The light gun was the height of cool in the arcade for a while and spawned a series of dumb “shoot everything on the screen” games. Chiller fits nicely into the category somewhere near the bottom. The basic idea was to shoot and maim as many of the onscreen vermin and human prisoners as possible within the time limit. This was the gaming equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel as all the targets were locked up in mild S&M gear in some kind of torture chamber. Stuck in vices and chains you were free to shoot their limbs off.
The violence in Chiller really was gratuitous. The victims were all motionless and naked and you just had to shoot them as many times as you could which would result in a floor covered with limbs, guts and lots of blood. By the end of each stage the targets were bloody skeletons but they continued to scream as you pumped in round after round. Each level contained secrets such as the ability to shoot the right spot and activate the guillotine or the vice and then watch as some poor woman got beheaded or a guy got his head squished.
As the game progressed some monsters and animals did make an appearance to give you a break from shooting naked people. Parts of the game look like a classic creepy haunted graveyard or castle with zombies rising from the grave and spooky hooded monks. Then they went and spoiled it with a naked, headless cheerleader.
Probably what prevented this game from being truly offensive was the terrible graphics. Actually maybe that just makes it worse. The environments and characters look like they were drawn by a child with felt tip pens, although you would worry about any child drawing things like this.
The game was developed by a company called Exidy who released a number of violent titles from 1974 until 1986. I’m not sure if Chiller was the final nail in their coffin but the fact they ceased trading after the release of this game can’t be coincidence.
You could play Chiller with two players but it was effectively turn about. The game received a very limited release in North America. A few years later an unlicensed port was developed for the NES and cleaned up considerably before release.
Looking at it now it is tough to believe that Chiller was a genuine game. On the other hand videogames have always had a dark side and you don’t tend to hear about some of the controversial games made simply because they suck so much. Chiller definitely fits into that category.