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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain!: A Tale of Censorship, Video Games, Guns, & Egyptian Royalty

If you pay any attention to both history and current events, it’s incredibly easy to start feeling like Sisyphus. Those with short attention spans and bad education tend to react to so much with newborn minds and adult eyes. But to invoke David Byrne, current events are often “same as it ever was.” A very recent example is certain members of the extreme right in the United States blaming mass-shootings on video games and in one instance, even on the LBGTQ community.

Playing the blame game and tapping into closed-minded fears is so cliched that one could call it a “hoary chestnut.” It’s understandable given how much Pong inspired and directly caused the Spanish Inquisition, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Rape of Nanking, and the abuse, torture, and murder of Sylvia Likens. The oppressors, no matter if they are government officials, religious leaders, or even that one horrible old man that blames everything on the young generation, are the worst kind of Oz-based wizards. Their reasons for such blatant deflection can shift from person to person, whether it is kickback money, personal agendas, sex, and abuse scandals and just simply not wanting to do any real self-examination. If you as a human inherently care about others, then you’re fine and not part of the problem.

Do you know who was part of the problem? Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl, whom, in 1993, led a US Senate committee on the subject of video game violence. This was the same year that brought us the standoff at Waco which resulted in the death of dozens of people, a great flood that plagued the Midwest, three innocent teenagers in the form of the West Memphis Three getting sent to prison, and President Clinton’s gutless “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but yes, let’s worry about little Susie and Billy playing video games.

Of the games discussed, one that received nuclear heat from the committee was Night Trap. Released for the Sega CD in 1992, Night Trap was an early entry into one of the more colorful, it not always consistently good, gaming genres of the decade, which was full-motion video. FMV games utilized the increasing technology to incorporate a more cinematic feel to a gaming universe, often with key highs (ie. Sierra’s Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within) and a whole lot of nadirs (ie. The Lord of Darkness’ Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties). Night Trap’s plot was pitch-perfect for the kind of B-movie you would catch late at night on cable. A group of “teenagers” get invited for a sleepover at a lake house/winery, courtesy of Sarah Martin (Suzy Cote). In classic B-movie fashion, the girls are all clearly well into their 20s. Inexplicably, one of them also brings their little brother along for the ride?!

The game part kicks in with you playing as a member of S.C.A.T., an acronym for Sega Control Attack Team and possibly a warning about some of the quality of the gameplay, who helps out undercover teen agent Kelly (the late Dana Plato) suss out the strange goings-on at the Martin residence. Turns out, the house is riddled with trap doors, a security system, and multiple cameras. You as the agent can access these cameras throughout, which is one of the most novel parts of the game. The continual rotation of scenes and dialogue, some of which is easy-to-miss your first playthrough, give the game some good replayability. Your main threat are these shambling creatures, and that word is being used full-boogie loosely here, called  the “Augers.” The Augers are a type of vampire that has become so mutated from malnourishment that they cover their entire head and body with black material and have to utilize a device to drain their victims of their blood. Things become even more complicated with the reveal that Sara and her entire family are also vampires, though more human-presenting in contrast with the Augers. It’s up to you to save the day and help Kelly not become the next source of sanguinary food for any of them.

As a game, it was a bit clunky, though as a B-movie, it’s a lot of fun, with the highlights revolving around Megan (Christy Ford), one of the teenagers, dancing around and lipsynching to the game’s amazing theme song. Imagine if Tuesday Knight’s “Running from this Nightmare” snorted a thick line of Sweet N Low. THAT is the Night Trap theme song. If Night Trap had been released as a feature film, it would garner, at the absolute most, a PG-13. For a game about bloodsuckers in various forms, it is relatively bloodless, with only shots of the red stuff being processed in tubes and wine bottles. There is zero gore, not even the slimmest hint of nudity, and yet one of the girls wearing a conservative teddy straight out of the Sears catalog intimates section is what set malhearted folks like Lieberman and Kohl on fire. It would be a bit like your parents saying you couldn’t watch pure filth like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Disney movies have more violence than Night Trap. Heck, let’s hope they never read any religious texts or listen to opera because they will surely faint straight up deceased after reading various tales of murder, plagues, incest, decapitation, infanticide, and other grim sundries.

Senate Committee Joe Lieberman.

The Night Trap scandal, much like every past, present, and future instances of censorship, had zero to do with the actual content and everything to do with people in a position of power not only condescending grown adults about how to raise their children and even what they themselves should or shouldn’t watch, listen, or read, but also diverting the public away from real horrors. If Lieberman and Kohl were so concerned about “the children,” then why not actively campaign for matters like food insecurity, bettering the public education system, and netting better funding for entities like DHS so less kids slip through the system? Never enough has been done, then or now, to combat things like child abuse, which is certainly going to traumatize a young person more than a video game, rock song, or movie. At the end of the day, censorship is all smoke and mirrors of the saddest and most offensive variety.

As for Night Trap, its past controversy helped cement a certain amount of retaining cult status. (I like to think that the theme song helped too!) It would garner a 25th-anniversary re-release to multiple gaming formats, which is a bit of a rare honor for old school games, especially full-motion video ones. But the truly amazing thing about Night Trap has nothing to do with Senators or even gamers but instead is tied directly to actor Jon Rashad Kamal.

When I first started researching Night Trap, inspired by watching a super, film-type cut of the game on YouTube,  I immediately looked up Jon R. Kamal. In the game, he plays the Martins’ patriarch and head vampire, Victor. He’s thoroughly terrific in it, playing the role of the suave yet endearingly domestic father with a good dose of both charm and cheek. (His interactions with Christy Ford are especially funny. They both should have been in more work.) So naturally, like all art deep dives, the push to find out more about this actor was on.

Did he appear in other titles? Indeed! Not a ton, but some notable small turns in films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1980), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and even two appearances on the USA Network show, Silk Stalkings. But his acting career is just a small piece of the Kamal puzzle. From his birth in 1935 in Cairo, Egypt and onward, it was obvious that he was destined to be someone incredibly jewel-like and special. Kamal’s parents were Hassan Kamal, a landowner, and Princess Luftia Rashad Osmanoglou, which made Jon R. Kamal a legitimate sultanzade. I could be incorrect here, but since his mother, Luftia, married a “common” man, both her and children were ineligible of ascending any royal succession. Forget Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward, this is the swapping total privilege for love story that I want to know more about.

Princess Luftia.

Jon Kamal came from a wholly cinematic family, with even both of his parents strongly resembling old Hollywood movie stars (think near-Dietrich levels of physical compellingness). On the definitive internet resource about Jon and his family, egy plus dot com, Kamal is described as “a painter, an actor, and a prince. Well almost…” which is perfection. Dyed in the wool royalty is an overrated and overly-romanticized construct, but borderline royalty hedged by things like either true love and/or social disgrace? Now you’re cooking.

Luftia and Hassan would have a total of three children, Ahmed, Perizade and Jon, with the latter being the bohemian peacock of the family. Art was in his lineage, between a relation on his father’s side, Mahmoud Saiid, who is described as one of “Egypt’s foremost artists” as well as a Turkish uncle who did double duty as both a prince and an artist. Delving more into Kamal’s history reveals a background of theater, which includes being on stage with Cyd Charisse and Sandy Dennis to directing a production of Fiddler on the Roof for the Aurora Central Catholic School. There’s also a photo of Kamal clad in a black loincloth in a piece of performance art as protest against the Vietnam War, which would have been fascinating to see in person, no doubt.

Kamal would go on to appear in an assortment of TV shows and movies, with Night Trap being arguably the most striking of his resume. Kamal gets a healthy amount of screen time and stands out by being simultaneously debonair and having fun with the admittedly goony material. There’s no way that he or anyone involved could have predicted the controversy the game would end up netting. There’s more implied nudity in a Jazzercise video and ultra violence in a well-worn episode of Mannix then there is in the Night Trap. Night Trap was not a great game, by any stretch, but instead of being associated with opportunistic politicians who treated their constituents with sub-minimal respect, it should be remembered for being fun, silly, and featuring likable performances by the gone-too-soon actress Dana Plato, the where-are-you-now Christy Ford, and the eternally fascinating Jon Rashad Kamal.

Kamal might have not been technically a prince, but he was a riveting character who left a colorful mark on this world by the time he departed this plane of existence by January 2014. The individuals in this world who strike outside of their own status quo to make a mark of color and expression are eternally worth acknowledging and celebrating, especially when put next to those of faux-morality and censorious tactics. Life is a gift with all too short of a time to properly open it, so celebrate expression, remember history…especially the unpleasant parts, and take no guff. Be like Jon Kamal and make a lot of art, enjoy the company of the colorful, and rock a set of vampire teeth when the opportunity arises.

About Heather Drain

Heather Drain is a fringe culture writer who has written for Dangerous Minds, Video Watchdog, Lunchmeat and Cashiers du Cinemart. She has also been a contributor to The Rialto Report, The Projection Booth, Paracinema, Cinema Head Cheese and, on occasion, as a guest writer at both Rupert Pupkin Speaks and Turner Classic's Movie Morlocks blog. Heather currently writes for Art Decades as well as her own site, Mondo Heather, and is the Music & Culture Editor at Diabolique Magazine.

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