Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Review: “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, a while after I finished the previous novel I’d reviewed, I was still in the mood for some relaxing literary comfort food. Naturally, my thoughts turned back to an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”.

This is a novel that I first discovered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and, along with classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, it showed me how utterly awesome novels can be πŸ™‚ Yes, I’d read other novels before then, but these old 1980s/90s horror novels were the things that really got me interested in reading (and writing too).

Not only that, S.D.Perry’s “The Umbrella Conspiracy” (and it’s sequels) were based on the classic “Resident Evil” games – which were one of my favourite computer/video game series at the time. Perry’s novels were everything that my younger self had really wanted these slow-paced, atmospheric survival horror games to be – fast-paced, ultra-gruesome, pulse-pounding thrillers.

So, yes, this novel made quite an impression on me when I was younger πŸ™‚ But, I was curious to see how I’d react to it now that I actually am one of the “mature readers” which the patronising content warning on the back cover recommends the book for.

So, let’s take a look at “The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” that I re-read πŸ™‚

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1998 (the original videogame came out in 1996), with a series of newspaper reports describing a series of mysterious grisly deaths in the forests surrounding the American city of Racoon City. The reports speculate that cannibals or wild animals are behind the horrific killings.

With mounting concern about the deaths, the local police chief authorises the force’s elite special tactics units (“S.T.A.R.S”) to go in and investigate. But, when Bravo team loses radio contact with HQ, S.T.A.R.S leader Albert Wesker decides to send Alpha team into the forest. As their helicopter gets closer to the forest, they notice a pall of smoke from a crashed helicopter. Bravo team’s helicopter!

After landing near the crashed chopper, Alpha team notices that it is completely abandoned. During a search of the surrounding woodland, Alpha team soon find the dismembered remains of one member of Bravo team. But, seconds later, they are menaced by ferocious mutant dogs. Fleeing for their lives, Alpha team find a disused mansion and take shelter inside. But, far from being a sanctuary, they have unknowingly entered the world of survival horror…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though I’ve read it before and even though I’m very familiar with the game it’s based on, it was still just about gripping enough for me to read all of it within a single day. Yes, this novel will be more suspenseful and dramatic if you haven’t played the game. But, even if you know everything about the story, then it’s still a fairly atmospheric and gripping novel.

And, although this novel isn’t that scary, it’s still a brilliant horror novel. Not only do the earlier parts of the novel build up ominous suspense quite well, but the novel’s creepy mansion setting also has the kind of gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere that you would expect too. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel turns the gruesome elements of the source material up to eleven – giving this novel the macabre, vicious and grisly atmosphere that the original game lacked somewhat.

Likewise, this novel works really well as a thriller novel too. Since the main characters quickly find themselves separated when they enter the mansion, this allows the novel to jump between different areas and include lots of mini-cliffhangers. In addition to this, the main characters are frequently menaced by an assortment of zombies and mutant monsters, which gives the story much more of an action-packed feel. This fast-paced combat is also expertly contrasted with slower moments of puzzle-solving, suspense and characterisation too. Seriously, this is a thriller novel πŸ™‚

As for how good an adaptation it is, it’s a really great one. Since “Resident Evil” is more of a story/puzzle/exploration-based game than an action game, it translates really well to a novel format – with Perry also being able to expand on all of the characters’ backstories in a way that really makes you care about them.

In addition to this, the novel also cleverly interweaves the game’s two campaigns (Jill’s campaign and Chris’ campaign), allowing the story to include many of the best moments from both of them. Plus, a few of the game’s signature lines of dialogue/text (eg: “You were almost a Jill Sandwich”, “…pecked to death by crows”, “Itchy. Tasty” etc…) also make an appearance too πŸ™‚

The novel also takes a few interesting creative liberties which really help to keep the reader on their toes too. Not only does a mysterious new character called Trent (who is expanded upon more in Perry’s “Resident Evil: Underworld”, if I remember rightly) make a couple of cryptic appearances, but there are also a few amusing moments – such as Jill taking a much more common sense attitude towards a few of the game’s contrived puzzles (eg: just shattering the glass in the statue room, just climbing down the outdoor lift shaft etc..) too.

As for the writing, it’s really good. Perry’s third-person narration strikes just the right balance between being atmospherically descriptive and grippingly fast-paced. It’s written in a fast-paced, informal “matter of fact” way that allows you to blaze through the whole thing in a single day – but there’s enough description and formality to really give the story a sense of depth (compared to the game). In classic splatterpunk fashion, many of the novel’s most elaborate descriptions are also often reserved for moments of grisly, grotesque horror too πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great πŸ™‚ Not only is it an efficient 262 pages in length, but the novel’s pacing is utterly brilliant too – with a really good contrast between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense and characterisation. Seriously, even if you know the story by heart, then this novel is still fairly gripping.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Yes, there are a few obviously “90s” elements (such as a “futuristic” PDA that is more primitive than a modern smartphone) but, for the most part, this novel has lost none of it’s atmosphere, intensity and drama. Plus, of course, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil” game, then this novel is a wonderful nostalgia-fest too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of “Resident Evil” πŸ™‚ If you’ve never played the game, then the story will be a lot more suspenseful. If you have played the game, then this novel is a deeper, more expanded and more intense version of a familiar story πŸ™‚ Regardless, it’s a wonderfully gripping horror thriller novel. Yes, whilst it didn’t quite evoke the feeling of wide-eyed awe that I felt when I read this novel for the very first time, it’s still a very gripping and well-written novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Although I reviewed the film version of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” about five or six months ago, I thought that it would be kind of fun to see what the film novelisation of it was like.

Since, although I’ve read all of S.D. Perry’s excellent novels based on the original “Resident Evil” videogames, I can only vaguely remember reading Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the third film (Resident Evil: Extinction) about a decade or so ago. So, I thought that I’d check out his 2004 novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” that I read.

The novel begins by giving us some backstory for Timothy Cain, one of the high-ranking henchmen of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. A scientific team from the corporation begins to re-open the corporation’s secret underground laboratory (called “The Hive”) after some kind of mysterious accident happened there. Of course, once they open the doors, a horde of zombies pours out…

Soon, the local town is infested with zombies. A suspended police officer called Jill Valentine, who has encountered the zombies before, decides to fight them. Meanwhile, a team of Umbrella mercenaries, led by Carlos Olivera, enters the town. A high-ranking Umbrella scientist realises that his daughter is missing. A character called LJ is arrested and almost bitten by a zombie at the police station. One of the survivors of the Hive disaster, Alice Abernathy, wakes up in hospital. Needless to say, the stage is set for some thrilling drama…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a reasonably good adaptation of the film – in other words, it is a gloriously silly, over-the-top action-thriller novel. Or, at least, most of it is. If there is one flaw with this novel, it is that it is a bit slow to start – with many earlier segments of the book being taken up explaining the backstories of various characters and recapping the events of the first “Resident Evil” film.

Even so, when this book hits it’s stride, it is a fun, fast-paced action thriller story that can be read reasonably quickly. However, you’ve probably noticed that – for a novel about zombies- I haven’t mentioned the word “horror” once. This is because this really isn’t as much of a horror novel as I had expected. Sure, there’s lots of death, monsters, suspense and zombies but – like the film – there’s relatively little in the way of horror.

One of the things I loved about reading S. D. Perry’s novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames when I was a teenager was that she was able to inject a bit of horror into the stories. Perry’s novelisations were at least three times as gruesome, grotesque and intense as the videogames were.

However, unlike Perry, DeCandido sticks pretty closely to the relatively bloodless action-thriller style of the film in his novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. So, if you’re expecting a bit more horror than you saw in the film, then you’re going to be disappointed.

In terms of how this novelisation relates to the film, it is fairly close. Although there is a lot more characterisation than in the film and there are a couple of very small story differences to what I can remember from the film (eg: Alice finds a zombie-filled Italian restaurant, Alice doesn’t use batons during one of the later fight scenes etc.. ), the most noticeable difference that I found was that Jill and Alice have slightly different outfits in the novel than they do in the film. In other words, Jill wears shorts and Alice keeps her lab coat. Aside from this, the book is extremely close to the film.

This is helped by the novel’s third-person narration, which is written in a very informal style which really fits the “cheesy action movie” atmosphere of the film. Although more prudish readers might not like the sheer number of four-letter words that have been added to the narration, they lend the story a greater degree of intensity whilst also evoking nostalgia for the more immature and “edgy” elements of the early-mid 2000s.

The style and tone of the informal third-person narration also changes slightly depending on the character that is being focused on. For this most part, this works reasonably well and helps to immerse the reader further. However, this can be a bit on the cringe-worthy side of things in a few scenes.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages, the story’s length is fairly reasonable and it never really outstays it’s welcome. The pacing in most of the book is fairly good too, although the earlier segments of the novel were a little too slow-paced for my liking (especially when compared to the beginning of the film).

Yes, taking the time to set the scene and develop the characters would be admirable in an ordinary novel – but this novel is based on an ultra-fast paced, super-cheesy action movie. So, a bit more action in the earlier parts of the story would have been welcome.

All in all, this novel is a reasonably good adaptation of the source material. And for a novel based on a film based on a videogame, it’s surprisingly good. Yes, there are a few flaws. But, for the most part, it is a very readable, fast-paced novel that can be enjoyed within a small number of hours. Still, if you want to read something “Resident Evil”-related, then I’d probably recommend S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels over this one.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get at least three and a half.

Review: “Resident Evil: Afterlife” (Film)

Well, after reviewing the first, second and third “Resident Evil” films, I thought that I’d check out the fourth one – “Resident Evil: Afterlife”. Although I have no current plans to review the other two films in the franchise, I’m not ruling anything out in the future.

Surprisingly, I’m not sure if I’ve seen this film before or not. Although some later parts of it looked vaguely familiar, the earlier parts didn’t. So, I’m not sure. Still, it seemed like it would be worth watching, if only to complete the second-hand DVD boxset I’ve been watching.

Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS in the background of at least one scene, although they don’t seem to be that intense from what I can remember. Plus, it’s worth watching this film after the previous three films.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Afterlife”:

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is a sci-fi/horror/action movie from 2010 that begins with a rather cool flashback scene, showing the zombie virus beginning to spread through Tokyo. This scene is mysteriously suspenseful, visually brilliant and wonderfully dramatic.

Seriously, the first couple of minutes are like a really cool short horror movie.

A dramatic voice-over from Alice then explains some of the series’ backstory. But, after that, there is a thoroughly silly over-the-top action scene where several of the Alice clones from the end of the previous film blast and slice their way through an underground Umbrella facility in Tokyo.

Well, this is going to be a rather one-sided fight…..

However, Umbella’s boss Albert Wesker manages to escape using a futuristic cargo plane, before nuking the facility. But, the original Alice has snuck aboard the plane for some much-deserved revenge. During the fight, Wesker injects Alice with some kind of antidote that removes her superhuman abilities. But, before Wesker can shoot her, the plane crashes into a mountain.

Several months later, Alice is flying a plane to Alaska in search of the survivors from the previous film.

And keeping a video diary too, because camcorder batteries are unusually abundent in this post-apocalyptic world…

But, after discovering nothing but a field of abandoned planes and a helicopter that contains the journal from the previous film, Alice is attacked by Claire. After a brief scuffle, Alice notices that there’s some kind of mind control device attached to Claire’s chest. Once she removes it, Claire returns to normal – but she cannot remember who Alice is.

Getting back into the plane, they fly down the American coast towards Los Angeles, where they discover that several survivors are holed up in an abandoned prison that is surrounded by thousands of zombies. After a perilous landing on the roof, one of the survivors points out that there is a cargo ship called the Arcadia off of the coast that seems to be safe. The only problem is, of course, finding a way to get to it…..

And, yes, the film actually includes a logical explanation for why they don’t just use the plane.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is about one-third interesting horror thriller film and about two-thirds utterly silly sci-fi action movie.

Although the mixture of these elements helps to keep the film varied, it also means that the film’s narrative feels a little bit less focused than it should be. In a way, this would have been a much better film if it had focused more on the thrillingly claustrophobic scenes of horror set in the abandoned prison and less on the sci-fi action elements of the film.

Still, the film has a rather interesting three-act structure. The first third of the film focuses on Alice (and is a mixture of silly action movie scenes and more suspenseful slow-paced scenes), the second third is a really cool little horror movie set inside the abandoned prison and the final third is an utterly ludicrous sci-fi action/horror segment set aboard the cargo ship.

What? This isn’t a spaceship?

Seriously? It really isn’t a spaceship?

The middle part of the film is, by far, the best. Not only is there some character-based drama and a decent amount of suspense, but it is also the only part of the film that is actually a proper zombie movie. With the survivors trapped inside a large building, they have to rely on their wits, strength and ingenuity in order to survive. As I said earlier, if the whole film was like this 30 minute segment, it would be an absolutely amazing movie.

Seriously, this is just one-third of the film? Why isn’t it… I don’t know… the entire film?

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Not only is Alice a more interesting character now that she’s marginally less superhuman, but the survivors in the prison are a reasonably interesting mixture of characters too.

The film finally also introduces Chris Redfield, who is reasonably true to his portrayal in the classic Resident Evil games. Surprisingly though, when we first see him, he’s being held prisoner by the survivors (who think he is a dangerous convict). Plus, since Claire has lost her memory, she doesn’t realise that he is her brother too.

It might just be me, but he also reminds me a bit of Dean from β€œSupernatural” too.

The monster designs in this film are somewhat variable. The best monsters are some really creepy mutant zombies who can burrow underground and who have tentacles that emerge from their mouths. These zombies are genuinely disturbing and they really help to add some horror and tension to the film.

Hello there!

However, there’s a random giant executioner monster whose presence is never really explained (and is less scary as a result). Likewise, the zombie dogs near the end of the film seem to have more in common with the zombie dogs from the “Silent Hill” games than the “Resident Evil” games too (eg: since they use their upper body as a giant mouth, like in “Silent Hill 3”).

Yes, this giant executioner is kind of cool, but there’s no real explanation for why he’s there. He’s more like a level boss in a videogame…

Although the film’s action scenes are ridiculously over-the-top, some of them are actually pretty good.

The best one happens after a giant horde of zombies find a way into the abandoned prison, and the survivors are forced to fight them whilst escaping. This scene is filled with suspense, drama, quick thinking, brilliantly theatrical stunt work and a few cool touches (like a shotgun that fires coins).

Yes, the characters actually have to use their brains as well as their guns in this part of the film.

Conversely, the action scene near the beginning of the film is utterly silly. It literally just consists of a group of Alice clones fighting masked henchmen in a variety of acrobatic ways. Unlike the action scene I mentioned earlier, this one just feels like spectacle for the sake of spectacle. It’s just a few minutes of acrobatic fighting, without any real suspense or tension.

Some of them even bring swords to a gunfight…. because it looks cool, I guess.

In terms of set design and special effects, they’re reasonably good. There’s a good mixture of grim post-apocalyptic locations and eerily bright sci-fi locations here. Plus, the Tokyo-based scenes at the very beginning of the film look really cool too. The film’s lighting is at it’s best during the scenes set in the abandoned prison.

Seriously, there’s some really cool lighting in this part of the film πŸ™‚

Likewise, although the film relies more heavily on CGI effects, most of them are reasonably good – with the highlights being the spectacular explosion (or is it an implosion?) in an early part of the film, and some of the monster effects.

Even though it’s clearly CGI, this scene still looks brilliantly spectacular.

Musically, the film is reasonably ok. Although there aren’t really any stand-out moments, the background music fits the events of the film fairly well.

All in all, this is a fairly good film that could have been so much better. The middle part of this film is absolutely excellent, and is filled with suspenseful zombie-based horror and post-apocalyptic drama. It’s just a shame that most of the rest of the film is utterly silly. If only the whole film was like the middle part of the film….

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half.

Review: “Resident Evil” (Film)

Well, after reviewing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” recently, I thought that I’d go back and take another look at the first film in the series.

Although I ended up buying a DVD boxset of the first four films (since it was actually cheaper to buy this second-hand than buying the films individually), I don’t know how many more of them I’ll end up reviewing.

Anyway, “Resident Evil” is a film that I first saw at the cinema when I was thirteen. Ever since I read in a games mag that they were turning this videogame series into a film, I just had to see it (and, luckily, getting into the film under-age wasn’t as difficult as I had feared). I was so excited! It seemed like it would be the coolest thing in the world. But, when I actually saw it, I felt somewhat cheated. The film seemed to be very different to the games that I had enjoyed so much.

But, given how my reaction to seeing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” changed when I revisited it as an adult, I was curious to see if what I’d think about the first film in the series would be any different over a decade and a half later. And, yes, seeing this film again totally changed my opinion of it.

Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, but I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause problems.

“Resident Evil” is a sci-fi/horror film from 2002 (starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius and James Purefoy) that is very loosely based on the “Resident Evil” videogame franchise.

The film begins with a voice-over that explains how the Umbrella Corporation has become one of the most powerful corporations in America. The film then cuts to one of the company’s secret underground laboratories, where a vial of mysterious blue chemical is released by an unknown character.

Don’t worry, the vial is made out of CGI – it’ll be fine!

A while later, the facility suddenly goes into emergency lockdown. The lifts begin to malfunction dangerously and the facility’s central computer looks on impassively as the crowded hallways are flooded with halon gas and the sprinkler systems begin to drown the scientists working in the laboratories.

Remember, safety first!

Back on the surface, a woman called Alice wakes up in the bathroom of a stately home with no memory of who she is or why she is there. After she explores the house for a while and encounters a mysterious man, a team of masked commandos suddenly burst through the windows.

They arrest the man and tell Alice that she is one of the company’s operatives. They have been sent to the house in order to investigate what has happened in the laboratory below, and they want to take Alice and the mystery man with them…

Well, this journey isn’t going to end well…

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it is much better than I remember. Unlike the action-packed sequel, this is a proper horror film.

Although it still has a sensible running time (97 minutes), this film actually takes a decent amount of time to build up suspense and atmosphere – with the first zombie attack not even happening until 37 minutes into the film. Likewise, although there are certainly thrilling moments of action in this film, the emphasis is much more firmly on horror, suspense and storytelling than action.

Unlike in the sequel, these types of scenes are the exception rather than the rule.

The fact that most of the film takes place in a confined underground laboratory really helps to add a sense of claustrophobia and tension to the film. This is in keeping with the spirit of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames, even if the characters and the details of the story are very different.

The film’s suspense is further increased by the fact that the laboratory is being run by a sociopathic artificial intelligence called the Red Queen, who has no compunction about killing people.

Likewise, when the zombies appear in this film, they often appear in overwhelming hordes that the main characters have no chance of actually defeating. This usually means that the characters often have to rely on their wits more than on their guns, which also increases the level of suspense in the film dramatically. The fact that the characters also realise that they only have a limited time to escape the facility helps with the suspense too.

Yes, the characters actually have to rely on their brains (in order to stop the zombies eating them).

As for the horror elements of this film, they work reasonably well. Although this film probably won’t give you nightmares, there’s a good mixture of jump scares, grisly moments, atmospheric horror, body horror, monster-based horror and character-based horror.

In terms of the characters, this film is reasonably good. Although there isn’t really that much in the way of deep characterisation, the characters often come across as vaguely realistic soldiers and operatives, rather than superhuman action heroes. Likewise, this is one of those 1990s-style thriller films where there is slightly more focus on teamwork than on individual heroics too. The film’s cast all put in a reasonably good performance too, with no glaringly obvious examples of bad acting.

The film’s special effects are reasonably decent for the time too. For a film made in the early 2000s, some of the CGI effects are good- with the highlights being both the film’s famous “laser grid” scene and the Red Queen’s creepy hologram.

Because you can’t have sci-fi without lasers!

Some of the film’s CGI monsters and CGI models look a little bit dated though. However, many of the film’s effects seem to be timeless practical effects, which still work reasonably well.

In terms of the film’s set design and lighting, it’s fairly good. A lot of the film takes place in an underground lab that looks both coldly futuristic and ominously disused. As you would expect from a sci-fi horror film, there’s also a decent amount of cool-looking high-contrast lighting. However, the film also uses bright, harsh cold lighting reasonably often too.

Not only is the lighting wonderfully ominous here, but this office looks both old and futuristic at the same time.

And this area looks a little bit like something from the “Alien” films πŸ™‚

Not to mention that there’s quite a bit of cool high-contrast lighting too πŸ™‚

As for the film’s music, it’s reasonably good. Especially near the beginning of the film, the music is often used to build tension and suspense in a reasonably effective way. Another stand-out moment is that Slipknot’s “My Plague” plays during the end credits. Even though I’m not a massive Slipknot fan (although “Wait and Bleed” is a pretty good song), this song is surprisingly catchy and it has a really cool chorus.

All in all, this is a reasonably decent sci-fi/horror film. Whilst the characters and the story differ greatly from the games it is based on, it is at least reasonably close to them in spirit. Instead of being a ridiculously fast-paced action movie, it is a slightly slower-paced suspenseful horror film (with some fast-paced moments). And, on it’s own merits, it’s actually a reasonably good film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take another look at a film that I really enjoyed when I was a teenager. I am, of course, talking about a film from 2004 called “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

Back then, I’d really been looking forward to this film because, although the previous “Resident Evil” film was different to what I’d expected, this sequel looked like it would be more faithful to the source material. Needless to say, I ended up seeing it at the cinema and it really knocked my socks off πŸ™‚ So much so that I actually ended up getting it on DVD a year or two later.

But, now that I’m somewhat older, I began to wonder if the film was as good as I remembered. So, I thought that I’d take another look at it.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES (but I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems).

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is a sci-fi/action/horror movie that is both a sequel to 2002’s “Resident Evil” and a partial adaptation of an amazing 1990s videogame called “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis“. Although it can be watched as a stand-alone film (since it contains a recap at the beginning), it is best watched after seeing/playing the two things I mentioned earlier.

The events of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” are set into motion when a team of scientists from the nefarious Umbrella Corporation make the questionable decision to re-open the sealed underground bunker from the first film. Needless to say, a horde of zombies pour out and – within hours – Racoon City is in the middle of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

Hmm… It’s probably because the science team’s budget was spent on silly wrist-mounted computers rather than on some kind of rudimentary zombie-proof barrier.

After evacuating some of their key scientists, Umbrella decides to seal off the town. Unfortunately for the zombies, elite police officer Jill Valentine is stranded inside the town with a reporter and another elite officer called Peyton.

The zombies really don’t stand a chance…

Meanwhile, some of Umbrella’s elite private troops, led by the rugged Carlos Olivera, realise that the company has deserted them. Whilst all of this is going on, the automated systems in the city hospital release Alice (from the first film) from stasis.

Cue a vaguely “28 Days Later” – like scene (that re-uses some footage from the previous film)

And, if that wasn’t enough, one of the evacuated scientists realises that his daughter has been stranded inside the city. Hacking into the city’s CCTV and phone network, he contacts the survivors and offers them a deal. He’ll guide them out of the city, if they rescue his daughter….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is best watched when you are a teenager. It is pretty much the textbook definition of a silly, cheesy “so bad that it’s good” action movie. But, even so, what a silly film this is!

Fun fact: This melodramatic explosion comes from an airbourne motorbike that has been machine-gunned after a monster has climbed onto it in mid-air.

Everything from the brilliantly cheesy dialogue to the ludicrous action sequences to the ridiculously rapid-fire editing is totally and utterly silly. Yet, it still works! Although there’s a bit of suspense, characterisation and backstory – most of the film just consists of the characters fighting zombies and monsters in a variety of creatively melodramatic ways.

And, yes, this is one of the more boring combat scenes in the film!

Occasionally, the film shakes things up by having the characters fight evil henchmen too.

And, yet, this works! Although the film tries to have a few serious dramatic moments, it really doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously. It’s a silly, mindless action movie that knows that it’s a silly, mindless action movie.

In other words, it’s pretty much a parody of the genre. All of the characters can shoot with pinpoint accuracy, there’s never a shortage of guns, the laws of physics are more like suggested guidelines, there’s at least one explosion every 10-20 minutes or so and there are plenty of “badass” one-liners too.

This film is gloriously immature and doesn’t have an original bone in it’s body. But, this doesn’t matter, because it is fun.

Like this melodramatic headline. Somehow, despite a full-blown zombie apocalypse, the local newspaper still has time to print an extra edition..

Or this “totally not influenced by ‘The Matrix’ ” choice of weapons. And the “I can’t believe it isn’t ‘The Matrix’ ” slow-motion bullet scene in another part of the film. But, well, wouldn’t “The Matrix” be cooler if there were zombies?

In many ways, this film is both similar to and different from the action movies of the 1990s. Whilst it includes more of a 1990s-style focus on team-based storytelling, the team in question contains several cynical, near-immortal, individualistic warriors.

Likewise, whilst the film contains the kind of highly-unrealistic premise that would have been more at home during the more innocent days of the 1990s, the emotional tone of the film is more in keeping with the “serious” mood of the early-mid 2000s.

Yes, it’s a team-based action movie with an unrealistic premise. But it has a gloomier 2000s-style emotional tone and more 2000s-style characters.

Interestingly, this film both is and isn’t faithful to the story of “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis”. Yes, the Nemesis appears – but he has a different origin story (and a slightly different personality). Jill and Carlos also both look a bit like their videogame counterparts, but their personalities are a lot more aggressive and “badass” when compared to the game. There’s also a sequence that has been almost directly lifted from the intro movie from “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” (but with Alice instead of Claire Redfield) too.

Yay! It’s a homage to the real Resident Evil 4 πŸ™‚

If anything, this film is more of a sequel to the first “Resident Evil” film than an adaptation of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames. But, unlike the first film, it’s a ridiculously fast-paced “badass” sci-fi action movie rather than a slow-paced, atmospheric and suspenseful horror story.

There’s no need for carefully conserving ammunition, puzzle-solving or methodical exploration here!

Surprisingly, for a film based on a well-known zombie horror franchise, there’s relatively little in the way of gore. Whilst the film certainly isn’t bloodless, there’s more of a focus on fast-paced action than on grisly horror.

Even so, there are still a few grotesque moments here, such as a classroom of zombie children, a decaying skull or a character who has kept one of their zombified relatives alive. But, these are almost the exception rather than the rule.

For example, a classic zombie-movie style scene where a character is devoured by a horde of the undead is almost completely bloodless.

In terms of the characters, Jill and Carlos are just generic “badass” characters a lot of the time. Alice actually gets a bit of characterisation but, for the most part, she’s another “badass” character. The film’s various supporting characters also help to add a bit of individuality, drama, humour and/or suspense to the film too.

In terms of lighting, special effects and set design, this film still stands up reasonably well to this day. Yes, there’s some mildly dated CGI effects in a few of the monster-based scenes. But, many of the effects are timeless practical effects. The pyrotechnics and fight choreography are also really good too. Plus, the Nemesis looks suitably formidable too.

Or, more accurately, he looks a little bit like something from an Iron Maiden album cover. Which is also awesome πŸ™‚

CGI effects aside, the only thing that will really tip you off that this is a film from 14 years ago is the fact that the characters use payphones more often than mobile phones.

Plus, since this is a film in the horror genre, the lighting looks absolutely brilliant too. Likewise, the set design is a videogame-like mixture of realistic and futuristic locations too.

The best lighting in the film has to be the 1980s-style neon lighting here.

The film also makes extensive use of blue/orange lighting too.

However, in terms of editing, this film often uses a ridiculously fast-paced editing style (especially near the beginning), which makes everything seem a little bit trite and abrupt at times. Still, at a lean 90 minutes (approx) in length, this film never gets dull, bloated or boring.

In terms of music, whilst the music in the film wasn’t that memorable, one interesting fact is that the music credits at the end of the film list Cradle Of Filth’s “Nymphetamine” as part of the soundtrack. Although this song is absolutely brilliant, I can’t remember actually hearing it during the film. But, since Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album came out the same year that the film did (and the soundtrack is apparently from Roadrunner Records), it’s possible that they just added it to the CD soundtrack to promote the album.

It’s cool that “Nymphetamine” is in the credits, but I don’t remember hearing it during the film though 😦

All in all, this is a gloriously silly and wonderfully mindless “so bad that it’s good” action movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

It’s a film sequel that is also an adaptation of a videogame sequel. So, yes, you’ll enjoy this film the most if you are aged between about thirteen and seventeen. But, even if you’re re-watching it as a slightly more cynical and (somehow) more mature adult, then there’s still lots of fun to be had here. If you go into it expecting ninety minutes of thoroughly silly fun, then you won’t be disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half.

Four Basic Things That Horror Writers Can Learn From Classic Survival Horror Games

Well, although I had planned to write about webcomics (since I’m preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month), I thought that I’d talk about the horror genre again.

This is mostly because I’m still playing the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that classic-style survival horror games can teach horror writers.

1) Backstory: Even the less scary examples of survival horror games (eg: such as the original “Resident Evil) tend to include a lot of backstory. This backstory puts the events of the game into a larger context, in addition to being a potent source of horror in and of itself. However, backstories in survival horror games are usually relayed in brief and subtle moments – often with at least some details left chillingly mysterious.

Sometimes, the player will get to read a short document, but backstory will often be either relayed through a short comment when examining something or it will be relayed purely through background details. In other words, classic survival horror games provide plenty of examples of how to use the old “show, don’t tell” technique in a chilling way.

For a visual example of this, just take a look at this screenshot from “Alone In The Dark“:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

Even if you’ve never played the game before, you can instantly tell from the pentagram on the floor that this room has something to do with magic or mysticism. Then a glance at the skull on the shelf will probably tell you that this probably isn’t a good type of magic or mysticism. The narrow corridor outside the room and the stark stone floor also imply that the room could be a hidden room (it is!). All of these details instantly tell the audience something about the room without spelling everything out to them.

So, a few short visual descriptions that subtly hint at a much larger backstory can be a great way to add some extra horror to your story.

2) Symbolism: In many classic survival horror games, the monsters are just monsters. However, the “Silent Hill” games do something really interesting, which can be instructive to horror writers. In these games, the monsters are significantly scarier because they often have some kind of underlying theme or symbolism – which allows them to tap into other sources of horror.

Whilst the symbolism of the monsters in “Silent Hill 2” can’t really be discussed without spoiling the story of that game, the monsters in “Silent Hill 3” provide a great example of how to add extra depth, meaning and horror to monster design.

One way that “Silent Hill 3” makes it’s monsters more disturbing is through disease-related symbolism. These disease-based monsters include giant spinning mosquito-like creatures, undead nurses, bandage-covered zombie dogs and creatures that look like giant sentient tumours. Even monsters that are meant to symbolise other things still have a somewhat “diseased” appearance. This allows the game to tap into a realistic source of horror (eg: diseases) whilst still being a slightly fantastical game about a nightmare-like parallel world filled with monsters.

So, one way to make your horror fiction more disturbing is to think of a disturbing theme and then find a way to subtly hint at this through the way that the main source of horror in your story is presented.

3) Atmosphere and subtle horror: The scariest parts of classic survival horror games often aren’t the parts where a monster jumps out of nowhere and attacks the player. They are either the general atmosphere of the game and/or a few relatively subtle moments that, whilst often not directly threatening to the player’s character, help to stop the player from getting too complacent.

These can include things like a phone suddenly ringing, something scrawled on a wall, a creepy piece of background music, chaotic locations, something being subtly different when the main character returns to a familiar location etc… Although subtle moments of horror aren’t extremely scary in and of themselves, they help to maintain a feeling of suspense by creating a mysteriously threatening atmosphere.

And, yes, atmosphere matters a lot in the horror genre. Leaving aside technical limitations, there’s a reason why many classic survival horror games are set in places like old mansions, derelict buildings, coldly futuristic laboratories etc…

So, subtle horror and a creepy atmosphere matter a lot more than you might initially think.

4) Vulnerability: One of the main reasons why the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot scarier than the first three “Resident Evil” games is because the main characters are presented as being more vulnerable.

Out of the five playable characters in the first three “Resident Evil” games, four are military/police characters (eg: Jill, Carlos, Chris and Leon) and one (eg: Claire) rides a motorbike and is related to one of these characters. In other words, they all seem like tough, fearless characters who are knowledgeable about handling dangerous situations. As such, these games are less scary.

The three main characters in the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot more vulnerable. Harry from the first game is a father who is searching for his missing daughter. James from the second game is a bereaved man who has seen better days. Heather from the third game is a teenage girl who goes shopping and finds herself plunged into a series of nightmarish events. None of these characters have any military training or experience with weapons (and the combat in these games reflects this fact). As such, these games are considerably more scary.

So, the lesson here is that – if you want to make your horror story scarier – don’t make your main character a tough action hero! The more of a threat that your character is to the scary things in your story, the less scary those things will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚