Luke Owen on the George A. Romero Resident Evil movie we never got to see…
NOTE: I can’t remember the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, but it has stuck with me for my entire life. Dawn of the Dead is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Romero was more than just “the zombie guy”, but it was his movies that influenced myself as a young filmmaker. My first attempt at a mini-feature was The Good, The Bad and The Undead, a zombie movie heavily inspired by Romero’s work. When making the movie we cast sixth-formers from my old school (where we shot the film) as extras, and I went into their assembly to show them the end of Day of the Dead, essentially to show what we intended to emulate. So, as a tribute to the great man, here’s a sample from my book Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made which looks at the Resident Evil movie he nearly made. Enjoy.
‘Survival Horror’ was a term that didn’t really exist in video games before the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil for the Sony PlayStation, but the genre can be traced back to the early 1980s. Malcolm Evan’s 3D Monster Maze sees the player escape from a T-rex without a weapon in a first-person environment, while Haunted House for the Atari 2600 displayed many attributes that would later be attached to modern-day survival horror titles. These games, and others like it, took inspiration from Japanese horror movies and even slasher genre pictures like Halloween and Friday the 13th in an effort to replicate the fear one would feel when going to the cinema, only this time in the comfort of your own home. But the game that most consider to the first true Survival Horror game was Capcom’s Sweet Home for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1989. The game saw a player navigate through a house and solve puzzles while battling hordes of terrifying monsters, backed-up by a story that explains the house’s 50 year history through scattered diary entries. The game was all about survival. If one of your characters died, that was it – and it would affect the ending you would get upon completion. As the mid-90s rolled around, Capcom would look to replicate the success of Sweet Home by remaking it for Sony’s PlayStation, but instead it became its own property named Biohazard in Japan and Resident Evil everywhere else. The Survival Horror genre was born. “Resident Evil followed a parallel boom in gory M-rated disc-based releases around the same time,” George Weidman, YouTube’s SuperBunnyHop, argues, “but Japan beat the rest of the world to the punch in the 80’s with spooky – and oftentimes bloody – PC graphic adventure games like The Portopia Serial Murder Case and Carmine X1, as well as Sweet Home.”
Resident Evil borrowed many aspects of Sweet Home for its gameplay. Players had a limited inventory space to store items, a mansion setting and death animations played when a character was a killed. It also offered multiple endings, depending on their actions throughout the game which saw you play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two S.T.AR.S. officers from Raccoon City who find themselves in a giant maze-like mansion while investigating reports of people being eaten alive. As the game progresses and more puzzles are solved, the players must survive the onslaught of rabid zombies that are walking the halls while discovering the truth behind The Umbrella Corporation’s experiments on a biological weapon known as the T-Virus. Released in 1996, Resident Evil was heavily praised by critics and gamers. It was a best seller in the US and was one of the top selling games overall for the PlayStation in the year of its release. “Though Resident Evil’s visual design is very Western – operating almost identically to the French Alone In the Dark – the idea of making a terrifying and gory video game for adults was historically a more Japanese concept at the time,” Weidman adds. “And the juxtaposition between Japanese and American aesthetics throughout the series is a big factor to what I think has made it so endearing.” Like Mortal Kombat, Night Trap and Doom, the game was criticized by certain portions of the media for its gory violence, but even then they could see past its red-coated exterior. “I tried to hate it with its graphic violence, rampant sexism, poor voice acting and use of every horror cliché,” Computer Gaming World said of the PC version in 1998. “However, it’s actually fun.” The game would spawn a sequel two years later, and before long it was one of the biggest gaming franchises in history. “Clearly the makers of the game had been inspired by the movies that I loved,” Paul W.S Anderson says of the games. “There were clear influences from Fulchi and George Romero in the first two games. And then the second game had big chunks of John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York – they were in the second game. The way the camera moved was very Halloween-esque.”
So much of an influence was George A. Romero and his trilogy of zombie movies – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead – that Capcom asked him to produce and direct a commercial for the release of Resident Evil 2. “What we were trying to do for this commercial was to make it look like a movie,” Romero said in the commercial’s Making Of documentary. “We wanted to produce it very much like a movie. I loved making the movies, and it’s great there’s a game that’s a flashback to that genre.” He adds: “It was like a small motion picture shoot. We had extras playing the zombies and a few people who were experienced playing zombies, and the actors Brad Renfro and Adrianne [Frantz] have experience, so it’s like working with an actual cast.”
Impressed with the commercial and his passion for the games, German producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Films looked to hire Romero after securing the rights to make a movie based on the Resident Evil franchise in 1998. Initially he had hired Alan B. McElroy, best known for the comic book adaptation Spawn and Halloween 4: Return of Michael Myers, but his script wasn’t working out. Given Romeo’s connection to the genre and experience from the Resident Evil 2 commercial, Eichinger decided to abandon the McElroy script and go in a new direction. With a third game on the way, the Resident Evil franchise was only going to get bigger, and Eichinger knew a movie directed by the master of the zombie genre would be a sure-fire success. Like the commercial, Romero was keen to capture the spirit of the first Resident Evil game and during an appearance in Universal Studio’s Talk City chatroom, he told fans that he got his secretary to play through the first game and record it so he could use as a reference for his script.
Romero delivered his first draft for Resident Evil on October 7th, 1998. It plays very similar to the first Resident Evil game in that it’s set in the Arklay Mansion and features several characters from both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, but there are some slight tweaks. It centers around Chris Redfield, a native-Indian, and his girlfriend Jill Valentine, a member of the special-ops team S.T.A.R.S. Jill gets called in for a job at the Arklay Mansion to rescue a scientist named Marcus, and Chris, worried about an increase of dead animals in the local area, rides off to his family farm to find out what’s going on. They meet up again at the Mansion and along with the other S.T.A.R.S. members including Barry Burton and Albert Wesker, and discover the place is filled with zombies. As they work their way through the various “levels”, they encounter and fight off hordes of zombies, zombie dogs, green beasts known as Hunters, zombie sharks, a ginormous man-eating plant and a giant snake. When they discover that Marcus is dead, they are told by another scientist named Ada Wong that Umbrella had been conducting experiments to create a biological weapon known as the T-Virus, which was now escaping into the water supply. They also discover that Albert Wesker, the man leading the team, was working for Umbrella the entire time, and he unleashes a creature known as Tyrant, a hulking beast with one giant claw hand who kills Wesker before escaping to the roof. As Chris, Jill and Ada make their way to a helicopter on the roof, Chris kills The Tyrant with a rocket launcher provided by Jill. But as they fly away from the Mansion, they see that Raccoon City is being taken over by zombies, and there is seemingly no escape.
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