Raising the Dead: One woman has resurrected the father of zombie’s cancelled Resident Evil script
The only thing more horrifying than the creatures featured in the Resident Evil games is the series track record with live-action outings. And while I am in no way saying that there is no fun to be had with the films we’ve been given, I do not think it is a hot take in any capacity to say that us fans of the series have been let down by the films and TV shows released, starting with Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 film, simply titled Resident Evil, which spawned five sequels, ending in 2016 with The Final Chapter.
And while each attempt seemingly hits closer to the mark, with Welcome to Racoon City featuring a plethora of fan-favorite characters in appropriate settings, and the Netflix show giving us perhaps the best live-action monsters we have seen in this universe. I will always feel like the greatest missed opportunity was when Hollywood passed on the script for a Resident Evil movie written by George A. Romero, the man who invented the modern zombie, and legendary director of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and many other great movies, some of which don’t even feature zombies.
Thankfully, like a viral weapon breaking out into an unsuspecting mountainside town, the script for Romero’s scrapped Resident Evil film leaked online back in 2001. For a long time it floated around as an internet oddity, being discussed by fans as a curiosity, as even with the script in hand, there was never going to be anything to show for it. At least that was the case until October Keegan, Artist and writer for Rely on Horror, took it upon herself to bring the script to life as a comic book.
When I first learned about this project I was immediately on board. I had known about the Romero film, and had read part of the script myself, but had also cast it aside as a relic of what could have been. So to see that it was being brought back into the public eye, and being in a way restored and reimagined as a comic book had me excited.
Curious to learn how this came about, what kind of considerations were taken for fans, and what kind of work went into adapting someone’s script posthumously, I reached out to October to see if she could spare any time to sit down and discuss the project she had undertaken. Thankfully she was able to find time to escape the Umbrella laboratories and meet online for a short conversation, and I was able to get an answer to some of my questions.
I started by asking her how long she had been working on the comic, and what she was up to before undertaking this project.
October Keegan: I think I started in January. So the full eight months now… Page 61 just went up on my Patreon today. I’ve been doing Resident Evil stuff since I was a teenager. Posting little like, Resident Evil fan comics everywhere. A lot of them are probably lost to time. For the most part, I’ve written a lot for the website Rely On Horror, which is kind of how I got my start with any level of internet visibility. I did a very brief comic for them called Resident Evil Unlimited, which was a fan adaption of Resident Evil one. But I was really, really young, this was like 11 years ago, and I wasn’t very good, and nobody read it. So eventually, I was bumped off of that to just write like, normal news for them.
And then artistically, I kind of just stopped for a really long time. And recently, I started doing fan art on Twitter and started to get a little traction. I did a little comic book about Jill Valentine and Rebecca Chambers being in love just for fun. Then I started to do the Romero comic. And ever since then I’ve started, you know, I hesitate to use the word blow up, but I’ve started to get a lot more attention.
To go from a series of fan comics to adapting a full script was quite the jump, so I asked her if there was any specific reason she started adapting the script, or was it something that just clicked, and made sense to do?
OK: So I read the comic for the first time when I was like, 13, and I’m 30 now. Sorry, I read the script for the first time when I was a teen because I think that’s when it came out, somewhere around there. And as a kid, I hated it, I’m like, “Oh my God, He made all these changes. How dare he?” And I just kept it filed away in the back of my head. It’s like, that was a failed Resident Evil thing. But recently, when Welcome to Raccoon City came out, there was a lot of hubbub about accuracy, and all, you know, all the things they changed, and Romero got brought up a lot. One of the things that I’d found really interesting with that movie is that it used elements from S.D. Perry’s first Resident Evil novelization from the 90s. And I was like, “you know, come to think of it. I think Romero used stuff from that book, too.” And I went and re-read the script. And I was like, “you know, this is honestly pretty good.” You know, I mean, it changes things.
It’s a real shame because I feel like if this had come out, instead of Paul Anderson’s movie, which, I don’t hate that first 2002 movie; But if this had come out instead of that, I think we would be in a very different landscape for Resident Evil in film now. And I was just like “it’s such a shame that this will never see the light of day because it’s a pretty solid adaption”. And then I was like, “Well, I can’t make it a movie, but I could draw it, and maybe people will be into that.” It’s not something that as far as I can tell anybody’s ever done before, and I announced it on Twitter. I immediately got a lot of really super-positive feedback. So I launched into it and I’ve been doing it all year.
Curious as to what considerations were taken as far as Romero’s original vision when creating this comic, I asked if she had tried to emulate the style or Romero’s films or his live action commercial for Resident Evil 2. Or did she put herself into the director’s chair when making the storyboard?
OK: It’s a little of both, because all we have is his script. So obviously, I’m kind of forced to be like, director, producer, editor, and in a way, cast, because I have to depict how all the characters react to things. But right before I got started, I went and I watched every Romero movie I could get my hands on. I’ve seen most of them before, but just to get a sense of his vibe and the kind of pacing he has, and get a real solid grasp on what a finished script of his is like.
Because all we have access to is his first draft, and he says he wrote about six. And, you know, it’s a first draft, so there’s clunky things about it, there’s things that are like, “whoa, that’s weird.” So I kind of tried to combine me as a comics artist having to adapt this into a comic book, which is not the medium the script was intended for, as well as trying to adhere to his vibe which tended to be this very lonely, almost observant look at the world, which I think informed the Resident Evil games, so it’s kind of a perfect circle.
I told October that I was very happy to hear that Romero’s works were such an inspiration on the creation of the comic, as I personally am a humongous fan of his works.
OK: Oh, for sure. I went and I blazed through them. In an interview, he actually specified that he wanted the Resident Evil film to feel a lot like Day of the Dead. And that was the one that I like, I put my center on for like, he wants this kind of vibe. And that movie is this very paranoid, claustrophobic thing all set in this underground bunker. And the Resident Evil script is very similar. 90% of it is set underground in the Umbrella labs. And so knowing that that was what he intended was like, “Okay, I have my target. Let’s look at his other films and see what I can take inspiration from.” And maybe bring in, like, a little DNA from elsewhere just for the sake of making this a well packaged experience for a reader.
While discussing Romero’s works, we touched on the fantastic practical effects used in Day of the Dead.
OK: I mean, it’s Tom Savini’s masterpiece. And that’s another thing with the comic is that I went in, going like, “If this movie existed, Tom probably would have worked on it.” And the script is unbelievably over the top. I mean, people are being disemboweled, and melted by acid, and just a million and one horrible ways to die. And I really wanted to try to capture Tom Savini’s vibe and that to both from Day of the Dead, but also like Friday the 13th and his other films.
While the Resident Evil films have never prided themselves on accuracy, the Romero script did seem to take a great deal of care in accurately representing the world of Resident Evil in a way that I feel like other adaptations have missed. That being said, Romero did make his own mark on the film, making some drastic changes, including changing Chris Redfield from police officer to farmer. Curious as to what stayed in the film and what stayed on the cutting room floor, I asked October what some of the notable changes made to the story were?
OK: One of the things that’s really fascinating about working on this, is this script was written in 1998. And as such, only Resident Evil One and Two existed. And so, so much of what we think of as Resident Evil lore just didn’t exist yet. So a lot of the changes he made feel like changes to us, but they’re things that’s just him going “I don’t have anything to work with. So I need to put something here.” So like, a change could be seen with the history behind the mansion. I do think the mansion is referenced as being built by Oswell Spencer in the original 1996 game, but there’s so much information there in regards to the mansion’s history that came about later with like, George Trevor and Lisa Trevor, and none of that existed at the time. So Romero took the basic concept of a mansion in the woods, full of like trick locks and puzzles, and turned it into the Arkley estate rather than Arklay. And Arkley was this bootlegger during prohibition that got fabulously wealthy, and he built this Winchester-Mystery-Mansion for himself in the woods of Raccoon City as like, both a hide-away from the world as well as a way of securing his bootlegging operation from local police and government. So the mansion is like, full of all these weird little hidden doors and secret passageways, and puzzle locks, and stuff like that, which is, I think, a really interesting way of explaining the puzzles from the games. Obviously, the games have their own explanation for that. But it’s buried under a combination of like 50 pages of diaries, as well as half of it not even being made up yet, until the Resident Evil remake in 2002.
While October has been working very hard on this, and hard work often deserves rewards, it can be tricky trying to monetize a project that is rooted in another company’s intellectual property. I asked October if she had taken any considerations towards the legality of selling this comic, or if she planned on mostly keeping it available through donation?
OK: Right now the way that the comic is supported is through Patreon. Anyone that’s willing to help keep the comic viable. Because you know, I’m not trying to get rich off of it or anything, but if there can be a way to make it possible, that’s great. And so far, that has been Patreon. I did actually have a physical version of it printed, which went on sale and sold out almost instantaneously. But it isn’t like, a mass produced thing. The cover is covered in like “unofficial unauthorized blah blah blah.” And it’s just a little run of 100 issues for anybody who wants it, and proceeds, if there are any left at the end of the day, because it’s extremely expensive to print, I’m going to donate to the George A Romero Foundation, which is a charity set up in his name to help young filmmakers and help restore some of his lesser known films.
With such a passion for seeing this script come to life, I asked October if, in some weird turn of events, she was given the go-ahead to make this film, would she?
OK: Hell yeah, I would. I am in the minority. I mentioned before, the 2002 movie, I don’t really hate any of the live action things. I think The Final Chapter was pretty bad. But I liked Welcome to Raccoon City. For what it was. I’m really into style, and vibe, and mood. And the best things about that movie were vibe, style, and mood. But if I was given the opportunity, absolutely. I think some things might need to be updated for the sake of what has come since, in terms of lore and stuff. That’s not something I’m doing for the comic, I want the comic to feel very rooted in being from 1998 and from being made in this wild west of Resident Evil lore. Like before we knew anything, before Jill had short hair, which is the thing I’m keeping in the comic. Jill didn’t have short hair until Resident Evil 3. But yeah, I mean if I could make this movie I absolutely would. I’d love to, I love movies, and I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, but I would leap at the opportunity for sure.
When you think about the current state of horror, and how there is an entire generation of new horror directors, it seems like the stars have aligned for a high-profile horror auteur to bring the world of Resident Evil into the world of modern. While I personally would hand the keys off to Leigh Whannell, I wanted to know if there was a horror director that she thought would be a good fit for the series?
OK: James Wan, no question in my mind. There were rumors like, five years ago, that he was attached to direct the at-the-time unnamed Resident Evil reboot. I think he later said that he doesn’t really know what that was about, that it was like, one conversation and the internet went crazy with it. But especially after watching The Conjuring 2 which has action in it, but it’s generally this kind of slow paced, eerie, uncomfortable haunted house movie, with lots of great use of silence and stuff. This very 70s kind of take on horror. Yeah, I think James Wan, especially retelling Resident Evil one would knock it out of the park.
On the topic of the adaptations we did have, I asked October, if she had to wipe one adaptation from history would she choose the Paul W.S. Anderson films, Welcome to Raccoon City, or the Netflix show?
OK: The Anderson movies. Those are the ones that are the roughest, especially as they go on because, I don’t know, by the end The Final Chapter felt like it ran out of steam. Yeah, like I said, I like Welcome to Raccoon City for what it is. The Anderson movies are very 50/50 and if I have to lose the three films that I think are okay, over the three films that I think are kind of bad, then yeah, I’m fine with that.
I followed up by asking if she had any strong feelings on the Netflix adaptation
OK: I’m really happy for everyone that enjoyed it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. That isn’t to say that I liked it, but I went in expecting to hate it and I did not hate it. Which in a way makes me sad, because I would have rather liked it a lot more than I did. It did its best, and I’m sorry that it couldn’t have been more than that. Which, I mean, you know, I’m adapting this ancient, unproduced script. So I don’t know if I have a leg to stand on with criticizing others’ official adaptations. The show personally was not for me, but I appreciate everyone that it was for, and I did think it had some cool moments.
While discussing the Netflix show, I compared the faithfulness of shows on Netflix like Castlevania and the Witcher, which, while not perfect, certainly aimed to be closer to the source material than any adaptation of Resident Evil, to which October commented:
OK: It’s different show runners with different ideas of what faithfulness is. And, you know, you kind of go back to like the famous Kevin Smith talk about Superman Lives If you’ve ever heard it, where he talks about how the studio mandated all of these changes. And with Romero‘s script, he in interviews talked about how the head honcho at Constantin Films was striking down every idea because he didn’t really understand Resident Evil, at least in Romero‘s opinion. And, you know, a lot of the time a producer, or in this case, the showrunners ideas for what the show should be, don’t necessarily line up with what seems like the right call. And you know, regardless of whether or not someone liked, or disliked the Netflix series, it doesn’t look like it’s getting a second season. So I guess he rolled the dice on that. Which is all you can ever really do.
Regarding the history of horror gaming in film, I asked October which of the three survival-horror gaming movies did she think was going to have the greatest legacy or cultural impact with time, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone in the Dark?
OK: I mean, Resident Evil has seven motion pictures, one live action series, three animated films and one animated series. Resident Evil has a lot of other video things, things like 4D executor. There’s multiple stage plays. I think Resident Evil probably has the lasting impact of those three, I think Silent Hill is probably the best movie, out of all of those. I think that movie is really well made. Regardless of the games, I think the director Christophe Gans did a really great job at making a video game movie that I can show people that hate video games. And they’ll be like, “that was all right.” Whereas the Resident Evil movies, it doesn’t matter who you are, they seem to be universally mocked, even though they also made billions of dollars and, you know, did have the largest cultural impact. I mean, you get any casual person, they saw that licker advertisement in New York City where it was on the big 3D screen. They probably knew what that was like, “Hey! that’s the tongue thing from Resident Evil.” And I think that that matters a lot more than anything that the Silent Hill or Alone in the Dark films did in a cultural impact sense.
The last question I had for October was regarding what comes next. I asked if she had plans to adapt any other similar projects in the future once the Romero script had been adapted?
OK: I’ve had people message me like, “oh, you should do this script.” For some other canceled project, And actually, there is, I don’t remember who wrote it, but there is another rejected Resident Evil screenplay from a different writer. I will not be doing that. It features Wesker in an asylum, he’s an inmate in an asylum and he’s assigned to S.T.A.R.S. after the fact, it’s weird as shit. But I think this is a one and done kinda thing in terms of finding an unproduced script. Because I’m such a huge Resident Evil fan and such a huge Romero fan, this really appealed to me. Whereas other things, I don’t know, it would have to be something that really caught my interest. And then there’s other things. Like, doing a little Resident Evil fan comic, hopefully Capcom doesn’t get mad at me. Like I said, I’m not trying to sell the comic, any proceeds go to donations. But doing something like, for instance, James Cameron’s Spider-Man script, which is like, legendary, because it’s so weird, and it’s R-rated and all this stuff. But it’s like, that might be fun, but also, Disney, I don’t know if I want to mess around with that. But I don’t ever want to say never to anything. And so far, I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback on this comic. And if people want to see more, there’s every opportunity to, I don’t know, maybe try to explore what a world where this was the movie would have been like, afterwards.
I followed up by asking if she had any interest in adapting the lesser-known Resident Evil stories like 4D Executor or the stage plays and making them known to a wider audience?
OK: Umm, no, not so much, just because they are unlike Romero‘s script, which is like, you know, spoken in hushed tones around bars and deep in fan forums. And you have to kind of know, to look to find the thing, whereas like, Biohazard: the stage, which I love bringing up because it co-stars Rebecca Chambers, and it’s a canon story with Chris and Piers in as well. The whole thing is on YouTube with subtitles. It’s just called Biohazard: the stage. There’s actually a couple. I don’t think most of them are on YouTube, only one or two. There was one in the 90s that had Leon in it, I’ve never seen that. But with something like that, something that you can go out and find and watch. And if I’m being perfectly honest, especially with something like Biohazard: the stage, the story for the manga, Resident Evil: the Marhawa Desire is almost the exact same story, just without Rebecca in it. So it feels like that would be kind of frivolous in comparison.
With that I ended the interview, I thanked October again for taking the time to sit and speak with me, and to be frank, the conversation was so pleasant I had to stop myself from continuing to talk about Resident Evil so that she could get back to her work.
If you want to see more of October’s work she can be found online as a writer for Rely on Horror, where she recently wrote a review of Netflix’s Resident Evil and on her personal Twitter page. To read the comic for yourself you can head on over to her Patreon, where donating $5 a month will get you access to the project as it is completed.
And of course, if you simply need more information on the latest and greatest and ghoulish and gory gaming then be sure to hang around DreadXP.com and read more of our frightful features!