The Pinball Machines Of Horror: Part 2! The Wonderful World of Horror-Themed Pinball Machines!
by: Roger Barr

Last year, I covered five fantastic horror-themed pinball machines, and everyone seemed to enjoy taking a look back at the macabre side of one of our favorite gaming pastimes. Between the beautiful artwork and the ingenious gameplay designs, it's hard not to fall in love with all of them at first sight. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, click here to do so. If you're all caught up, however, you'll be happy to know I've compiled another Halloweeny handful of horrific pinball machines for this season - some of which you probably didn't even know existed. I present to you, the Pinball Machines of HORROR: Part 2!


Even if you didn't know about its existence, it should come as no surprise that a Tales from the Crypt pinball machine was made. Released in 1993, this machine by Data East perfectly encapsulated everything that made the HBO horror anthology series so much fun. If you look closely, you'll notice that instead of the typical plunger that players pull to fire off the ball, this machine featured the Cryptkeeper's mansion door handle that you would press down instead. Many models of this machine were later outfitted with a plain button to fire the ball, so it's always very nice to see one with the original mansion door handle autoplunger.

As you can see, not only is the Cryptkeeper himself prominently featured on the backglass, but they also featured past guest stars from the HBO show. My friends, if you've been looking for a pinball machine that pays homage to Bobcat Goldthwait, this is the game for you. I also love that the killer Santa from the "And All Through The House" episode is included in the colorful artwork. Lotta fun late night horror show memories in that collage.

(photo credit: cynd-meye)

As you'd expect, the playfield for Tales from the Crypt is colorful and illustrated just like the classic comic books. In addition to hearing the Crypkeeper laugh at you throughout the game, there are all kinds of fun targets to hit. A sinking tombstone, eyeball bumpers, and my personal favorite... a set of three guillotine drop targets that chop off the heads of some poor, helpless victims.

Additionally, the game features some of my all-time favorite dot matrix display animation sequences. In particular, when you activate a jackpot in multiball mode, you're treated to this surprisingly graphic chainsaw-to-the-face dot matrix animation:

Crazy, right? I remember the first time I saw it, and how shocked I was that it did NOT cut away... and even showed a wiggling tongue protruding from what was left of that head afterwards! That's some truly Phantasmagoria style killing going on in that little dot matrix display!

Bally Vampire

Pinball machines have certainly come a long way over the years, but that's no reason to ignore the beauty and simplicity of some of the older machines such as this Vampire pinball game produced by Bally back in 1971. After all, how could you say no to a pinball machine flyer that promises arcade owners it'll be a "Bigger money-maker than a horror movie"? A bold claim indeed! While the ad is fun, it's the backglass that's the true star of the show here:

I love absolutely *EVERYTHING* about this Vampire backglass art! The overly bloody "Vampire" font, the bats flying everywhere, tarantulas and rats crawling over tombstones & skeletons that appear to be glowing from some toxic waste exposure, and an unconventional looking vampire. It's looks like something a dedicated teenage horror movie fan would've spend an afternoon working on while sitting in detention. I want this framed and hanging on my wall.

As you can see, some of the same backglass designs are continued on the pinball playfield, with some added additions. While the gameplay itself is fairly simple, as were most pinball machines at that time, still gotta love the extra details such as black widow spiders, cobwebs, chained mace balls, and candle wax melting onto skulls. Even the sides of the machine depict a classic illustrated graveyard setting. This pinball machine just screams vintage horror, and I'm glad I finally had a chance to play it this past year at the Arcade Expo, as I have a feeling I may not see it anywhere else again.

Elvira Scared Stiff

It's honestly very hard to decide which Elvira pinball game design I like more - Elvira and the Party Monsters or today's subject, Elvira Scared Stiff. This game is the sequel to the original, and while it's an extremely tough call which one has the better artwork, I'd probably say Scared Stiff has the better gameplay of the two.

Like I said, you really can't go wrong with the artwork on either machine, and Scared Stiff truly delivers a lot of fun details to stare at on the backglass (besides Elvira herself, of course). First up, she has a skull filled with popcorn, and alongside her cat, Elvira has a stack of VHS horror movies. With titles like "Black Thursday", "Corn Men from Mars", and "Curse of the Zombie Cows", it sounds like she's in for a hell of a night. There's also a murderer with a hatchet appearing from under her bed, what appears to be a poison dart frog resting on her feet, and even some notches on the ol' bedpost paying homage to Elvira's penchant for risque humor. Best of all, we have a big, interactive Spin Spider that works with the gameplay.

(photo credit: Bumper City)

Now there are many elements of the Scared Stiff playfield that I love, but the Bony Beast is by far my favorite. It's a windy ramp of a bony, serpent-like beast with glowing red eyes. Hell of a fun place for your pinballs to travel. I also love how the Bony Beast ramp track resembles a mechanical version of the Masters of the Universe "Battle Bones" action figure transport. Other features include leaping frog targets (perhaps another pinball first?), a big pile of skulls (that were sometimes modified to illuminate), Elvira's "Stiff-O-Meter", and a terror crate that totally harkens back to the old Creepshow segment we all know and love. All in all, it's a gloriously colorful and comedic horror-themed pinball machine, not to mention one hell of a fun game.

Bone Busters, Inc.

Now here's a pinball game that few people seem to have ever heard of. Bone Busters, Inc. was released by Gottlieb by in 1989, and as you can see from the flyer, they were reeeeally trying to capitalize on the success of Ghostbusters. I can just see the meeting at Gottlieb now...

Boss: Okay everyone, so what's the word? Did we secure the license to make a Ghostbusters themed pinball game?

Team: Sorry, boss... they wanted too much money for the license.

Boss: Damn! Now what the hell are we gonna do?

Team: How about instead of Ghostbusters, we make a game called Bone Busters, where you have to stop a bunch of skeletons instead of ghosts!

Boss: Can the Bone Busters wear outfits that look virtually identical to the ones the Ghostbusters wear?

Team: Sure, we can do that.

Boss: SOLD!!!

It really is pretty blatant, especially if you look at the buster in the bottom left corner of the flyer, who seems to be wearing a generic rip-off of a proton pack... not to mention the incredibly similar emblem on his shoulder and in the "O" of the logo! But hey, it still a game featuring loads of skeletons, and I really love the artwork on it, so let's take a closer look.

What's not to love here? The font is something straight out of Indiana Jones, and you have a boatload of skeletons being blasted by some proton packs. I'm not even sure the skeletons were up to no good to be honest. I mean, one of them is wearing a nightcap and appears to have just been awoken from its slumber. Another one is running away with its head in its hands. I honestly think the skeletons are the ones who appear to be more terrified than the humans. Gotta like how there are two female Ghostbusters Bone Busters included in the mix too. Weird though, they appear to be twins, just as the two guys appear to be twins. Man... I want to know sooooo much more about the Bone Busters backstory.

(photo credit: Marco Albus)

Super colorful playfield! So much to love here. It looks like this is a town completely run by skeletons. Everything from "Skully's Gas-O-Rama" to "Skully's Used Tire Bonanza". Skully sure sounds like an enterprising pile of bones, huh? I'm guessing this was a peaceful town of skeletons until the Bone Busters decided to invade. I mean, for chrissakes, even Santa Claus is there! And if there's one thing we know about Santa, it's that he doesn't visit those who've been naughty, so these skeletons must be aok.

So yeah, I guess Bone Busters is just a story about four people with proton packs who hate skeletons. Maybe somebody should inform them that they too have skeletons underneath their skin.

Of all the colorful features, however, I always liked the one-eyed talking skull topper most. As you would play, it would randomly talk to you (or just laugh at you) as its jaw would open and close. Normally it didn't come lit up, but some creative folks have modded it to have an eerie illumination as seen in the photo above. I ain't afraid o' no bones!

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Last up, we have one of my all-time favorite pinball machines: Creature from the Black Lagoon. This is an absolutely beautiful machine that pays homage to drive-in theater b-movies from the 1950s and, of course, the Gill-Man himself. I've discussed many times about how I think the Creature is the greatest of all the Universal Monsters, so seeing such a fitting tribute to him in a pinball machine always puts a smile on my face.

Gotta love how they used the Starlight drive-in theater as the setting for the dot-matrix animations display in the game. I also liked the modern take on the Creature carrying the damsel in distress. But wait, it says "In 3-D" on that backglass. Are they just paying homage to all the 3-D movies from back in the day with that title? Nope! They did something incredibly creative with the playfield. Behold!

(photo credit: natas)

Quite the beautiful playfield layout, yes? It has everything from a large slide and whirlpool funnel to a drive-in theater snack bar, along with loads of signs like "Creature Feature!" and "Movie Madness!" to push that classic b-movie vibe. The artwork is spectacular, with blends of seaweed, movie snacks, divers, and more. The outer shell design is killer too, complete with the Creature's green claws ripping big purple tears into it. But the real star of the show has yet to be revealed.

Did you notice that big open spot in the center? That, my friends, is the Black Lagoon itself. And when you activate it properly, look who rises up from its murky depths:

Yes indeed, an insanely cool hologram of the Creature actually rises up towards the surface! This actually marked the very first time holograms were ever used in a pinball machine, and what a way to introduce them it was! I'm quite sure people played this game just to see the Gill-Man hologram activated.

Alright, I hope you've enjoyed this tour of even more of my favorite horror pinball games. Keep in mind, this is just the second entry in my ongoing series about these horror-themed pinball machines, so if there are some you're hoping to see in Part 3, please drop a comment below and lemme know! And don't forget to read Part 1 if you haven't already!

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 still 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.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this piece, consider supporting I-Mockery by ordering one of our limited Halloween Club Packs!

Have any questions or comments about this piece?


Reader Comments

Click here to return to the Features homepage