In the early 90s, before your parents got the internet, the video board game genre was having a brief moment of relevance and Nightmare (known as Atmosfear outside of Australia) was terrifying a generation of Australian kids. Set on "The Other Side" it basically involved the Gatekeeper (a Belarusian man wearing a cloth on his head) directing the players through the creepy twists and turns of the game. Explaining it now, in daylight, as someone old enough to drive and buy beer, it doesn't sound that scary. But it's the reason that for a decade anyone born before 1995 couldn't fall asleep without worrying they'd piss the bed in terror.
Wenanty Nosul played the the Gatekeeper, and was undoubtedly the only reason anyone remembers the game. Striking the perfect balance between humour and horror, he spent most of the game calling you a maggot and demanding you say, "Yes, my Gatekeeper." I was seven when I first experienced him and I've never forgotten it. As an adult I still find myself thinking about this mysterious TV ghoul, so this Halloween I decided to track him down.
VICE: Hey Wenanty, so before becoming the Gatekeeper did you have any particular interest in horror?
Wenanty Nosul: I grew up in Poland and we didn't have many games around in those days and definitely had a few frights in the woods near our house. Once I was picking mushrooms in the forest with my older brothers and they thought it would be funny to leave me out there at nightfall after telling me they had spotted wolves in the area. As the night came, I started to call for my brothers but the only answer I got was the howling of a wolf. I have never run so fast back home in my life.
How did you end up being cast in a VHS game?
I got a call from my agent telling me that A Couple of Cowboys (the production company run by Brett Clements and Philip Tanner who created of the game) wanted to screen test me. the Gatekeeper was the only character in the original series. After a few series they introduced new members to the world like Baron Samedi, the Harbingers, and the Witches.
What was the audition process like?
I had to read a one page monologue from the Gatekeeper for the audition. At the time, I was in a play for which I had to pitch my voice a few octaves lower. I thought there was no way in the world I would get away using my natural voice with the text they gave me, so I used that low voice I had been working on. After they offered me the role I had a bit more time to find the Gatekeeper's voice, but it wasn't too far from the original screen tests if I remember correctly.
What did you think of the game?
I could see through its success on my kids and their friends that there was something special and unique with the game. I think its creators were quite ahead of their time.
To me, at seven, you were a huge celebrity. Were you ever recognised walking down the street?
Occasionally—which would get me slightly worried given that I performed in full facial prosthetics.
Do people ever yell the one-liners out at you?
I'll get a "thrill me" or "answer me maggot" every now and then.
So much gold. How scripted was it? Did you get to improvise?
Nothing was improvised. The guys had a very clear vision of what they wanted. On the day there would be the occasional rewrite when things didn't feel right, but overall the process was very precise.
You mentioned you had a sense that it was going to be big. Why do you think it has become such a classic?
I think the game offered audiences an experience that was new. They were able to fully submerge themselves in the world of the game. It brought people together for 60 minutes on a journey through the game's world. People were throwing nightmare parties after work, kids were playing it with their parents and friends. They not only brought the horror genre to a board game, but were able to make this new genre appealing to the wider public.
Were you bummed when it finished?
It was an incredibly intense and creative process with a great team, but it was definitely difficult to walk away from.
Would you do it again? Maybe a Netflix version?
In a heartbeat.
Please tell me there are plans for a reboot.
Not that I know of, but Brett is constantly juggling new ideas so I wouldn't be surprised if he came up with something special again one of these days.
Can you call me a maggot?
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