Lost in Translation: The Mixed History of Horror Games to Film


Resident Evil is scheduled to make a sixth(!) entry in a film franchise that’s taken many liberties with its source material next year.  Of course, after this many movies, one really can’t complain about the non-canonical take on the Resident Evil franchise; it established its own identity a long time ago.  For every diversion from the game, however, director Paul W.S. Anderson threw in some sly nods to the games that both delight and disgust fans.  Don’t have any of the games’ staple characters on the cast?  Throw in some iconic monsters!  The movie’s set in a post-apocalyptic world that the game’s never explored?  Here’s Chris Redfield!

This is nothing new, as several other movies have tried to adapt their video game sources for the big screen with some…interesting results, alternating between slavish devotion to the source and wild deviations from the canon.

Silent Hill
The classic franchise that centers on a mysterious ghost town that intermingles with the psyches of its trapped visitors, conjuring monsters drummed up from the guilt and suffering of its protagonists.

What the Movie Got Right: Director Christophe Gans made a perfect visual adaptation of the game, even going so far as to inspire visual cues for future games in the series.  That awesome “burning rust” transition from the real world to the Otherside that has been featured in Silent Hill titles of late can basically thank this film.  Creature designs were spot on, including a more industrial Pyramid Head and even more sexualized nurses.  Best of all?  Sean Bean lives through the end of the film!

What the Movie Got Wrong: Silent Hill has never been known for its easy to follow story, but the film borders on incomprehensible.  There are frequent stops in the films horrific rhythm for dense blocks of longwinded exposition that try to help explain the motivations and events of the film.  Filmmaking 101: Show, don’t tell.

Also, as happy as I was to see Sean Bean still vertical at the end of a film, the strange, ambiguous conclusion of the film was the sort of heavy-handed twist that smacks of the worst in supernatural horror, as it’s a twist without explanation that doesn’t seem to follow any of the rules laid out in the preceding story.  It’s a messy plot that burns out any goodwill that the movie earned by putting Laurie Holden in a motorcycle cop uniform.

Does this really need an introduction?  The seminal first-person shooter cast players as a walking arsenal of a Marine who has to blast his way through a demonic invasion of Mars’ moons of Phobos and Deimos before finally descending to Hell itself.

What the Movie Got Right: The aesthetic of the movie was an almost perfect realization of DOOM 3, with the research facility comprised of both the glossy steel of Star Trek and the steaming industrial design of James Cameron’s Aliens.  The lantern-jawed Karl Urban plays the perfect bullet-chewing Marine with a heart of gold, and The Rock’s turn as the morally questionable Sarge was just hammy enough to provide popcorn-munching fun.  Director Andrzej Bartkowiak also smartly injected a dose of fan service by shooting an entire scene from a first-person perspective, replicating the game.  Best of all were the creature designs by Stan Winston’s Creature Shop, which stuck to the roots of the source game while giving them a sinewy makeover that made them look just real enough for celluloid.

What the Movie Got Wrong: DOOM, no matter which game we’re talking about, is based off of an incredibly simple concept: teleportation experiment goes wrong, gateway to Hell is opened, body count rises accordingly.  The DOOM movie ignored this simple, easy-to-replicate concept with some genetic nonsense involving an ancient Martian civilization that discovered an extra chromosome that, depending on whether you were a “good” or “bad” person (there’s even some rote bullshit involving souls, but it gets worse) would either make you a superhuman or a horrific monster.

The genetics angle is already offensively stupid, but it moves into outright offensive territory when you consider what an extra chromosome does to the human body.  Here on Earth, we have a name for the condition when you have an extra chromosome: Down Syndrome.

This sort of sloppy soft science is not witty, or intriguing.  This is the sort of idea that makes you laugh uncomfortably when you realize just what the screenwriters put on paper.  There are plenty of tasteless jokes I could make about this, but I’m going to take the high road on this one.

Mortal Kombat/Mortal Kombat Annihilation
Another case of a threadbare plot somehow extended to a 90 minute movie.  Mortal Kombat is the story of a tournament (apparently put on by powerful beings who love phonetic spelling) that pits warriors from the Earthrealm versus Outworld in violent martial arts mayhem.

What the Movie Got Right: Somehow, screenwriter Kevin Droney and director Paul W.S. Anderson managed to take a few still screens worth of lore from an arcade game and turn it into a fun, if mindless martial arts flick.  Characters are true to their roots, and minor revisions like Scorpion’s spear (which was portrayed as a parasitic worm that lived in his hand) added some fun and goofy texture.  Also, despite casting against race (I always saw Raiden as Asian), Christopher Lambert’s raspy portrayal of the thunder god was a slice of cheesy bliss, amplified by the awfulness of his white wig.

What the Movie Got Wrong: With the success of the first Mortal Kombat filling New Line Cinema’s coffers, a sequel was fast tracked but without the involvement of Droney or Anderson.  The resulting mess, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, was an inexplicable mishmash of pointless fan service, terrible choreography (everybody flips for no damn reason), miserable effects, and the weirdest recasting of all time: James Remar (Dexter’s dad) as Raiden standing in for Christopher Lambert.  Nothing, and I repeat nothing can possibly top Brian Thompson as Shao Khan, who wore the single derpiest mask in prop history, which made him look less like a extra dimensional warlord and more like the clearance rack at Spirit threw up on him.


Of course, there are also countless movie adaptations from the mind of German director/tax loophole exploiter Uwe Boll, including three Bloodrayne films, two Alone in the Dark, movies, and a handful of House of the Dead movies.  These don’t really deserve an extensive look (although Kristanna Lokken in leather made the first Bloodrayne at least mildly watchable) for one major reason: they were directed by Uwe Boll.