Few games in the history of video games has inspired as much dread and speculation as Konami’s “Silent Hill” franchise. Created by horror enthusiast Keiichiro Toyama in 1999, the game, along with Sega’s “Resident Evil,” birthed a new genre of video game known as survival horror. Games like “Five Nights at Freddy’s” can trace their roots to the fog-bound town of Silent Hill. What makes the games so scary are the nightmarish creatures you’re forced to fight or flee from, and the best known is the knife-wielding terror called Pyramid Head.
But the roster of Silent Hill’s monsters is both enormous and terrifying. Aside from the notoriously unstoppable Pyramid Head, the town is littered with other abominations. And there are more to these monsters than meets the eye. Today, take a closer look at the symbolism behind Pyramid Head and some of the most famous of Silent Hill’s monsters.
Symbolism and Terror of the Psyche
One of the things that sets the “Silent Hill” series apart from other horror games is the amount of symbolism and thought that goes not just into the monster’s designs but also their function in the game. This is one of the reasons the game has garnered praise from audiences and even academic studies into its meaning. Unlike weapons-filled zombie apocalypse scenarios where the protagonists only contend with hordes of foes, the horror of “Silent Hill” stems from the protagonists confronting physical and monstrous manifestations of their guilt and fear.
The first game follows Harry Mason as he encounters monsters representing the main villain’s own terrors. The second game features Pyramid Head, but the gory butcher is just one of the manifestations of the guilt-riddled psyche of James Sunderland. Similarly, Heather in “Silent Hill 3” has to confront her own versions of Silent Hill’s monsters, including the enigmatic Valtiel.
But what do the most famous Silent Hill monsters represent? What facet of fear did they evoke?
Examine a rogue’s gallery of the fog-shrouded town’s most infamous denizens, such as Silent Hill’s nurses and Pyramid Head.
Few nightmares in video game history has as much gravitas and evokes such silent dread as Pyramid Head. In terms of design, Pyramid Head is actually one of the more human-like of Silent Hill’s monsters. A tall, pale man streaked with gore and wearing a blood-splattered leather apron, he also drags along the enormous Great Knife, basically a knife a hundred times its normal size.
But what marks him as obviously inhuman is his head. From the neck up, the creature’s head is replaced by a huge rusty metal pyramid that’s just as large as his torso. Pyramid Head relentlessly pursues the protagonist of “Silent Hill 2”, James Sunderland.
Facet of Fear:
Pyramid Head represents James’ darkest secret. James’ main driving force is to search for his wife in Silent Hill, however, he is really in deep denial of what he actually did. Mary was suffering from a terminal illness and was in constant pain. She also verbally abused James in her agony. To end her torment and alleviate his own condition, James smothered her to death.
Pyramid Head is the ultimate expression of James’ guilt, hounding him constantly across the fog-shrouded town. Pyramid Head is repelled three times during the game, but never defeated. In fact, the game ends with Pyramid Head cornering James and James accepting his guilt.
Pyramid Head is the most famous of Silent Hill’s monsters. He’s appeared in the first movie and has an extended fight scene in “Silent Hill: Revelations.” He made a cameo appearance in “Silent Hill: Homecoming” and in the joke ending of “Silent Hill: Downpour.” Pyramid Head has even made appearances in other games, most notably in the multiplayer survival horror game “Dead by Daylight.”
Silent Hill Nurses
The second most recurring type of monsters in the games are the notorious Silent Hill nurses. These abominable healthcare monstrosities have appeared in all “Silent Hill” games, rivaling Pyramid Head in fame. Each time they surface, their appearance varies. In the first game, the Silent Hill nurses look just like regular nurses but with enormous parasites weighing them down. But the most famous of these nurses are the bubble-headed samples encountered by James Sunderland in the second game. These distorted women wear very sexualized nurse’s outfits that display their grotesquely twitching and bubbling faces. They wield long metal pipes as weapons, which is important in their representation.
Facet of Fear
Silent Hill nurses embody the ever-pervasive fear of being hospitalized and subjected to medical procedures. However, they also embody fear of sexualization or repressed frustrations. In the first game, the main villain was hospitalized and surrounded by nurses who were lackeys of a nefarious organization, hence the parasites. In the second game, they represent James’ resentment over the lack of sexual intimacy he received from his terminally ill wife, hence their skimpy outfit and elongated rigid weapons.
Silent Hill nurses are so iconic they have appeared in all the games, outnumbering Pyramid Head’s own appearances. They also appeared in both film adaptations and in several time-in comics. The creepy nurses are also regularly portrayed by cosplayers around the world.
The protagonist of “Silent Hill 3” is Heather, a girl seeking answers and to escape the fog-shrouded town. Throughout her ordeal, she constantly encounters terrifying glimpses of a creature known as Valtiel. Unlike Pyramid Head, this monster isn’t actively hunting Heather. Rather, it’s keeping an eye on her and will drag her body during her death scene animations. As protectors go, Valtiel is nightmarish in appearance. A gaunt blood-streaked monstrosity larger than a man, Valtiel’s face rapidly twitches and vibrates, obscuring the fact that is has no face at all save for crude stitches. The fact that it has some sort of connection to Pyramid Head and is known as the attendant to Silent Hill’s dread God also do not help.
Facet of Fear:
Unlike many of Silent Hill’s monsters, this creature is unique in the sense that it is completely alien. Valtiel represents no character’s inner demons but rather acts as an extension to the will of the Order’s God, who manifests later in the game. The God itself represents something quite brutally, namely unwanted pregnancy and the terror that brings to the unprepared. Valtiel, on the other hand, acts merely as its attendant. Its name also evokes “valet,” fitting for a literally faceless servitor of a dread being. These alien features only serve to make Valtiel even more terrifying.
Valtiel is the exact opposite of Silent Hill nurses, appearing in limited media. Outside of Silent Hill 3, this creature appeared as a sculpture in “Silent Hill: Revelations.”
“Silent Hill: Homecoming” deviates from the usual fare by introducing creatures that are manifestations of sins of characters that aren’t the main protagonists. Asphyxia is a horrifying creature manifested by a murderer who suffocated her own daughter to appease their god. It appears as a centipede-like abomination of grotesquely attached female torsos, with dozens of arms and hands serving as legs. A final pair of hands literally smothers Asphyxia’s face.
Facet of Fear:
Asphyxia, strangely enough, does not harm the person manifesting it. Although the monster represents a woman’s chilling sacrifice of her own daughter, Asphyxia works for the murderer, attacking the main protagonist. This represents how self-serving the villain’s memories are, that even when confronted by the fact that she willingly sacrificed her daughter, she’s still convinced it was the right thing to do.
Asphyxia, although certainly as memorable as Valtiel or Pyramid Head, appears only in one entry of the series. However, it remains one of the most disturbing and chilling of Silent Hill’s monsters.
Whenever anyone talks about Silent Hill, they will inevitably bring up two things: Silent Hill’s monsters and the fog that gives the game its distinct ambience. It chokes the game, potentially hiding monsters, disorientating the player and makes the entire game even more menacing than it already is. The reason for the fog actually stems from rendering limitations. The developers of Silent Hill needed to hide the fact that the world was being built or rendered by the program as the player walked about. This is known as development fog and was pretty standard in the games back then. The developers incorporated the fog into the story instead. The fog is arguably one of the most unique aspects of the games.
Facet of Fear:
Simply put, the fog represents and enforces fear of the unknown. Neither the player nor the character can see very far, and the fog shrouds obstacles, monsters and hide important resources. In-game, the fog represents souls trapped in the other world, adding the mystery and terror of death to the symbolism.
Since development fog is so prevalent in video games, almost every horror game that includes fog can be said to emulate the fog from Silent Hill. However, the game itself borrows the concept of a fog-shrouded town from real life, although the circumstances were considerably more terrifying. The idea of Pyramid Head’s hunting grounds came from the tragedy of Centralia, a small town in Pennsylvania that was abandoned after a coal seam in a nearby mine caught fire, causing a smoking conflagration that has been burning for more than 50 years.
Silent Hill’s monsters and unique gameplay changed the face of horror video games. Multiple game, such as “The Evil Within” or potential Left 4 Dead sequels have all aped or emulated its approach to horror in one way or another. But no matter how hard these games try, no one will be able to evoke the gut-churning terror of Silent Hill nurses wailing as they approach or the visceral fear of the sound of Pyramid Head’s Great Knife scraping on the floor. Here’s to hoping that the next great survival horror game is just around a fog-shrouded corner.