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.

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