One of The Legend of Zelda series’ weirdest enemies is making a comeback in one corner of the internet, and I’m confronting some very unpleasant memories.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is nothing if not compartmentalized. Each of its puzzle-laden dungeons adhere to a strict motif, whether it be an element (fire, water, earth, etc.) or a very specific claustrophobic fear (getting swallowed by a giant fish, stuck in a massive tree, or lost in a mineshaft filled with dinosaurs). In any case, the theme of two of its dungeons — Bottom of the Well and the Shadow Temple — seemed to be “Let’s try to inflict lasting trauma on a bunch of children and teenagers.” And in my case, the designers succeeded, thanks in no small part to Dead Hand, a reoccurring boss who has made a very weird comeback on the Zelda subreddit over the last few months.
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For those who haven’t played Ocarina of Time, protagonist Link’s journey into the Bottom of the Well comes about 4/5 of the way into his journey, and it is, in my opinion, the game’s masterstroke. Before this point, Ocarina’s time-travel system is framed as a one-time act of transformation: Link was a child in a Swiftian Hyrule, and suddenly, he was an adult, seven years later, in a darkening world. But after you’ve gotten through the infamous Water Temple and returned to a Kakariko Village in flames, Ocarina strongly suggests that you to return to the Temple of Time (the site of the temporal leap) to become a child again. By revisiting Kakariko Village as the younger Link and completing a brilliant effect-and-cause side quest, your child-sized protagonist can squeeze through a small hole at the bottom of the town’s well, where a malignant entity is poisoning the water supply.
It’s here where things go from Haruki Murakami to Junji Ito. The Bottom of the Well is replete with monstrosities like soul-sucking zombies, transparent giant hands, and bats. There is also a litany of invisible (for now) holes in the floor through which you can drop into a combination torture chamber/pool of putrid filth. Yay!
But it’s Dead Hand, the boss guarding the mini-dungeon’s treasured Lens of Truth, that truly takes things too far. I mean, look at this thing. He not only looks like a naked, half-melted Mouth of Sauron, he’s also accompanied by a series of gangly arms that sprout from the floor to face-hug you into submission. He’s a complete 180º from the mostly cartoonish bosses up to this point, and he stopped 7-year-old me dead in my tracks. (I asked my brother, who is seven years my senior, to beat Dead Hand for me. The Ocarina parallels are not lost on me.)
Not only does Dead Hand reappear in the subsequent dungeon, he’s also been appearing on the Zelda subreddit, where users are making both 3D printed models and clay figurines of the creature. I can’t pinpoint the exact point when the boss started popping up on r/Zelda, and that just makes its revolting resurgence all the more mysterious (read: terrifying). Thanks, Reddit! I’m going to go play the somehow-less-fucked-up Majora’s Mask.