So far on the countdown I’ve been putting the folklore bits of the column either at the beginning or the end of the column, but as #12 on our list revolves around one of the most important unsolved murders in 20th Century American history, I thought I’d give you your history lesson right off the bat this Monday morning.
The Black Dahlia
The Black Dahlia’s real name is Elizabeth Short. She was born on July 29th, 1924 and had quite a dramatic life. She and her four sisters were left to be raised by her mother in Medford, Massachusetts in the heart of the depression where her father ran out on his family. Her childhood was plagued by chronic asthma, and when she turned 19, she sought out her father and the two made up, eventually living together for a short time. Elizabeth’s father would prove to be as big an ass to the teenage girl as he was when she was a toddler, and Elizabeth left home and struck out on her own for a while. This too was brief as she was arrested several times for underage drinking and was eventually shipped back to MA.
From there Ms. Short’s life continued to be one bizarre event after another. For a time she found love in the arms of an armed serviceman; one Major Matthew Gordon, who held many medals of honour due to his achievements as a member of the 2nd Air Commandos. While Gordon lay in an Indian hospital bed, recovering from an airplane crash during a rescue mission, he asked Elizabeth to marry him. She accepted. Alas, the marriage was not to be as Major Gordon’s plane would crash one again in August of 1945, killing him.
Elizabeth Short returned to California to try and jump start a film careet in the summer of 1946. While in California a movie starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake called The Blue Dahlia was playing. it was a film noir that won Raymond Chandler an Academy Award for best script. Due to Elizabeth’s penchant for only wearing black, (some have called Elizabeth and the eventual events of her life the first modern Goth as it relates to that subculture) “The Black Dahlia.”
On January 9th, 1947, Elizabeth Short was seen entering Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It would be the last time she would ever been seen alive.
On January 15th, the remains of the Black Dahlia were found in a vacant lot by a random bystander in Leimert Park. Her body was cut in half and horribly mutilated. The remains were bruised all over, a sign of a severe beating. Her vagina was stuffed with grass, and at the time, it was considered the most grisly murder in US history.
I’m going to take a second simply to warn you that the following links will take you some pretty graphic pictures. These are the actual morgue and police shots of Elizabeth Short’s remains, provided kindly by the Black Dahlia Website. Normally I’d embed them in the article, but I know some of you would rather skip them, so for the more morbid of you, just click on the links. Considering this is an actual human corpse, it may not be work friendly.
The brutal murder of Elizabeth Short was never solved. There was little to no evidence of any kind. Whoever the killer was, he was quite adept at his art and left no clues for the Police or FBI to track. This did not deter over SIXTY people from admitting to the crime. All were discounted after lack of evidence or any real knowledge of the remains.
The search for Elizabeth’s killer was the largest manhunt in LAPD history to that point, and the amateur detectives trying to ferret out the killer of the Black Dahlia were/are second only to Jack the Ripper himself. The suspects ranged from folk singer Woodie Guthrie to Orson Wells. Of course, most of these had little to no evidence other than conspiracy theory, and so were dropped by all but the more obsessed about the case.
It amazes me that people are either blissfully ignorant of the Black Dahlia murder, or rather intensely into the affair. The story has been turned into books, both fiction and non fiction by authors as famous as James Ellroy. There have been movie versions of the story as well. Robert DeNero and Robert Duvall starred in a film called True Confessions which was adapted from the book of the same name by John Gregory Dunne who used the Black Dahlia murder as the main crux of the novel. As well, The Black Dahlia is going to be the name of TWO films hitting US box offices in 2006. One film’s trailer, which is based on the actual murder itself, can be seen here. It stars a bunch of people I have never heard of, and will most likely be the direct to DVD film of the two. The second however, is an adaptation of the James Ellroy novel. It’s got an A-list cast and Ellroy has said it is spot on in regards to his novel. Here’s a list of just some of the cast, courtesy of IMDB.com
Josh Hartnett …. Ofcr. Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert
Scarlett Johansson …. Kay Lake
Hilary Swank …. Madeleine Sprague
Aaron Eckhart …. Sgt. Leland “Lee” Blanchard
Mia Kirshner …. Elizabeth Short
Quite impressive! But this is actually not the first time a cast and crew of famous Hollywood professionals signed on to star in a production revolving around the life of Elizabeth Short, and her bizarre marriage. In 1998, Dennis Hopper, Teri Garr and several others signed up for the filming of The Black Dahlia. This was no film however. It was the next game on our countdown.
#12 The Black Dahlia
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
Developer: Take Two Interactive
Systems Released On: PC
Release Date: 02/22/98
Although it had a budget of a decent sized Hollywood film, The Black Dahlia has managed to remain a rare (and expensive) video game to wrap your fingers around. Considered by many to be the hardest adventure game ever made, TBD has driven just as many gamers insane with its complex (and sometimes bizarre) plot as it has made people fall in love with it. For me, The Black Dhalia is hands down my favorite FMV video game of all time, and is one of the few outside of games like Nightmare Creatures or the Shadow Hearts series that tries to do a fictional narrative on some infamous historical events.
Although the name of the video refers back to the infamous unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, only part of the game revolves around her. TBD also links together the Cleveland Torso Killer (another unsolved series of murders from half a decade before Short’s grisly demise) and an Occult Nazi conspiracy. I’m gonna let that let curve ball sink in for a bit.
The ploy of the game revolves around one Jim Pearson. Jim is brand new to President FDR’s “Office of Coordination of Information” and has been dispatched to Cleveland, Ohio to subdue a recent bevy of pro-Nazi propaganda there. There Jim encountered the stranger Brotherhood of Thule, the aforementioned “Torso Killer,” the local constabulary, and even the FBI! Pearson finds himself an unwitting participant in one of the most complex stories ever in video gaming.
Indeed, the beginning adventure is just a prologue, broken up by the advent of the US joining World War II thanks to the attack on Pearl Harbor. From there the game jumps all over, to about seventy locations in all, including Austria and Los Angeles in 1947, where Jim Pearson encounters a young lady named Elizabeth Short.
Now here’s where the plot of the game is wonky from the true events that surrounded Ms. Short’s life. Here the Black Dahlia is also the name of a strange gem and the designers suggest her possession of this gem, which is eventually revealed to be the centerpiece of an elaborate occult ritual the Nazi’s plan to use in order to subjugate the world, is what led to Ms. Short’s all too tragic dismemberment. As well, if you’re a big fan of the slaying (God that sounds morbid), you’ll be disappointed to learn that the Elizabeth Short in the video game doesn’t have all that much in common with the real Elizabeth Short. I’ll let you discover exactly how by playing through the game.
With the game consisting of an unprecedented EIGHT discs, The Black Dahlia is one of the biggest and longest games ever made. Stretching a chronology of slightly over six years, you will walk away from TBD with hands down the most thorough story telling you will ever encounter outside an RPG. Any history or folklore buff will get twice as much enjoyment out of the game due to all the little side bits thrown in.
Graphically, The Black Dahlia used a heavily enhanced version of the engine Take-Two used for Ripper, a game featuring Jack the Ripper and Christopher Walken. The entire game plays in a 360 environment that allows the player to pan around and see everything, include the ceiling and floor. The entire game consists of an overlapping of digitized actors being laid (perfectly for its time period too, I might add) onto fully three-dimensionally rendered background graphics. The full motion video scenes are also plugged into the game seamlessly so instead of feeling jarring or separate from the actual gameplay, it feels like a strong solid part of the game. The visual by take-Two in this game have never been repeated, as I believe this was Take-Two’s last foray into the Adventure genre. I suppose other developers have shied away from this technique due to the massive cost of it all back in 1998. I wonder though, how far this form of graphical rendering and combining with cinematic footage could be taken today by some enterprising company?
The music of The Black Dhalia is quite well done. It’s haunting, memorable without getting stuck in your head for weeks on end like the Legend of Zelda theme, and it makes for excellent background atmosphere while you’re trying to solve amazingly difficult puzzle after excruciatingly difficult puzzle. As well, the voice acting is superb. Although Garr and Hopper play minor characters in the game, they play their parts quite well. It is the cast of unknowns though, that really make the game shine. Everyone involved does an amazing job of acting, and the quality is still stronger than most of what is put out eight years after this game’s release. After looking up the cast list on IMDB.com, I was surprised that for many of the actors in the game, they never went on to do anything else. I’m not sure why and was saddened to see that. However, more than one appeared in The Mothman Chronicles. How weird is that?
If you’ve played one Adventure game, then you already know how to play The Black Dahlia. Bu using your mouse, you’ll be able to interacting with and pick up objects all over the locations you’ll be taking Agent Pearson to. You’ll also be able to use the mouse to drag objects across the screen or interact with them. For example, there’s a notepad where you can drag on each page, flipping them over and allowing you to see what’s written on each.
With approximately 65 puzzles in the game, The Black Dahlia requires a great deal of patience and insight. Also, if you do run out and try to find this game, remember my earlier warning that this game is almost unanimously considered the hardest in its genre ever made. Remember 3 years ago when people where whining about Ninja Gaiden‘s difficulty level? TBD makes NG look like a video game geared for the Arthur or Teletubbies crowd.
Many of these puzzles are going to require a lot of trial by error and offer no help whatsoever. Some of the puzzles are pretty smart too. You’ll encounter a safe here or there, and I suggest listening veeeeeery carefully for the tumblers to click. In truth, I’ve seen even the most hardcore addict to this genre swear long and hard at the puzzles in The Black Dahlia. This game really does separate the masters of the genre from the poseurs. But fear not, if you’re really that interested in playing the game, each puzzle has a bypass code that if entered will allow the game to progress naturally as if you have solved the puzzle. I thought this was an excellent idea as it allows the people playing the game for the Interactive Movie aspects to still enjoy the game without feeling marginally retarded. It also allows the serious gamer to walk away from TBD with a real feeling of accomplishment. If you can beat this game without using a walkthrough or any of the bypass codes, you my friend, are a gaming legend.
I should warn you as well that if you’re going to try and track down this game, you’re in for a wee shock regarding sticker price. Even used, TBD commands a $30 cost. Yes people, USED. Trying to find this thing new is up there with an English Shining Force 3 mint and sealed: it’s possible, but pretty bloody hard. Take-Two has effectively classified this game as Abandonware. If you can find a place to download it, I suggest doing it. If you’re a subtitle buff, try and get the European edition, as the North American version lacks them.
Eight years after its release, The Black Dahlia remains one of the most original, innovative, and difficult games ever released. The game contains a gripping story, some excellent acting, brain teasers galore and some gore effects that remind us all why cinematic footage is better than graphical depictions of disembowelments most of the time. Although TBD is arguably one of the hardest and most expensive games on the list, please don’t let that deter you from seeking it out. When you do finally come across it, play the hell out of it and watch yourself get sucked into the best historical fiction game released up until the Koudelka/Shadow Hearts quartet.
Publisher: The Adventure Company (North America), Ubi Soft (Europe)
Developer: Lexis Numerique
Systems Released On: PC, MAC
Release Date: 10/17/2003 (Europe), 6/25/2004 (North America
I reviewed this game back early July of 2004. I was so ecstatic that this game was hitting stateside as I ended up moving back from Europe just a few months before it was released there. It was my PC game of 2004, still remains one of the most intense and all encompassing games ever made.
Here is the game in a nutshell. Two people, a journalist named Jack Lorski and a woman named Karen Gijman have gone missing for many months. Recently Jack’s employer, the SLK Network has received a CD-Rom from an enigmatic being known only as “The Phoenix”. The problem is the CD rom is not a cut and dry, “Here’s where Frick and Frack are at.” Instead the CD-Rom consists of layers on top of layers of strange and macabre games that must be solved in order to receive a hint in regards to Jack and Karen’s whereabouts.
And this is where you come in. You are in fact, yourself. You have agreed to try and help SLK solve the puzzles and find where Karen and Jack are…if they are still amongst the living that is.
In its’ purest form, MISSING brings back a style of gaming rarely scene any more. In the same vein as things like Maniac Mansion, Shadowgate and Lunacy, this game with tax your logic and deductive skills far more than any game you have played in the last few years. Consider MISSING the video gamer’s chess.
You have so many questions to answer besides finding out where Jack and Karen are. Who is the Phoenix? Why is he doing this? Is he a serial killer? A psychopath? Or something else? And what is so special about this Super 8 film the game revolves around? What makes this tape so valuable people have died because of it?
The plot is gripping, the FMV documentary style footage is incredible and keeps you motivated to solve bizarre puzzle after bizarre puzzle. The actors are very believable in their roles and you can’t help but feel the line between reality and fantasy blur a little when playing this game. The interaction you have with other “Players” add so much depth to the game. All my fears about this being Majestic 2.0 were wiped away because MISSING does everything right in terms of story telling.
If you are looking for a game whose story will make you think as well as entertain you, there’s not too many games around that will do that job better than MISSING. It’s a beautiful blend of the Esoteric with deductive (and inductive) reasoning, and a lot of style. You don’t play MISSING, you experience it. And it’s a shame most games don’t give you that opportunity anymore.
What’s interesting is that no two puzzles in MISSING will have the same controls. As well, you are given no instructions on what to do. Only a vague riddle or hint. You have to figure out the object and the answer to each game/puzzle/etc yourself. Often by doing research on the net by using search engines or checking your emails sent to you by other people working on the case.
Yes, you read that right. You’re going to be getting emails from this game. Some will be auto generated. Some will be by real people playing the game as well. You can email other friends and players that you know are involved in the game, and some people emailing you just might be NPC’s to help push you in the right direction and add depth to your experience. I learned first hand that MISSING does an excellent job keeping you guessing at what is real and what is fake when I emailed what I thought was a computer generated character/email only to get a live human response in return!
The controls for MISSING are excellent. Mainly because they vary so much yet almost all involve the mouse clicking on something and dragging it elsewhere. There are also riddles that are primarily solved by typing, and a lot of puzzles that can only be solved by research, research, research. Even though each game requires you to learn the controls from scratch, all are fairly easy to figure out the basics and give a gamer a run for his or her money.
For a great dose of variety, everything from playing Breakout to watching a movie ala Pokemon Channel style, MISSING keeps you on your toes in more ways than one.
Because the game revolves around Internet detective work, I had to go into my usual above and beyond folklorist mode. I scoured the net for the appropriate sites, emailed people/characters to see who was real and who was auto generated. I looked up everything mentioned in the game to see what sites existed before MISSING and what sites are in fact real. I got into this game in a way I never had before, if only because it reminded me of my own research days where I would spend hours in a library going through musty old tomes special ordered for me by the Librarians in order to find a paragraph or even a sentence to help me with my essay or paper to be published. This game is a must have for any history, English, folklore, history etc major.
At the very least, you can give it to a technophobe and by the end of this game this will be quite adept at surfing the net.
This game is the intellectual gamer’s heroin. I even went to the Volker Institute website and looked up every book mentioned under “Publications” to see what was a real source and what was made up. Can we say intense? Oh yes.
This game will steal your soul if you let yourself truly become immersed in it. If you have a history of Schizophrenia, stay far far away from MISSING.
Alas, the game’s massive involvement with the Internet is also what exposes the major flaw with MISSING. You see, when you design a video game that involves Google or other search engines to help you with the research, interesting things come up. Like say, oh I don’t know, WALKTHROUGHS or FAQ’S. It won’t be intentional, but they will show up, sometimes even before the correct answer the game wants you to find does. It’s tempting to click on them. I didn’t the first time I beat the game so that I could get the correct experience and review the game honestly, but it’s far too easy for someone to do this, and thus ruin the entire feel of the game. Whoever designed a walkthrough or FAQ for MISSING needs to be kicked in their genitals, for it’s a slap in the face not only to all that this game is supposed to be, but gamers and the developers themselves. Besides, you have other players and NPC’s that are in fact real humans that will give you hints and help if you need it. And it keeps the line between reality and fantasy blurred.
This game has everything I’ve wanted in a game. Total immersion. The blurring between reality and fantasy. Original plot and gameplay. The ability to use my research skills for pleasure and not a massively annotated piece of work only people with PhD’s can appreciate. People that may or may not exist in the real world. The return of GOOD FMV games. Good acting in a video game! A real thrill when part of the game is completed. It literally has everything I have looked for in a game. Whenever I think about the fact that 85% of the games released since the beginning of the 21st century have been little better than crap, I look at MISSING and remind myself that amongst all the crap are a few select games of the highest quality. Just think though, there are ten games higher on the list than this…
And that’s it! It is time to start the top ten on the countdown. However, I’ll be in Europe for the next two weeks, so you’ll have to wait a fortnight until that we start covering the best of the best. I’ll see you then!