Now a sprawling video game franchise, Resident Evil has kept us on the edge of our seats for decades with its tried-and-true brand of jump scares, zombie action, and biological horror. But even decades after its release, we can't stop revisiting the original's thrills, chills, and sometimes unintentional spills.
Pop culture writer and horror cinephile Philip J Reed takes dead aim at 1996's Resident Evil, the game that named and defined the genre we now call "survival horror." While examining Resident Evil's influences from the worlds of film, literature, and video games alike, Reed's love letter to horror examines how the game's groundbreaking design and its atmospheric fixed-cam cinematography work to thrill and terrify players—and why that terror may even be good for you.
Featuring a foreword from Troma Entertainment legend Lloyd Kaufman and new interviews with the game's voice actors and its live-action cast, the book serves as the master of unlocking the behind-the-scenes secrets of Resident Evil, and shows how even a game filled with the most laughable dialogue can still scare the pants off of you.
Every Boss Fight book is worth reading, and RESIDENT EVIL is no exception. It's personal, insightful, hilarious (Reed's jabs at Barry are just the best, and well-deserved; poor Barry, indeed), and dispels shadows in corners of RE history that have been obscured for too long. – David L. Craddock
"A Resident Evil fan's dream."– Cubed3
"It's an extremely entertaining look at all aspects of horror, as well as an unexpectedly touching story of growing up in a small town with only movies and games to occupy one's time."– 4.5/5 - Geek to Geek Media
"A fascinating tale of Resident Evil nostalgia."– MMO Fallout
"The way [Reed] writes about this seminal classic is ardent and infectious to the point of being a fantastic page turner."– Obtain Potion
Resident Evil's love for and understanding of horror movies is obvious throughout the game, from its choice of camera angles to its enemy design to the gradual unspooling of its plot. Nowhere, though, is it more apparent than in the actual horror movie footage that bookends the game.
At some point in production, Mikami and his team decided that they would lean into the decidedly cinematic nature of their game and give players a live-action introduction and conclusion that would introduce them to—and then escort them out of—the game's world. Bookending the game this way is a fascinating decision, and one that few other games—and no other game in this series—even attempted.
As the first thing any new player saw after booting up Resident Evil, the live-action sequences are an important part of its history, and I wanted to learn about how, exactly, they came together. To accomplish this, I set about tracking down the stars of Resident Evil's miniature horror movie.
This turned out to be rather difficult, as the actors were only credited by their first names. What's more, until recently, none of them knew they were in the game.
"All I recall is my agent telling me that I had an audition, and it was for a video game by Capcom," remembered Charlie Kraslavsky, who played Chris.
Kraslavsky was the first of the actors I managed to find. He's a handsome man, almost strikingly so, something his costars saw fit to mention as well. He was born and raised in Tokyo and now lives in California.
"I never saw the footage until a few years ago," he told me, still in a kind of disbelief. "Someone I used to work for was really into games, and he was like, 'Hey, I think I saw you!' He'd just been surfing on YouTube and he came across it. 'That's Charlie!' He sent me a link and I was so happy, because I'd never seen the footage and I never knew how it had come out." This was in 2012 or 2013, about a decade and a half after the game's release. Kraslavsky only remembered the game by its original Japanese name. "As far as I was concerned, it was just called Biohazard," he said.
At the time of shooting, in or around the summer of 1995, Kraslavsky was working for the Inagawa Motoko Office, or IMO, a talent agency in Tokyo that he described as one of the biggest sources of actors and extras for Japanese TV.
"Day to day, we would always be wearing two hats," he said. "We would be calling people, doing casting, taking people to auditions. Because I speak Japanese fluently, I would also be an interpreter. And I'd be an actor. All in the same day."
It was hectic, but it's an experience Kraslavsky remembers fondly.
"It was a really fun time in my life," he said, "those four or five years that I worked for IMO."
Capcom hired IMO to supply all of its onscreen talent for Resident Evil, and Kraslavsky got the role of Chris based on his looks alone.
"They pretty much just selected who they wanted from photos," he said. The audition itself was a formality. "It didn't seem like there was anyone else being considered for the part. That was pretty much true for all the parts."
Capcom had concept art and early in-game models for the characters, so IMO only needed to find actors who resembled them. This led to a stroke of luck for Greg Smith.
Unlike Kraslavsky, Smith was not trying to make a living as an actor. An assistant school principal from Australia, he was on loan to Tokyo's education department for one year and just happened to be with a friend who had business at IMO.
"I walked in and a guy said, 'Ahh! You're the one we want,'" Smith told me. "I didn't know what he was talking about. Then he showed me pictures of this guy, who I eventually found out was going to be Barry Burton. It looked very similar to me. He was tall, he had wide shoulders, he had a red beard and muscles." Smith laughed. "He probably had more muscles, but they built muscles into the clothes."
After filming, Smith didn't think much about the job. "I kind of forgot about it," he said, until one day, back home in Australia, he was stopped by a fan. "This kid said, 'Ahh, you're in a game!' And I said, 'Oh, possibly.' He said, 'Oh, yeah yeah,' and he told me about it. Then I forgot about it for another… 20 years?"
It wasn't until around 2016 that he saw Resident Evil for himself.
"My son-in-law said, 'Look! It's really you!'" Smith told me. "And then I actually saw the talking parts for the first time, and I realized that they dubbed my voice. With an American accent."
Before shooting, the cast came together to rehearse, get fitted for their costumes, and decide on any final touches to their appearances.
"I naturally have very dark, almost black hair, but the character was blond," Kraslavsky remembered. "To dye my hair, they just used peroxide. I was supposed to be blond, but it ended up looking ginger."
With the character designs already settled, the crew had a sturdy template to work from. Even so, there was room for confusion.
"In the beginning they thought they would want me to have stubble, but I remember the stylist and the director having a big difference of opinion about that," Kraslavsky said. "I remember the stylist saying, 'No, he would never have stubble. He's a very disciplined warrior. He would always shave.' And the director said, 'Yeah, but he's out there, he's fighting. He's not always going to have time to shave.'"
Mitsuhisa Hosoki, the director of the game's live-action sequences, won the battle but lost the war.
"They asked me to grow my stubble out, but because my hair is so dark the stubble was very dark and the hair was very gingery," said Kraslavsky. "It didn't match up at all, so the final decision was that I'd be clean shaven."
Chris Redfield, disciplined warrior, canonically found time to shave.
Smith remembers that the first shooting date was about one week later. He arrived at the train station early in the morning and met a representative from IMO. The train took them to a van, which drove them to the outskirts of Tokyo. From there they walked about half a mile to a small building.
"I walked in there and met Charlie and the rest of the group," Smith said. "They dressed us up and did our makeup, and then they shot all the helicopter scenes inside the building."
"I just remember thinking how awesome the costume was," Kraslavsky said. "I'd never seen anything like it."
Though they were shot first, the helicopter scenes were actually used for the game's ending. The actors involved didn't know the purpose of this footage.
"I think it was supposed to be, like, after we battled," Kraslavsky said, "and we're just kind of sitting there, relaxing, and we're all dirty."
He also remembers that the actors assumed their characters were just resting. He wasn't even sure he was told it was meant to take place in a helicopter.
"It was just some kind of office that they had rented, but it was very plain," he said. "It was really cheaply made."
Multiple permutations of this scene were filmed to be used in the game depending upon how certain events played out. For instance, Chris and Rebecca have a conversation, but only if Jill doesn't survive. If both Rebecca and Jill survive, Rebecca naps on a cot while Chris and Jill join hands. If Chris, Jill, and Barry survive, we get the same scene, but with Barry checking the sights on his gun instead of Rebecca sleeping. If Jill and Barry survive without Chris, we get some dialogue between the two of them. If only Jill or only Chris survives, we get a scene of that character sitting silently, the lone survivor of the Spencer Mansion. Oddly, there was no version of the scene filmed in which all four characters survive, though, according to future games, that is the canonical ending.
For this scene, Kraslavsky once again inadvertently pitted Hosoki and the stylist against each other.
"I've taken off all the armor and stuff, and it's just a white T-shirt and I still have the pants and the kneepads on," Kraslavsky said. "And they were like, 'The shirt's too clean,' because it was a brand-new white shirt." He proposed a practical solution. "There was a gravel parking lot outside and it had rained recently, so there were some puddles. I said, 'Well, if you want, I'll just roll around in the parking lot and get it dirty.'"
Kraslavsky spent the next few minutes rolling in wet gravel while the cast and crew waited for him inside. When he returned, the stylist gasped and Kraslavsky was terrified he'd gone too far. Fortunately for him, Hosoki disagreed.
"The director said, 'Go back out there! Roll around some more. Get it more dirty.' So I did! I went back out there and rolled around in the puddles and the gravel and finally, after I did it for a while, he said, 'Okay, that's it.'"
Smith remembers that this is also when they shot an introductory sequence for each character. In the final edit, narrator Ward Sexton recites each character's name as the actor strikes a pose. Smith remembers having lines during this sequence, but they were ultimately not used in the game.
Shooting took up most of the day, and though there was a good deal of downtime, Smith wasn't complaining. "They did feed us reasonably well," he said.
The only major actor not involved in the helicopter scenes was Eric Pirius, who played Wesker.
Pirius, an athletic, handsome man with a chiseled jaw, still resembles his character strongly. He looks as though a pair of sunglasses is all it would take to get him to betray STARS all over again.
Like the others, Pirius was cast from a photo.
"The interesting thing about IMO," Kraslavsky told me, "was that pretty much anyone that was a Westerner or foreign to Japan in general would come there and register. It was known as the place where you'll get to do some work as an extra, and it'll be fun, and you'll make maybe $100 or $150 for a day's work."
He described a core group of actors who were hoping to parlay small parts into larger careers. "We would book them as much as we could," he said, "because we knew they were our regulars and they were trying to make a living at it."
This brought Kraslavsky and Pirius together before Resident Evil did.
"Eric was one of our regulars," he said. "I would see him at auditions and odd jobs. We weren't close, but we had a friendship."
Perhaps the knowledge that Chris and Wesker were friends in real life ruins your childhood. I think it enriches mine.
Unlike friendly Kraslavsky or avuncular Smith, Pirius is a man of few words.
"Type A," he said when I asked him to describe himself. "Married. No kids. Oldest of four."
He learned he was in Resident Evil around February 2018. I asked him if anybody ever recognizes him as Wesker. He said, "Hell no."
Pirius was born in Red Wing, Minnesota, but didn't live there long. "I grew up in Alaska, attended college at Vassar, and lived in Tokyo for ten years," he told me.
In his spare time, Pirius enjoys mountain biking and races competitively. He prides himself on his creativity, resourcefulness, and determination. I asked him what made him move to Tokyo. He answered, simply, "Sushi and women."
"I made a good living doing on-camera print and video work and voice work for seven years," Pirius said.
He said he knew "zero" about the project before they started shooting.
According to Smith, the second and final shooting session took place at night, about two days after the main shoot. Once again, he was met at a train station and driven to the filming location, this time near a river.
"It was a dryish river with lots of foliage," he told me. "And bulrushes—as we call them in Australia—reeds and all of those things growing out. There was a big van there and that's where we sat and waited to do the shoot. We had another van that we dressed up in and where we'd rehearse."
Here they filmed Resident Evil's opening sequence, during which STARS Alpha lands in a field and is attacked by monsters. The actors didn't quite know what the monsters were supposed to be, and they wouldn't know until they saw the edited footage so many years later.
"If I remember, they described the beasts we were supposed to be fighting as sort of like wolf creatures, like wolfmen," Kraslavsky said. "They might have shown us a sketch, I don't remember, but for the most part we just had to imagine what we were up against."
The crew brought actual dogs to the shoot for the actors to react to, which amuses Smith in retrospect.
"Those dogs!" he laughed. "You know those vicious dogs? They were as friendly as anything. They were beautiful dogs. They'd sit with us and we'd be petting them. All those vicious dogs were really friendly dogs."