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Video Game / Phantasmagoria

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Consumite furore...

"Women were swooning in the aisles at the gory realism of his spectacles. For the uninitiated, Carno's shows are not for the faint of heart as they feature occult images, the black arts, torture devices, bodily amputations; of course, all accompanied by a generous dose of screams, shrieks, howls—and frightening organ music. Those of you up to thrills and chills won't want to miss this!"
— Review (in-universe) of Carno's Phantasmagoria Show

Phantasmagoria is a 1995 horror-themed adventure game developed by Sierra and written by Roberta Williams, better known for the King's Quest and Laura Bow series. Made at the height of the Full Motion Video boom in gaming, the game utilizes bluescreen technology to combine real actors with computer-rendered backgrounds. To this day Roberta claims this to be her best work, and it shows, given the long development period.

The story, which borrows quite heavily from The Shining as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, is as follows: Famous writer Adrienne Delaney and her photographer husband Don Gordon move into a large, fancy mansion, built and previously owned by an eccentric magician by the name of Zoltan "Carno" Carnovasch. While snooping around her new home, Adrienne discovers a mysterious box in a sealed-off chamber in Carno's study and, to make a short story even shorter, unwittingly unleashes something mysterious and ominous that later turns out to be a demon.

Not too long after the event, Adrienne's normally amiable husband starts acting uncharasteristically irritable and irrational, growing increasingly violent and picking up new bad habits. Over the course of seven days, extensive research and some very vivid paranormal visions lead Adrienne to uncover the mansion's dark history and the gruesome truth behind the suspicious deaths of Carno and his numerous wives.

While Phantasmagoria suffers from many of the problems common to FMV games, mainly less-than-stellar acting and somewhat limited gameplay, it is widely regarded as one of the better games to come out of the fad. Unlike oh so many other FMV titles, it actually manages to feel like a game you play instead of a half-arsed interactive movie, and the story, while not the most original piece of fiction, is well-constructed. Nevertheless, it became a hot seller and ended up becoming the best selling Sierra game of all time.

An In Name Only sequel, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, was released in 1996. Aside from the full motion video and gruesome death scenes, the games have little in common in terms of setting and atmosphere, and the storylines have only a very loose connection.

This game provides examples of:

  • And Call Him "George": Cyrus accidentally kills Adrienne's beloved cat Spazz. At least, that's what she believes, given that she saw Cyrus messing with him before. It's entirely possible that Don Kicked the Dog and did the kitty in, himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Adrienne successfully defeats Carno and lifts the curse, but Don had to be killed in order to do so. She's also left in a near-catatonic state, no doubt emotionally scarred for life. Though as seen in the sequel, she does eventually get her book published.
  • Blood Magic: Adrienne needs to spill some drops of her blood on Carno's talisman to enact the ritual to exorcise the Demon.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • The Japanese Saturn port heavily edits the death scene flashbacks Adrienne sees at certain parts of the game, usually removing any Gross-Up Close-Up shots of Carno's wives being killed. It also skips the Rape as Drama scene that starts chapter 4, instead starting with Adrienne crying on her bed after the ordeal.
    • The original English game also included a more family-friendly option that parents could turn on, locking the original behind a password. Again, this eliminated the rape scene and some of the more disturbing depictions, which is likely what the Saturn version was based on.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The snowman ornament. Though not quite to the extent one might expect; it's not enough to snap Don out of his possessed state for real, only to buy Adrienne enough time to do him in.
    • Don asks Adrienne early on for some drain cleaner to help with his darkroom project; she buys him some the next day and it's never spoken of again. She uses it later on the fully-possessed Don to burn the hell out of his face and save her own skin.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Adrienne mentions early that she took Latin classes in college, which lets her read Carno's spellbook to send the demon back whence it came.
  • The Chosen One: Carno's ghost outright tells Adrienne that she's been chosen to banish the demon for good.
  • Creator Cameo: The envelope in Malcolm's mailbox was sent from Roberta Williams herself, with Oakhurst being the address listed under her name. Roberta also has a small chance of appearing in-game when Adrienne enters the antique store, walking by the window.
  • Cruel and Unusual Deaths: In just one horrifying example alone, one lady is revealed to have died via neck snapping, having her neck rotated in a full circle, 360 degree angle motion. And that's not even scratching the surface of this game.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Adrienne learns the hard way that walled-off rooms in old creepy mansions with dark pasts are usually walled-off for a good reason. By the end, she's the only one left in the house, not counting the adjacent town.
  • Darker and Edgier: Yes, this game was created by the designer of King's Quest and Mixed-Up Mother Goose.
  • Death by Irony: How Carno murders each of his wives.
  • Death of a Child: Death of Carno's daughter Sofia, age 2.
  • Demonic Possession: Magician Carno, possessed by the demon, kills wife after wife. At the start of the game, Don also becomes possessed, and his behaviour grows increasingly aggressive until it comes to a head in the last chapter.
  • Drugs Are Bad:
    • After Don becomes possessed but before Adrienne has discovered this, she finds out that a bottle of absinthe in the foyer's wet bar is starting to decrease in amount day by day; likewise, Carno's cigarette holder is suddenly missing one, and you can find its remaining stub inside the secret passages. This could also count as Mistaken for Junkie, but Adrienne never calls him on any possible drinking or drug problems.
    • The disappearance of Carno's cigarettes are a particularly confusing example of this, if it was meant to be an example at all. Don is clearly shown smoking at breakfast before he gets possessed.
  • Dumb Muscle: Harriet's dimwitted but strong son, Cyrus.
  • Ending Theme: A rock-like song titled "Take a Stand" plays over the ending credits.
  • Eye Scream: Carno kills Victoria by smashing her face eye-first onto a wine bottle.
  • Cruelty / Failure Is the Only Option: There is no way to save Don; you must kill him to finish the game. Given the multiple paths in the final level players assumed for a long time there was some way to save him for a better ending- even calling Sierra only to be told the Downer Ending is the only ending.
  • Flushing-Edge Interactivity: Clicking the mansion's toilet makes Adrienne politely close the door, do her business off-screen, and open it again to resume gameplay.
  • Force Feeding:
    • Hortencia's death if you count having trowels of dirt being shoveled into your mouth as "feeding".
    • Regina's death involves her being stuffed with a whole load of animal entrails through a funnel until she suffocates.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Adrienne's nightmare in the opening, the fortune teller fortunes, and Harriet's tarot card session.
    • You also get scrambled warnings presumably from the ghosts of Carno and/or his wives if you check your laptop each chapter until Don destroys it.
  • Fortune Teller: There is a mechanical fortune teller in the entrance hall, Adrienne may receive one fortune each chapter all with a case of foreshadowing.
  • Gorn: One of Phantasmagoria's main selling points, and a cause of controversy back when it was first released. It's up there with the Manhunter series as one of Sierra's goriest games ever.
  • Happily Married: We get one whole chapter of Don and Adrienne acting like a perfectly average couple before everything goes to hell.
  • Harmful to Minors: As a child, Malcolm was the sole witness to the deaths of Carno, Marie, and Gaston.
  • Haunted House: Adrienne and Don buy the Carnovasch Estate, a castle-like manor where most of the game is set. Unbeknownst to them, the manor has its share of ghosts and buried secrets...
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The demon essentially transforms the men it possesses into misogynistic, abusive husbands.
  • Heroic BSoD: Adrienne in the ending, so very hard: she is forced to kill her husband, then has to flee from a demon, banishes it using an ancient ritual, and finally, leaves the manor in a catatonic state. Cue credits and ending theme.
  • Hint System: The Hintkeeper will divulge a hint to you if clicked on, and he'll describe items if you use them on him.
  • Holy Burns Evil: A blessed object is required in the final ritual. This can either be a titanium crucifix or a set of rosary beads, depending on your actions.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • Sort of. Early on in the game, Adrienne has an option to help herself to a drink from one of the wine casks in the cellar. In a later chapter, a vision implies that Victoria's body was stashed in said cask.
    • Regina's death could also apply. We don't know that Carno was feeding her meat in sauces...
  • Kill It with Fire: Gaston and Marie try to get rid of Carno by sabotaging a stunt of his which involves him getting set on fire. They only succeed in putting him in the hospital, however...
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In Chapter 2, Adrienne and Don find evidence that there have been vagrants living in their barn. Don flies into a rage, messing up their belongings and threatening them with bodily harm if he catches them. This is apparently supposed to be an example of how drastically his Nice Guy personality has changed, but although his reaction is over the top, most people wouldn't react any better to the discovery of uninvited guests on their property... At least, not as badly as him.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Adrienne dotes on her cat Spazz, and Don is okay with it, too, before everything goes to hell. Adrienne is crushed when she finds Spazz's dead body later.
  • Large Ham: Don gets hammier and hammier as the game progresses and his mental state deteriorates. Carno's got quite a flare for the dramatic as well. Overacting must be a symptom of the demonic possession or something.
  • Laughing Mad: Don during the final chapter. So much. So frigging much.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Despite the game being seven discs in length and about three days in-game, Adrienne only ever wears an orangey-pink sweater and black jeans. According to one of the magazine articles put out by Sierra, the jeans were not originally part of her costume. The actress wore them in on the first day of filming and the producer decided they were perfect. The actress states that, being already somewhat worn, they were held together by duct tape by the end of shooting.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Carno, a stage magician by profession, also dabbled in the dark arts in his spare time.
  • The Many Deaths of You: You can't die normally, but in the last chapter, there are dozens of places in which you can die and several cutscenes shown depending on where and how you get caught by Don or if you get killed by the demon.
  • Market-Based Title: The Japanese Sega Saturn port is titled Phantasm.
  • Meaningful Name: Hortencia, she loves to garden and has an ironic death there.
  • Mercy Kill: What Adrienne does to Don in some of the endings. Regardless of what you do, there's no way of snapping him out of his Ax-Crazy Demonic Possession, so the only way for her to save herself and banish the demon is to put him out of his misery.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Adrienne is an in-universe best selling novelist, especially known for a book called Blue Moon Rising.
  • Mr. Exposition: The proprietor of an antique store in town, Lou-Ann, has lived there long enough to have a good handle on the goings-on at the Carnovasch estate, and she divulges a bunch of backstory if the player is curious enough to pursue it. When questioned enough, she provides Adrienne access to a family scrapbook containing newspaper clippings containing yet more backstory upon her next visit.
  • Neck Snap: Carne kills Lenora by having her head cranked 360 degrees by a head twister, a magic contraption that provides a visual illusion. In this case, though...there was no trick.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: It is due to Adrienne's actions in the first chapter that the demon is released and quickly possesses Don.
  • Old, Dark House: The Carnovasch Estate is absolutely gargantuan, being located on its own island off the New England coast. The surrounding land is similarly populated with other constructs such as a carriage house, a crypt, and a greenhouse. Its reputation for being haunted likely allowed for Don and Adrienne to afford it in the first place. See a map taken from the official strategy guide here.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: "Consumite... FUROO-RE!"
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: An optional way to get into the mansion's attic. Without the paper, just whip out your fireplace poker to get the key.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The bodies of Mike, Harriet, and Cyrus can be stumbled upon during the chase scene in the final chapter.
  • Pendulum of Death: In the past, Marie conspired with her lover, Gaston, to kill her Bluebeard husband Carno by sabotaging the equipment for his most infamous and dangerous escapology trick, in which Carno dons a burning hood and escapes from bonds on a throne equipped with an overhead pendulous axe. The sabotage leaves Carno horribly burned and disfigured, but he survives and viciously attacks Marie and Gaston. After killing Marie by beheading her with the same pendulous throne, Carno is killed by Gaston just before he succumbs to his own wounds. In the present, Don (who is possessed by a demon) captures Adrienne and straps her into the pendulous throne, but she distracts him long enough to free herself from the throne and trigger the pendulum, which impales and kills Don.
  • Professional Maiden Name: Adrienne and Don don't share a last name, possibly because their careers (a novelist and a photographer, respectively) had been built up on those identities before they got married.
  • Rape as Drama: Chapter 4's intro cutscene. Don walks in on Adrienne in the bathroom and starts making loving advances on her, which eventually leads to him pinning her in the corner of the room and violently forcing himself on her. After the deed is done, she collapses to the floor sobbing, and he looks around as if confused to what just happened before leaving the room.
    • According to Roberta Williams, this scene is a turning point in the story. Before, Adrienne didn't find Don's behavior especially weird. This rape is the moment where she finally realizes there's something really wrong happening.
    • In the Japan-only Sega Saturn port, the whole scene is cut, skipping to Adrienne sitting in bed, sobbing.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Don's darkroom. It's locked throughout most of the game until, in the final chapter, Adrienne finds the door ajar... And she finds a Stalker Shrine inside.
    • In a less room-y example, in some chapters, Adrienne can find her laptop open with insane text littering the screen. In the next-to-last chapter, it's completely destroyed.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Demon. After the deaths of Carno, Gaston and Marie, it seemingly went back into the spellbook to wait for new victims; a young Malcolm, having no idea how to properly exorcise it, carried the book in a box into the mansion's chapel and covered it with the Carnovasch family Bible as an impromptu lock.
  • Secret Underground Passage: The Carnovasch Estate is riddled with hidden passageways accessible through depressable panels in the walls, but they don't start working until Carno's specter informs Adrienne about them. They're the only way to reach some locations, like the family crypt, and the final chapter can involve a merry chase throughout nearly all of them depending on your decisions.
  • Shout-Out: Bob Thompkins has pin-ups of the girls from Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out! in his office.
  • Side Quest: Lou the antiques dealer in town has an interest in cameo brooches which Adrienne can help her indulge in, but it's not required to complete the game.
  • Small Towns: The coastal town of Nipawomsett, where you'll probably spend one quarter of the entire game.
  • Spinventory: Leads to a Guide Dang It! moment if you don't realize that examined items can also be interacted with; you have to push a button on the back of the black onyx figurine's head to reveal it to be a letter opener.
  • Spooky Painting: After they've moved in, Adrienne finds a mostly blank canvas propped up inside the mansion's conservatory. At first, there's only a few peculiar brush strokes on its surface. Every day that follows, if she examines it again, a few more strokes have been added, and the accompanying music grows a bit more foreboding. On the final day, the painting is finished, and it's revealed to be a portrait of the Demon.
  • Staking the Loved One: Adrienne kills Don with Carno's bladed pendulum prop to save herself. This has the added effect of manifesting the Demon.
  • Story Breadcrumbs: If you just go from objective to objective, you miss a bunch of details regarding Carno and his life with his previous wives, as well as facets of the haunting manifesting around the estate.
  • Tarot Troubles: Harriet can do a tarot reading for Adrienne if given the deck of cards. She draws The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, Strength, The Hanged Man, The Tower, The Devil, and Death. Yes, somehow, Adrienne managed to draw all Major Arcana cards; Harriet's interpretation of the cards also fudges some of their meanings.
  • Tears of Blood: In the opening to chapter 5, Adrienne is sleeping peacefully (in her normal clothes, no less) until blood seeps out of her eyes, then she wakes up.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: The ending to the game has Adrienne with this trope as she walks slowly out of the castle. It's a clear sign that she is experiencing a Heroic BSoD so badly that she's almost catatonic.
  • Tragic Monster:
    • Arguably, Don. The game starts him out as an all-around good guy to Adrienne, but as they continue to stay inside the house, the demonic possession made him unlike himself and commit heinous acts, going so far as to rape and (unsuccessfully) kill his own wife! If he was in his right mind, there's no way he would've permitted any of this. The worst part is towards the end of the story, if Adrienne tries to use reason, it will soundly fail and he will kill her anyway.
    • It is also implied that Carno was a Nice Guy before he got possessed.
  • Two First Names: Adrienne's husband is named Donald Gordon.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Harriet horks up a green soupy mass which turns out to be Carno's specter.
  • You Are Not Alone: In Chapter 5, Adrienne gets a fortune that says "We are watching you, you are not alone"