Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
With the mixed successes of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Double Dragon among others in the 1990s, video game adaptations were becoming increasingly popular. There was a need on the part of the major film studios to pick up the rights to any successful video games that they could find. During the rise of PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and the new wave of consoles in the later 1990s, Resident Evil emerged to take the gaming world by storm. It kicked off the survival horror game genre as we know it today.
Resident Evil was a breakout success and so the rights to the title were immediately snatched up by Sony in attempt to turn it into a film franchise as soon as possible. The timing was unique because the zombie genre was all but dead in the 1990s. It was a kind of picture we had simply stopped seeing by that time. Robert Rodriguez has even joked about the fact that he talked about the initial ideas he had for Planet Terror while shooting The Faculty, but the cast dismissed it because zombie movies were “over.”
But what’s really exciting about this entire prospect is that one of the first people they took the project to was George A. Romero. This makes perfect sense. Who better to revive the zombie genre than the guy who created the modern zombie movie as we know it?
Romero was brought on board to write the film, which he was then hired to direct as well, in 1998. He crafted a script that was very different from what we wound up getting with the eventual 2002 release of the movie. Romero’s script stuck very closely to the plot of the first game. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine were the protagonists and were romantically involved. Wesker, a game character who would appear much later in the features, was also in the script.
Talking to GameSpot at the time, Romero said “I’m hoping that it can just be dark and chilling like the game—good zombies, good makeup, good effects,” and also noted “It’s going to have to fall within an ‘R’ because it’s an expensive film and nobody’s going to take the chance of letting it go unrated.”
Romero was under pressure to turn the script in quickly, as well as the movie itself. Hiring him in 1998, they wanted the film—which would have been the most expensive Romero had ever made—to be released in September 1999 to coincide with the release of Resident Evil: Nemesis.
Quint of Aint it Cool News states that Romero’s Resident Evil script reads like “Aliens with zombies.” That’s an assessment I very much agree with. It’s action-packed, suspenseful and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty great for a first draft and you can clearly see the movie it could have become had Romero been allowed to continue.
Redfield and Valentine remained the protagonists. The action was still confined to the mansion. While it took some liberties with the source material as any adaptation does, much of that script still reads like the first game come to life. At the same time, it’s very clearly a George Romero script. His voice is still entirely intact, and that’s something that can be lost when directors like this take on bigger studio projects.
Ultimately, the reasons why this never got made are pretty blunt and unsatisfying. Despite never shying away from the fact that George Romero was the entire inspiration for Resident Evil to begin with, when it came time to actually bringing him on board for the movie they treated him like nothing more than a nameless writer-for-hire. They gave him no time and, from what we can tell, just couldn’t have cared less about him in general.
When asked at E3 1999 why Romero’s script was not moving forward, Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto very bluntly said, “His script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired.”
They also felt that Romero’s version would have alienated fans of the video game for straying too far from the source material. This is interesting to note, because when the film was released in 2002 it featured no characters from the game and an almost completely different story.
Sadly, Romero’s Resident Evil never came to pass, but that didn’t stop the eventual film franchise from becoming a worldwide phenomenon with its proposed seventh and final entry coming this January. At the very least, Romero did finally get to do his bigger-budget zombie/action movie with 2005’s Land of the Dead.