We owe the current zombie craze to Resident Evil.
Released in 1996, the Sony Playstation chiller created the survival horror game genre, spawned several sequels across multiple platforms, produced a string of imitators, and caught the ever-watchful eye of Hollywood.
It was obvious from the start that George Romero's Dead films inspired the video games, so it only made sense that he would be involved with the film. George's Resident Evil screenplay (the draft I read, anyhow--there were several) wasn't fantastic, but it was a damn sight better than the mess we got in March of 2002. That it featured a pack of zombie dogs devouring a character named "Russo" makes it some kind of unsung classic. But it was not to be.
The director of Dawn of the Dead was out. In his place, the director of... Mortal Kombat and Soldier? Paul W. S. Anderson's Resident Evil was lousy, but for the first time in over a decade, there were zombies on the big screen, man. That alone was kind of cool.
Money talks, and though Resident Evil didn't set the box office ablaze, it performed well enough worldwide to triple its meager $33 million dollar budget. By the time its utterly rancid sequel hit screens in September of 2004, 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake had already made it clear: zombie movies were back.
Five years after the first Resident Evil film resurrected the living dead on the silver screen, George A. Romero had returned twice to the genre he created--this after twenty years had passed since Day of the Dead.
The success of Resident Evil also brought new life to the world of zombie fiction, dormant since Philip Nutman's excellent novel Wet Work, itself an expansion of his short story of the same name, found in Skipp and Spector's groundbreaking Book of the Dead. By 1998, zombie short stories (many of them very poorly written) were multiplying online, found chiefly at the Homepage of the Dead, a site frequented by longtime Romero fans who loved to play Resident Evil and Resident Evil fans whose love of the game prompted them to seek out Romero's films.
By 2000, the demand for zombie novels was growing, a demand initially answered by self-published writer Darrin Brent Patterson. Project Phoenix: Dead Rising, a nightmare abomination of bad writing, borrowed elements from both Romero and Resident Evil. Appropriately enough, the genre was eating itself.
Eight years down the road, thanks mostly to the small press, there are more zombie novels than any fan frowning in confusion over Project Phoenix could have hoped for, many of them far better than the shoddy fan fictions that announced their coming, and some not much different. Like the walking corpses within their pages, they just keep on coming, with no end in sight.
Zombies are everywhere now: on the big screen, the small screen, in video games and comic books, on toy shelves and book shelves. And George Romero is up at bat again for the third time in five years.
Thank you, Resident Evil.*
Oh, before I forget: Here are the first eight minutes for the fourth Resident Evil film, the all CG Degeneration. I'm not going to say it looks good, but it certainly looks... interesting, if a little lifeless and uninspired. The motion-capture work is convincing, the fluidity of which goes a long way toward making the textures and the facial animation all the more unnatural. Unless you're a hardcore fan, you'll probably just want to skip the eight minute clip and go straight to the Age Restricted Red Band clip. That's where the fun stuff is, anyhow.
*If you had anything to do the 30th Anniversary Special Edition of Night of the Living Dead, well, then... someone should kick you in the nuts.