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A Puzzling Look at Horror Movies

Guest Post by Glenn Dallas

Have you ever noticed the curious connection between puzzles and horror movies?

As a puzzle fan and a horror movie aficionado, I’m overjoyed every time I see my interests converge in a suitably unnerving fashion.

There are films where puzzles are absolutely integral to the story.

In the Hellraiser series, solving the puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration is what unleashes Pinhead and the Cenobites on their victims. (Though after nine movies, you really think people would’ve learned their lessons by now.)

In the Cube series, protagonists wake up inside a giant puzzle box filled with mysteries and deadly traps, but they have two puzzles to solve: how to escape the Cube and what they’re doing inside it in the first place.

The first film provides some solid puzzly conundrums, while the other two traffic more in random plot twists and gotcha-reveals. Still, this is some pretty high-level puzzling for a horror film.

The trap rooms of Cube remind me of a similar sequence in the first Resident Evil film, where the protagonists confront a long, laser-guarded corridor that grows successively more perilous with every person who tries to slip through. It’s the ultimate in beat-the-clock puzzles because you just know that eventually someone won’t make it.

Of course, plenty of horror movies cloak their narrative in the classic whodunnit mystery. There are plenty of slasher films where the puzzle is unraveling who the killer is before someone else is struck down. This puzzle is never more engaging than when you’re confronted with a small cast, creating a “the killer is among us” scenario, as movies like Scream and The Thing did so well.

But these are all fairly straightforward puzzles. For a more esoteric solving experience, we must turn to the master of giallo horror, Dario Argento.

Gather some friends, put on Inferno or another Argento classic, and play “Guess Who Dies Next and How” (which is not nearly as easy as you might think, even if you’ve seen the film before). And for the more ambitious among you, you can always play “Guess Which Character Is the Protagonist,” arguably the toughest puzzle in horror films.

Unfortunately, with remakes and retreads all the rage these days, the golden age of puzzly horror might be over. Hopefully someone will come up with something murderous and mentally-stimulating very soon.

For more mind-bending content (but with less gore and fewer severed limbs), check us out on puzzlenation.com.

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