Resident Evil, from survival horror to mass phenomenon

Resident Evil, from survival horror to mass phenomenon

Resident Evil

The name Resident Evil now brings us back to a very specific narrative universe truly known by anyone. Even outside the circles of fans, we will find very few people who will candidly admit that they have never, ever heard of this brand. Whether they have met him through videogames, a medium that has seen this brand born and spread (it is appropriate to say it!), Whether they have seen at least one of the films or, simply, have come into contact with any object of the immense collection of merchandise concerning him, Resident Evil will be known. In short, Resident Evil is the classic example of a pop cultural phenomenon, capable of overcoming the limits of its medium of origin, to reach practically all the other areas of the fantastic collective imagination and which will soon arrive in the form of an exclusive Netflix series.


But how did the Resident Evil phenomenon come about? Let's start from the beginning, that is from 1996, the year in which Capcom released on the first PlayStation (and soon also on Windows PCs and Sega Saturn) a game based on zombies and various horrors, entitled Biohazard, created by Shiji Mikami and Tokuro Fujiwara. A title destined to make a huge success, as well as to indelibly mark the history of video games, not so much for the technical sector for the truly avant-garde era, but for the gameplay itself and the plot.

Biohazard proposed a challenge where the protagonists, a special team engaged in a search and recovery mission near a sinister villa with a very bad reputation, often found themselves in situations of manifest impossibility to escape simply by fighting. Either for the lack of ammunition, either for the almost complete ineffectiveness of the latter against some opponents, or for many other situations to which the gamers of the time were not yet completely accustomed, in Biohazard the direct and brutal confrontation was a behavior to be used almost always as a last resort, much wiser to flee or develop other types of strategy. For the entire duration of the game he was engaged not only in solving environmental puzzles, but also in the arduous task of ... surviving! Survival horror was born.

The name Biohazard, "biological danger" was particularly fitting, given that the abominations with which we had to face did not originate from some supernatural event, but were but the result of the sinister experiments that the Umbrella Corporation, a powerful pharmaceutical multinational, was carrying out on the T Virus, whose effects were precisely those of causing more or less stable mutations in the organisms they infected, in addition to the particular "side effect" of reporting in life corpses in the form of zombies eating meat. The villa where the characters take refuge after the assault of some "undead dogs" is in fact the roof of the immense underground laboratory where Umbrella carries out these experiments on the T Virus. And where, of course, something did not go in the right direction.


Biohazard had a great success at home, and it was therefore immediately decided to distribute it also on the western market, changing however the title in Resident Evil. Needless to say, the game, even here with us, was a resounding success, so much so that just two years later, in 1998, Capcom released the sequel, Resident Evil 2. And with this title, which took up the mechanics and situations of the previous chapter, expanding and improving them, as well as significantly improving graphics and sound, the series obtained the actual consecration in the eyes of critics, but above all of the public.

Resident Evil 2 was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the symbolic titles of that videogame generation and one of the most loved episodes of the saga ever, so much so that Capcom produced an excellent remake in 2019 , modernizing both the graphics and the controls. Needless to say, the remake was also a success.

The survival component of the series has continued in the third chapter, Resident Evil 3, this time coming to be really taken to the extreme, with the figure of Nemesis, a Tyrant-class BOW (Bio Organic Weapon) from Umbrella, which for the duration of the game will relentlessly hunt us without us being able to do anything to stop its advance. We can slow it down and annoy it, but for most of the time our only option to survive each encounter with the Nemesis will always remain escape.

The series then made a decisive change of course starting from the fourth episode. In fact, Resident Evil 4 practically abandons the survival horror aspect entirely to transform itself into a more than excellent action. This time we can, and we will have to, pull the trigger without too many thoughts, since we will (almost) never run out of ammunition for one of the many types of firearms present in the game. Should this happen, a shady merchant will come to our rescue, in the unfortunate event we fail to find cartridges around the levels, able to supply us with everything we need.

Many historical fans of the series did not appreciate this transition to the action genre very much but this has in fact cleared the series even against those who preferred a more lively style of play, as well as obviously a full-bodied fringe of fans of the first hour who have seen in the change of register a breath of fresh air. This route was also maintained in Resident Evil 5, always of excellent workmanship, and in Resident Evil 6, which unfortunately did not turn out to be a game worthy of the expectations that many had. Not bad, it must be said, but that "Resident Evil" in the title weighed too much on the judgment of what the game really offered, putting an end, at least for a while, to the "classic" numbered series.

In the meantime, however parallel to this “main” series, a whole series of collateral titles have arisen: prequels, inter-game sequels, real spin-offs, etc. And all considered canonical. Yes, canonical, because another of Resident Evil's strengths is its plot, its characters and how everything has evolved over the course of the games. From the events that led to the fall of the Umbrella Corporation and its subsequent "re-foundation", to the real or alleged turnaround of some key characters, also passing through the personal stories of the protagonists and supporting actors, everything blends perfectly into the imposing lore that makes background to the Resident Evil narrative universe. And this universe, very coherent in its evolution, is another of the reasons that have made millions of players passionate around the world. But not only that.


A world building so fascinating and well structured, it was almost impossible that it would simply remain confined to the videogame medium. For this reason, since the dawn of the videogame saga, comics of all kinds inspired by the series began to come out, some that simply adapted the events narrated in the games, others instead that expanded them or told real side stories. In addition to several official manga produced by Capcom itself, an almost infinite string of other productions, both Western, Japanese or Chinese, have been published. The very first transposition of Resident Evil to comics, however, was by Marvel. Resident Evil Vol 1 No. 1, produced by Marvel Comics, is a prequel of what would later happen during the first video game, following the events of the Bravo Squad shortly before their arrival at the Umbrella villa, and going to clarify the background about some characters.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the name Resident Evil hit the big screen. In fact, in 2002, a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and interpreted, among others, also by Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, who was strongly inspired by the plot of the first chapter of the videogame saga, while not following it exactly to the letter. The main elements, however, were all there: the Umbrella villa where decidedly unconventional experiments were carried out, the T virus, the search and rescue team, the zombies, the BOWs and more or less a flow of events quite attributable to the canon of video game, resulting on balance an extremely enjoyable product, even if not at the state of the art.

However, things then began to get worse starting from the sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), ending up degenerating completely with the next four sequels: Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife, released in Italian cinemas in 2010 and Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012, plus the final episode Resident Evil: The Chapter Final, which gave the coup de grace to the saga in 2017.

If the first film was, as already mentioned, a product after all more than good and also quite relevant to videogames, in the sequels it was really lost all quan to be appreciated, transforming a survival / action horror series about the risks of genetic manipulation for profit and power, into one of the most flat and banal series of post-apocalyptic zombie films ever seen.

Not even the protagonist Alice, always interpreted in an excellent way by Jovovich for all six films, managed to raise the overall quality of this production. First of all, it is not clear why the plot has taken a turn so different from the original concept, but even taking this "variation on a theme" for granted, we find ourselves faced with a series of incredible platitudes, which only retained a few characters from Resident Evil exhumed here and there, moreover in a distorted way. Really forgettable.


Resident Evil, however, remains a name linked to the medium that saw it born, that of videogames. The saga, even after the absolutely not exciting Resident Evil 6, has for some time "caught its breath". Capcom, in the meantime, has dedicated itself to other IPs, but certainly did not want to abandon its "goose that lays the golden eggs". On January 24, 2017, a new chapter is released in the stores, intended to bring the series back to its former glory, introducing new game mechanics and bringing the mood back to the original survival horror.

Resident Evil 7 (2017)

We are talking about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the first title completely made in first person (and therefore with a nod to VR technology) that introduces a new narrative series, only apparently unrelated to the classic one. During our exploration of a dilapidated Louisiana estate (remember anything?) In search of our missing wife, we will come across only apparently supernatural phenomena and creatures. If we look carefully among the various clues that we will be able to discover as the story progresses, more than a few names or references to the Umbrella Corporation and the events we already know well will come out, without adding anything else so as not to ruin the experience for those who still recover. the game, also given the release of its direct sequel, Resident Evil Village, which this time will take us to the gloomy mountains of Romania.

Resident Evil is therefore a saga that is still very much alive and vital, which we are sure will be able to continue to innovate and adapt, continuing to spread terror with the ease of propagation of one of the terrible viruses of which it tells. But what is it that makes it so attractive to the general public?

Today it would be all too easy to link the success of this brand to the sad situation we are in due to the Covid19 pandemic. Certainly, even in the past, the "uncontrolled contagion" argument has certainly played a pivotal role in the success of this IP. If we only wanted to take into account its videogame incarnations, the fact of having, on balance, completely renewed the action / horror genre with the first titles, then going to evolve in an almost always perfect way later, could be a possible answer. The success of Resident Evil also in other fields, however, is probably also due to the references to other popular phenomena, such as the zombie genre which, especially in recent years, have definitely depopulated in the collective imagination.

In addition to zombie strand (where the cause was often the uncontrolled release of some sort of virus), Resident Evil also draws on evocative masterpieces such as Carpenter's The Thing, with its mutant, ferocious and unstable monsters. The Capcom writers have really been able to reinvent a genre, touching some of the strongest mass fears that most of us perceive. It was obvious that such a well-packaged imaginary would, if not depopulated, certainly made people talk about it. And now, with the imminent release of the new products in the series, Resident Evil is still undoubtedly a "product", if we want to call it, palatable. Which, today more than ever, leverages our fears and transforms them into hours of "terrifying" fun.

Powered by Blogger.