We’re coming to get you…Jill? That line was almost a reality in the late 1990s when George Romero, master of all things zombified, was tapped by Capcom execs to transition the hit survival horror video game series Resident Evil onto the silver screen as writer and director. However, the project ultimately fell into the hands of one Paul W.S. Anderson after Romero was fired from the pic, and what we got in 2002 was a far cry from what fans were expecting. But why was one of Hollywood’s masters of horror fired? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.
George tried to make a mostly-faithful adaptation of the first game, with some elements of Resident Evil 2 and 3 thrown in as well. However, Romero made some oddball changes, like incorporating a lot of out-of-place Native American imagery, while the overall tone of the film was so gory that it would have undoubtedly gotten an X rating. Despite going through multiple drafts over the course of a few months, nothing stuck. This is ultimately what led to Romero’s dismissal. In fact, Capcom producer Yoshiki Okamoto stated at the time: “Romero’s script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired.”
This tracks if you follow Romero’s career, as he was never much of a writer, if we’re being honest with ourselves. He was always, always, more of a “point-and-shoot” type director, with a majority of his films really coming together in the editing bay. He’s always had his finger on the pulse of social commentary, surely, especially in the Dead series he’s most well-known for, but his heavy-handedness didn’t serve him well in the latter half of his career.
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Late-period Romero left quite a bit to be desired, with countless projects failing in the 90s, and what we did wind up getting in the 2000s, like Diary of the Dead, would have best been left unmade. This doesn’t discredit his early work though, which was genre-defining and his effects are still felt in horror today. Also, his Japan-only live-action Resident Evil 2 commercial, which is what originally got him the job in the first place, is cheesy fun.
Ultimately, though, George Romero just wasn’t the right fit to make the first Resident Evil film a reality. Granted, neither was Paul W.S. Anderson, but here we are.