Developed and Published by Capcom
Available on Every System Ever Created (Xbox One Review)
Rated M for Mature
You know, I was kind of unsure when Resident Evil started doing this reverse Star Wars thing. They announced Resident Evil 7, then released 1, 0, 6, 5, 4? Pretty crazy! Hopefully, by the time 7 comes out, we’ll have Resident Evil 3 and 2 and know the full story. They hint that Leon was in some kind of crazy “Racoon City” incident, so I hope to get a chance to see what that was all about! I also respect their dedication to the “going retro” vibe, with the visuals actually degrading in each prequel release. It reminds me a lot of Mega Man 9 going back in time to bring the series into the future.
Alright, enough of that. I’m so fucking tired of trying to analyze remakes/releases/cuts/masterings/deathinitive editions. I thought it would be a good time trying to review Resident Evil 4 as though it had just come out. Hell, the game has been getting a pass for a long time as “one of the best in history.” So why not take the piss out of it? It’s not like I need to make my Capcom overlords happy. If I was going to get blacklisted for trashing re-releases, it would have happened back when I verbally shit on Resident Evil HD REMASTER for three straight pages.
I decided to drop the act because this release of Resident Evil 4 gives me the interesting chance to review the game in a modern context. Often the question is asked, “Does game ‘X’ hold up so many years later?” It’s an inherently unfair question, because all games are a product of their age. It would be silly to ask Alone in the Dark to compete against The Evil Within. Luckily, Capcom asked that question for me when they released RE4 on the Xbox One and PS4. Hurray! Now I don’t have to pull out my PS3 to play the PS2 version that was a remake of the GameCube original!
Booting up the game for the first time in over half a decade, there was definitely an adjustment period. I’ve been spoiled by years of being able to move and shoot at the same time. For about an hour I was struggling to position myself and land shots. My girlfriend was watching me play during this awkward phase, and after the third wildly missed headshot she turned to me and said, “Wow, this game sucks.” So after disposing of the body, I took a moment to consider the validity of her statement. From the standpoint of a noob, it must seem very poorly designed. As a God damned professional, I bit the bullet, got used to it, and was lining up sick frags until the credits rolled.
There’s a whole other article I can (and will) write on the legacy of Resident Evil 4, but my point is that it feels like a relic of another age. There was a period where every horror game coming out was basically just Resident Evil 4, including Resident Evil 5 and 6. 11 years might not be that long in the grand scheme of things, but in video game years that’s two console cycles. From the tank controls to the rough voice acting, it’s clear that this game wasn’t made recently. What’s crazy is how little that ultimately matters.
For all that the series has morphed into cover hopping, machine gun firing, run-and-gun zombie action, it’s amazing how well the archaic tank controls of Resident Evil 4 stand up. Standing still to fire your gun sounds bullshit, but it works when the whole game is built around it. There’s plenty of action, but the game kind of cheats to give you some space. Enemies sprint up to you, stop a few yards short, and move into range at a slow walk. It doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense, but it gives you a chance to take aim. Enemies that break this rule are that much more threatening, and the slowly approaching hordes make every engagement feel menacing.
And shit, I forgot how menacing these enemies feel. RE4 gets a bad rap for being “not really horror,” which is a pretty ludicrous statement in retrospect. Blasting a villager in the head only to have him keep walking towards me as a squirming Plagas parasite bursts forth from his stump has actually showed up in my nightmares. Enemies are durable, taking upwards of seven pistol shots to down, and there are often dozens of them. It only gets worse as the game goes on, with your expanding arsenal met with an equally growing roster of monstrous horrors. 11 years later, I still remember where every last Garrador is. And yes, I did save my magnum ammo for them.
For a game this old, you would expect the graphics to be a big issue. Quite the contrary, the relative datedness of RE4’s visuals remind me of a time where games actually wanted me to know what I was looking at. There isn’t a ton of detail in the various shacks and castle halls, but I was never confused as to what was important. See a shiny object? It’s worth something. Looking at Resident Evil 6, there’s just so much shit on screen that I wouldn’t even know where to begin hunting for treasures. We’ve gotten so obsessed with “realism” that we’ve forgotten how to make a game fun and accessible.
That design split is what fundamentally makes Resident Evil 4 more enjoyable than most modern titles. The entire game is designed with a fun first approach, making realism take a seat several rows back. Why is the key for this door at the end of a broken mine cart ride? I don’t know, but it was a sick mine cart ride. Why is there a magma room with fire-breathing dragon sculptures in the middle of a castle? Sorry, too busy fighting fire-breathing dragon sculptures to care. Why do enemies drop random bullets and herbs? So I can keep killing them, duh.
Resident Evil 4 never forgets to make every encounter both A) memorable, and B) rewarding. Beat a boss, and get a reward. Kill a special enemy before he runs away, get another reward. Explore the environment carefully, figure out how the treasure all fits together, and get an even bigger reward. Every single thing you do rewards you with something, big or small. Even upgrading the guns all the way rewards you with a special secret unlock. It makes playing the game an immensely satisfying experience. When you willingly decide to fight multiple bosses just for the reward of beating both, the game is doing something right.
One thing that has not held up so well is the plot. Resident Evil has never been known for its intelligent narratives, but holy shit is this game dumb. You play as Leon Kennedy, protagonist of Resident Evil 2 and part of a special unit dedicated to protecting the president’s family that conspicuously is not the Secret Service. After getting a tip that the president’s daughter Ashley has been spotted in an unnamed European country that speaks Spanish, you head out to see if you can find her. You are immediately attacked by the locals—who are 100% not zombies—and from there the game spirals into madness.
I have played through Resident Evil 4 over a dozen times, and I cannot tell you more than vague generalizations just what the fuck is going on. Lord Saddler, why with an army of cultists and monsters do you decide that kidnapping the president’s daughter is the best way to further your nefarious goals? Sure, the ransom money might be nice, but your army is mostly equipped with pitchforks and crossbows. A single helicopter blew up a base full of about a hundred dudes, and I guarantee you that the United States armed forces has more than one helicopter. Also, why don’t you just kill Leon during one of the half dozen times when he is totally incapacitated? You seem to think the best course of action is to infect Leon with the parasite and just wait for it to hatch. Meanwhile, Leon roundhouse kicks his way through all your dudes while taking all your pesetas. It’s typical Bond villain logic, sacrificing countless men for the sake of some insidious plot when a tentacle spike through the chest would solve the problem just fine. Like I said before, when you stop questioning why there’s a lava room in the castle, you kind of just go with it.
I had also forgotten how bad the dialogue is. I remember the one-liners being better than “hasta luego” and “bring a knife to a gunfight.” When disposable character #725 Luis Sera comments on Ashley’s “ballistics,” I actually cringed. With the curse of age and experience comes the ability to see all the horrible writing.
It all boils down to super minor criticisms, since it’s all in service of more fun. None of the plot makes sense when you really think about it, but it constantly serves up new entertaining villains and situations for you to blast your way through. See a giant statue resembling the bad guy? Hell yeah it’s gonna chase you. Tired of the same old cultists? Don’t worry, there’s invisible vomiting bug monsters in the next room. And of course they have murderous pendulum traps. That too easy for you? Well, get ready for the parasitic medieval knight monsters a few rooms later.
Right after killing Chief Mendez in Chapter 2 and leaving the village, you’re introduced to Ramon “Zombie Napoleon” Salazar. The two characters are totally different, which normally might make a game feel inconsistent. Since we’ve already established that cranial explosions are no longer fatal, it just doesn’t feel so strange. Besides, it’s all in service of a sick jet ski escape finale.
When I first played through Resident Evil 4 over a decade ago, I immediately started a New Game+ run. Given all the games I had, there just wasn’t another I wanted to play more. A couple years later I spent a summer studying in England, and bought a GameCube for £30 just so that I could play through it again. I did it again on the Wii a few years later. I’m sure my nostalgia is blinding me a bit, but I will argue that I’m nostalgic for a reason. This is an incredibly well designed game. There’s a purity to its commitment to fun that modern game devs should learn from. As I said before, Resident Evil 4 spawned an army of imitators, but they all focused on the wrong thing. Just copying the control scheme doesn’t make you on the same level as Resident Evil 4. Because Resident Evil 4 isn’t about the transition from survival horror to action horror. It’s about making a great game.
The Midnight Man Review – Don’t Hate The Game, Hate The Players
Written by Travis Zariwny
Directed by Travis Zariwny
Travis Zariwny’s The Midnight Man is largely a robotic hide-and-seek slog, yet if dissected in butchered chunks, smaller bites range from delicious destruction to utterly incompetent character work. Judging by the bloodthirsty opening sequence alone, you’d think Zariwny is about to blow our morality-siding minds. A sad misconception, I’m afraid. After our hopes skyrocket, mechanical plot devices are pinned to a storyboard with the utmost lack of exploration. The Midnight Man’s game is afoot, but these players would barely compete against an opponent crafted from brick and mortar. Can someone calculate a handicap for them, please?
Gabrielle Haugh stars as Alex Luster, a caring granddaughter to Nana Anna (Lin Shaye). One night, upon the request of her not-always-there relative, Alex rummages through attic trunks for a silver-backed hand mirror. Instead she finds a nondescript wrapped box with what appears to be a game inside. Her crush Miles (Grayson Gabriel) has arrived by now, and after an incident where Anna requires medical attention from house-call doctor Harding (Robert Englund), the two friends begin playing whatever it was that caused Anna to screech in disapproval. You know, the only rational decision.
At the risk of sounding like a smug CinemaSins video, The Midnight Man would surely bomb any horror IQ test. Zariwny’s *first* piece of introduced information after discovering Midnight Man’s altar is quite simple – DANGER. DO NOT PLAY. IT JUST CAUSED A WOMAN TO FAINT. Nevertheless, our braindead sheeple follow careful rules to summon Mr. Midnight Man into their house – because, as horror movies have proven, tempting occult fates is buckets of fun! At least the characters don’t confess romantic feelings and makeout while another friend who joins the game late – “Creepy Pasta” obsessed Kelly (Emily Haine) – could already be in the Midnight Man’s clutches, that’d be – oh, right. That happens.
Senile Anna is another story altogether – Zariwny’s grey-haired red herring in the worst way. Lin Shaye injects so much destabilized madness into this energetic, midnight-perfect role, elevating herself into a stratosphere well above The Midnight Man itself. Whether she’s screaming about Alex’s disgusting blood, or ominously whispering dreadful remarks through a housewide intercom, or beating Robert Englund to a pulp with wide-eyed psychosis – well, if you’ve seen Dead End, you *know* the kind of batshitery Shaye is capable of. Her genre vet status on display like a damn clinic here.
Shaye – and even Englund – aside, scripting is too procedural to salvage any other performances. Kelly doesn’t even deserve mention given her “bring on death!” attitude and enthusiastic late entry INTO AN URBAN LEGEND’S DEATHTRAP – a poorly conceived “twist” with less structure. This leaves Grayson Gabriel and Haugh herself, two thinly-scripted cutouts who couldn’t find a more repetitive genre path to follow. There’s little mystery to the gonigs on, and neither actor manages to wrangle tension (even when staring our Midnight friend in the face…thing).
Scares are hard to come by because Zariwny opts for a more “charismatic” villain who talks like Scarecrow and appears as a dyed-black, cloaked Jack Skellington. He can form out of clouds and is a stickler for rules (candles lit at all times, 10 seconds to re-ignite, if you fail he exploits your deepest fear). Credit is noted given this villain’s backstory and strict instructions – which does make for a rather killer game of tag – but the need to converse and expose Midnight from shadows subtracts necessary mysticism. He’s a cocky demon with masks for each emotion (think woodland death imp emojis), but never the spine-tingling beast we find ourselves hiding from.
This is all a bummer because gore goes bonkers in the very first scene – with underage victims no less. One young player gets decapitated, another explodes into a red splattery mess (against fresh snowfall), but then a vacuous lull in process takes hold. It’s not until Alex’s fear of blood and Miles’ fear of pain that we get more eye-bulging squeamishness, then again when Kelly’s bunnyman appears. A no-bullshit, bunny-headed creature wearing a suit, which plays directly into Kelly’s deepest fear. When Zariwny gets sick and surreal, he scores – but it’s a disappointing “when.”
I take no pleasure in confirming that any small victory The Midnight Man claims is negated by kids who should’ve been offed for even thinking about a quick playthrough of Anna’s old-school entertainment. Invite him in, pour your salt circles and try to survive until 3:33AM – sounds easy, right? If the demon plays fair, you bet! But why would ANYONE trust a demon’s word? Makes sense given Alex and Miles’ ignorance of more red flags than a Minesweeper game, and a thrilling chase these bad decisions do not make.
The Midnight Man begins by striking a meteoric horror high, only to plummet back down towards repetitive genre bumbling once the game’s true – and less enticing – plot begins.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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