“I am the Gatekeeper! I rule this game. And you will obey my rules.”
Most horror fans, myself included, were bit by the bug at a very young age. As a kid, there was nothing I loved more than being scared; in many ways, it’s a feeling I’ve continued to chase throughout my entire life. But few horror movies actually scared me back in the day. Freddy and Jason were my pals, rather than my nightmares. I didn’t fear them. Rather, I loved them.
The Gatekeeper, however, was childhood nightmare fuel of the highest order.
Released in 1991, the board game Nightmare was gifted to my brother and I by a family friend around that time, and it was like no game I had ever played before. It would’ve been a fairly standard board game if not for the inclusion of a VHS tape that made it scarily interactive for a kid, like myself, who didn’t quite understand how the magic trick was being pulled off.
The tape, to be slid into the VCR at the start of the game, was hosted by the sinister Gatekeeper, who walked through the rules and popped up at random intervals during the tape’s 60-minute run-time to make you do his bidding and, well, scare the living shit out of you; if you didn’t answer his every command with “Yes, my Gatekeeper,” so help you God. Essentially, the Gatekeeper was the ruler of the underworld, and his mission was to prevent each of the players from exiting The Other Side. As for the players, they were tasked with collecting keys and defeating him.
Wikipedia recalls the specific details that are a bit fuzzy to a 30-year-old me:
The game is set in a place known as “The Other Side”. This place has six Harbingers, each of whom has authority over a Province. To play the game, each player adopts the persona of one of the Harbingers: Gevaudan the werewolf; Hellin the poltergeist; Khufu the mummy; Baron Samedi the zombie; Anne de Chantraine the witch, and Elizabeth Bathory the vampire. The final character in the game is the Gatekeeper, whose job is to ensure that the other characters do not escape from The Other Side.
The game requires 3–6 players to attempt to collect keys while trying to beat the clock included on the video cassette. At random intervals, the game stops and The Gatekeeper appears to either taunt, reward, or penalize the players in a variety of ways. Prior to beginning the game, the players are required to write their “greatest fear” on individual slips of paper. The game is won by collecting six special keys before making it to the center of the game board where the player draws a ‘fear’. If that player draws someone else’s fear, the tape is stopped and that player is declared the winner. If no one is able to accomplish this within 60 minutes, The Gatekeeper is declared the winner.
What made Nightmare so scary was that the Gatekeeper seemed to be directly speaking to you as you played. Of course, this wasn’t actually the case, but as a kid it sure as hell seemed like he could see every move you were making and was listening to every word you were speaking. The interactivity was something very new at the time, capitalizing on the success of the VHS format and using it to brilliantly take the standard board game to a whole new level. And goddamn was Wenanty Nosul terrifying as the Gatekeeper: a character who totally deserved his own movie.
A movie, actually, was at one point planned, but never got off the ground.
Do you remember Nightmare? Revisit one of the original commercials below!