The Music of ‘Resident Evil’: From Moody to Heavy Metal

Unusually for a series of genre films based on a video game, The “Resident Evil” franchise has retained a consistent look, tone, primary star, and central creative figurehead over the course of six films. Yet musically, the series has hit a number of surprising notes: even as the franchise stays true to its dark and moody aesthetic, its composers have found plenty of room to stretch.

When Paul W.S. Anderson launched the “Resident Evil” film franchise back in 2002, the property already had a well-defined musical lineage with its namesake video games, thanks to the work of composer Masami Ueda in particular. But Anderson opted to go in an entirely different direction for his film. At the time, the director spoke of his love for early John Carpenter music, particularly the aggressive, electronically driven scores for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “The Fog.” He described the ideal soundscape for his adaptation as resembling “early Carpenter, but for the 21st Century. We needed something very different from the straight composer route.”

Appropriately, he turned to industrial rocker Marilyn Manson — making his first, and, to date, only venture into film music — and paired him with the more seasoned maestro Marco Beltrami, hot off his scores for “Scream” and “Mimic.” The two turned in a score that was heavier on atmospherics than melody, to be sure, there was a strong central theme, but the score was more concerned with conveying unease than harmony, with plenty of spooky soundscapes and jagged blasts of synthesized heavy metal guitar.

But for 2004 sequel, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” the series took a different direction yet again. Composed by Jeff Danna, the second installment featured a classically arranged score with plenty of strings and themes, while still retaining the industrial abrasiveness of the first. Listen to the early action cue, “Alice Battles the Nemesis,” and you hear dissonant string arrangements married to a thunderous, high velocity-bpm electronic drumbeat; or “Panic at the Gate,” which balances booming brass riffs with all manner of squeaks, squeals, and other sounds of synthesized terror.

The third entry, “Resident Evil: Extinction,” turned to another industrial rock veteran with a horror pedigree: Charlie Clouser, who put in years as a keyboardist with Nine Inch Nails before scoring for the “Saw” franchise.

The fourth and fifth “Evils” saw some continuity in the scoring department, both handled by transmedia company tomandandy, which kept things firmly in the grim mold of previous entries.

For its upcoming sixth installment, Anderson and Co. will welcome yet another new composer, and judging from his resume, he ought to find the film both perfectly in his wheelhouse, and an opportunity to stretch into some interesting directions. Composing duties for “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” will be shouldered by Paul Haslinger, late of AMC’s similarly zombie-themed “Fear the Walking Dead.” Prior to that gig, the Austrian-born scorer put in plenty of time with both video games and horror films, composing for several installments of the “Underworld” franchise, as well as serving as an arranger for Graeme Revell’s score to “Laura Croft: Tomb Raider,” back when “Evil” was first getting off the ground.

Haslinger’s discography is an intriguing one: prior to working in film, he spent half a decade with electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream, and also has strong bonafides in experimental composition. If any composer can send the franchise out on a high note, Haslinger ought to be more than up to the task.

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