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Pixel Obscura:
Saturn's in Retrograde

Vol. 2, Issue 10 
February 1, 2000 

Near the beginning of the film, one of the characters, reading out of a tattered astrology book, tells the others that Saturn is in retrograde and must therefore be considered an evil influence on the workings of the universe. It is a sign, like the watch hanging from a tree driven through by a nail the viewer glimpses minutes before the killing starts, a symbol of the unseen, unknowable forces that constantly threaten to overwhelm us all. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by situating a disturbingly tactile evil within the mundane space of a summer day, made horror films dangerously real.

The next step came with the wave of Italian cannibal movies in the 1970’s that focused on realistically trying to portray atrocity, the “art” of these films being one of camouflage. Perhaps the best example of this obsession with “objectively” presenting nightmare is Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1979), a work that wonderfully summed up the genre’s bizarre self-awareness by centering the story around an academic’s journey into the Amazon to find the remains of a Western film crew that was devoured by cannibals. In many ways, Cannibal Holocaust is the direct precursor to another far more recent horror work that tries to completely hide its structure within a blur of fuzzy, washed out chaos, The Blair Witch Project.

Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s film (a piece that has taken on a resonance that these two slightly foolish guys probably couldn’t have planned) is a ground breaking horror work because, as Michael Atkinson writes, it’s “a radical act, withholding information and contriving to be without control over its own visual narrative.” What we are witnessing while watching Blair Witch is footage from the front lines of the breakdown of the rational universe. News is that now Blair Witch is going to get the video game treatment from the gang at Terminal Reality, and although the idea of a game based on the film leaves me feeling very wary, after watching the brilliant cinematics for the company’s most recent game Nocturne I am sure that if anyone can pull it off, Terminal Reality can.

“I am the bloody top of the food chain” - Nocturne

The opening of Nocturne is one of the finest video game pieces that I have watched during my time at loonygames, ranking up there, in my estimation, with Fallout 2 and Wipeout III as an example of the heights of artistic achievement that this fledgling medium can attain. Nocturne takes the tradition of realist horror and sculpts it quite eloquently to video game dimensions.

As the scene opens, two policemen search through a field of tall grass, the cut of their uniforms indicating that we are watching newsreel footage taken years ago, perhaps in the 1920’s or 30’s. Suddenly a struggle breaks out, and the camera is shoved away...cut to a woman’s body lying covered by spider web laced dirt and patches of forest shadow. It seems that the strange earth is giving up her hoarded dead as we see a frantically cataloged series of blood impatterned bodies lying scattered across a curiously empty landscape. And night is falling.

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 2000 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so don't do it, or we'll cut you in twain.