By 1990, George Romero had completed his epic zombie trilogy, which of course forever changed the landscape of zombie cinema and, for that matter, all things zombie. In the early ’90s, films like Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead and Dead Alive proved that zombies were still alive and well, and the George Lucas-founded LucasArts decided to take advantage of the enduring popularity of Romero’s flesh-eating creation. In 1993, their video game Zombies Ate My Neighbors was published by Konami for the Super NES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.
The overhead game’s plot centers on a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Tongue, a likely reference to the very first zombie (“Dr. Tongue”) seen in Romero’s Day of the Dead. Story goes that Dr. Tongue has created all sorts of different monsters in his spooky underground laboratory, which have been unleashed on the populace. It’s up to teens Zeke and Julie to save the day.
Playing as either Zeke (a rad dude rocking 3D glasses and a serious head of blonde hair) or Julie (a cool chick in a red cap and purple jacket), you were tasked with roaming around 55 different environments (which included a shopping mall, various backyards, a beach, and a haunted castle), battling Dr. Tongue’s monsters, collecting items like keys and new weapons, and most importantly, saving aloof victims from certain doom. The object was to essentially “collect” your neighbors in each level before they were killed, allowing you to advance to the next one.
Now the cool thing about Zombies Ate My Neighbors, despite what the title would lead you to believe, is that Dr. Tongue didn’t exclusively deal in zombies. Yes, the game does feature many of Romero’s trademark ghouls, but each level also included all sorts of other monsters. It was a full-on monster mash of villains from various horror movies; looking back today, it’s fair to call Zombies Ate My Neighbors the original Cabin in the Woods. Threats included underground, Graboid-like monsters, a masked maniac with a chainsaw, giant spiders, werewolves, vampires, evil dolls, and even a giant freakin’ baby. The final boss was the sinister Dr. Tongue, who transformed into a giant spider and then a floating head that could literally shoot tongues.
As for the weapons Zeke and Julie used to dispatch enemies, they included surprisingly effective water guns, exploding soda cans, tomatoes, and even weed-whackers. You could also jump on trampolines and just spring the hell away from the monsters and into other areas, which was (as far as I can recall) often my chosen course of action when I played the game as a kid.
Hey, there’s something to be said for just running away from threats.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors spawned a sequel titled Ghoul Patrol in ’94, and at one point in time, the original game almost even made the leap to the big screen. It was reported back in 2011 that a feature film adaptation of the game penned by John Darko was looking for financing, and it was described as a coming of age tale that mixed John Hughes, Judd Apatow and George Romero.
Unfortunately, the project quickly found itself in development hell. We haven’t heard a peep about a potential adaptation in some time now. But at least we have Cabin in the Woods, friends.