The history of movie adaptations in video games is long and filled with flops and cringe-worthy performances, but every once in a while, the genre offers up a flick worth its runtime. Sure, for every cult fave (Silent Hill) and financially-viable franchise (Resident Evil) there are five times as many awful adaptations looking to capitalize off of name recognition (any movie directed by Uwe Boll), but that makes it all the more exciting to find a video game movie that’s actually fun to watch. 1989’s Sweet Home is one such example.
One of the more interesting things about Sweet Home would have to be the fact that, while it is most definitely a video game movie, it is often debated, from a development perspective, which came first: the movie or the game. In fact, the first theatrical trailers for Sweet Home contain footage for the video game alongside scenes from the movie. The movie was released by Toho, the studio behind Godzilla, and the game was produced by Capcom and released for the Nintendo Famicom system, known to western gamers as the NES. Both the game and the movie were never officially released outside of Japan, but that hasn’t stopped fans from dubbing both the movie and the game. Decades later, Sweet Home has managed to turn into somewhat of a cult classic.
Written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sweet Home hit Japanese cinemas on January 21, 1989. The video game, directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, was released on 15 December 1989. While the movie technically came out first, based on the timeline, both projects would have been in development simultaneously. If the names Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Tokuro Fujiwara sound familiar, that would be because both directors have gone on to have extensive and influential careers in their respective fields. Kurosawa went on to direct J-Horror staple Pulse back in 2001. Fujiwara would go on to direct none-other than one of the most iconic video games in the survival horror-genre, Resident Evil, landing himself the number 13 spot on IGN’s list of “Top 100 Game Creators.”
In fact, the first Resident Evil was originally intended as a remake of the Sweet Home video game. At the time of the original game’s development, it was a hallmark of the horror genre, structured as a top-down rpg like the original Zelda and Final Fantasy games. Fujiwara was able to take story elements from Kurosawa’s script and incorporate them into the plot of the game, maintaining character and story elements. Such story elements as the haunted mansion setting and undead opponents would have a direct impact on the development of Resident Evil. Ironically enough, the Resident Evil games would go on to inspire one of the more financially lucrative series of big-screen video game adaptations, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise.
While the legacy of the Sweet Home video game is a bit more obviously fruitful, the movie version stands out as well. The production was able to land American special-effects guru Dick Smith, who’s probably most well-known for his work on the iconic horror film The Exorcist. Taking cues and influences from other keystone examples of the horror genre, such as The Haunting and The Poltergeist, Sweet Home manages to encapsulate a distinctly Japanese take on the ‘80s haunted house subgenre. Parallels can obviously be made between another iconic Japanese haunted house movie, 1977’s Hausu, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi.
While Obayashi’s film is a bit more bonkers and surreal, Kurosawa plays things a bit more straightforwardly. With the passage of time, this approach has left the movie feeling a bit dated and, unfortunately, one of the movie’s star/producers, Juzo Itami, would ultimately re-edit the movie from Kurosawa’s initial theatrical release. Now, the only available version of the movie is the Itami cut. Still, as horror genre website, Bloody Disgusting.com, writes:
“It’s a damn-near injustice that Sweet Home has turned out to be so obscure. It’s quite the entertaining thrill-ride that would excite fans of large-scale 80’s horror. Far removed from the quiet creeping dread of Kurosawa’s later horror efforts, Sweet Home is an unabashedly fun, often comedic, effects riddled haunter. Even gorehounds can get a kick out of this one”
When the conversation comes around to video game movies, Sweet Home is not to be overlooked. Luckily, the entirety of the movie is subtitled and streamable on YouTube, as are various playthroughs of the video game, also translated by fans. It’s rare that a video game and video game movie can both stand on their own. It’s even rarer for a title to have such a huge impact on the horror video game landscape while remaining relatively unknown. If you’re a fan of video game movies, horror movies, Japanese cinema, ‘80s movies, or even just a deep cut to share with your cinefile friends, look no further than Sweet Home.