Harry Mason has been looking for his daughter at the mercy of someone else’s demons for twenty solid years today. This was foretold by gyromancy!
Being my favourite disturbing influence, I had to do a mini-special for Silent Hill‘s landmark birthday on the good parts, the bad parts, the books that it brought me to and influence on my own work. Which is more than Konami will do for their own series today, I promise you that.
I know it’s a series that ended rather unceremoniously some time ago, but its impact makes it the only one I will draw something specifically for for its anniversary.
What’s scarier, Silent Hill or the fact that 1999 was twenty years ago? Yeah, pretty much nobody born in the 90’s is in school anymore. That’s… bamboozling for some reason, and I didn’t really get to experience the 90’s save for the tail-end.
Anyway. I don’t want to go into a boring essay – there have been dissections upon discussions upon dissertations on the series and its symbolism for years. The series is old enough to buy cigarettes on its own now, so there ought to be by this point! So don’t worry, this won’t be that. Just an almost-short dedication to a really phenomenal series with a handful of recommendations.
Silent Hill is based heavily around literature, both English and Japanese, as well as a couple of darker films like Jacob’s Ladder. There are numerous references to Shakespeare, Stephen King, and contemporary writers like Richard Matheson and Andrew Vachss. One creepy creature that stands out from the series is based off of Caliban from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, a man who is half-human and half-beast.
SH brought me to the discovery of my current favourite author a couple of years ago when I got into the series. The entire insane plotline of the fourth SH, which revolves around a serial killer obsessed with his mother and a hermit who finds himself in the killer’s mind, is based on the novel Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami.
The similarities aren’t… incredibly apparent, other than both are based around two men who are close through isolation but end up taking opposing paths, though both paths lead to bad places.
In the novel, they are brothers who have an obsessive hatred for their mothers who abandoned them to die at birth – one becomes a criminal and murderer while the other loses his mind after feeling alone all of his life, even after he becomes a famous musician. In the game, they are a man abused as a child by a religious cult who becomes a fanatic and murderer, and a recluse who may be beginning to lose his mind being trapped in isolation for so long with this murderer.
I recommend the living crap out of the novel, and the game too if it’s your thing.
Where to start? Well, both the human and non-human characters are incredibly memorable and believable, if sometimes a little underdeveloped. I want to note the realism of the female characters, too – something that I don’t feel gets enough credit. Video games at the time hardly bothered to flesh out anybody, but especially not women characters. Silent Hill did.
There’s a huge range of moralities and viewpoints too, from characters with a good facade but insidious intentions like Claudia and James, to characters whose moral compass is pretty much broken. Eddie is a good example – who seems to be disgusted by death… unless it’s somebody who made fun of him, in which case he has no problem killing them himself.
Oh, and of course the design is typically fantastic and fun, but that’s a given. Some entries are more entertaining than others. I personally think 3 and Shattered Memories are the ones that stand out as being just more fun than the others. SH4 would be my favourite, but it can be frustrating and leave a strangely bitter feeling in your gut.
Which Game To Recommend for a Newcomer?
It would depend on your tastes! If you don’t even like video games, I recommend either the first movie, the soundtracks or the Silent Hill Wiki, an entertaining blog that has several analyses of the plot, which is quite novel-like by itself.
If you like horror but hate gore, then Shattered Memories would be a good one. It’s a relatively bloodless remake of the first one that is mostly exploration and drama.
If you’re more occult, gruesome horror then 1 and 3, and if you like psychological horror then 2. I personally like the surrealism and intensity of SH4: The Room, even though it shares a name with Tommy Wiseau’s beloved masterpiece.
Are the Movies and Comics Any Good?
The short answer? Almost.
One of the two film adaptations is watchable, that being the 2006 adaptation of the first Silent Hill. It’s not a masterpiece story-wise, but I love the film’s ambience and the acting and design are solid. I really enjoy the 2006 movie, personally. If you’re into filmmaking arts in any way, you ought to check out the mini-documentary on how they made the effects in this film. It’s extremely cool.
A thing I don’t like is the demonic fictional cult from the original series is replaced with a generic pseudo-Christian extremist cult, which has been done in. every. single. horror. movie. and it’s a tired stereotype. The Order is a fascinating set of characters and the actors in the movie do a good job, but the story changes ruin their purpose and motive as central antagonists, even if a cult grounded more in real religions might have been a better choice.
The movie’s Order seems more like on a normal day you’d find them handing out obnoxious flyers in a parking lot instead of, you know… raising the devil, sacrificing people, and feeding human remains to orphans like they did in the series. But whatever, nevermind.
The sequel Revelations is so, so, so bad that I only recommend it as a comedy. I want to say it’s disgraceful to the visceral beauty and solid writing of the game it’s based off of, but I really can’t care enough to bother. Revelations is hilarious, at least if not good in any definition.
The comics are okay. I did a brief review on all of them that really needs to be retouched but you’d get the point – part one and part two here. I think that creators of Silent Hill spinoffs miss the entire point of the series far too often. They have a frequent disregard for the human cast that makes it what it is. There are monsters, sure, but the humans are always the real monsters in a series with such a fog of grey morality. No pun intended. Which brings me to…
I kiss Silent Hill’s butt, I know. I admit it. But nothing’s perfect. Later entries towards the franchise’s death were super aimless. It’s really difficult to recommend to people, being an old creepy-looking video game with schizophrenic consistency, and that doesn’t seem to have a huge mainstream appeal.
The first SH has not aged completely well. It looks pleasant for its time, but the dialogue is memetically absurd and often sounds silly now.
“I’VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU. IT WAS FORETOLD BY GYROMANCY.” – Silent Hill
Like I said, some people who have worked on it in recent years seem to have totally forgotten that it has (or used to have) a consistent plot and characters, and a reason for everything in it. Either that or they forget it’s supposed to be psychological horror and HERE’S ANOTHER JUMP SCARE. Ugh.
Oh yeah, and the publisher apparently hates the series and its fans with extreme passion and spite. That’s a pretty infamous negative point.
An Innovator of Horror
What more can I say, really? SH is something that makes one want to create, and even though it’s no longer going I’m glad it’s stuck around as a pop culture icon. Surreal fiction of any level of darkness does not often get that chance, and if it in were any other medium, SH might not have either.
As divisive as they can be, video games can be used to tell an amazing story, and Silent Hill is something of a rare phenomenon that really was and is an experience all its own that nobody has quite been able to replicate.
It used the “limits” of its medium to breed a visceral, visual representation of what mental illness is like, what depression and anxiety can turn into, what the effects on abuse on someone could be like even years after, and what fears that you can’t put into sensible words are like. They are like being lost in a hostile place that ought to be safe, and it is… for everybody but yourself.
Making something that is even a little comparable to what SH has made is one of my primary goals with darker fiction that I plan to write or are in the midst of writing. There’s just something about it that’s made it last.