The Overlook Film Festival held many immersive experiences in the dark recesses of the Timberline Lodge. One such gem was Mule, a virtual reality experience that follows the emotional last moments of a man’s life. Haunting had the honor of experiencing Mule, speaking to Dark Corner, and reflecting on previous Dark Corner VR experiences.
I wake up in a seedy motel room; my flaccid penis lies lifeless between my legs. A woman—a prostitute—parades across the room; her tits perky and small. An old television plays a recording of a mule wandering across a barren landscape. I begin to lose consciousness; I think drugs are in my system. I fight to keep my eyes open—the prostitute is now snorting lines of heroin off the bedside table. My eyes close again. I start to feel pain in my chest. Something isn’t right. Thud. My naked body hits the floor, frightening the prostitute. She grabs her bag and runs through the door—leaving me to die alone.
This is the start to Mule, a Virtual Reality (VR) experience by Dark Corner, a new VR content creator and platform. Dark Corner is the creation of director Guy Shelmerdine and Teal Greyhavens, who describes Dark Corner as “a space where genre lovers know what they’re going to get. It doesn’t have to be horror; it can be a thriller, science fiction, fantasy, or mystery. But it will be a short, thrilling experience with a strong narrative.” Other VR platforms currently offer everything from music videos to film to documentaries. Dark Corner aims to be a more specific platform offering a level of quality that fans will come to expect.
Dark Corner isn’t new to the VR market though; In conjunction with VRSE (now Within), they previously released Catatonic, an immersive journey through an insane asylum in which the audience, bound to a wheelchair, undergoes a sensory-shocking horror thrill ride. Directed by Guy Shelmerdine, Catatonic uses a white padded wheelchair with a custom vibration device and live nurses in 1940’s uniforms to set an atmosphere of comfort and paralysis prior to the start of the experience. I had the pleasure of experiencing Catatonic at San Diego Comic Con in 2015 and was mesmerized by the sheer terror and the lunacy of the inmates. Looking down, I saw my own hands strapped to the chair—well, they weren’t my hands, but they felt like my hands. And when the doctor injected the needle into my vein, they definitely felt like my arms. The entire experience built up to a cacophony of terror and depravity that you simply need to experience yourself.
Mule continues the quality of Catatonic by having patrons climb into a life-sized coffin, with the Mule logo glowing ominously above. “Buried or cremated?” a man asks me as I climb in. I ponder how I’d like to spend my last moments. “I’d like to be buried, please.” With that answer, the VR headset is placed over my head and the headphones over my ears. I look down at my virtual body: naked on a sleazy hotel bed. And then I begin my death.
Much like Catatonic, Mule builds in terror, providing frightening moments in which people will actively scream or squirm in their coffin; and there are specific scenes that people are more responsive to. “We can always tell when people get to that scene because of how they react.” By giving you a body, the experience becomes real to you. Any touches, cuts, or burns feel life-like because your brain associates this body as your own. It’s an interesting effect that connects you far more than a traditional 2D film ever could.
Spoiling the ending before the experience starts is an interesting, yet deliberate choice. “We wanted to set up a sense of mystery: what happens to your body and why is it called Mule?” Once you experience it, you understand how the mysteries come together in a complete and satisfying manner. “Virtual reality currently lives in this weird space between film and video games,” Greyhavens explains. “There’s something extra theatrical about having a choice. It helps to build that sense of anticipation.” When participants know they are going to be buried, this knowledge primes them for the rest of the experience. Participants are extra sensitive to each scene because they are expecting every action to be the one that ultimately leads to their demise. This play on expectation and anticipation is perfect in the realm of horror. It’s frightening waiting for something scary to finally happen. But when it does, the effect is cathartic. Walking out of Mule, you feel lighter than when you stepped into the coffin. The payoff is incredible.
How do you experience Mule or Catatonic if you can’t make it out to a festival? Much like any theatrical movie release, they are currently touring festival prior to releasing these VR experiences to the public. Although you won’t have vibrating wheel chairs or an ominous coffin in your living room, it will still be a powerful piece of cinema that will terrify you from your VR headset at home. Greyhavens says you can expect this “very soon.”
Providing some of the most raw, realistic, and unapologetically frightening experiences, Dark Corner is a pioneer at the forefront of virtual reality horror experiences. They immerse you by providing a body for you to inhabit and a fully realized world that is apparent both inside and outside the VR headset. Look forward to the future because they are developing a VR experience that revolves around a children’s bedtime story that transforms into a nightmare. I am excited for this and the ability to relive the terror of Mule and Catatonic from the (dis)comfort of my own home.