Once inside the Castle, a whole new slew of horror conventions confront the gamer. The castle's main hall conjures memories of Tod Browning's Dracula. The Gothic architecture works in conjunction with images of the unholy Los Illuminados cult (to which Salazar and Saddler belong) to play on various generic motifs.
We learn that Las Plagas were released from underground. This, coupled with scenes of Leon battling giant bug-like creatures in the sewer, emphasizes the theme of a rotten foundation, or bad land, below the Castle - a common part of many horror staples, including The Black Cat and, more recently, Poltergeist.
The Island setting is straight technological horror. It is here that Saddler's experimentation with Las Plagas is revealed, as Leon must dispatch the seemingly invincible Regenerators. The dangers of technology are addressed in many horror films (see any Cronenberg film), which manifest as Leon passes through laboratory areas with half-finished experiments and esoteric, threatening devices.
Perhaps the most important change made in the game mechanics of RE4 was fixing the camera behind Leon, providing a tight third-person shot through which the player could experience the action. Through this move, Leon has become every protagonist from every horror film ever made. He is the lone survivor; steadily trudging into the dark when all our instincts tell us it's a bad idea. And as the player, it is actually us proceeding into the dark, receiving (when we're not getting beheaded) our genre pleasure.
Genre is a tool that both informs and drives our understanding of a text. In film, this practice has been commonplace since the 1960s, but as RE4 demonstrates, genre has its part to play in videogames, as well. By utilizing the economy of shared genre conventions, Capcom was able to create the highest achievement in survival/horror.
Films from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu to Devil's Rejects and Hostel allow audiences to face their fears, but games demand more. In RE4, we become Leon as we move into an unknown world filled with unspeakable evils. The powers that drive Lord Saddler lurk in all of us, somewhere below the surface waiting to be awoken like Las Plagas. Wielding a Punisher or Riot Gun, all we can do is battle back, allowing ourselves a glimpse of the repressed, but no more. We might buy the game for the fright, but we don't receive our true genre pleasure until the sun rises on a new, peaceful day and evil has been laid to rest once again.
Jon Schnaars is a freelance writer with interests in genre and representation in gaming. He blogs full-time about issues in psychology and mental health for Treatment Online.