Vampires and zombies are the blood and guts of Nerdoween! Nearly all of the great horror franchises start off with the brain-dead undead or some breed of hyper eternal beings. Two twenty-first century horror aficionados shamelessly decided to place their own versions of these Halloween tropes into the definitive film universe–director Paul W.S. Anderson unleashed the live-action Resident Evil in 2002, and Len Wiseman delivered Underworld in 2003.
We say shameless because the Resident Evil film series is on its seventh installment and Underworld is on its fifth , both citing the end for each film franchise. That’s over one decade of nearly consistent guilty-pleasure films, folks! The Resident Evil film series is in the 2012 Guinness World Records book as “Most Live-Action Film Adaptations of a Video Game,” and it has been the most successful movie series based on a video game so far. We’re not saying they’ve all been great–we do acknowledge the many issues both film series have been carrying around for years. But we insist you go back and watch the first films to discover an often overlooked Halloween core in them.
In trying to find a defense for both film series, we landed on two positives: atmosphere and protagonists. Spearheading each film series are two kickass heroines: Alice, played by Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series; and Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series. Comparing these two heavily-armed ladies in tight outfits–as well as the film franchises themselves–isn’t new, but we’re going to throw some extra commentary to add dimension for the upcoming and “final” films, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Underworld: Blood Wars. Plus, we honestly do appreciate the campy horror roots of those first two films.
Since the glory days of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampires haven’t stopped being complex creatures of the night. Sure, there have been some questionable and dull moments in the past (dare we speak of those shiny ones in the Twilight series?), but vampires are still relevant in many mediums today. Underworld‘s Selene is a highly trained assassin–Death Dealer–hunting the werewolves of her world–lycans–while eventually hunting her own kind for various reasons.
In the first film, Selene had to quickly shift her vampire morals to mix with long-forgotten human morals after Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a med-student human caught up in the feud, is turned into a lycan. The pair become romantically linked, but for the first film, Selene’s shift of morals isn’t only motivated by her interest in Michael–turns out there’s a long thread of corruption in her vampire clan. Other vampires might have just absently carried on after discovering the truth–in fact, other vampires Selene trusted her entire life had in fact gone along with the deception just so that they could keep killing lycans–but not Selene.
In vampire lore a solid moral compass is usually rare (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s original morally complex vampire, Angel). In Underworld, Selene had to rewire over 600 years of definitive rivalry in under two hours without dismissing her dark, sensual vampire vibe. For a compelling vampire film, director Wiseman did an effective job at creating a confidently conflicted vampire who happens to fall in love with a creature she’s always believed to be as the enemy.
Eternal life–which vampires have always been endowed with in various forms–also becomes a valued commodity thanks to vampire-lycan hybrids, the new immortal players of the game following the first Underworld film. Never before had the tension between one race of vicious monsters versus another race seemed more authentic. (What We Do In The Shadows is a perfect example of featuring that vampire-werewolf tension with humor.) And a distinct stylistic atmosphere encompassing gory vampire and werewolf lore benefited the first film (and has since been overblown in following installments) in a similar vein to its predecessor, Blade, another cult-classic film franchise, albeit based more directly on comic books.
Compared to vampires, zombies are becoming an oversaturation plague since the early 2000s. In his favor, director Paul W. S. Anderson based the live-action Resident Evil films lore on the already established and well-received Capcom video game franchise from 1996. The first film was released around a historic Resident Evil sweet spot–right after the much-anticipated remake for GameCube and three years before the legendary Resident Evil 4. The film series took some creative liberties with its cast of characters, though–Jovovich’s Alice is an original protagonist for the films.
Labeled as science-fiction horror, the first film projected the growing disillusion between the medical field and big corporations. Alice adds an extra layer to the entire Resident Evil franchise as a new member of the opposition who tries to do good but gets caught up in genetic alterations that spiral out of hand in the later films. She’s an altered human at the start of the first film, only marginally aware of her hidden physical strength by the end–her emotional strength stands out from the beginning. Either a tense, terrified amnesia Alice or a genuinely pissed-off and aware Alice dominates the screen for 100 minutes–the following films in the series have featured physically impervious versions of Alice that–in our opinion–devalue the original trauma this character faced.
Also, in the first film the Umbrella Corporation was just a looming evil compared to the zombies Alice and the small S.T.A.R.S. team faced. This horde of the waking undead are crude, campy, and creepy, just as they were intended to be in the first three game installments. Various fixed-angle scenes in the film–plus the masterful collaboration score by Clint Mansell, Marco Beltrami, and Marilyn Manson (definitely a goth-electronica score of its time)–framed zombies as a real threat to each and every character.
Alice in particular stands out, though–not only because she’s beautiful and capable of a drop-kick to the face–but because she’s a walking representation of literature’s Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In the DVD audio commentary, Anderson makes it very clear that he initially wanted to weave an Wonderland-esque web into this zombie franchise. Main characters in the first film were created to loosely represent specific Wonderland characters, with Alice acting as the literal Alice stand-in, falling down a sci-fi rabbit hole of horror and death. Had the first film gone too far with Anderson’s theme, the original horror vibe based off the games would have been lost. Thankfully it didn’t, and it succeeded with just a few cringe-worthy scenes of dialogue…as opposed to the video games. (We’ll never forget you, Barry!)
If our love for these two slaying heroines doesn’t defend the entire Resident Evil and Underworld film series for you, then we still hope you find comfort this Halloween in the horror vibes from the first films. Underworld: Blood Wars drops January 6 and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter hits theaters January 27. What do you like about Alice and Selene the most? Which Resident Evil or Underworld film is your favorite? Leave us your many thoughts in comments on this love-hate series relationship.
Images: Screen Gems