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Vol. 2, Issue 4
November 30, 1999

Pixel Obscura:

Rewinding the Dead

by Josh Vasquez



“It’s not...just a wind that’s passing through.” -Night of the Living Dead


ombie films are the dark princes of horror. Not having the mass popularity of vampires or ghosts, and therefore kept just to the left of the commercial spotlight, zombies are nevertheless fiercely embedded in the horror landscape. Something about them brings out a desperate poeticism in filmmakers, a rancid artfulness. Perhaps because the apocalyptic, almost elegiac tone of these films embodies the ultimate fear at the heart of horror cinema, that of the world rendered fatally unknowable. This isn’t a confrontation of delicate viciousness, the gentleman bloodsucker and the heroic intellectual dueling it out in the pre-dawn light; the evil doesn’t float into your room and seduce you. There are thousands of them ripping the house apart around you; moaning and shrieking like crazed animals. It’s a primal terror: flee or be consumed. And yet zombie films also have mythic overtones, reconstructing, as they do, the ancient drama of interacting with the dead, something that accounts, perhaps, for the strange beauty to be found in even the most grotesque exercises of cannibalistic exploitation: aeneas in the underworld as imagined by Ray Harryhausen and George Romero.

Surprisingly, there has not been a huge number of cannibal zombie videogames. Only recently have developers started digging into this previously untapped goldmine, and the cause of this new interest can be summed up in two words: Resident Evil.

The popular series has returned with the third game in its zombie chronicles, subtitled Nemesis. Once again we find Raccoon City under siege from the living dead and one person charged with finding a solution. These games are extensions of the underground love of zombies, a culture that treasures works like Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and Ossorio’s La Noche del Terror Ciego (english title: Tombs of the Blind Dead). There is an ever-growing audience thristy for interactive zombie mayhem, raised on thirty years of cannibal madness. The cinematics of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis testify to this obsession, drawing as they do on zombie films of the past. This “quoting,” however, is crippling, becoming more a crutch than a useful shorthand.

The piece begins with a woman’s voice telling us to the story so far, setting the scene of a city under the corrupting shadow of a fiendish corporation and infested with the hungry dead. This woman is to be our guide. The player watches her sitting alone in a shabby room, a gun held in her hand. On the soundtrack, she wearily chastises the populace whose ignorance has led to this take over. “There would be no forgiveness...it would be my last chance, my last escape.” Pretty standard pseudo-poetic tight lipped stuff so far. Cut to helicopters in a red sky swooping over a burning city. People flee before the zombies’ stumbling onslaught, crying out in stunned horror. This is a war, the police and armed forces trying to mow down the dead, treating them like so many ragged terrorists. It’s a fatal mistake, we soon discover, as the zombies make short work of an entire squad of gun packing would be heroes. The piece is short and to the point, and this narrative brevity works in its favor. The creators know that most of the viewers have already played the first two games, or are at least familiar with the idea, and they waste no time getting things started. The scenes themselves, however, are all too familiar.

One throw away bit, zombies bursting out of a boarded up room, is straight out of the beginning of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, while the “I’m crackin’ up so let me start shooting wildly” bit has been done so many times over the past 15 years that it’s patently ridiculous now. Most glaring, though, is the central moment of the piece, the stand off between police and zombies.

The sequence is literally taken right from Return of the Living Dead, a mid-eighties side step “sequel” to Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. Now, while I don’t want to take the piece too seriously, overanalyzing what is ultimately meant to be nothing more than a quick introductory sketch, this rampant borrowing is comically gratuitous.

When I mentioned that the sequence’s brevity worked in its favor, I was referring specifically to its emotional effectiveness: the dramatics of a frontal attack. There is something bluntly effective about even the silliest piece if it flashes by like a subway, barreling the viewer over in a mad dash. Nemesis’ cinematics last those few extra shots more that beg for an original idea or two. The fact that the whole thing is just a quick intro makes it all the more important that time is well spent. What better opportunity to show off, and considering the popularity of the Resident Evil series you’d think that the creators might spend just a bit more time coming up with a more original jumpstart to the narrative. Resident Evil 2’s cinematics were epic in their own way, and while it’s true that here there is less need to win the player over, the third installment’s cinematics still seem amateurish and, worst of all, rushed.

There’s nothing particularly inspiring about the images in the piece, muddy colors and blocky shapes flashing by in the darkness. If there had been just a bit more with that strange girl in the beginning, if the creators had dug a little deeper into her motivations, then the rest would not have felt so hollow. As it is, one gets the feeling that the creators just tried to hit the “right” buttons, those calculated to get the typical zombie fan excited in the most artificial ways possible.

- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1999 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.