Game That Tune

Monster Bash

Slightly Frightening

The Monster Bash theme hits a semi-scary sweet spot.

By Matt Crowley • June 20, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

Apogee’s Monster Bash finds the sweet spot for macabre children’s entertainment, somewhere between scary and silly. It’s why Halloween is the perfect kids’ holiday—it’s a thrill to wear disguises, enter the uncharted territory of neighbors’ doorways, and feel like mischief has been unleashed for one night. There’s the sense that while danger may be lurking around every corner, it’s a contained, faintly ridiculous threat. Frightening but not too frightening, just like Monster Bash, a PC platformer from the early ’90s. There are some startling moments as you collect candy and free neighborhood pets from the clutches of the undead. (The logic behind this is shaky, but part of the appeal of monsters is that they don’t have to be logical.) Ghouls, skeletons, and disembodied hands jump out, thirsty for blood, but they all explode in a burst of cartoonish gore when you hit them with a rock. You are the super cool Johnny Dash, after all—you can tell you’re super cool from your backward baseball cap—and you don’t scare easily.

The main theme to the game is an encapsulation of this sweet-spot scariness. It greets the player with open (albeit disembodied) arms. The digital tune suggests an eerie theremin and gonging bells, but with an up-tempo, jazzy beat. Like the musical sequences of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney, the song brings to mind a cavalcade of spooks and spirits who aren’t all that friendly but who aren’t necessarily evil, either. It warns you of dangers ahead, promises uncanny excitement, and, like the game’s title, evokes a certain Halloween novelty song without getting close enough for copyright infringement.

Illustration by Derrick Sanskrit.

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22 Responses to “Slightly Frightening”

  1. Roswulf says:

    It is perhaps a backhanded compliment to the Monster Bash’s themes effectiveness to say that listening to it has gotten its Mash-ier predecessor lodged in my brain.

    Truly the greatest of all President’s Day jams.

  2. Chalkdust says:

    Holy crap, this game.  I forgot it existed until now, even though I spent hours as a young’n fascinated by the lo-fi gore.  Oh the glory days of shareware!

    To further the Halloween-ness of it, you collected candy, but you were also tasked with rescuing caged cats and dogs, sling-shotting zombies and ghouls, avoiding punji stick traps, all while wearing pajamas and a baseball cap (that’s cool, right?)

    Also, I think it’s almost not fair to feature the song without also featuring that Apogee logo fanfare which is burned so deeply in my mind (in this game’s case, it was supplemented by a creepy witch laugh!)

    • duwease says:

      I think there was a period there where I spent more time playing and re-playing shareware “Episode 1” releases than I did on actual paid games.

      By a lot.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Yeah, me too. Back then, it was the only way to play new games on the cheap. The local comic book store, the only place in my little world with an Internet connection, would download them onto floppies & sell them for five or six bucks apiece.

  3. Brent Black says:

    I dunno man, it strikes me as a transparent ripoff of The “Monster Mash” until that weird coda at the end. You can even sing “They Did the Mash (They Did The Monster Mash)” etc right over it. 

    Sorry to be a dildo in the comments, but I mean… out of context, what’s scary about this tune?

    • PaganPoet says:

      To be fair to Derrick, he DID mention in the closing paragraph that it’s a ripoff of “The Monster Mash” while staying just different enough to avoid a lawsuit.

      • To be fair to Derrick, Matt Crowley wrote this one. He deserves all the dildos. (Dildos are good, right? They seem like a positive thing to me.)

        • PaganPoet says:

          Oh, whoops. I’m no good at curve balls!

          Apologies to Matt Crowley. My sense of self is a bit askew when there’s a Game That Tune by someone who’s not Derrick.

        • @PaganPoet:disqus Curve balls are better than curved dildos, am I right? No seriously, are those better? They seem sort of disorienting. I promise to drop this topic now.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Curved could be a very good thing, depending on the person receiving, I’d imagine.

          Truth be told, and revealing far too much about myself than anybody here would ever care, I’ve never been a good bottom, so I’m not the best person to ask.

      • Dave Dalrymple says:

        That header image is pure Sanskrit, though.

    • aklab says:

      Hey, there’s nothin’ wrong with dildos! (dildoes?) 

    • Chalkdust says:

      Yeah, I originally had a few sentences written chiding him for not mentioning “Monster Mash” until I re-read the last line.  Cuz I mean, this song is nothing like The Haunted Mansion!  Grim Grinning Ghosts is much more bebop than this song’s surf pop, after all.  Plus, Paul Frees and Thurl Ravenscroft!

  4. JokersNuts says:

    God I loved this game.  One of a handfull of games that I smuggled into my middle school and loaded onto all the computers lol.  Does anyone remember “Rooms of Doom”??
    Maybe Gameological can do a weekly Old Skool Shareware feature, spotlighting forgotten classics like this one.  :-)

  5. ferrarimanf355 says:

    I thought this was about the pinball game. I leave dissapointed.

  6. NakedSnake says:

    I’m so glad this article was posted and I don’t have to look at Rob Delaney’s face anymore. 

    • NakedSnake says:

      Also, I love how long you have to wait between thunderbolts in the gif above. Juuuuust long enough to make it surprising again.

  7. DrFlimFlam says:

    I was hoping this was about the pinball table. I love that table. And the music. And the voices. It’s all great.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47i3vn3EiFY