the otherworld — the mirror image of Cutteridge in the demonic plane — then it should logically be the flipside of everything the regular Cutteridge estate shows. That would be the logical conclusion to what’s been set up for the last year. But that’s not what’s happened. Instead, we have Cutteridge given the Cthulhu treatment.
The reason why this doesn’t work is because it doesn’t do anything; it doesn’t really relate to what was set up in the regular Cutteridge Estate, and frankly doesn’t lend itself to decorating or as an environment you want to hang out in. It just feels…anticlimactic.
To be fair, it’s not exactly like I was buying the Demonic Cutteridge Estate when I plunked down the money for the Ghost Stories Bundle; I bought the bundle because I wanted an expansion to the regular Cutteridge experience, and the Demonic version — although teased in one of Juggernaut’s PR videos — isn’t really the focal point of the bundle (it’s not even listed in the promo copy when you go to buy it). So, in that regard, it’s more of the icing on the cake. Kinda like buying a fireworks pack and getting a free Midnight Glade out of the deal.
I wonder, though, if the ghost stories would have been better served as features in the Demonic version of the estate, rather than the conventional estate. Too late for that now, however.
If you’re the type of person who likes their horror blatant and revulsive, you’ll probably like the Demonic Cutteridge Estate. If you’re like me, and you prefer your horror a bit more psychological and subtle, this will likely prove disappointing. That said, I do again recommend you purchase the Ghost Stories bundle: the conventional Cutteridge Estate is dramatically enhanced by it, and it’s just plain fun to have furniture attacking you.
You’re being watched.