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Stacie Ponder – Resident Evil Brings B-Movies and Video Games Together in Unholy Matrimony

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Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.

Itchy. Tasty.

In 1996, those two words helped change the face of horror video games forever. As innocuous as they seem individually, those two words are pretty gross when combined in the right context, that context being a found journal in the Playstation game Resident Evil. The journal spans about a month in the life of an Umbrella Corporation employee who gets infected with the T-Virus and slowly turns into a zombie. It begins with entries that describe poker night with the employee’s buddies; it ends with those innocuous little words after all the poker buddies have been eaten. Yeah, video games had moved way beyond Ms. Pac-Man at this point.

Resident Evil wasn’t the first video game to fall under the banner of “survival horror” — most folks tend to think that honor goes to Alone in the Dark (yes, Uwe Boll made a movie based on the game… a movie that bears virtually no resemblance to said game). Capcom’s effort was, however, the first game to truly bring the B-horror flick and the video game together in unholy, pixilated matrimony.

The game, in fact, starts out as a horror movie: A full motion video (FMV) sequence sets up the events that will unfold as you play. Raccoon City’s special forces, S.T.A.R.S., are sent to investigate reports of a “cannibal cult.” They soon find themselves seeking refuge in a spooky mansion when zombie dogs attack and their plan goes all to hell.

Yep, “zombie dogs.” Like all the best bad scary movies, Resident Evil boasts zombies, dogs, and zombie dogs, as well as killer plants, giant spiders, giant snakes, monsters, and positively dreadful acting. I’m not sure if even Laurence Olivier could deliver a line like “Jill, here’s a lock pick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.” with any plausibility, but still. The actors of Resident Evil deliver the cheese in a halting, stilted fashion that really drives home the terrible awesomeness of the whole affair.

Nonetheless, the game is like playing a scary movie — and for a video game and horror flick loving nerd like myself, Resident Evil was a revelation. Puzzles, jump scares, and lots of zombies… in a video game? These elements are par for the course nowadays, but in ’96 it was jaw-droppingly revolutionary. I’ve been an RE junkie ever since.

That first game has since been remade with light-years-improved
graphics and marginally better acting; the early ’90s FMV fad gave way
to a slick CGI opening. The zombies are faster and meaner, the killer
plant is bigger, and Jill is still the master of unlocking. The whole
shebang is a hell of a lot scarier. There have been numerous sequels
that delve deeper into the conspiracy surrounding the nefarious
Umbrella Corporation as S.T.A.R.S. members travel the world trying to
bring them down. Biological experimentation continues; new viruses are
created, more monsters are born, more zombies roam the streets. The
first Resident Evil title for the next-generation systems
(Playstation 3 and Xbox 360) is due next year, and the series shows no
sign of slowing down, much to my satisfaction. The day there’s no new Resident Evil
on the horizon is the day… well, I won’t be too melodramatic, but it
might just be the day I shake my fists in the air so violently that I
cause a tear in the very fabric of space and time. Is that a threat?
Let’s hope we never have to find out.

During the lull between new games, there are other forms of RE
entertainment out there to give junkies like myself a fix. There’s a
line of novels and comic books that expand upon the storyline of the
games. There are plenty of toys to play with — err, I mean to look at.
Yeah… to admire. In their packages. They’re certainly not for making
little stop-motion home movies, oh no. That would be… silly.

Speaking of movies… Resident Evil
has spawned a trilogy of films written by Paul W.S. Anderson, movies
that have gathered mixed reviews from horror fans, to say the least. As
adaptations go, they’re definitely lacking; Anderson has simply
borrowed elements from the games while crafting his own mythology, an
approach that’s as admirable as it is deplorable. As an RE
nerd, it’s hard to watch the movies and not constantly have thoughts
like “Why is Jill such a jerk? She’s the master of unlocking for crying
out loud!”. Really, you can only be so vehement in your fandom for so
long before it comes time to punch yourself in the face. When you reach
that point — and believe me, I have — then you can just try to enjoy
the films on their own merits.

There aren’t nearly enough zombies
in the trilogy for my liking, but zombie dogs are featured so that’s
righteous. There’s no giant killer plant, but there is a gun-totin’,
skanked-out Milla Jovovich kicking ass, so that’s extra righteous. The
first film (simply titled, Resident Evil) is, in my opinion, fairly underrated. It’s a fun, brainless actioner with some truly killer sequences. The second entry, RE: Apocalypse,
kind of made me hate life for a while, I thought it was so bad. It
didn’t capitalize on the promise of the previous movie and it crossed
that fateful line from “good-bad” to “bad-bad” and it never came back.
The series finale, RE: Extinction , was enough fun (zombies in a desert wasteland!) that it made me forget the pain of Apocalypse, at least for a little while.

I can’t imagine that the Anderson trilogy will mark the only big-screen entries for Resident Evil
— there’s just too much horror-y goodness there, waiting to be
explored. Sure, there’s a CGI movie due later this year, but…  that’s
not enough! Some filmmaker out there needs to pick up the mantle and
bring video games into the world of B-horror — just as Capcom brought
B-horror into the world of videogames once upon a time — because, my
friend, they are just two things that belong together.

sp.jpgA fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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