Pinball machines come in all shapes, sizes, and themes. While sci-fi happens to be the most common genre of pinball, horror has earned a definitive place in the pantheon of great games. Horror-themed games have been a platform for numerous innovations in pinball including speech, 3-D printed parts, and more. However, sometimes games are noteworthy for just being fun. From ghosts and goblins to spooks and specters, it is totally possible to deck out an entire arcade with nothing but horror pinball machines. Here’s the definitive list of the 11 best games to play in the dark.
11. Gorgar (Williams, 1979)
Made in 1979, Gorgar’s technology may seem primitive to us now. However, back in the day, this devilish game was cutting edge and holds the honor of being the first pinball game with digitized speech. Sure, its vocabulary was limited to seven words, but sound designer Eugene Jarvis (who would later design the arcade classic Defender and is currently the boss over at arcade manufacturer Raw Thrills) and programmer Paul Dussault made use of every one of them. “Gorgar speaks!” and “Me got you!” certainly added to the creep factor of a game that features what appears to be Satanic ritual sacrifice on its backglass.
10. Freddy: A Nightmare on Elm Street (Gottlieb/Premier, 1994)
This pinball machine from Gottlieb has everything you’d expect on a Freddy Krueger pinball table: a giant disfigured Freddy face, a fiery furnace, and clawed fingers are all on full display. Fans of the movies will be thrilled with the clawed ball save, four-ball multiball, and voice effects from Freddy himself, Robert Englund. And although it isn’t cheap by any means, it is one of the lower cost DMD (Dot Matrix Display) machines in the collector market, and therefore a good entry point for a horror fan looking to get into the hobby.
9. Twilight Zone (Bally, 1993)
When people want a pinball with all the bells and whistles, I point them to Twilight Zone. Not directly horror (which is why it isn’t higher on the list), but creepy enough, Twilight Zone throws everything except the kitchen sink into its widebody cabinet. With toys and artwork to reference multiple episodes of the classic black & white TV series, this non-traditional playfield layout will have you shooting all over the place and it even features flipperless flipping using magnets on the upper playfield. It remains one of the most sought-after pinball machines of all time and enshrined designer Pat Lawlor in pinball’s proverbial hall of fame.
8. America’s Most Haunted (Spooky Pinball, 2014)
With its lighthearted but spooky theme, fun shots, and deep ruleset by Ben Heck, America’s Most Haunted is well-deserving of its spot on this list on its gameplay merits alone. However, being the first game released by horror-pinball-fan-turned-industry-disruptor, Charlie Emery of Spooky Pinball who raised the bar for collectors and manufacturers alike, AMH is forever a game by which future machines will be judged. By producing a well-built game from scratch, and pioneering the “boo-tique” model for collector sales, Spooky made the industry take notice and has delivered consistently creepy themes ever since. (Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International, and the upcoming Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle.)
7. Scared Stiff (Bally, 1996)
“What’s in the box?! What’s in the box?!” For Scared Stiff, apparently tons of cleavage and extra helpings of innuendo. Horror host Elvira’s second pinball offering (her first was Bally’s Elvira and the Party Monsters) offers even more tongue-in-cheek fun with a skeleton-entwined ramp, bash crate multiball, fun voice call-outs, and an interactive spinning spider backbox. Legendary pinball artist Greg Freres’ artwork seals the deal on this macabre masterpiece.
6. Creature From the Black Lagoon (Bally, 1992)
Creature From the Black Lagoon, or the abbreviated CFTBL in pinball forum speak, is a thing of beauty. The only thing dropping it lower on this list is that the gameplay is more focused on the ’50s drive-in movie experience than it is the movie itself. However, it is one of the best-executed pinball game themes of all time and would appear near the top of any “best-of” pinball list. From the whirlpool ramp to the holographic Gill-man under the playfield, this iconic game is perfect for fans of both movie and monsters.
5. Haunted House (Gottlieb, 1982)
If you like flippers, then do I have the game for you! Not one, not two, but eight flippers are found on this ghastly gem from Gottlieb, made in 1982. And if multiple flippers aren’t enough, they’re spread over multiple levels. Building off of Gottlieb’s earlier success of Black Hole which featured a recessed lower playfield, Haunted House added an extra level on top, making its three floors of haunts an attractive draw.
4. The Addams Family (Bally, 1992)
Compared to the distribution numbers of today’s video games or even classic arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man, The Addams Family pales in comparison. However, for pinball, this game based on the 1991 movie starring Angelica Houston and Raul Julia holds the record for the most-produced pinball machine in history at over 20,000 units. The game’s designer, Pat Lawlor, was able to pack tons of cool features like a magnetic Thing hand to grab your ball, a revolving bookcase, and more in this fun game released at the height of pinball’s resurgence in the ’90s.
3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Williams, 1993)
Appropriately creepy, this is one of those games where home collectors may want to disable the attract mode unless you want to be scared in your own basement. Based off of the not-so-stellar movie starring Keanu Reeves, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a pure horror hit. Not only do you battle spooky bats and dastardly rats, but it comes with what may be one of pinball’s most spectacular features… Mist Multiball. Activate Mist Mode and a single ball will seem to magically glide itself across the playfield (spoiler alert: it’s magnets, bro). If you happen to hit that ball with your own, BAM! Instant multiball.
2. The Walking Dead (Stern Pinball, 2014)
Fans of AMC’s hit zombie thriller will NOT be disappointed by the pinball’s tribute to the show. What may be the goriest game on the list made the cut not only because of its delectably disturbing use of blood and guts, but the deep rule set by software developer and world-ranked pinball player Lyman Sheats means newbies and pros alike can have fun unleashing the zombies hordes. This frightening frenetic frenzy shouldn’t be missed, and with it only being a few years old, there’s a good chance you can find one to play in your local arcade bar.
1. Monster Bash (Williams, 1998)
Original Tron arcade designer George Gomez continues to have a successful career at Stern Pinball as the current VP of game design, but it is his 1998 classic that is my #1 horror pick. In Monster Bash, the classic Universal Monsters are just dying to relive the glory days and bring the old band back together. While there’s not really any one singular thing of note on this machine, it is simply a perfect example of pinball firing on all cylinders. One of the last games produced by Williams Electronics before they forever shuttered their pinball department, Monster Bash was a wild mix of spooky humor, elegant flow, and plenty of interactive toys. The objective of this game is to shoot different shots on a fan layout to find the monsters and collect their instruments (Creature from the Black Lagoon on sax, Frankenstein’s monster on keys, Wolfman bangin’ drums, Dracula shreddin’ on guitar, The Mummy slappin’ da bass, and The Bride of Frankenstein rocking the mic). Once you do, it’s time to rock out and enjoy the best bash in town. Rumors of an eventual re-release from the current rights holder still persist, but for now, if you want one, you’re going to have to pony up some serious cash. In recent years, this game has sold on the used market for over $10,000. I can’t afford one, but if you can? Worth it.