The Dilemma Nobody Asked For!
By Elisabeth Joplin
With its most recent theatrical release in nearly 25 years, Mortal Kombat has now finally risen from the ashes of its previous 90s campiness predecessors and is giving new air to a franchise that has been chugging along for as long as I’ve been alive.
Premiering in the U.S. on April 23, 2021 via HBOMax, as well as a theater near you, Mortal Kombat (2021) stood its ground with a flawless victory, making a solid $23.3 million domestically on opening weekend, which just goes to show that the Earth Realm versus Outworld lore still has what it takes to tell a good story. Or maybe people just want to see badass characters rip each other apart. Who knows?
That being said, with games still being developed and coming out with expansions that include adding cult icons within the horror scene such as but not limited to Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface, it does beg the question: Has Mortal Kombat always been horror? Or did society make it so?
Now you might be asking yourself: why does it matter, Liz? Mortal Kombat is fucking awesome!
And you’re right! Since that first arcade game back in October 1992, MK has really paved the way for other fighting games with its innovating graphics, interesting storyline, and a chaotic line-up of characters and battling styles that have become memes in of themselves. But when you talk to your friends about it, is it within the realms of what horror is when you think about that first game or did it integrate itself somewhere down the line with its sequels and films?
For me, as a little kid, watching Scorpion pull his mask off in either the movies or the games was absolutely grotesque, and my brothers and I always panicked when we had to go fight Goro. Seriously, we would play hot potato with the Nintendo controller until the fight booted up, it was a disaster! Mileena’s face is a horror in and of itself and I don’t care what you say, she will never be superior to the amazing Princess Kitana–come at me bro!
From the backdrops, to the lore, to the fatalities, MK definitely seems like it could be or bordered on the line of being a horror game being sold as a simple fighting style game like Street Fighter. But as time has gone on, as I examine the current rendition of Mortal Kombat 11, while it’s still a fighting game like it always was, the story has gotten darker, the stakes are higher, and some of the characters have gotten creepier. I’m not hating on it–I’m just stating a fact.
If I have to put my foot down somewhere, I personally would say that yes, Mortal Kombat is and has always been within the horror genre. I’m sure there are people who would disagree with me, and that’s totally cool! It’s like if I said Bioshock is just an awesome first person shooter; I mean it is, but you get my point. Mortal Kombat is always going to have a place in cult status pop culture regardless of genre, but as I watch the new movie, eating pizza and grimacing when somebody gets [redacted], it does make me ask: what exactly is Mortal Kombat?