The Pinball Machines Of Horror! The Wonderful World of Horror-Themed Pinball Machines!
by: Roger Barr

I've always loved pinball machines ever since I was a kid. They're big, noisy, flashy, challenging, and absolutely addictive. Unlike most arcade video games, they can't be emulated; you simply have to play them in person to truly experience the games as they were meant to be enjoyed. After watching the documentary Special When Lit, my admiration for the work that goes into creating pinball games grew even more, and I highly recommend checking it out if you ever have a chance.

Now, as you probably already know, Pinball games are often based on popular TV shows and movies. Well, with Halloween right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the beautiful backglass artwork, flyers, and playfield designs of some of the best horror-themed pinball machines out there. I present to you, the Pinball Machines of HORROR!

Elvira and the Party Monsters

First up, I'd like to take a look at Elvira and the Party Monsters, which was the first of two existing Elvira-themed pinball machines. If there was ever any doubt that she was the most popular horror host in history, getting her own pinball game pretty much put the nail in that coffin. Chock-full of spooky graphics and her trademark comical sexual innuendo such as "Everybody scores big with Elvira!" and "It takes more than a quarter to turn me on!", everybody was ready to give it a try.

As you would expect, the backglass for the first Elvira game is an eye-grabber, and it's not just because of her uh... assets; it's because you have a variety of monsters throwing one hell of a graveyard shindig. There's a bubbling cauldron of "Elvira's Party Punch" with a skeleton bathing in it as a reaper stirs in a bottle of moonshine, and the Wolf Man appears to have filled his mug with the frothy green liquid. Dracula, however, appears to have decided to pass on the punch and went with a vintage 1931 plasma red blood wine. There's a severed head of a deadhead on a pedestal which reads "Deadheads never die, they just mellow with age." While you can't see his face, it's quite clear that the Creature from the Black Lagoon is holding up the barbeque grill, and the grill has some interesting items cooking on it: a "handburger", "schwei's blood sausage", "nerdman's broken ribs", "jimmy's froglegs", and "corn on the macabre". Oh how I love food puns.

(photo credit: Jarrett McDonald)

Of all the things on the playfield of this machine, the "Boogie Men" are easily my favorite feature. You have this high quality pinball machine with all kinds of wonderful graphics, a skull cave, slides, and twisting ramps, it amuses me to no end that they added in some cheap, classic finger monsters into the game. Make no mistake about it, the Boogie Men are nothing more than those classic finger monster toys you could purchase for practically nothing. But they just add to the charm of this game, and it's a delight seeing them dance whenever you get a boogie bonus!

The Addams Family

I don't think anybody in their right mind can talk about pinball games without mentioning The Addams Family machine, so there's definitely no way I'm gonna leave it off of this horror-themed pinball games list. Based on the 1991 The Addams Family film, the game was an absolute mega-hit, breaking all previous sales records with over 20,000 machines produced. I can honestly say that I've played this machine more than all other pinball games combined... it's just perfect.

The backglass showcases everything that makes the Addams Family so great - Morticia, Gomez, Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley, Lurch, and Thing having a grand ol' time in front of their mansion. I dig the little details too though, such as the man-eating venus fly trap plant in the bottom corner, or the infamous polar bear seen through one of the windows.

(photo credit: Judge-Dreads)

The machine itself had all kinds of wonderful features, including the voices of Raul Julia and Angelica Huston, as they recorded original dialogue lines specifically for the game. There's also a variety of dot-matrix animations, an electric chair, and the machine would even move its flippers in time with the finger snaps heard in the original Addams Family theme song. Of all the wonderful features found in the game, none were more visually pleasing to me than to see Thing actually pop out of its box on occasion. If your ball landed on the right spot, Thing would actually pop out of the machine and grab it (there was a magnet inside the hand). I still remember seeing this happen for the first time and yelling, "HAHA! THING JUST STOLE MY BALL!!!" Such a great reveal, and if you've never played this game, do yourself a favor and find one to play pronto.

Haunted House

Now here's a true classic; Haunted House was a great machine featuring a variety of spooky graphics all over its playfield including ghosts, old suits of armor, skulls, trap doors, gargoyles, and even ghouls 'n skeletons sitting at a dinner table.

I gotta say, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of a haunted house than what you see on this backglass. The colors are absolutely fantastic, and it perfectly encapsulates all the classic imagery one would associate with a creepy old haunted house: tombstones, the dead rising, owls, ghosts, rats, cobwebs, skulls, and a glowing green sky. Beautiful. Kudos to artist Terry Doerzaph on doing such a fine job on it.

(photo credit: gsnmbitz)

While it may not be as flashy as some of the more modern machines, Haunted House was actually the first pinball machine to have three levels of gameplay. You could roll your ball up the ramp to play in the upstairs attic area, or you could fall into one of the holes and end up in the cellar. Each section had its own set of challenges, complete with flippers and bumpers. Top it all off with the fact that the game used various segments of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor", and you have yourself a spectacular game to play during the Halloween season.

Freddy: A Nightmare On Elm Street

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was when the Freddy: A Nightmare on Elm Street pinball machine was released back in 1994. I remember reading about it in an issue of Fangoria magazine and immediately hunting around for the machine at local arcades. Make no mistake about it, this game does Freddy Krueger justice, as Gottlieb clearly put a lot of work into the production of it. Frantic music combined with Freddy cackling away always made this a game I never grew tired of.

And just look at that backglass. Sure, they could've used a generic Freddy Krueger image that we've all seen a million times, but they created their own original art where he's apparently stolen your ball and couldn't be happier about it. That devilish grin on his face makes me think he's gonna check it right into his boiler room furnace so it can become yet another one of his tortured souls. And naturally, ol' Fred couldn't help himself from slashing the speakers. What a bastard.

There are all kinds of great Freddy visuals on the playfield in this game: Nancy being pulled into a mirror, a skeleton Krueger wearing his fedora and razors coming out of his bony fingers, a furnace that opens up, razors that would pop up and save your ball from rolling between the two bottom flippers, and even a big freddy glove that would slash at the ball and knock it right off the track. But there's no denying that the greatest feature was the oversized Freddy head in the upper left quadrant of the machine. Trust me, seeing Freddy's mouth open and spit pinballs out as he shouts "Rock 'n rolllll!!!" or "Sweet Dreams!" at you is a pinball moment that every horror fan should experience at least once.

Monster Bash

We all know that monsters rock, but in 1998 Williams set out to prove it by bringing all of the Universal Studios together to form the ultimate rock band for Monster Bash. The game puts Frankenstein, the Mummy, Wolf Man, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon all in the same machine, and your goal was to have them come together as the Monsters of Rock by collecting their instruments.

This is easily one of my favorite backglass designs of all-time. You have a town full of angry villagers, armed with pitchforks and torches (and one person even brought a gardening rake!), and the monsters have all joined forces to stop them in the only way they know how... by rocking out! Frankenstein has a lightning-powered keyboard strapped to his body with chains, while his lovely Bride belts out her best vocals into the mic. The Mummy and Dracula each have customized guitars to coincide with their individual aesthetics so they can shred the night away. Wolf Man is ready to play a blazing drum solo as he howls in the moonlight. But my favorite thing of all is how the Creature from the Black Lagoon is playing saxophone but still refused to drop the damsel in distress whom he's carrying in one of his arms. Way to put double-duty there, Creature!

(photo credit: AJpinball)

Monster Bash had some really fun features, including the "Phantom Flip" feature, which would actually let you sit back and watch it play the game for you as if the machine was possessed! Still, I always loved how they made custom monster toy figures to place inside the playfield. Frankenstein would rise up on his lab table, the Mummy would pop out of his sarcophagus, and the creature would emerge from the murky depths of his lagoon. It's easily one of the most colorful playfields you'll ever come across. I just wish they released a companion album of the monsters performing their tunes to go along with the release of Monster Bash. That'd be one hell of a fun collector's item.

I hope you've enjoyed this tour of some of my favorite horror pinball games so far. Keep in mind, this is just the first entry in my ongoing series about horror-themed pinball machines, and I've already written up Part 2 that you can read HERE. That said, feel free to post your suggestions down below for horror-themed pinball machines you'd like to see me cover in future installments of this article series.

Also, what are some horror movies that you would like to see get their own dedicated pinball machine? What features do you think it should have? Drop a comment below! Personally, I'd love to see a Phantasm one. Considering the Tall Man kills with people with his silver sentinel sphere, it would translate perfectly into having a multiball mode pinball game while he shouts "Boyyyyyy!" at you. I doubt it'll ever happen, but one can dream... well, just as long as Freddy isn't around.

Have any questions or comments about this piece?


Reader Comments

Click here to return to the Features homepage