Back when your average South London teenager could only dream of owning a video games console, arcade games machines where the closest you could get to sampling the experience of entering electronic worlds without the use of crappy home computers that rendered graphics on a green (yes I said green) screen. Arcades for me represented a gateway into a world that I could only read about in the adverts placed in comics I collected, or in video game magazines I found in WH Smiths. Back in those days, you could spend hours reading about the latest news on releases for the NES home entertainment system from Nintendo without getting dirty looks from staff, I miss those days.
Anyway, across the road from my home, there was an old chip shop that had been there for as long as I could remember. Their chips were pretty dire but they had an arcade machine for which was one of the reasons why I starved myself for days on end at school instead of buying lunch like most normal kids did. The machine cost 30p a game, but one game was never enough, and £1.50 could easily see me locked to the arcade screen for hours.The first game they was Street Fighter 2, which attracted quite a few of my classmates, but the game that really got everybody’s pulses racing was Mortal Kombat. Part of it’s appeal to me was the fact that it was the first game that I could recall playing that had graphic violence portrayed in such a manor, with blood flying across the screen whenever an opponent was hit. You could perform moves called Fatalities, which ensured that your defeated enemy faced a particularly gruesome end. My favourite had to be Scorpion’s. The cursed ninja was already a creepy character, but when you performed his fatality correctly, he removed his mask to reveal a skull that still sends shivers down my spine. He turned to face his enemy and then unleashed a blast of flame that burned them to a crisp right before your eyes! It took me a few more days of starvation but I eventually got the hang of it. Soon I was burning to death every kid in school that challenged me, and I even managed to get one over on a bully who had tormented me all year ( I beat him with a perfect round and then burned his bullying ass for good measure). I managed to also grab the attention of the Chip Shop owners daughter, a young girl with long dark hair and piercing green eyes. Her dad had come to know me by name because I spent so much time in the shop, and she would often come around from the counter to watch me play. I would take me about two years to realise that the strange knotting feeling I got in my stomach whenever she did this was the first signs of attraction, and I then resolved myself to ask her out on a date. Around 1995 I started see adverts for a Mortal Kombat movie popping up at the bus stops around Peckham. I knew that I had to see this movie somehow, and this was the perfect opportunity to ask out ‘chip shop girl’. After a word of advice from my step-dad on how to approach women, I walked into the shop the very next day and asked her if she fancied watching Scorpion, Sub Zero, Johnny Cage and the rest of the gang do their thing on the big screen. Almost unbelievably, she said yes, so we set our date for the Saturday of that week. The week breezed by and Saturday arrived. In an odd way I was more excited about the movie then I was about my 1st ever date. My mind was swirling with thoughts as I headed to the shop to pick her up, what would the characters look like? would it be as bloody as the game? Are people gonna be decapitated with one punch, or impaled on wicked spikes at the bottom of a pit? How big will Sonya Blade’s boobs look on a cinema screen? So many important questions..
We got to the cinema and settled down to watch the movie along with an audience of game geeks, fellow 1st daters and the resident rats. The theme music was funky, which punchy, Liu Kang looked like Liu Kang, and there was even some cheesy humour thrown in. From what I could gather of the plot, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade had been summoned by Raiden, God of Thunder to Outworld to represent the realm of earth in martial arts tournament against all manner of demonic fighters. The plot such as it is, pretty much passed me by. I spent most of the viewing experience trading snogs with ‘chip shop girl’ but I broke off long enough to watch Christopher Lambert eat up the scenery as a sarcastic, wise-cracking Lord Raiden, defender of the realm of earth perform a wrist lock throw on Liu Kang that looked like an arthritic pensioner trying to toss a pancake. It was the worst on screen display of martial arts I’d seen in my life at this point, and I frigging loved it! In between further snogs (and some necking) I saw the introduction of two of my favourite characters from the game, Scorpion and Sub Zero. They entered the fray like the bad-asses I had always known they were, and the important thing was they still retained their in game powers (more or less).
Chip shop girl and I broke off from our smooching and sat transfixed by the whole story unfolding in front of us. The heroes had arrived in Outworld and were almost immediately thrown into Mortal Kombat. The stand out conflicts where the surprisingly well staged confrontation between Johnny Cage and Scorpion, which featured Cage some however surviving Scorpion’s flame-throwing fatality move and slicing his vulnerable head in two, and the bonkers throw down between Liu Kang and Reptile. Reptile’s blistering speed and acrobatics proved to be more than a match for our hero, but in the end, Liu finished off his opponent with his trademark ‘Bicycle Kick’, causing his down opponent to rot on the spot and his chest to exploded in a frenzy of nasty creepy crawlies. By the movie’s climax, we had completely forgotten about each other and with none of than the emperor himself, Shao Khan making a dramatic entrance, we talked all the way home about home much we couldn’t wait to see the sequel. I dropped chip shop girl back at their store, her father seemingly pleased that I hadn’t brought his daughter back pregnant. As I lay awake that night in my bed, rather than replaying all the bodily fluids exchanged in the cinema, all I could think about was how awesome it was to see a video game I was forming an unhealthy obsession with on the big screen in all it’s glory. Ok, it wasn’t as bloody as the game, and even at the age of 15 I was well aware that the acting was uniformly atrocious. But the thrill of seeing Mortal Kombat on something other than an arcade screen was a life affirming experience for me. The last video game movie I had seen was Super Mario Bros. and the less said about that film the better!
I recently re-watched the film, to see if I still felt the same excitement, and I really did. The moment that pulsing theme music starts, all the old feelings rush back to me. I’m instantly transported back to 1995, that dingy cinema and the adrenaline that coursed through my body as Johnny, Liu, and Sonya smashed the bad guys back to the pits of hell where they belonged. It’s the kind of movie I have no qualms about watching again and again in spite of it’s many and obvious flaws. It puts a big old cheesy grin on my face, it’s the ultimate Guilty Pleasure!