Fear formula or why Silent Hill 2 would eat Silent Hill HD

Silent Hill

Look at us, James. Look at what we’ve become. Look…

And lo, the sky didst darken
And the Hollywood machine did cometh
Belching fire and vomiting blood
The machine didst request from Konami
The bloated carcass that was Silent Hill
And didst slowly begin devouring it
Grinding its bones into gristle in its gears
And excreting its entrails from its exhaust

…and yet more more of Silent Hill’s corpse remained
so the Hollywood machine grabbed a knife and cried:
‘let’s do that again, except in 3D!’
And it didst toss back its many heads and laughed!
(From The Book Of Memories: Passage 5 – The Nick Speaketh)

Contrary to what you may think from reading the above headline and bollocks, I’m not totally against the idea of a second Silent Hill movie. Yes, the first Silent Hill film was more of a train smash of horror tropes and disturbing scenes than a film that told a decent story, but then, so were the first couple of games in the series – and they also happened to be its best entries.

I know there are some fans who will howl and gnash their teeth at me, but one of the reasons I loved Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 wasn’t because they told stories that made sense. They were more about choking atmosphere, disturbing visuals, skewed camera angles, unintuitive controls and deep, unsettling narratives that didn’t need to follow recognisable logic in order to hit home with the impact of a brick bat.

So, the fact that the first Silent Hill film didn’t make any sense at all didn’t phase me. The fact that Pyramid Head was crowbarred into it didn’t bother me at all. And the fact that it offered more atmosphere than logic, I felt, was in keeping with the spirit of the games. The only thing I hated was the flashback exposition at the end – but then, I hate that in every single film it’s used in.

You see, the reason I’m not bothered by Silent Hill the movie – or its impending sequel – is because I really think the games have stopped supplying any juice.

I played the first Silent Hill in a darkened room in Phoenix AZ during the spring of 2000 with the blinds drawn and the AC whacked up to Arctic levels. I remember beginning the game thinking that Cybil, the motorcycle cop looked more than a little like Cameron Diaz. I also remember thinking that radio that started to belch static every time a monster approached owed more than a passing debt to the way the motion scanners in Aliens were used to ratchet up tension. I even found myself wondering if the interior design of the Otherworld was the result of the developers watching a lot of Nine Inch Nails music videos between 1992-1994. I don’t remember much else of the story beyond the fact that it began with a bloke called Harry Mason searching for his daughter.

But this was game that washed over me, scraping my nerve-endings, clawing at my skin. It curled up somewhere in my back brain and refused to budge. By the end, my hands were shaking, my palms were sweating and I was just glad it was all over. Then I had nightmares for a couple of nights afterwards.

….

I don’t talk much about Silent Hill 2. Except to say that it’s the one time – the only time – that the appearance of Pyramid Head and demon nurses made sense within a narrative arch. They’ve featured in Silent Hill games since, but they’ve had no business being there. But I digress…

The first two Silent Hill games terrified me. The third was a worthy entry. The fourth was a flawed, if utterly bold and compelling direction for the series. And then…

…then, well, Silent Hill 4: The Room didn’t sell very well, and so publishers headed back to tried and tested tropes in the series to satisfy the fanbase, and in so doing, made the series far less frightening than it used to be. Since 4, the only Silent Hill game that’s even made a stab at deviating from formula is Shattered Memories – which is brilliant, by the way – and it sold badly too, so it’s a ton to a tenner they won’t deviate again.

And here’s the thing, the moment horror starts to adhere to a formula, it loses its power. If you know what to expect, you are far less likely to be frightened by anything other than jack-in-the-box scare tactics, which are more annoying than actually frightening. If this is the set path for Silent Hill, why not sell its bones to Hollywood, I say. You might as well make some money off its struggling undead cadaver before it stops twitching altogether.

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