Blair Farrell Interviews Philip J Reed about Resident Evil August 09 2022
This week, we are remembering friend and author Philip J Reed, author of our book on Resident Evil. Blair Farrell's 2020 interview with Philip for the site Electric Bento went offline when the site was shuttered. We are happy to republish the interview here with thanks to Blair and Electric Bento.
1) Blair Farrell: To start things off, let us get to know you. How long have you been writing?
Philip J Reed: Pretty much as long as I’ve been alive. I’ve always enjoyed reading, so it was nothing to pick up a pen and try it myself. I was terrible for many, many years. But that’s important. If you want to write, be terrible for many, many years and be okay with that! You’ll gradually get less terrible, and you’ll probably even get good at some point. I studied literature in college, where I was exposed to many more influences and worked under instructors who deliberately challenged me to further my abilities. I cannot emphasize enough how important and helpful that was.
Professionally, we’re looking at around 15 years of writing. I’ve written for a number of different sites, magazines, and other outlets. Nintendo Life is what brought me into the games criticism fold; I was fortunate enough to be part of the initial wave of writers for that site. I was with them for around seven years before striking out on my own.
2) What is your history with the Resident Evil series? What is it about the franchise that made you want to write a book about it?
My Resident Evil experience goes back to its very first Western release, pre-Director’s Cut. It was the first PlayStation game I ever played, and I hated it. It seemed like a clunkier ripoff of Alone in the Dark, which was already pretty clunky to begin with.
I’m almost certain my friend brought the game over just because he knew it would scare the hell out of me, and not because he thought I’d enjoy it. After he left that night, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the game. We hadn’t made it very far. I saw the dogs crash through the windows, I got pecked to death by crows in the art gallery, I got crushed by the ceiling...but that was about it. And that was more than enough to get me wondering about what other horrific secrets the Spencer Mansion held.
I popped into and out of the series over the years, most notably when the first game was remade for the GameCube, and my appreciation has grown consistently. I think it says a lot that the original game, which scared me and angered me and frustrated me, still kept me coming back for more.
3) When did you pitch Resident Evil to Boss Fight? Describe what the process was like and how long it took from pitch to final product
I pitched in early 2018, and if I remember correctly it was accepted and I signed the contract in May of that year. Gabe, the head of Boss Fight Books, called me and we chatted about the pitch, about what he was looking for, about timelines and so on. He believed in this book from the start and that was a big source of encouragement.
The first draft, which was extremely rough and mainly consisted of me getting everything on paper that I wanted to flesh out and cover properly, took me a couple of months. From there it was a lot of fact finding, rewriting, discovering new directions for the book to take, and working with Michael P. Williams, Boss Fight’s superhuman researcher. He’d help me dig up just about anything I needed, and he’d do it in the blink of an eye. I’m pretty sure he’s part robot but I don’t want to rat him out. He and I spent probably a year going back and forth on drafts and concepts, and anything I did he was able to find a way to elevate it. I’d take something as far as I could take it, and he’d push me just a bit further. It was a remarkably beneficial relationship.
We landed on a “finished” draft in January of this year, I think, and it's just been a matter of polishing and refining it since.
4) What can readers expect from your take on the source material?
They can expect to be taken on a journey from frustration through begrudging admiration all the way to genuine love. I try to use the game’s trip through the Spencer Mansion as a way of tracing the development of my own understanding of horror in general. It’s amazing how instructive that game can be. Lots of folks remember it for its sillier moments, and that’s completely fair. The game gets quite silly many times over. But if you’re willing to push a little further and look at what it’s actually doing, how it’s accomplishing its particular goals, it’s often masterful. And that’s what the book does. It walks you through all of these moments like little exhibits, and we take a fun little journey of love and understanding together.
5) Resident Evil is an incredibly popular, and long running, series. What will make your book stand out against other creators who have also produced articles and videos about the game? Are there perhaps any teases you can let us in on?
It’s funny, because it seems like so many people discuss the game and the series, but everybody’s point of view is unique. If you watch 50 videos about Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man, you’ll hear a lot of repetition. That isn’t really the case with Resident Evil. The Sphere Hunter will do these great, personal reflections that are just bursting with love and heart. Avalanche Reviews will do a more detached retrospective with an emphasis on technical performance and the game’s ports. SinglePlayerNacho will do an entire lore video about a corpse you find on the floor that isn’t there when you come back. Dante Ravioli will do a video in which he sees if he can kill the chainsaw man with an egg.
My point is that Resident Evil, for whatever reason, is so vastly open to interpretation that new voices nearly always have new things to say. I love everybody I listed above, and my discussion of the game is also nothing like theirs. I approach it as someone who has grown to love horror – the best and worst of horror – over the years. I critique it and analyze its blocking and direction the way I would a film. I even track down the actors and voice actors who made Resident Evil the closest thing to a playable horror film we’d ever had, so that I could construct for the first time the complete story of those recording sessions. That’s something else the book offers that I don’t think any video or article can: comprehensiveness. You get the entire story in one place, and I’m honored I am able to provide that.
As far as teases go, and what also sets this book apart from any other video or article, is the fact that it contains interviews – consisting almost exclusively of new information – with nearly every known actor and voice actor in the game. There are two sad exceptions: one who passed away and one who declined to be interviewed. But otherwise, this is the most complete story we as fans have ever had about Resident Evil's notorious performances.
6) What were some of the more challenging things to research while writing Resident Evil?
This might be an even better question than you realize! There is so much misinformation about this game on the internet. Constantly I would stumble across something that seemed interesting, and I’d try to validate it as fact. So I’d go backward from wherever I found it, trace it through various repetitions over the years, and discover that it originated as someone’s theory on some long-dead web forum. It was never a fact to begin with, but people read it, repeated it, and now they “know” it, even though it’s not true. That was profoundly frustrating for me, and I wasn’t alone. When I interviewed the actors from the game, they took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions themselves.
Part of this is due to the era in which the game was released; video games were still not taken seriously, and the haunted-mansion zombie game wasn’t going to buck that trend. A lot of definitive records of the development process simply don’t exist because nobody cared enough to keep them. That’s okay, but I think we as people and fans do have a responsibility to separate fact from fiction when we write about the game. Perpetuating fictions does a lot of harm to the folks trying to piece together the facts.
7) Will your book mostly look at the 1996 original, or will it also touch upon the beloved 2002 remake?
Mainly about the original, but I definitely wanted to drill into bits of the remake as well. I think the remake is a genuinely fascinating game in its own right, and the Lisa Trevor stuff is still, to this day, my favorite thing in the entire franchise. It takes something that was touched upon in the original (“These monsters were once real people. See? Here’s someone’s diary…”) and brings it to the saddest, scariest, most unnerving extreme. It’s not just good for a horror game; it’s good horror period.
8) Finally, where can people find your work on the internet, and is there a proposed release window for Resident Evil?
The book is finished, so anyone who pre-orders it through the Kickstarter can expect to receive it in August. There’s the standard COVID caveat that things could change in the interim, but the book is as ready as it can be prior to printing and distribution!
You can find my work at TripleJump on YouTube, where I write for the two funniest guys on the internet. I also have my own site at noiselesschatter.com, which is full of critical essays about film, games, books, and every episode of ALF.