Friday, March 13, 2009

Slashers, Shooters, and Racists

It's Friday the 13th again already, and the mini horror deluge begins anew. The Last House on the Left remake is attempting to fill the slasher void with predictably middling reviews and 'torture porn' rants. I'd like to rise up to its defense, but it will almost certainly be terrible--not to mention painfully derivative by even the low standards of 21st century horror remakes. For a gander at the film's dubious pedigree, check my flowchart of its predecessors.

Today's other big release is the controversial (to say the least) action-horror videogame, Resident Evil 5. I really wish they would revert to the Japanese title, Biohazard, as their hasn't been anything particularly 'residential' about the series since the first title. It's a big release, certain to make sick piles of cash monies, but their are two very loud factions of detractors: people upset by the series' legacy controls, and people upset by the perceived racist imagery.

Early RE games were played on static, prerendered backdrops that acted like dramatic camera angles, giving the series a cinematic feel, enhancing its claustrophobic nature, and generally frustrating casual gamers to no end. The sublime fourth entry shook things up by cross breeding with a third person shooter to make the mutant hybrid known as 'stop-n-pop.' (Similar to the backwoods restroom technique: stoop-n-poop.) This retreat-position-aim-repeat gameplay, combined with its emphasis on self contained action setpieces, proved so popular that it has been the blueprint for a large cross-section of this generation's most entertaining games. Without RE4 there would certainly be no Gears of War or Dead Space.

Of course, now their are legions of gamers who are more familiar with permutations of Resident Evil 4 gameplay than the game itself, and when confronted with a game similar to GoW or Dead Space, only minus the ability to maneuver, they will freak out. Personally, the mere idea of RE4 style anything in HD releases a mass of endorphins into my cortex, and as strange as it might be moving back a generation control-wise, it only took two playthroughs of the demo to get back into the swing of things. Besides, in Dead Space (not so much in Gears, which leans further into the third person shooter realm) I never found myself relying on moving while shooting that much, anyway. The RE quickturn would have been preferable in many situations, too.

The other aspect of RE5 that is causing spastic freakouts and moral panics (in case you have been on Mars for the last few months) is the allegation of racism. Hackles are raised on both sides of the issues, and so many flame wars have begun on the topic that the entire internet is in danger of burning to the ground. I'm still waiting for my collector's edition of the game to arrive from Amazon, (fingers crossed for tomorrow) so I can't make any sort of final judgment, but here is what I've gathered so far:

-There is a 0% chance that this game will be intentionally racist. When the racism kerfuffle first reared its head, I commented to interested friends that it would be almost certain that the player would have an African sidekick of some sort or at least do some explicit rescuing of uninfected Africans. Sure enough, a few trailers later the makers introduced a black co-op partner, Sheva. Her light skinned appearance will certainly be made an issue of, but along with the fact that the villagers are obviously affected by one or more of the many viruses and parasites from the RE mythos, this should let some of the air out of the perception that the game is about killing Africans for the sake of killing Africans.

-On the other hand, if you are one of the many fanboys who get agitated at the very mention of racism, you are probably being willfully ignorant. The early trailers, showing white, musclebound Chris Redfield walking around a sinister African village, getting attacked by the townspeople, then beating the living shit out of said townspeople, are more than troubling without the proper context. This is the kind of imagery that David Duke wanks-off to, kiddies, and if the Resident Evil series wasn't so tightly bound to their B-movie narratives, it would not be a stretch for the remaining racists in our society to fire up the game in order to play make-believe racewar. (This is assuming that your average racist has enough imagination for such a task, but they did manage to pump out The Turner Diaries.)

The problem here is not the game itself or the decision to set it in Africa, but in Capcom's ill-thought out marketing campaign that released highly questionable imagery without the proper context. Fans of the series could easily guess at what the designers were going for (responding with uncomfortable facepalms or reflexive defensiveness) but anyone not familiar with the tropes of the series could easily be horrified. Judging from the mini media circuses that sprang up on the web with every early trailer, people obviously were.

Now that the game is out (USPS don't fail me now) everyone can play it for themselves, realize that the game is more interested with demonizing Wesker than the people of Africa, and chill the heck out.

Once again, sorry for the lack of substantial updates around here. I promise that the following will be coming soon: Body Melt, I Come in Peace, Class of 1999, an exploration of the films of BBC teleplay writer Nigel Kneale, and much, much more. In fact, I have a massive stockpile of films in desperate need of review, but no damn time to give them my usual "massive information dump" treatment.

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