By and large, there's something at least a little bit scary about most of the fighters in Mortal Kombat. Be they ancient elemental gods, or eight foot mountains of muscle - most have a pretty liberal attitude towards life and death, and the means to cut short at least one of those.
With Halloween right around the corner - members of the Mortal Kombat Online staff have put their spooky suits on to scare up the would-be Top 10 Mortal Kombat Horror Icons! To formulate this list, we went to the darkest recesses of human fears and phobia. We turned klassic kombatants inside and out to examine the terrifying and uncomfortable implications of their fullest powers - and our list may just shock you! So be warned: This Kountdown is not for the faint of heart!
With only ten characters accounted for, it's inevitable we left out one or two heart stopping Halloween horror stories! Registered users should be encouraged to share their own campfire tales on the forums! Until then - on with the horror show!
Implied Horror: You may not look at some fighters the same after this!
At the root of everyday terror lies our fundamental instinct for survival. It's a genetic memory programmed at the infancy of the human race. Many characters would trigger this flight reflex in us all, but only Baraka could inspire such visceral dread that we'd disembowel ourselves -- if only to avoid watching him do it slowly!
Disproportionate fangs overwhelm his face into a twisted, slobbering grin. Baraka truly has all the qualities of the most ferocious wild animal - married to the gleeful intent of a manic sadist! It's fitting that Baraka began digitized life as an actor wearing a modified fright mask. The simplistic impossibility of that original home made design has evolved into a sometimes overlooked vision of pure horror.
There's more to the scare factor than simple physical intimidation, however. Like many archetypal monsters of classic horror folklore - Baraka is ultimately a grotesque personification of social taboo and anxiety.
Recognizably human - with demonic embellishments - Baraka and the Tarkatans tap into ancient fears of savagery, bloodlust and animal urges. 12 inch retractable blades burst from Baraka's forearms as if biologically manifesting this innate design for barbarism and murder - often depicted in the modern games as violent protrusions of pure body horror.
#2 Shang Tsung
On the surface, Shang Tsung may seem an unlikely candidate for horror icon, but away from the context of a martial arts video game, the true terror of his methods begins to emerge.
Truth be told, there are multiple facets of psychological horror intrinsic to Shang Tsung's character. The young and young at heart may have overlooked it for its cartoon depiction, but those who've been with the series throughout its 20 year history may be appreciating the simple threat of growing old!
This inevitable march of time has inspired centuries of myth and legend, with Tsung's Faustian pact with Shao Kahn and constant struggle to remain young reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's gothic horror: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). For more modern depictions of the price of vanity and the horror of aging, flash forward a century to the final act of Stephen Spielberg's Nazi slapping romp: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989).
Of course, Shang Tsung's objective to acquire your soul may be scary - but its his mystic methodology that we find most chilling. The sorcerer remains famous for his ability to transform himself into other people -- including your loved ones!
The idea was exploited briefly for the 1995 Mortal Kombat feature film, but when applied to you or I in mundane circumstances -- rather than a device of super-power stealing, or momentary trickery -- it becomes a Freudian horror of uncanny betrayal! It's a real world, psychological terror akin to The Shining (1977), with roots in social phenomena like alcoholism or post-natal depression. Heavy themes, but never more relevant as Mortal Kombat X takes the series toward a second generation!
In recent games, Shang Tsung has also taken on aspects of mad science. His perversion of nature through experiments of black magic and black science created the Flesh Pits. This dank arena is where another of our top 10 horror icons was born - rendering Shang Tsung a more literal parental betrayer. While entirely valid as a horror concept, it's third fiddle to the psychological chills of his other qualities.
The Grudge: Hell hath no fury like Scorpion!
Familiarity may have lessened the impact of Scorpion as an image of horror, but we don't think that would apply if the ninja spectre were to pay an unexpected visit to reality. In fact, we'd be willing to bet your skinny jeans there'd be a noticeable wet patch if the shouty hellspawn set his sights on you.
[Related Article: Mortal Kombat: Nerd versus Scorpion Skit]
Scorpion's horror credentials are significantly less complicated than our #2 pick, and a bit more fun as a result. Because while we may like to think of Scorpion as a nice guy just trying to come to terms with having a really bad day -- when you get down to it... He's kind of a rampaging maniac with a flaming skull for a head, and a terminal case of "outside-voice".
Uncompromising, unstoppable, and undead: Scorpion is basically the fighting game equivalent of the quintessential 1980s slasher! With the determined focus of The Terminator, the supernatural invincibility of Jason Voorhees, and the vocal register of Wayne Static [Wait, what?] - Scorpion is the kind of vengeful spirit who just needs to be pointed in a direction to start the killing.
Given that the pointers in question are just as likely to be Quan Chi and Shinnok as they are the bad guys - we'll be taking our vitamins, and saying our prayers, just in case. (Heck, we might even be grateful to have Freddy Kreuger as a guest character, if only to distract Scorpion with another Versus brawl.) "Get over here!", quoth the Scorpion.
The best Reptile is the one who wears his scales on the outside -- but the scariest Reptile is the one wearing a disguise of human skin!
It's all about the anonymous man on the street at night. The one a little bit overdressed, who passes you by, but has completely vanished when you turn to wonder if something isn't quite right!
Reptile's species has the ability to turn essentially invisible - yet while acting as bodyguard to Shang Tsung during the original Mortal Kombat, he supposedly opted to walk among us disguised as a man. What the hell?!
Where Baraka's animal qualities tap an intellectual aspect of human anxiety; Reptile is the creepy menace of an overtly alien creature whose intentions are no clearer than his immediate location. With his ability to vomit acid, you could make comparisons to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), but for his ability to hide in plain sight behind the face of a man, we look to Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic (1997) for comparable sci-fi horror.
The action movie comparisons to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome are easy to make, but crank the dial up a few notches, and you've got the makings of a horror movie massacre!
Sure. It's a big call to make this far ahead of Mortal Kombat X, but the horrors of Ferra/Torr are arguably inherent to the character concept itself.
Torr's hessian sack headwear and lumbering co-dependency recalls the original visual of Jason's demonic emancipation in Friday The 13th: Part II (1981). Add the fact he's still beholden to the guidance of Ferra, and it starts to give the distinct whiff of a tribal mutant apocalypse, ala; The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Fortunately, the visuals aren't quite so grotesque. [Hmm... I wonder if Torr's ever been a school teacher...]
The twist in the knot that makes it all the more messed up is that the one calling the shots is... Well, we'll say childlike, (to the convenience of ESRB ratings). If you've ever spent time with a bratty little kid (or some of our message board posters), you'd understand just how frightening a concept it could be for an unstoppable brute to be at the whims of a child! Think Bill Mumy in It's a Good Life (The Twilight Zone; 1961), by way of a Cowboys & Indians costume and a whole lot of broken bones!
Child's Play: Getting a bite to eat with Mileena is all kinds of wrong.
While the horror premise of a deadly seductress could also be adequately reflected by Nitara - even the subtlety of a scantily clad vampiress pales in comparison to the increasingly demented persona that has come to define Mileena!
In a culture increasingly concerned with the depictions of women in popular culture; Mileena bucks against the trend by leaning into overt sexualisation to completely turn it on its head! It's the perfect brand of ironic horror to send a chill through socially awkward male demographics who typically dominate the fighting game space.
In her earliest incarnations; Mileena dwelled on themes of homicidal jealousy, self-esteem and sibling rivalries -- Single White Female (1992) meets The Princess Diaries -- but contemporary versions have bent this idea into more disturbing kinks. The childlike demeanour of a genetic clone recently created in Shang Tsung's Flesh Pits -- as opposed to a hybrid being raised from infancy -- raises all manner of ethical questions about her sexual flirtations. This once again highlights the power of social taboos in horror, as the metaphor for moral precepts of age of consent and psychological exploitation manifest in the form of a mutant maw beneath the veil of presumed adult beauty.
The concept of Hell as a dominion for punishment and eternal damnation is a powerful staple of religious doctrine and folklore. In many depictions, it is the duty (and pleasure) of demons to administer perpetual tortures of a sadistic and vile nature. Mortal Kombat's Netherrealm has never gone so far as to dwell on this matter, but there are certainly those figures who imply as much, dwelling in a landscape of an obviously Judeo-Christian inferno occupied by corrupt souls of the dead (once ruled by Lucifer, before Shinnok).
Very few people fancy the notion of eternal torture, so you can imagine the ill feelings Drahmin elicits when prospective employers note the title of "Oni Tormentor" on his curriculum vitae. (Note: One such employer was Quan Chi -- a Netherrealm sorcerer of considerable note, who still felt the need to recruit Drahmin and Moloch to deal with a certain Scorpion problem.)
Western eyes may balk at the sight of Drahmin's colourful mask, but the tainted warlord who emerged from the 5th plane of the Netherrealm wearing it does not particularly care about your opinions of aesthetics. His body of rotting, skinless flesh should persuade an element of revulsion, probably helped along by a pungent stench if the gathering swarm of flies is any indication! Drahmin's primary weapon of torture is a spiked iron club fixed to his hand, but we're sure the flies will have a use as this torturer of demons by trade makes light work of your puny mortal soul. (Heaven help you for laughing at the mask.)
#8 Quan Chi
'When there's no more room in Hell - the dead shall roam the Earth!' A catchy line, but not entirely reliable when a guy like Quan Chi is around. Biblical raptures and the walking dead are all in a day's work for the Netherrealm necromancer, whose ability to control zombie hordes is still downright creepy to anyone who isn't counting the hours until they can excusably bludgeon their neighbours.
If the zombie killing vogue is in your milieu, you might just regret your enthusiasm for carnage. If the wanton bloodshed has tainted your soul, you're in Quan Chi's province now, and your killer shovel arm might just be what he's looking for. While you're looking for dry wood, ammunition, or untainted meat - Quan Chi is taking the opportunity to murder your family. Then it's just a short wait until the head games start, or he encourages you to ingest your lethal weapon, and turns you into an undead revenant.
Quan Chi doesn't just make the list because he wears the latest fashions from Clive Barker's Hellraiser collection. He's the more free roaming, active counterpart to devil surrogate Shinnok - and depending on the outcome of coming events -- possibly the more deadly of the two!
Kanogard: Good thing Aussies are used to dealing with giant bugs!
Way back at the beginning we prefaced our #1 horror icon with the importance of the human (fight or) flight instinct. Mortal Kombat X newcomer D'Vorah opens up the doors to a special domain of instinctive fear that no doubt applies to you or someone you know: phobias!
D'Vorah isn't just herself an overgrown creepy crawly with a humanoid body and venomous secretions. She commands a small army of creepy crawlies of different shapes and sizes, all hivemind inclined to do her bidding on the battlefield... or perhaps while you sleep!
There are giant squidging subservient grubs, tiny little wasps to get tangled in your hair, and who knows what else! It's a generally terrifying swarm for anyone with a special dislike for things that crawl, scuttle and buzz -- fatally so if you happen to have an allergy! I'm not saying My Girl is a horror movie benchmark, but at least some of you will have deep seeded childhood terrors at the mere thought. That's good enough, for us! Throw in vague reports of allegiance to the heart sacrificing Aztec God Kotal Kahn, or possible aspirations to sting him in the back -- and she's sounding even more like the deadliest of her species!
Our #10 horror icon may be the most unlikely, but we like to think that supports his candidacy for exactly that status. Kobra is perhaps most associated with being the less-than-beloved karate fighter in the mould of Street Fighter golden boy: Ken.
The thought of a Street Fighter character is sometimes enough to inspire stomach churning dread in Mortal Kombat fans, but it's the wolf in sheeps clothing quality of the Black Dragon fighter that tickles our fancy.
As Deception made known - Kobra is one of the few Mortal Kombat characters whose martial artistry can be explicitly linked with the vice of sadism. Yes, many characters engage in violent acts - but the average kombatant is (traditionally) filtered through some sense of kode of kombat, broad motivation, or mitigating circumstance. Kobra is simply depicted as a homicidal martial artist. Think American Psycho if you traded suits by Valentino for karate gis by Kobra Kai.
Where American Psycho's Patrick Bateman reflected the worst qualities of a horror movie obsessed audience, Kobra arguably captures the most troubling qualities of violent video games, as well. While studies have frequently supported the common sense that video games cannot control a person's actions -- that cannot account for the personalized filter of every personality type. Through the veil of a fictional figure, Kobra embodies the thing society at large fears: someone who genuinely loves brutality, and has the martial artistry to live out his violent fantasies.
Dishonorable Mention: The Living Forest chews up the Brothers Grimm and... that's all!
Which Mortal Kombat fighters do you think make great horror icons? Register to share your scariest selections on the Mortal Kombat X forum! Share the terror this Halloween by liking this Kountdown via @MK_Online and Facebook!