It is eerily silent. A chill runs through you as you navigate the darkened streets, illuminated only by the pocket flashlight that is clipped to your jacket. Beside it hangs a radio, near death, barely sputtering an ambient static. Thick fog is as far as the eye can see, and the temperature is unusually cold for this time of year. You make out a building ahead – Alchemilla Hospital, the sign reads. It has been long abandoned. You duck inside, taking cover from the cold, the fog. The inside of the hospital is no less frightening than the streets outside. Rust covers everything, and the silence is deafening. The telephone behind the front desk does not even utter a dial tone, and flicking the light switches do nothing. Suddenly, you hear what sounds like a rattling breath. The ambient buzzing of your radio begins to crackle, louder and louder. Only your hand moves, searching for anything to defend yourself with. The rest of your body is frozen in sheer terror. You grasp something hard – a rusted metal pipe. The breathing draws nearer and nearer until it is directly behind you. You swing – and you connect. With what, however, you do not know. It shrieks like a dying animal, and you do not wait to find out what it was. The hospital is merely a memory as you dart from it, pipe in hand, into the thick, unending fog.
You have entered the hell that we have all come to know as Silent Hill.
Silent Hill, however, is more than just a collection of video games. It is a pioneer of survival horror, serving as a catalyst for the video game genre, fledgling in the industry up until this point. Resident Evil was the poster child for Americanized horror, full of guns and hero-type main characters. Silent Hill, on the other hand, explored a whole new territory. Rather than jump scares and zombies, Silent Hill takes a step back and analyzes true fear, deep and psychological, the kind of fear that only our own minds can create. Silent Hill gives the player a main character they can truly relate to – the player is the main character, in one way or another. Harry Mason, protagonist for the inaugural Silent Hill, crashes his Jeep just inside the town of Silent Hill while driving there for a father-daughter vacation. When he awakens from the crash, daughter Cheryl has gone missing, leaving Harry no other choice but to brave the fog and search for his child. Harry was your run-of-the-mill, average, every day dad. A character that we as run-of-the-mill, every day people can relate to. Having the main character be someone so ordinary strikes that much more fear into the heart of the gamer. We are literally being put into the shoes of someone that is just like us.
The game came to fruition at the hands of Team Silent, a ragtag band of developers who were….well, for lack of a better word, failures. The team had individually worked on several other projects that never took off, and they all intended to leave Konami before the debut and success of Silent Hill.Though fans of the series tend to see Team Silent as one large homogenous group, only Akira Yamaoka, Hiroyuki Owaku, and Masahiro Ito were fixtures for the duration of Team Silent. During the initial development of Silent Hill, Konami pushed for a big Hollywood feel, until eventually losing interest in the project and leaving all decisions up to Team Silent. They opted to scrap the Hollywood slant, the flashiness, the in-your-face horrors, and instead used the human psyche as the enemy. Silent Hill captured that it isn’t always a hulking monster, but the demons within that haunt us to the core. The team drew inspiration for the town of Silent Hill from American horror fiction, a dab of Japanese folklore, and your typical rural town USA.
The popularity of the Silent Hill franchise continued to grow as Team Silent released three more tiles to their flagship game, until Konami disbanded the group after the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room in 2004. By this point, Silent Hill had grown to more than simply a video game franchise – horror buffs of all kinds had taken an interest in the demonic town, one such horror buff being Christohpe Gans. The director, relatively unknown to American moviegoers at the time, was a fan of the game series, particularly Silent Hill 2 (he has said James Sunderland, the protagonist of Silent Hill 2, is his favorite character). He expressed interest in creating a film adaptation of Silent Hill, though Konami was reluctant to give rights up, until he created a 30-minute video describing his love of the series and his vision for the film. He was given the green light and immediately began work on the project. The film was inspired by all four Silent Hill titles released up to that point, though the plot was mainly derived from the original Silent Hill. Gans made the decision to change the lead role from male to female to add vulnerability, which was a bigger draw for film audiences. He hand-picked the actors, having stated that Sean Bean was offered the role of Christopher De Silva, the re-imagining of Harry Mason, due to his resemblance to James Sunderland.
The town of Silent Hill in the film was based around the real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a true American ghost town. Centralia has had a mine fire burning underneath the city since 1962, and the town only has seven residents left. Falling ash replaced the unseasonable snow from the original Silent Hill game, and this, in combination with several smaller plot changes, gave us the film version of Silent Hill. A second film, Silent Hill: Revelations, followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, though Gans did not return for the second film, based around Silent Hill 3. Silent Hill mania didn’t stop there, however. The popularity of the franchise has remained a constant, even leading to the famed Hollywood Horror Nights featuring a Silent Hill house in its 2012 season.
Though the games have changed over the years, the love of this terrifying world continues to grow. The world of Silent Hill will always hold a special place, and I eagerly await to see where the series will continue to go from here, whether it be official games through Konami, fan-made masterpieces, or simply a conversation about this sacred, fear-inducing place with a friend…
“In my restless dreams, I see that town. I’m alone there now…In our “special place”, waiting for you…”