It would have been cool if the father of modern zombies ended up adapting the biggest zombie franchise in video games, but it wasn’t mean to be.
The five Resident Evil movies released since 2002, each written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, haven’t been very good. (The first one was OK, I guess?) In an alternate timeline, filmmaker George A. Romero, the man behind Night of the Living Dead and countless others, would have done the writing and directing. In fact, Romero even wrote a script for his movie.
Yes, that actually happened.
The blockbuster success of Resident Evil prompted Hollywood to take notice in 1996. Rumors about a film adaptation began swirling immediately, with some pegging fan favorite Bruce Campbell to one of the main roles. (To be fair, Campbell was attached to all sorts of roles at the time. It was never clear if he was in legitimate conversations to ever be part of the movie).
Alan McElroy, best known for writing the Spawn adaptation, was first talked with writing the script. That didn’t go anywhere, though McElroy would ultimately get a story credit on the movie that came out in 2002.
In 1998, Romero became involved.
“I’m hoping that it can just be dark and chilling like the game - good zombies, good makeup, good effects,” Romero told GameSpot. “I’ve had the advantage, doing my zombie films, of not having to have them rated. I think for the US release it’s going to have to fall within an ‘R’ because it’s going to be an expensive film, and nobody’s going to take the chance of letting it go unrated.”
Romero’s plan was to follow the same beats as the first game, as Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine investigated a mysterious mansion with the S.T.A.R.S. team. Romero was supposedly trying to get the movie out in time for the third Resident Evil game, which would have been a pretty quick turnaround; Resident Evil Nemesis ultimately shipped in September 1999.
News about Romero’s take went quiet for some time, prompting GameSpot to ask Capcom about it during an interview at E3 1999.
“His script wasn’t good,” said Capcom producer Yoshiki Okamoto, “so Romero was fired.”
A year later, Romero’s script started getting circulated among insiders, including the infamous (and influential) Ain’t It Cool News. One of the website’s authors, under the pseudonym Quint, praised the script:
This first draft, dated October 7, ‘98, is pretty damn good. It’s not perfect. It could use a nip and a tuck here or there, but it’s damn good. It centers on Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine and takes place in a rather spooky house. There is no fucking “Red Queen” evil computer, UMBRELLA’s T-virus is the cause of the zombies and the TYRANT is the big boss.
Quint described Romero’s take as Aliens with zombies:
This script plays a lot like Aliens. This is basically Romero’s Aliens. It has our two heroes going into hostile territory with a group of Elite Soldiers. The Army team, S.T.A.R.S., are made up 12 members, including “ROSIE RODRIGUEZ, a tough, body-built babe.” Vasquez anyone? Oh well. Rip-off or not, I drool at the thought of a Zombie film done Aliens style. Hordes of the undead getting mowed down by automatic rifle fire. Cool.
He also couldn’t see why the script was bad enough to kick him off it:
I went into the script hoping to see why the Suits kicked Romero off the project. I’m as confused as ever now. They had a decent first draft. With just a little work it would be a great script. With Romero directing, it no doubt would have been a helluva thrill ride. I mean, you put the master in his environment and just let nature take its course.
The script was eventually leaked in its entirety; you can read it yourself.
Though Romero never ended up directing a Resident Evil movie, he did handle a commercial for Resident Evil 2, which turned out pretty great:
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Romer’s script:
EXT RACCOON CITY DAY
The TOWN is EMPTY...except for NINE LONELY FIGURES, lumbering down Main Street. They, too...are ZOMBIES. The hot wave HITS. Two are VAPORIZED. FIRE engulfs two more. The BRAINS of two others are DESTROYED by flying debris...
...which catches the remaining three, as well. Arms are torn off. Iron shafts from shattered plumbing, shards of window glass, slats from picket fences... PUNCH through necks, chests, bellies...
...but the dead things, their skulls undamaged, through billows of dust... drooling hungrily.
THE SCREEN GOES BLACK.
That Actually Happened is a weekly series at Kotaku in which we highlight interesting moments in gaming history. So far, we’ve revisited when Sonic kissed a human, a live game show on Xbox 360, and Sony throwing a God of War party with a dead goat. If you have any suggestions for future entires, please let us know in the comments below!