EJ Moreno looks at horror video game movie adaptations…
As Five Nights at Freddy’s dominates the box office but leaves critics with a bad taste in their mouths, it’s funny to see how not much has changed when it comes to adapting horror video games to the big screen.
For the most part, the entire video game-to-movie experience has been rough, with only a few examples of compelling outings. It gets rougher for horror video game lovers as the games are getting better, but the movies hardly reflect that.
As part of the spooky season and in celebration of the Five Nights at Freddy’s release, we’ll look at a collection of video game movies meant for horror fans and rank them from worst to best.
Alone in the Dark
Get used to the name Uwe Boll as the filmmaker specialized in delivering horror video games for some time, even if the quality varied. Alone in the Dark ranged on the real bad of his “bad or worse” scale.
Alone in the Dark was a moderately successful survival horror game, which was all the rage at one point. You can see why they want to go this route for the films, but almost no entry captured what made the games good. This Uwe Boll 2005 film barely struggled to be a watchable experience, let alone a solid adaptation of anything.
You’d expect the trio of Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Stephen Dorff would be able to deliver some “so bad it’s good” performances, but it’s hard to even sit through 20 minutes of this.
Dead Rising: Watchtower
I had no idea the film existed until I did research for this article. There’s nothing remarkable about Dead Rising: Watchtower, but it’s surprisingly decent for a movie released on whatever Crackle was.
The Dead Rising video game franchise is a balls-to-the-walls romp that is easy to love, and the film attempts to capture that madness but ends up making a below-average zombie film. What the film smartly does is go for insane and deliver on zombie kills and the typical military madness you’d expect from this type of horror sub-genre.
Nothing above the top 5 on this list is excellent, but if you’re a diehard fan of the games, Dead Rising: Watchtower gives you a little hope that someone played the video games.
House of the Dead
Say hello to Uwe Boll once again. This time, he’s here with one of the most outlandish entries on the line-up, and that’s saying something. House of the Dead is ridiculous, and at least it’s fun to see the madness.
This falls into the “so bad you have to see it to believe it” category, with so many WTF decisions happening every second of the film. From splicing in video game footage randomly to the ridiculously Matrix-style filmmaking, it’s a mess to sit through, but you are being hit over the head with so much that it’s hard to process what you’ve seen.
2003’s House of the Dead boasts no good performances or memorable scenes, but there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes if you’re hunting for a horror video game adaptation.
For what you get out of a big-screen Doom adaptation, the film attempts to give you some alien demon-ass-kicking action; hell, it even tries to pay homage to the games. The movie sadly lacks any charm to it.
The Rock is one of the leads in the film, which would work a decade later, but he hadn’t found himself as a leading man just yet. The rest of the cast struggles with the material as well; Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike usually understand camp but feel lost in this bland actioner. But there’s an actual attempt being shown here, and there are some shining moments.
Overall, you can see the potential within, but even Doom’s star, Dwayne Johnson, says the film is a cautionary tale of what “not to do.” No one expected Oscar gold, but we could’ve had something better.
The highest ranking Uwe Boll entry, which is still not saying a lot. BloodRayne took what worked for projects like Blade or Underworld and attempted to apply it here. It’s not great, but it feels watchable for Boll.
By 2005, audiences knew what to expect from these types of horror-inspired action flicks, with the films above getting fans used to this formula. And for what it’s worth, BloodRayne was a reasonably popular cult video game, so it didn’t need to do much to wow its fandom. If you wanted a beautiful woman slaying vampires, it delivered on that minimal promise.
As Boll makes his last appearance here, it’s wild to think he was the forefather of video game adaptations and got us to where we could get serviceable options.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Speaking of serviceable, the newest film, Five Nights at Freddy’s, comes in the middle of the list, signifying the mediocre nature of the Blumhouse adaptation of the jump-scare-filled video game.
The biggest sin this 2023 box office smash commits is feeling like it tried to do too much at once. With lore that the dedicated fans crave and the studio wanting an easy franchise jump-starter, there are so many conflicting ideas going on. You can see them packing in every thought that came in the writer’s room, trying to appease every member of the audience somehow.
In its opening weekend, though, Five Nights at Freddy’s blew out the competition and became one of the biggest video game adaptations and the perfect Halloween film.
The 2021 mystery comedy-horror almost placed in the top three, but most people barely know the film, let alone that it’s based on an even more obscure cult game. Still, the film is a solid effort from all involved.
The filmmakers and the cast knew what they wanted to do tonally, making Werewolves Within‘s strange world feel very lived-in. Games are about immersing the player in the experience, and the film does a beautiful job of fully engaging you in the universe. For such a small-scale production, it brings out many great moments and feels faithful to the source material.
If you liked Clue or enjoy a good mystery, it’s easy to love this snowy romp. The twists and turns make this a great watch over multiple viewings.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Picking what Resident Evil encapsulates the franchise is complex, and sadly, we’ve never had a solid adaptation outside of animation. Apocalypse balances the game and the movie the best.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse brings to life some very video game-like set pieces with the flair that would become the franchise’s signature. Even though this is honestly Paul W.S. Anderson’s baby, the entry where he stepped away brought us the closest to the games outside of 2021’s lackluster Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.
With Nemesis being such a vital part of the games, it was nice to bring him to life, even if it was a bit strange getting him to fight Alice.
Asian cinema seems to have nailed the video game-to-film pipeline the best, looking at Japan’s Fatal Frame and this Taiwanese supernatural horror film. Detention is a surprise hit, even if it’s not the most well-known.
Adapting a 2D atmospheric horror side-scroller is not an easy task, but we see John Hsu blend the game’s style with the cinema lens quite well. There have been complaints that the movie simplified the politically charged commentary of the game, but the film still packs a punch and gives you plenty to think about while still delivering great scares.
This is also one of the few awarded films on this, dominating the 56th Golden Horse Awards and causing a stir with its shocking nature and frank discussions. Out of all the movies included, this is the true must-see.
Silent Hill is what you’re looking for if you want a film that captures the game’s soul, works as a solid horror movie, and has aged well with its insanity. No one says this is perfect, but it feels straight out of the game.
At first, reviews for the film were harsh, but as time has passed, fans and critics alike have come to understand that Silent Hill did the rare feat of bringing to life what fans loved about the games and adding a cinematic flair to it all. No scene on this list feels more straight-out-of-the-game than Pyramid Head ripping off some skins.
While the sequel didn’t capture the fun and style we loved from this, we will hopefully see another look at the haunted town from director Christophe Gans with the upcoming Return to Silent Hill.
What are your favourite horror movies based on video games? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…