Today’s Monster Spotlight tackles a subject almost as near and dear to my heart as Pokemon, and one that similarly left a huge impression on me when it comes to monster design. It’s also one of the most iconic franchises in horror video game history, which makes it ripe subject matter for discussion here at Horror Flora. That’s right, we’re shining the Monster Spotlight on the Resident Evil series!
Well, ok, factually speaking we’re really only shining the spotlight on, like, the first three games and a bit of Outbreak, Code Veronica, and RE:0, and even there we’re not looking at the full bestiaries of each. I know, boo hiss, listen there are other sites you can go to for that. I’m going to look primarily at the Heavy Hitters here, and I’ll tell you why (other than the fact that there are 52 images in this review and my wordpress account does have a limit to how many photos I can upload): for this article, I busted out my old and worn copy of the Resident Evil Archives, a book that covers the first three Resident Evil Games (and Zero and Code Veronica), and, more importantly, has concept art from them, including cut concepts. As a kid who never got to play the games but loved the strategy guides showing off their various monster designs, it’s a freakin’ treasure trove, and I’ve never been able to find the concepts on the internet. As far as I know, they are ONLY in this long-out-of-print book. And while I was reluctant to put my already worn and now very expensive to replace copy on the scanner multiple times, straining its spine by trying to make it lie as flat as possible, I did it anyway, because I love you.
…and because saving all the coolest images is a good backup plan for when the book finally falls apart.
…also there’s, like, three images I borrowed from the Resident Evil fan wiki, you’ll know ’em when you see ’em.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the monsters!
Let’s start with perhaps the most abused monster archetype in modern story-telling, the zombies. Resident Evil loved zombies before they became mainstream, and as such their zombies draw primarily from the holy texts of zombie media: George Romero’s original “Of the Dead” trilogy. Like almost every monster in the first few Resident Evil games, zombies are the result of exposure to the fictional T Virus, which, depending on the host and the method of exposure, can do everything from re-animating dead tissue to making its host into oversized monstrosities. The T Virus is created by the shady Umbrella Corporation to make “Bio Organic Weapons,” i.e. monster soldiers, and the many of the monsters you encounter in the early games are either a result of planned experiments with the T Virus or, in the case of most zombies, accidental exposure to it.
Gray-skinned, visibly decaying, groaning, shambling beings that are as pathetic as they are menacing, Resident Evil knows that the horror of a zombie isn’t in being eaten by them, but in becoming one. The first three games go out of their way to put that horror on display, from a log kept by an infected Umbrella worker as he slowly undergoes the infection, to having former allies of your player character undergo the process themselves. Hell, look at the variety of people they have as zombies here – once the entirety of Raccoon City is infected, you see folks from every walk of life shambling around to eat you, many with visible and prominent wounds that beg you to think about exactly how they were turned. Code Veronica goes an extra step by showing zombies in a far deeper state of decay than the mostly “fresh” revenants of the previous titles. There are a lot of zombies in video games, but these are THE zombies in video games as far as I’m concerned, and are likewise the core on which all other monsters in RE’s early installments are built. This is the baseline, the goomba of Resident Evil. Everything that comes after has to build on these freaks. And in one iconic case, that “building” process is astoundingly literal.
At first glance, one might think the infamous Licker – one of RE’s most iconic original monster creations – is a completely unrelated creature, what with its wildly inhuman anatomy. The novelization of Resident Evil 2 speculates that it may be a mutated lizard, which isn’t a bad guess given that enormous tongue. But look at the human-line musculature on its skin-less chest, the bits of rotting skin clinging to its claws as if they burst out from beneath it. Think about the fact that its most glaring weakness is the large exposed brain on its head, and how prominent its bitey mouth is.
Concept art from Resident Evil 2 makes the origin of the Licker far more obvious, complete with an intermediate stage called the “Powered Up Zombie.” Lickers are what happens when a zombie lives long enough to further mutate under the influence of the T Virus, one of a couple pathogens that are responsible for the monstrous menagerie of RE’s many vicious fiends. The idea wouldn’t be canonized until the remake of the first Resident Evil and the Outbreak spinoff games, where two(!) intermediate stages were introduced: the “Crimson Head Zombie,” which mutates only when a zombie is incapacitated without removing its head or destroying its brain, and the Suspen-dead, a Crimson Head that is further along its Licker transformation. Given that coming close to death is a required step in the process, we can assume the mutations are a result of the T Virus trying to keep its host from making it work so hard, bringing them back stronger and faster each time in an attempt to keep them alive. While most T-Virus monsters in RE don’t display the same multi-stage monster mutations shown here, victims of one of of Umbrella’s OTHER pathogens would, and it makes you wonder if this unique accident is what inspired its creation.
But we’ll tackle the G-Virus in a moment – I want to get to some of the T Virus’s other greatest hits.
The zombie dog, called “Cerberus” by Umbrella, is one of the monsters that was actually the result of a planned experiment, which may account for why they’re a bit more spry than their human zombie counterparts. In game mechanics terms, the role of the Cerberus is to up the ante by giving you a very different threat from the one that you’ve become accustomed to – you get through your first few zombie encounters and maybe you’re feeling cocky. Then BAM! you’ve got a pissed off zombie dog who can literally run circles around you. The fact that it’s taken a dog, an animal that is near universally beloved nowadays, and turned it into such a horror adds to the creep factor, and it’s little wonder that these mangy mutts are such a well remembered staple of the franchise (they share the dubious honor of being one of, like, five monsters from the games that made it into the twenty or so terrible Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil movies).
It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that Hunters are my personal favorite of RE’s monsters (and the only one I’ve managed to snag a toy of), but, like, look at these wonderful hunchbacked lizard-men. I love them. I love their sweet lizardy faces. The Hunter is one of the most refined BOWs Umbrella ever produced, a result of using the T Virus with a mix of different animal DNA (predominantly reptilian from the look of it). Oddly, reptiles and arthropods seem to take better to the T Virus than mammals do, often having open wounds and strange growths, if any at all.
There have been a few different variants of the Hunters, with RE 3 showing off two “failed” prototypes – the Hunter Beta, which has a significant number of those open wounds and strange growths that plague the mammalian T Virus victims, and the Hunter Gamma, which is explicitly said to have some frog in its genetic cocktail. They’re all beautiful and I love them.
There are a LOT of plant monsters in Resident Evil’s bestiary, but the most well known would be Plant 43, also known as Ivy. While reptiles and bugs may be more common among the “successful” T Virus experiments, I think the Ivy’s mutations are probably the most impressive, turning an inanimate plant into an active, walking, semi-humanoid predator. That three-jawed head is such an eerie and unique visual, evoking a flower’s petals, an open wound, and a gaping mouth all at once. I also love the concept showing it surrounded by a swarm of symbiotic T Virus infected bees – the idea that all these freakish mutants could actually form an ecosystem is really appealing, and one that would have been fun to play with had the games allowed the viral monster epidemic to get apocalyptic in scope.
Resident Evil’s early games took inspiration from a LOT of horror movies, but while much has been made of Romero’s influence on the series (with good reason), I’ve rarely heard people talk about its ties to Cronenberg’s body horror films, which is a shame since that’s arguably an even MORE prominent inspiration for what became RE’s signature monster style. These three monsters – the Brain Sucker (top left), the Drain Demos (bottom left), and the Chimera (right) – made the connection so explicit, too, as they’re all such clear children of Brundlefly. Uncanny mixes of human and arthropod anatomy, these ghoulish misfits are some of the most grotesque creatures we’ve looked at so far, with bodies that are literally twisted as they incompatibly blend from human to insect and back again. While another monster would take the body horror even farther, we have to salute these lovely creeps for paying tribute to their cinematic predecessor.
But we’ve got one more iconic freak before we get to G, and it’s just as important. The Tyrant is the BOW of Umbrella’s dreams, the genetically modified super soldier that all the other monsters were mere prototypes for. Throughout the first few games we get to see how Umbrella refines this monster, from the proto-Tyrants (right side) with their exposed secondary hearts and asymmetrical bodies, to the “mass produced” Tyrants like the infamous Mr. X, who can almost pass as human until they rage out and grow those gnarly claws their imperfect predecessors had.
Mr. X has some really interesting concept art, too, as it clearly took the designers a while to figure out how to balance the “giant hulking monster” and “super soldier” elements just enough to make him feel distinct from the original Tyrant of RE 1 and his co-star in RE 2. Also take note of the “Tyrant Inferior,” which is explicitly meant to be a middle step between the Tyrants and zombies. As mentioned before, zombies were not the intended result of the T Virus, as the goal was to make a Tyrant, and the games have made it clear that creating a Tyrant – whether it’s a successful model like Mr. X or one of the imperfect prototypes – requires a different process than the ol’ bite and infect that makes zombies, though exactly what differentiates the two is left rather vague. A middle ground monster could shed light on what exactly makes Tyrants and zombies different, and how Umbrella figured out how to make the former after accidentally making the later so many times. Maybe later games will bring the Tyrant Inferior back from the dead, just as the Powered-Up Zombie was resurrected as the Crimson Head and Suspendead.
The most infamous variation on the Tyrant, though, is the Nemesis, who stared in the third resident evil game AND made it into the terrible Paul W.S. Anderson movies before his predecessors (which is to say that Paul W.S. Anderson never included the other Tyrants because he was too busy sticking a camera in between Mila Jovovich’s legs). Infected by both the T Virus AND an organism called the “nemesis parasite,” Nemesis lives up to his mythological name by relentlessly pursuing the player character throughout the game, to the point where it really does begin to feel like a personal rivalry. This made such an impression that not only did Nemesis become one of the most famous monsters in RE canon, but when it came time to remake RE 2 they decided to give Mr. X the same shtick. I guess it’s just a thing Tyrants do now.
Nemesis apes a bit from G (we’re getting to him, don’t worry!) by having multiple stages of mutation, with the final one being a “crash” of sorts. Beginning with a slick Goth Mercenary Frankenstein look, he begins to shed clothing so more and more of his parasite’s tentacles can wriggle free to torment you, before getting so damaged that the only way his parasite can keep him going involves turning him into a friggin’ puppet – one that isn’t even facing the right way, as the open ribcage on his back can attest to (those legs are being bent the wrong damn way, parasite!). Goddamn is he a lovely brute.
Remember that part in the second terrible Paul W.S. Anderson movie where there’s, like, an almost-kiss moment between Mila Jovovich and the Nemesis that’s explicitly romantic, and then in the Paul W.S. Anderson Alien vs. Predator movie there was ALSO an almost-kiss moment between a predator and the female protagonist of that movie, and how both of these came out in the same summer of the same year? What the hell was up with that? Does Paul W.S. Anderson have a thing for women kissing lip-less monster men? I’m not kink-shaming, just curious.
I’m gonna talk briefly about a couple other Tyrant-adjacent monsters before we move on. The first is the Bandersnatch, who takes the whole “one big fuck-off hand” thing the prototype Tyrants have up to 11 by having, like, the BIGGEST fuck-off hand, and a stretchy one at that for extra weirdness. I know the big fuck-off hand is grabbing your attention here, but look at his weirdo face and especially his tiny little wiggly nub of a left arm too. What a poor, sad bastard.
Lisa Trevor has him beat, though, as she’s the unfortunate host to not only the T Virus and the Nemesis Parasite, but the G virus as well (we’re getting to it, this is the transition). Lisa was added to the remake of the first Resident Evil game mainly to give old fans a new thrill, but she also helps weld some of the canon together a bit better while adding one of the most tragic storylines in the franchise. Abducted as a teenager along with her father and mother, Lisa’s parents were killed by the Umbrella Corporation, and Lisa herself was experimented on over the course of several decades, losing her mind in the process. That leatherface-like mask she’s wearing is a collection of human faces that Lisa thinks belongs to her parents, though at least one of them belonged to a researcher who tried to pose as Lisa’s mom to make her docile (only to have Lisa see through the deception, think that the woman has in fact stolen her mother’s face, and then take her face “back” in a fit of rage). The various viruses, parasites, and who knows what else in her system have made her functionally immortal, and while this makes Lisa an unquestionably menacing figure as she stalks your character through the game, you also can’t help but pity her. While the perfected Tyrants reveal the horror of Umbrella’s ambitions, Lisa Trevor shows the equally horrifying nature of Umbrella’s callous methodology. A Tyrant is the end, and Lisa Trevor is the means, both of which speak volumes of Umbrella’s wickedness in their own unique way.
And then there’s G.
I think it speaks to the G Virus’s nature as a mutagen that the myriad of monster designs it spawns don’t get their own names. All the T Virus mutants get their own monikers and identities, but everything the G Virus produces, no matter how wildly different in form they may be, is simply… G. I mean, the fans have given them different names, sure, but in canon? G. G all the way down.
Like the T Virus before it, the G Virus is designed to cheat death and improve the lethality of its hosts biological weaponry. Its host is incredibly hard to kill, and comes back stronger whenever it is incapacitated. In fact, the G Virus is unquestionably superior to the T Virus in this respect. Remove the head or destroy the brain? Well fuck you, the G Virus is just gonna regrow them, and this time they’re bristling with needle teeth, and also there’s gonna be two budding backup heads just in case. One big fuckoff hand not enough to kill you? Well now it’s got two, and two normal hands too, which will become two more big fuckoff hands later. G’s middle stage, perhaps the most well remembered, even becomes a sort of “fallen angel,” with his biggest fuckoff hands intentionally resembling tattered wings. Like an angel or demon, it is something “beyond” human, more powerful in nearly every way.
Where the G Virus “fails” is in its chaotic instability. The mutations it causes aren’t all beneficial, as the big giant “Hey video game protagonist, aim here!” eyeballs illustrate. G is the first boss monster in RE to have a “crash” form, i.e. a final stage where the mutations are desperately trying to keep it from falling apart and have resulted in just a blob of flesh, bone shards, and ill-formed limbs, something pretty much all other RE games since have included in their final bosses.
An often overlooked detail of G’s “crash” is the fact that it’s begun absorbing other monsters – including a number of rather distressed looking zombies – into its flesh in a desperate attempt to reclaim some much needed biomass. As terrifyingly large and unsettling as it is, this stage reeks of such utter desperation as well, which goes all the way back to the methodology of RE’s zombies: the only thing scarier than being eaten by this thing is becoming it.
Another way the G Virus “fails” where the T Virus “succeeds” is in transmitability. The “patient zero” of a G Virus infection takes to it, well, not “fine”, but better than those it subsequently infects, as anyone who doesn’t share the patient zero’s bloodline won’t fully “take” to the virus, becoming what fans have called “G Spawn.” Even more pathetic and woeful than the main G, these repulsive mutants start at the crash stage and never get better, all while spitting off tons of parasitic spawn that pull a Ridley Scott to make even more of these things.
“Luckily,” the G Virus seems to know of this flaw, driving the patient zero host to seek out people who share their bloodline. In RE 2, this results in G’s first host, William Birkin, relentlessly chasing after his pre-pubescent daughter, Sherry. G is such an utterly horrid thing that I’m honestly shocked the franchise hasn’t revisited it since – outside of a middling direct-to-DVD movie and the RE 2 remake, that is.
And with numerous designs that ooze this much detail, you KNOW there’s a shitload of concept art that preceded it, all of it beautifully horrific. At one point they considered making BOTH of Sherry Birkin’s G-hosts! She could have had TWO of these horrible things chasing her! Delightful!
Also, look at that one picture of G’s branching strings of meat moss filling a room. I don’t have anything special to say about it, I just think it’s neat.
G’s earliest designs show it could have taken a much different direction, with the earliest concepts being two entirely separate monsters altogether! I definitely think the direction they went with was the right call, but a part of me can’t help but wonder what RE would be like if the second game had starred Zeiram and Gorgoda, who look like what would happen if two Ultraman kaiju decided to star in a Cronenberg movie.
Before we end this review, I have a few more treats from the archives to go over with you. First, as an apology to the giant bugs, snakes, sharks, crocodiles, and other fauna from the early games I didn’t include here, enjoy this beautiful concept art of how T-virus infected moths might reproduce. Pretty gnarly, right?
Ok, now let’s look at some CUT MONSTERS! The first are these delightfully twisted T virus infected monkeys from RE 2, which seems to have had a “zoo” level planned that was ultimately cut (though the concept would be revisted in the Outbreak games). The concept of zombie monkeys would eventually make it into Resident Evil 0 with the “Eliminators,” though it got toned down a lot in the process.
Y’know, if they decided to revisit the G Virus, those weirder zombie apes could be a good start at seeing what it might do to a non-human host…
“Boss Worm” is probably a filler title, but it’s a GREAT filler title, and while this hook-jawed grabboid wouldn’t make the cut, it did eventually see the light of day with a few other giant worms in RE 3 and RE: Code Veronica, all of which are excellent additions to Resident Evil’s gallery of mutated monsters.
More strange mutant fauna! Honestly I think that zombie horse would have been a real winner – horses are already so uncanny and strange, and this evil equine would have played into that under-exploited fear so well. Of course, the one here I miss the most is that sea snake, though at least its lovely Predator jaws got to live on in the Gravedigger worm from RE 3. The cat monster’s weirdly human anatomy would make it pretty memorable too, and I wonder if that’s a reference to the classic 40’s horror film Cat People – Resident Evil’s referenced even more obscure works, so it’s not impossible.
Some more pathetic oddities! The Melting Man is an inspired idea, and one I’m surprised they haven’t come back to (also, possibly yet ANOTHER reference to an obscure horror movie). I’m pretty sure the cave-cricket has been revisisted a few time since – I stopped following Resident Evil after RE 4, but I’ve seen bits and pieces of the later games’ bestiaries and I’m pretty sure there are more than a few hobbled bug monsters in them. But no one has revisited the Mysterious Enemy, which is shame because look at that freaky bastard! Just look at im!
But the monster I miss the most is this freak right here. In the franchise that most likely serves as the root for my obsession with humanoid monsters sporting fuckoff big hands, here is perhaps the biggest set of fuckoff hands I have ever seen – fuckoff big hands that are also fuckoff big mouths. Why did they cut this monster? Were they worried she’d be redundant next to G and the Tyrant, both of whom do her primary shticks (fuckoff big hands, transformation, etc.)? There’s room in our heart for all three, Capcom.