There are a lot of reasons to love Resident Evil 4, but something that jumped out at me while playing through the remake is how it feels like a medley of homages to some of the greatest horror movie monsters and antagonists of all time. There’s no way of telling how many of these actually are deliberate nods to other fiction, and how much it’s my own brain jumping to conclusions, but it’s still fun to dissect the many weird parts that make up this masterpiece of a game.
It’s pretty safe to say The chainsaw-wielding burlap sack-wearing Dr. Salvador takes some inspiration from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface, and quite possibly Jason Voorhees’ baggier, less athletic look from Friday The 13th Part 2. Del Lago might be more salamander than shark, but that whole boss fight would be right at home in the third act of a Jaws movie. The lumbering El Gigante bears a striking resemblance to the cave troll in The Fellowship of the Ring. This seems even more apparent in the remake, as the later El Gigante encounters have the giants wearing armor that would absolutely fit the dress code of Sauron’s ranks. That one might not seem quite like an iconic movie monster, but bear in mind the Lord of the Rings movies were on everyone’s minds around the time RE4 was in development.
Las Plagas, the parasites that act as the connective tissue of Resident Evil 4’s menagerie of monsters, look like distant cousins of the face-hugging larvae made famous in Alien. We see the Plagas genetically engineered into all sorts of critters throughout the game, but a couple of them are especially Xenomorphian. The insectoid nature and hive-based society of the Navistadors mimic the bugs in Aliens, but there’s also the sleek, black, whip-tailed Verdugo, whose appearance and behavior bear more resemblance to the sole monster in the first Alien.
Meanwhile, every time one of Resident Evil 4’s Ganados reveals its inner plaga, there’s an explosion of flailing flesh, teeth, eyes, and claws, which is straight from the playbook of the titular critter in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Much like how The Thing has several increasingly imposing forms, so do RE4’s bad guys, both eventually taking massive final forms that are towering masses of tentacles that don’t even try to appear human.
Video games have been cribbing beats from action movies since forever, but Resident Evil 4 steering the series from tense, survival horror to faster-paced action horror feels a lot like James Cameron’s approach to sequels. Aliens turned Alien’s haunted house into a rollercoaster ride, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day is more fight than flight compared to the first film. Leon Kennedy utilizes quite a few tactics from T2, freezing the Verdugo with liquid nitrogen and dropping Los Gigantes into a vat of molten metal. On the other hand, Regenerators might not be able to turn into molten metal or impersonate members of the LAPD, but they’re almost as hard to kill as a T-1000.
Stephen Sommers might not be quite as well-known a filmmaker as James Cameron, but a few of his action-horror movies seem to have informed Resident Evil 4. The 1998 film Deep Rising features a phenomenally gross tentacled monster that at one point gets fended off with a shotgun blast to the eyeball, and the explosive climax involves a guy and a girl fleeing a collapsing structure on a jet ski. Sound familiar?
One horrifying boss that unfortunately (or maybe thankfully) didn’t make the cut for the remake is U-3, a chimera that blended human and scorpion anatomy, much like Dwayne Johnson’s first big screen performance as The Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns, another Stephen Sommers joint with CGI that might as well be pulled from a GameCube game. Coincidentally, the third Mummy installment, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, has Brendan Fraser’s character sporting a fleece-lined leather jacket a lot like Leon’s and armed with a Thompson submachine gun, which Resident Evil fans might know better as a Chicago typewriter.
The influence of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in pop-culture can’t be overstated, though the feature film adaptations of his work have rarely achieved more than a cult status (which is fitting, considering how much Lovecraft’s work involves cults.) One such adaptation, the 2001 Stuart Gordon film Dagon, seems to be the single biggest inspiration for Resident Evil 4.
Despite being named after the short story Dagon, it more closely follows the novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The film follows a guy trying to rescue his girlfriend, who’s been kidnapped by members of a cult that worships an ancient sea monster — many of whom are mutating into sea creatures themselves. Though the novella was set along the coast of New England, the movie takes place a Spanish fishing village named “Imboca” (which is cute, as boca is Spanish for mouth) which makes sense, as it was produced in Spain. Why the game also takes place in Spain is unclear, but hey, it works. That said, it would be funny to see Leon accosted by a bunch of longshoremen with thick Maine accents.
Without grilling the original development team about what was going through their heads while making the original 20 years ago, it’s impossible to say what parts of Resident Evil 4 were rooted in other works of horror fiction. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because no matter where in the individual parts of Resident Evil 4 come from, the way they come together creates something wholly unique and wonderfully nightmarish.
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