You think Nintendo characters, and you think kid's stuff. Big eyes, cute haircuts, cuddly creations that couldn't scare a baby. But there is one character the company created that, even as an adult, scares the crap out of me.
And that's the ReDead.
One of the most memorable of all the enemies you'll ever face in a Legend of Zelda game, the ReDead is Nintendo's attempt at not only creating something as horrifying as a zombie, but creating something worse.
The ReDead has appeared in every home console iteration of The Legend of Zelda since 1998's Ocarina of Time. While particular nuances of the character differs from game to game, they're always reanimated corpses, they're always lumbering around in the dark and, while not the most dangerous opponent you'll face in a game, are certainly the most terrifying.
Why? It's not for their looks. Sure, these guys look ghastly, particularly the Ocarina version's concept art (see above), and the Wind Waker ReDeads goofy grin and red eyes do not a pleasant character make. But there's nothing particularly terrifying about a mummified corpse. That's been seen - and done - a million times before.
It's not for their behaviour, either. ReDeads are slow, lumbering opponents, sometimes totally blind and lacking in a ranged attack. Get too close and they'll latch onto you, feasting on your skull, but these are zombies. You expect that. You don't expect other ReDeads to gather around one you've killed and either mourn or eat them (it's hard to tell what's going on), but that's either interesting or creepy, not something to be scared of.
No, what makes the ReDead the scariest enemy Nintendo has ever made - and that I've ever faced in a video game - is that sound. That indescribable, inhuman shriek they let loose when they detect you and prepare to attack. It's bone-chilling. So paralysing is it that, mirroring the effect it generates in the player upon first encountering it, Nintendo had Link freeze in place when he hears it, unable to move and leaving him stuck and forced to watch the ReDead approach, one slow step at a time, to take a bite out of his skull.
Perhaps sensing the trauma these creatures caused in a generation of young fans, the ReDead's second outing - in 2000's Majora's Mask - sought to lighten the mood a little. While the shriek and brain-chomping remained, there were instances in which ReDeads would...dance.
2003's Wind Waker tried to soften the blow further, giving them a more comical appearance (giant teeth, big earrings, etc). It didn't work. The shriek was just as piercing, and adding a set of glowing red eyes did nothing to keep the fear factor at bay.
The fact such a simple opponent from such a relatively "old" video game can remain so scary is testament to the strength of Nintendo's character design. Other developers seek to overwhelm the player with horror, using everything from lighting effects to "monster closets" to over-complicated enemies dripping with horns and fangs and blood and all kinds of things not even a five year-old thinks is scary.
The ReDead? It doesn't have to jump out from behind you, it's either already there or you clearly know where it's coming from. It doesn't have to sprint at you, or drop from the ceiling, or spit excrement in your face. It's just a corpse, a zombie in the most classical - and thus terrifying - sense, matched with one of gaming's greatest pieces of sound design.
A simple recipe, maybe, but one that cuts straight to the heart, and the developers of games like Resident Evil, Doom and Dead Space would do well to keep that in mind.
Stay tuned for more stories like this throughout the week, as we continue to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Legend Of Zelda.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.