How does the videogame stack up to the film?
Over forty years after his passing, Alfred Hitchcock’s name still brings an audience. Such is the case with his 1958 psychological-thriller “Vertigo” and the newly released (yet to be released in other forms) Windows game developed by Pendulo Studios.
Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak in the best performances of their respective careers, the story focuses on private eye, Scottie (Stewart) reluctantly taking a dubious case to shadow his friend’s wife Madeleine (Novak), suspected of being possessed by a suicidal ghost.
Scottie’s acrophobia, fear of heights, had already caused the death of a fellow officer, making him resign in guilt. His disabling struggle prevents him from protecting Madeleine, especially after the two have fallen hopelessly in love. (I seriously doubt stoking infidelity was part of his job description.)
Things turn sinister when he meets Madeleine’s perfect look-alike and perversely forces her into a perfect replica of his dead love.
The first time I saw this film I disliked it, considering the reveal to be ridiculous. On further reflection, I found more to admire and now consider this one of Hitchcock’s best films. It’s difficult for me to revisit it, knowing the tragic turns the plot ruthlessly takes. One thing is for certain, the worst possible ending would have been if Scottie did get everything he wanted.
I find issue with two plot elements. There is a bizarre, surrealistic dream sequence that does little more than express flashy visuals, and a subplot in which a catatonic Scottie is enrolled in a psychiatric hospital but is released in the next scene, despite being clearly unwell. (However, considering the psychiatric doctor was played by the school principal from Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor”- eh, makes sense he would let an unstable person back into society.)
“Vertigo” remains a nightmarish tale of deception and perversion, making you sick at its brutally honest depiction of seeing a woman as a possession over a person. Stewart’s devouring performance goes from sympathetic victim to vicious brute and the audience anticipates (and dreads) the inevitable breaking-point of his obsession. “It’s too late, there’s no bringing her back,” Scottie exclaims heartbrokenly both to Madeleine’s copy and to himself, accepting there’s no choice but to forego his fantasy to do what is right.
This is not a sequel, remake or reboot, but its own story. While the film dealt with themes of manipulation and obsession, the game deals with manipulation and repression. I was on edge to see where this plot would go.
The story focuses on Ed Miller, a sarcastic, uncouth novelist who awakens finding his father committing suicide after his car and family plummets from a cliff. While in rehab, Ed is visited by brilliant psychologist/hypnotist, Julia Lomas, who discovers piece-by-piece Ed’s repressed memories of his troubled childhood, evil father and a demented psychopath bent on wrecking Ed’s sanity, just because. “I’m not going to heal you,” Lomas explains to a skeptical Ed, “You are.”
The single-player gameplay is story-driven, you find yourself playing different characters throughout depending upon the scene. You can choose what to say when interacting with others and select actions which determine significant story changes. My problems are the character designs and certain creative choices in the story.
The characters looked jagged in design, especially one female who is supposed to look “attractive” when seducing your character but appears horrifying. (In the words of Cary Elwes, “What is that thing?”) I was appalled beyond description when having to play the psychopath who manipulates and murders a troubled, well-meaning mental patient.
Each character plays a unique role in the story as torrid revelations abound, including Ed’s pet cat, showing me that cats are economically inclined. They may have nine lives, but upon losing one they will uproot the source of danger to prevent the loss of any others. Both film and videogame establish the rare phenomena of growing better upon reflection; the more elevated you become by the plot, the more horrifying it becomes when you look back down at the story in retrospect. Vertigo indeed.
“Vertigo” is not only a surprise within film and game departments, but also in the music capacity with U2’s rockin’ song, “Vertigo” tempting me to sing aloud the chorus, “Give me what I want, and nobody gets hurt”, without appearing like a dangerous criminal of course.