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Massive. As an action horror experience, the Doom series is legendary within gaming, and for good reason. Staggeringly bloody and brutal, particularly for the time of the first game, and dripping with tension and atmosphere, Doom filmed properly could be the new Aliens. Only gorier. And it doesn’t get much better than that.
An epic plot, a terrifying situation in the shape of a remote and lonely space colony beset by the hordes of Hell, and lots of lots of fantastically meaty guns. It should have had gamers and horror fans alike nergasming all over their seats.
What we got
So near and yet so, so far. While we were promised that the Doom movie would be one of the first game movies to take a serious, mature and accurate approach to the adaptation, in truth we only half got that.
Sure, the Doom movie has got a colony overrun by monsters, and some well-armed marines sent in to clean things up, but nearly all the other vital components are missing. It’s pretty bloody (although nowhere near as much as it it should be), but where are all the Doom weapons? Where are all the Doom creatures for that matter? And where the Hell is Hell? Biological contamination is nowhere near as scary, and that key change just about sums up all of the movie’s problems. It’s Doom-lite at best, when it should have been a devastating experience.
If they’d followed the rules
The Doom series, particularly part three, is a collection of dirty, visceral, unapologetic games. They’re about scaring the crap out of the player through isolation, darkness, oppression, and excessive, excessive horror. Alone in a cold and sterile environment with overwhelming numbers of genuinely nasty and disturbing demons for company, the only way out is to grit your teeth and physically tear through every last one of them. Make the movie dark. Make it punishing. Make it unpleasant in the extreme.
Game’s strengths tapped
Doom pumps enough steroids to detonate an elephant through both the action and horror genres. It takes great delight in being fiendishly grim before letting the player fight back with the most gloriously vile and ballsy executions of the Hell-spawn bastards. Those are your hooks. Horrible monsters, dense atmosphere, and massive payback through brutal hardware are what made the second Alien film sing, so follow the game’s model in the movie and the adaptation will work.
The right cast
Doom being a largely lonely experience, there aren’t too many pre-existing characters to work with. The protagonist (AKA Doomguy) is a silent and surly type and aside from a few briefly seen supporting characters in Doom 3 it’s pretty much just him and the demons. So the main issue here is how to populate the film with extra humans without messing things up.
Keeping the cast minimal is the way to go. Too many marines charging around together is one of the things that stripped the original movie of tension, so centre the script largely around Doomguy, keep him gruff and no-nonsense (Ron Perlman would be ideal), and if you bring in back-up for him, keep everyone split up as much as possible. As for keeping the body-count up, introduce various supporting characters littered around the complex every so often, but tear them apart shockingly and without warning to keep the audience on its toes. Doom is about adrenalin, not intricate plot.
The right direction
Having made Aliens, James Cameron is the obvious choice. Ripley’s second bad day is the textbook example of tense sci-fi horror and ticks every box a Doom movie needs to tick. Unfortunately though, Cameron is very slow at getting projects off the ground these days, so we need some other options.
This is where Clive Barker and David Cronenberg come in. Both are unbelievably qualified for this project. Cronenberg made his name by elevating uncompromising splatter to a whole new level, and no-one does harsh viscerality and horror with a twisted theological tint better than Barker. Add his twisted metal and flesh S&M art leanings to Doom’s biomechanical beasts and you’ve got a perfect combination.