As a kid, I loved the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. By the time I saw it, it was already kind of an old film, but to this day it’s still one of my favorite movies. But man, that scene where Wonka goes crazy inside that tunnel on the chocolate river really freaked me out as a kid. It’s the part where he starts ranting about the grisly reaper glowing while the parents and children on his boat start panicking about what’s going to happen next. It just felt so out of left field, like for a few minutes I was watching a totally different movie. The same feeling of ‘what just happened’ occurs in video games too, where a seemingly normal game can take a sharp left turn into horror, then just as quickly go back to what it was before.
This isn’t a list of scary moments from games like Resident Evil 7 or Silent Hill 2, where severed heads and face shredding monsters are to be expected. Instead, this is a collection of creepy moments in video games that caught gamers by surprise. Moments that made people playing those games feel uneasy, or showed them something that stuck with them long after the game was over. Think of these as hidden little Easter eggs, but the eggs are filled with blood and rotting guts instead of chocolate or whatever.
1. Death, Pokémon, and Lavender Town (Pokémon Red and Blue)
No list of creepy moments in video games would complete without mentioning Lavender Town from Pokémon Red and Blue (and Yellow, Green, FireRed, LeafGreen, Gold, Silver, HeartGold and SoulSilver if you want to get technical). The source of many video game urban legends, including at least one mass suicide (which never happened), Lavender Town feels like one of the eeriest places in any Pokémon game thanks largely death being a central theme of the town.
Players first discover Lavender Town after a long slog through the Zubat infested Rock Tunnel, and are immediately greeted by the town’s strange, almost hypnotic theme music. Looming over everything is the Pokémon Tower; a seven-story structure where Pokémon trainers come to bury their dead Pokémon. If that wasn’t enough, those Team Rocket idiots killed a Marowak inside the tower while she was trying to protect its baby Cubone. The ghost of the dead Pokémon mother now haunts the tower, which of course means it’s all up to the player to free her restless soul. You know, by beating it in battle. Naturally.
Death isn’t shied away from in Pokémon, despite its kid-friendly appearance. The Pokédex entry for Haunter states that anyone licked by it will begin “shaking constantly until death eventually comes”, and even the most recent Pokémon games, Sun and Moon, have their fair share of macabre Pokédex entries, such as Palossand, the sandcastle Pokémon, who apparently has “masses of dried-up bones” inside of itself from people it has killed on the beach.
For a lot of younger gamers at the time (myself included), Lavender Town left a big impact, and if you don’t believe me, just go read the dozen or so Creepypastas inspired by it.
2. What lies at the Bottom of the Well (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has its fair share of twisted side stories, such as the cursed family doomed to live as spiders in their rundown home or the Lost Woods that turns humans who dare to enter into skeleton monsters. Yet nothing in entire game compares to horrors found in an area known simply as the Bottom of the Well.
After the draining the Kakariko Village town well using the Song of Storms, the would-be savior of Hyrule, Link, ventures down into the mysterious world below. Right from the start players are learn to second guess their every movement as they fall through mirage-like floors that appear solid. Taking it slow isn’t an option either, with giant detached hands known as Wallmasters occasionally falling from the ceiling to drag Link off into the darkness.
Two types of zombies known as ReDeads and Gibdos also live down here and can freeze Link in place with their distorted screams. Stranger still, these undead creeps reside it what looks like old prison cells and open sarcophaguses. One of the weirder parts features of the well is a strange wooden X sitting right in the middle of one of the dungeon chambers. Surrounded by blood stains and poisoned water, this structure is traditionally called a St. Andrew’s Cross, which is actually an ancient torture device. Nice going, Nintendo.
Worst of all, the final boss is a mutated looking humanoid monster called Dead Hand, which lurks inside a room with long white arms sticking out of the ground, ready to grab Link if he gets too close. And your reward for enduring this horror? The Lens of Truth. An optional that item allows players to see through the false walls and floors that fill this dungeon and other later in the game. It does make the endgame much easier, but it is technically possible to beat the game without it.
Before heading into the Bottom of the Well, a local from Kakariko Village tells Link of a man who could “had a different way of doing things” lived here once, in a house where the well now is. This, of course, begs the question – did he build those prisons? And why did he have a torture rack? Did he become Dead Hand? It’s both strange, yet kind of cool, that something so messed up is found in a Zelda game of all places.
3. The sad tale of the McClellan residence (Fallout 3)
The Fallout series has always been filled with little stories that can be easily overlooked. Like most environmental storytelling, all of these optional extras work together to form a larger narrative and make the world feel fleshed out and lived in. Fallout 3 continued this tradition in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., where remnants of the world before the war are a constant reminder of how far humanity had progressed before it all came crashing down. Perhaps nowhere else in the whole game is this more evident than the McClellan residence.
Now a lifeless, derelict townhouse, the McClellan residence is filled with reminders of the past. In the one bedroom, players can find a child-sized skeleton lying on a bed in a room filled next to a slowly degrading teddy bear, while in the nearby master bedroom two adult-sized skeletons are also in bed, rotting away, side by side. Clearly victims of the nuclear war, the only thing left in the home that seems nearly intact is a Mr. Handy robotic servant. After activating it, players can issue it simple commands from a computer terminal, but it’s clear the robot cannot comprehend what has happened since it was last turned on.
Directing it to read a bedtime story will send the Mr. Handy into the children’s room where it will recite There Will Come Soft Rains, a poem Sara Teasdale about a world where all humans have perished in a nuclear war. Unaware it’s reading to a dead body, Mr. Handy will finish up the poem and return to its charging station.
You can also direct it to head to the grocery store, which it will do, but it’ll soon return empty-handed given that the store is now a husk of its former self. Lastly, you can instruct the loyal robot to take the family dog Muffy for a walk, which is yet another task it cannot complete as the dog’s corpse can be found outside, rotting in the open.
The McClellan residence is a direct reference to the Ray Bradbury’s short story There Will Come Soft Rains (which was inspired by the aforementioned poem of the same name). In the story the central computer of an automated home continues to work as a housekeeper and read poetry to a family, oblivious to the fact they’ve all died from the fallout of a nuclear war. In Bradbury’s story only the family dog survives, but after a long trek home it succumbs to radiation poisoning and is callously removed by automated cleaning robots inside the house. If nothing else, the McClellan residence is a grim reminder of the harsh realities of war, and the innocent lives it takes so unfairly.
4. Sonic The Distorted Hedgehog (Sonic CD)
Before the internet was readily available, finding such esoteric information as details about hidden parts of video games wasn’t easy. It’s for that reason this strange hidden screen in Sonic CD remained a mystery for so long – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, in order to get to the creepy Sonic screen players had to enter this cheat code on the title screen – Down, Down, Down, Left, Right, A. After that they’d be taken to a sound test screen where they could try out various sound effects found in the game.
This is where it gets weirder. Playing certain sounds would trigger different things, including level selects and displaying screenshots of old concept art for Sonic CD and other Sonic games. But playing the sound FM No. 46, PCM No. 12, and DA No. 25 did something a little different. If those inputs were selected, players were taken to a screen with a mutated looking Sonic The Hedgehog tiled across the background, some white Japanese text, all while eerie music droned on and on.
So what’s going on here? For starters, the text translates to “Infinite Fun. Sega Enterprises. Image by Majin”. Majin is the nickname for Masato Nishimura, a developer who worked on Sonic CD and is responsible for this creepy screen. Sort of. See the music for this screen is different in Japan and Europe because what you’re actually hearing is the regular boss music from the game. Basically, the boss music used in the Japanese/European release of Sonic CD was far more playful and happy, while the US music was much moodier, so when the game was brought to the US, with its own music, it messed up the tone of this hidden screen. You following?
It’s a simple explanation, but without the aid of Google, gamers in the 90s were in the dark about what the hell was going on.
5. The unexplained mass grave (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
When Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas first appeared on the PlayStation 2 back in 2004 it was nothing short of a revelation. How could Rockstar possibly fit a world this massive one just one DVD? No longer were players confined to a single city, now they could explore three separate cities connected by green countrysides and arid deserts. Of course, with all this extra space to play with, San Andreas also became home to even more mysteries than previous entries in the series.
One of the easiest to find is the ghost car found hidden deep in the woods, but there were also rumors of bigfoot roaming around in the mist, and UFOs showing that would show up at certain locations at different times. Some of the rumors were found to be true, most were debunked. There is one though that is both clearly evident, yet remains shrouded in mystery – the mass grave in the desert.
In the Northern Bone County desert is a large hole, about 12-feet deep, has about half a dozen body bags inside it. On the edge of the hole sits a pickup truck, which was clearly used to deliver the dead bodies here before being abandoned. What makes the mass grave in San Andreas so strange is how mysterious it feels in relation to the rest of the world. Your journey across San Andreas highlights so many different areas of the game, and by the time you’ve completed the final mission you’ll be pretty familiar the majority of the map, and the types of people who call it home. Yet you’re given no information about this mysterious mass grave. Unless you go digging.
Fans of San Andreas have theorized a character known only as Mr. Trenchcoat is responsible for the gravesite, possibly as a symptom of his extreme paranoia. He can be found wandering around various locations outside of the city, rambling about aliens and mind control. Whatsmore, fans have found two different shacks in close proximity to each other that belong to the alleged killer.
The first shack is fairly nondescript, but screenshots have confirmed Mr. Trenchcoat will visit it at certain times. His other residence is far more ominous though. Looking more like a place someone could actually live, the second shack has a wheat-thresher outside and human body parts strewn within. Stranger still, Mr. Trenchcoat will even appear here at night and stand outside in a field with a shotgun. He’ll even turn aggressive if approached, and is actually much harder to kill than most regular civilians.
A lot of fan theories surrounding San Andreas have been proven false by people digging through the code for San Andreas, yet not all of them have been completely ruled out. Bigfoot isn’t in the game, the UFOs aren’t either, but Mr. Trenchcoat is, in a sense, both real and fake. He’s a creepy little Easter egg left in the game by the developers to add flavor to the world, meaning we may never know the truth abut him, but it’s still fun to speculate. What makes Mr. Trenchcoast so memorable though is that in a game where the player has absolute freedom to be as bad as they want to be, there’s something both cool and disturbing about meeting a fellow murderer who has just a little regard for digital human life as you do.