Silent Hill

December 21, 2014

SH 0 - title picture…art thou player or audience?


If there are any gamers out there, you might be familiar with these cryptic words and recognize them as a part of the lyrics that can be heard throughout a specific moment in Silent Hill 3. The song and its riddle aside, I want to present to you something maybe a bit odd. But you’ll learn to know me through these oddities.

Not long ago, I wrote about the story in the original The Crow comics and movie; I shall now write about the story proposed by a video game: Silent Hill (1 and 2 especially, and maybe a bit of 3, plus the two movies). I’m not sure how many of you know this game, but I assure you the story is very elaborate, well thought-out, presented gradually and quite astounding, leaving aside various tropes and cliches that you will inevitably encounter throughout the gameplay. I shall not make a review, I am only interested in presenting to you a very bizzare and yet captivating story. Especially its mythology.

And yes… this is a tragedy as well (from my point of view), which means you should probably have a quick read of at least the first part of my post on The Crow (where I explain about tragedies). In Silent Hill you also have the perfect set-up: an innocent soul has been damned through no fault of its own. Then it turned evil and against its tormentors, exacting some well deserved punishment within some awesomely crafted mythos and story.

But Silent Hill is so much, much more than mere words and plots…


Silent Hill (1) is a survival horror game, released in 1999. The player takes the role of Harry Mason as he is searching for his missing daughter, Cheryl, in the freakish town of Silent Hill. It is apparently abandoned by humans, but inhabited by otherworldy creatures. I will not insist on the gameplay or basic plot, as I want to point out only the very interesting imaginary mythology that that game is based upon. The story of Silent Hill 1is continued in the third game, when Cheryl grows up and is forced to return to this nightmare town to deal with a mysterious cult. The second game installment, however, has a very different plot, as it concernes James Sunderland who came to the same town to search for his wife. His… dead wife. Silent Hill 2 is very famous for how it slowly uncoveres the story of James repressed guilt… for he is the one who killed his wife and is going through a weird “guilt” trip. There are many sites that can help you fill in the gaps, of which I could recommend Silent Hill Wikia or Wikipedia.

There are also two movies (from 2006 and 2012), presumably the second being (much) worse than the first, though none of them got acclaimed by hardcore fans. They follow the story of the first and third game and they can only be a good beginning if you are a newcomer to the Silent Hill phenomenon, but not an authority by any means. And definitely not good enough to present the rich mythos behind the making of this game.

What I would like to simply describe to you now – so that you hear another story – is the myths that were created for this game. All its SH 4 - another nice end or moviecreators did a great job, but the writers certainly knew what they were doing. I encourage you to find and read the entire set-up, but, in short, it goes like this: long ago, in the area now called Silent Hill, a poweful eldritch force came to settle. It was probably demonic in nature. But the natives called this region the hill of silent souls and proceeded to settle in nonetheless. In modern times, their followers formed an obscure cult. It worships some sort of deity (that has its own “legends”) and would like to see it manifest itself in reality. But for that, it needs a body. So they chose a special girl who would have been meant to grow inside her the child that would embody this entity. This child was Alessa and the process of incubation was painful, tearing her apart. She realized the evil that could grow inside her and decided to stop it. She split her soul in half so that the demon could not manifest itself: the good part formed a new baby that was sent away from the town, and the evil part remained with the imprisoned evil entity, suffering in the depths of Silent Hill. Years later, these halves would be reunited. The good part, now named Cheryl, would return to the town to finish what was started. When the halves reunite, the deity can be born. As the first game goes though, Harry is there to defeat a weak embodiment and rescue Cheryl, leaving the rest of Alessa behind.

This is the basics for Silent Hill 1, the game. The movie copies most of these ideas, except we have Cheryl’s mother instead of Harry, the father, and a few other tweaks. In the movie, Alessa is a vengeful force that wants to punish the cult members who hurt her (because of other reasons). In the game, things are much more complex. Either way, when you get into it, the story is addicting because it has so many layers and symbols and the game has a nice horror rendering to it. Alessa’s tragic story is only a part of it all. The mysterious forces behind her are yet another thing.

For you see, when Harry wanders in the city he encouters freakish creatures that come from Alessa’s thoughts, sufferings and nightmares. They are being animated inside the town with the help of her dreadful powers and it is a recurring theme in all Silent Hill that the monsters you encounter are not gratuitously offered for violence. They mean something. And here is yet another ingenious game device: every monster tells you a story about the character’s individuality. Creatures riddled with diseases and twisted forms remind you of Alessa’s constant pain. And you are *not* helping. No matter how you look at it, the tragedy is touching because you have an innocent soul that was made to suffer beyond its power and still fights the evil. The game is more succeful in showing how Alessa really is and the extent of the cult’s evilness. The movie is more simplistic (Alessa is just falsely accused of witchcraft and burned alive) and basically tells you that if you treat a person badly, it will eventually destroy them from inside and kill them. And then it will kill you.

And, as I explained in The Crow articles, there is a difference between just hurting people and condemning innocent, but weak souls… Corrupted innocence is the real tragedy… eventually, it will attract a most horrendous punishment for everyone involved, victims and executioners alike. The Crow was brought back as a revenant to avenge his death: his enemies were torn to shreds, but he didn’t win a classical happy-end either. Alessa makes Silent Hill a nightmare town forever (the entire franchise has 9 games as of yet), violently striking back at the offending cult in the movie and severly limiting them in the game. She is also never truly saved herself, and the better half of her that runs away is doomed to return to Silent Hill (see third game and second movie). There is no escape.

But there is something sublime in all this, something tragically beautiful and more profound than just blatant morality (avoid evil). We just keep doing it to ourselves and we refuse to see it! It’s not punishment that we should fear, it’s not punishment that destroys a human being. It’s the unrepented evilness itself, the forgotten sin, the unpaid dues – and nothing just goes away! See the movie-Alessa lashing out at the ones who wrongfully burned her inside their own church: she is NOT a righteous or maybe divine punisher, she IS the evil that the cult itself had created due to their own misguided beliefs. Once set loose, this evil will destroy everything and nothing is going to stop it except the bloody deeds (usually revenge) it set out to do for itself. Then, as all evil, it will eventually perish… but at what cost? After how much suffering? This whole new, weird device is a lot more tragic in nature than just your basic classical hero that suffers alone and for his own hybris.

SH 6 movieWhat about Silent Hill 2, that has a rather different plot? Alessa is no longer present in this sequel, but the town itself is now like some weird purgatory that calls to James and forces him to remember his crime: he murdered his wife because he could no longer stand her being seriously sick. All enemies come from the frustrated subconsiousness of James, who repressed all the bad thoughts and guilt of his murder. As he would not ackowledge them, the city simply pours twisted creatures on him until he realises his fault and accepts his fate. And oh yes, this is the game where the famous Pyramid Head makes his appearance as the main city’s executioner. Aaand… a major fan favorite. This monster embodies sex-appeal and the reek of death in very disturbing, yet attractive ways. Valtiel, Cheryl’s weird guardian from the third game should also be mentioned as it is a guardian of life… resembling death. The game franchise produced several memorable horrific creatures, but it all started with these two… and as fans usually go overboard over what they fantasise about, there are even internet pictures showing them together. As in… *together*.


There is not much more to say. I just wanted to present you a very small part of the greatness that the Silent Hill phenomenon represents in the world of (horror) gaming… but also in the land of video/virtual story-making and myth-making. It takes time, but once you get to understand the richness not only of the game plots, but of the mythos behind it all (the background), the series becomes truly amazing. I have a penchant for myths and tragedies and if there are other fans out there, you will enjoy the subtleties of Alessa, the perpetual provocation of Pyramid Head, the myth, the music, the art. The Silent Hill.

Yes, I know it’s very hard to speak about a game’s story: even if you like it, it takes too much time to experience it first-hand (unlike books, music, films) and even if you do find a good internet source, it’s either too short or a play-through… as long as the game itself. But nevertheless, I think Silent Hill is an amazing experience and has continued to inspire me ever since I heard about it.

It is also one of the best Eros & Thanatos modern interpretations that I came across in the last couple of years. Why do you have to add sexual elements to a death-related, horror story? As the game’s creator said, because only then it becomes truly disturbing. No, not disgusting. But deeply, deeply unnerving


For the lyrics that continue this article’s title, check this page.

Silent Hill Theme

Silent Hill 3 – Walk on Vanity Ruins

by Anca-Raluca Sandu

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