"Let's play a game."
To the poor bastard who wakes up with his arm chained to a radiator or strapped into a chair, those are four bone-chilling words, 'cause you just know that freakazoid puppet from the blood-soaked Saw flicks is lurking around the corner. To gamers, those four words are an invitation to frightful ecstasy — especially this time of year, when breaking out the scary games is as fashionable as trick-or-treating or dressing up as Mark Foley. You already knew your computer could be terrifying. (Windows Vista, anyone?) As these Halloween gaming classics prove, it turns out your consoles are good for a bloodcurdling scream or two, too.
(Capcom, Xbox 360, 2006)
Trapped in a shopping mall with several thousand rotting, shambling bloodthirsty undead — George Romero saw the horror possibilities in this scenario decades ago. It took the gaming world a long, long time to catch up, but when it did, the brainstormers really got it right. Some gamers decry Dead Rising's miserly save system: There's only one slot, you can only save in a handful of locations and screwing up often means starting over. But, frankly, I think this is the reason the game throws the pulse-pound-o-meter into overdrive. Dead Rising came out in August, but it's already a next-gen Halloween classic.
Clive Barker's Undying
(Electronic Arts, PC, 2001)
The Fog and The Invisible Man taught us that what you can't see can hurt you; Clive Barker's Undying taught us that what you can hear is a lot scarier than what you can see. No game in recent years has used audio more effectively to scare the bejesus out of you than this one. As Irish magician Patrick Galloway, you're summoned by pal Jeremiah Covenant to investigate the curse that's consuming him and his four siblings. As you explore the Covenant mansion in Ireland, you'll hear the bloodcurdling wails of the howlers and the wolf-like beasties that stalk the grounds a good 10 minutes before you'll ever see your first monster. Those 10 minutes trip you into unadulterated terror. And that's called "perfect pacing." Track down an old copy and see for yourself.
Resident Evil 4
(Capcom, Gamecube/PlayStation 2, 2005)
The early entries in Capcom's zombie- riffic shooter always get a ton of love from gamers — for the way they play on our fear of the lurching undead (and shady corporations messing with the laws of nature) and for those classic BOO! moments when zombie dogs burst unexpectedly through windows with a forearm sandwich on their canine minds. For my Halloween candy, it's the series' fourth entry that achieves creepy nirvana. The key? Moving the proceedings out of Raccoon City and into the isolated pastoral wilderness of an unidentified European village. Stuck miles from nowhere, you're not only in a country where everyone wants to kill you, but they don't even speak your language. All this creates a delicious Children of the Corn vibe that builds to a fever pitch, even when brainless villagers aren't looking to barbecue you on a pitchfork.
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge
(Capcom, Playstation 2, 2005)
Tim Burton's stop-motion Disney opus already holds a place in the Halloween pantheon. This game, which plays like a console-based sequel to the flick, deserves one too. It's only frightening if you're 5 and your idea of scary is Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin in a deserted pumpkin patch. But it's spooktacular because it's utterly true to its Halloween source, right down to the fact that the entire cast from the film reprises its roles. And you're given the chance to explore and interact in Halloweentown in ways the movie never email@example.com