If there’s one thing the Resident Evil series is known for, it’s zombie-shooting horror. However, there’s another theme that has run adjacent to the franchise since its debut in 1996. More often than not, Capcom’s creepy capers take place within four troubled walls, whether it be a creepy mountain mansion or a revolting backcountry ranch. The real question is, what makes a house a harrowing home?
If you’re familiar with Resident Evil, you’ll perhaps already know that the horror series is called “Biohazard” in Japan. While the game’s original title still holds true to the game’s narrative, there’s something to be said about the “Resident” part of the series’ Western alternative. In a way, Capcom’s inability to trademark “Biohazard” as a name in America was a fortunate accident. As you might have guessed, the name “Resident Evil” was inspired by the original game’s setting, which has arguably become an intrinsic part of the series.
The Spencer Mansion is a wonderful horror movie trope. Resident Evil’s take on the haunted house idea is almost transformative, setting it apart from its cinematic counterparts. As a concept, the Spencer Mansion is absolutely bananas, especially when you consider the horrors that live within it. Yet, despite there being giant spiders in the basement, the mere idea of this being someone’s house is even more frightening.
Admittedly, even the mansion’s original owners, the Spencer family, were intrinsically evil. However, if we put the landlord’s murderous tendencies aside, being within a strange house is somewhat scary. Being within a “home” should be comforting, but more often than not, a house with the lights on means trouble within the world of horror. Sure, strange houses might be worse for someone neurodivergent like me. However, I’m sure we’ve all experienced that sense of nervousness provoked by a stranger’s home.
Of course, when I say stranger, I don’t mean Mrs Bloggs from down the street. Traditionally, we bump into some of horror’s most malicious monsters at their own homes. The idea of being lured to a predator’s cosy lair has existed since the early days of horror. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a prime example of a very lived-in murder house. The fact that a malicious killer resides within the old but elegantly decorated Bates Motel makes the whole experience even more haunting.
Arguably, a better cinematic comparison might be the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In the original flick, we see five teenagers lured to their death by the sinister Sawyer family. While we’ll get to how Resident Evil VII draws inspiration from this iconic piece of cinema, the film’s concept is applied to the series as a whole. Even the original game’s locked camera angles during moments of calm are reminiscent of the 1974 American slasher.
In both cases, these moments of calm are always the build-up to something horrific. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the character Kirk makes the mistake of entering the Sawyer’s homicidal home. In Resident Evil, the player makes the mistake of venturing further into the mansion. While in the former, the character Kirk comes unexpectedly face to face with a chainsaw-wielding butcher, Resident Evil players also encounter an unexpected evil. The original game’s evocative corridor zombie encounter is inherently scary. Yet, it is perhaps made more so because the Spencer Mansion looks like someone’s lavish home (if you can ignore the dust).
The idea of being lured reinforces the idea of being caught off guard in a seemingly safe home. In both the Resident Evil games and horror cinema, there’s usually someone who’s playing with the protagonists like puppets. In a way, Wesker’s actions in the original game are comparable to that of Megan from the movie Dog Soldiers. In Neil Marshall’s British horror, the character Megan rescues a platoon of soldiers while bloodthirsty werewolves are ambushing them. The seemingly good Samaritan brings the squad to a quaint little Scottish farmhouse, which is later revealed to be under false pretenses.
Eventually, it is revealed that Megan is one of the werewolves and that the cottage was her shiny lure. Again, this bears a resemblance to Wesker’s deception, as the corrupt S.T.A.R.S commander leads Chris, Jill and Barry to the Spencer Mansion deliberately while pretending it’s to evade a zombie onslaught. While Megan is a more complex character than Resident Evil’s Wesker, they are essentially narrative Anglerfish. Both Mansion and the Farmhouse act as a shining light within a dark situation. However, just like an Anglerfish’s teeth, both abodes turn out to be far more fatal than whatever’s outside their decorated walls.
If you’re a fan of Resident Evil games that are set in an actual residence, then you’re probably pretty excited for Resident Evil Village. While the series arguably lost its way a bit after its fourth instalment, Capcom has managed to bring it back to its horror roots. As mentioned previously, Resident Evil VII is almost a homage to the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Both feature a cannibalistic family residing within a ranch house with troubling undertones. Sure, the Baker household is a bit more grotesque than that of the Sawyers’. However, the same premise of a conventional family home applies to both.
If anything, Capcom’s new take on Resident Evil embraces the idea of the horror home more than ever before. While Resident Evil Village’s title suggests that the game won’t take place exclusively between four walls, the game prominently features a Bram Stoker-inspired castle. Like with Resident Evil VII’s Ranch, Village’s castle is inhabited by some dangerous residents, who know the place like the back of their hand. Both the Bakers and the series’ new antagonist, Lady Dimitrescu, stalk the player with ease as they try to escape.
Again, while Village’s sexy vampiric vixen is the apparent immediate threat, it’s once again the actual house that proving to be more perilous. As you’d expect, the Bakers and Lady Dimitrescu hold all the cards when it comes to knowing their respective homes. While you will eventually become familiar with the game’s surroundings, the fact that your pursuers have the immediate edge is fairly unsetting. Naturally, paring up the threat of an unfamiliar home with its owner lingering within elevates Resident Evil’s original homely horror concept to new heights.
Let’s be honest, most Resident Evil players probably consider the game’s monsters to be more of a horror and threat than bricks and mortar. However, there is a lot to be said about the series’ iconic locations, especially when they’re someone else’s lodgings. Hopefully, Capcom continues to feature weird and wonderful homes within its survival shooter while building upon the anxiety and fear of entering someone else’s property. So, to answer my previous question, what makes a house a harrowing home? Homicidal residents, of course.
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Featured Image Credit: Capcom