Games

A Truly '90s Cultural Artifact: 'Goosebumps: Escape From HorrorLand'

Jeff Goldblum and Isabella Rossellini collaborated with Steven Spielberg on a Goosebumps video game and somehow it never became an Internet meme.

A recent visit to Jeff Goldblum’s Wikipedia entry unearthed what initially appeared to be vandalization of his page’s filmography: a dubious and conspicuously silly credit as the voice of Dracula in a 1996 video game titled Goosebumps: Escape From HorrorLand. I thought for sure that it was someone’s idea of a laugh and a successful one at that. Yes, in the 1990s, R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series spawned a commercial empire that branded every conceivable item that a child might demand from a parent, so a video game was certainly plausible. But with Jeff Goldblum? I smelled a Rickroll. Logic said that this Wikipedia claim couldn't exist because if it did exist, there would be a wildly popular viral video in existence, making Count Goldblum synonymous with the word "slumming." There was no way that something like this could escape the notice of the all-seeing, all-hearing, all-remembering Internet.

Thus, videographic evidence was sought, and YouTube was consulted. If Jeff Goldblum had ever vanted to zuck yer blood, some enterprising audio/video packrat would have a sample of the game. A quick search of the terms “Goosebumps Goldblum” returned promising results. Scroll ahead to 6:05 in the clip below to see Goldblum do a whole lot more than just voice acting.

With his tightly framed and leering presence and a pillow talk voice garbled by false fangs, Goldblum exudes seamy menace toward Lizzie, the video game's spastic child character and tour guide through HorrorLand, as he explicates in typical villain fashion just how he gets away with all of his evil doings. In this clip, Lizzie's encounter with Count Goldblum leads to an awkwardly conceived waltz with Goldblum breathing, "Lizzie, you and I are gonna dance." His delicate coercion sends the visibly intimidated girl scanning the floor sheepishly. "Are we gonna dance?" You bet we are! Cue the pair swirling around a ballroom environment together with joined hands, Lizzie's eyes level with Goldblum's navel. Back in 2009, Goldblum stirred up a modest bit of Internet gossip when he began dating Law & Order: Criminal Intent guest star Tania Raymonde, more popularly known as Alex Rousseau from Lost, who was 21 at the time. Goldblum detractors who called pedophile on the relationship must have played this video game.

The game's dated, PC-based full motion video design features rendered backgrounds that would appear to modern gamers like a product of MS Paint. The live-action component is remarkable for its innovatively comprehensive use here but also visibly flawed and underdeveloped like the rest of the failed FMV niche market. The combination of media employed achieves a novel-only-for-its-time result with unpolished visual seams and dodgy gameplay. The player is limited to investigating the HorrorLand environment using mouse clicks to explore, solve puzzles, and uncover tokens and other odds and ends that will aid you in your escape from HorrorLand. In this stage when Lizzie meets Dracula, it is your objective to essentially pickpocket Goldblum, which amusingly results in poking Goldblum's body with the cursor (displayed in the game as a severed hand) until he is defeated. But that is certainly not the last that you'll see of Dracula. It never is.

In the game’s official trailer, Goldblum reappears at 0:51 in the clip during a scene from one of the final stages of the game, long after Lizzie disposed of him. But that’s not the point. The point is to pay attention to who else appears in this clip. The beautiful raven-haired woman in vaguely monarchical garb at 0:49, smugly looking on at the parental death trap playing out before the stadium filled with HorrorLand horrors, is none other than Isabella Rossellini.

Unlike Goldblum's attempts in vain to appear naturalistic, Rossellini, whose lengthier segment within the game arrives around 3:49 in the following clip, completely disregards nuance in favor of high camp, borrowing her scolding Blue Velvet persona and haranguing Lizzie and the player for their invasion of her privacy. Rossellini then chases after Lizzie in the bitmap-quality environment until the player can drop a folding bed on her head.

The question remains: why would one of the stars of Jurassic Park and Blue Velvet’s leading lady casually appear in a gloriously absurd computer game? It couldn’t have been for the money. Someone called in a big favor. And that someone was Steven Spielberg, revealed in the making of video below as the part-time director of the video game.

Despite the star wattage behind this project, Count Goldblum never became a viral hit, which is perhaps the most shocking part of this retrospective. Yet any fascination with these snippets from the game are not merely about gawking at the celebrity talent involved, it's also appreciating the evolution of consoles and the nostalgia attached to an era in which multimedia exploded and created hype for newer and ever-improving technologies. A hype that has carried over into the modern-day video game wars between rival companies striving to surpass each other with frontier technology and gameplay. Goosebumps: Escape From HorrorLand is hardly a timeless classic on par with Myst; it's a quick and fairly undemanding game with a "Hey, remember this?" quality as it sits collecting dust in a box with all of your other Windows 95 software. But its creative goal to wed realism with complex interactive environments was a worthy entry in the FMV market. Limitations of image quality and player interactivity be damned, Escape From HorrorLand is pure and wonderful kitsch and a truly 90s cultural artifact.

And if unexpected celebrity cameos in mid-90s FMV games happens to be your thing, check out Christopher Walken below in Ripper.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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