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Focus on the Frightful: Why Is Silent Hill Scary?

I love the Silent Hill series. I could easily talk about it for days hours. The better games in the series have a lot of layers and depth to them. I even watch Silent Hill: Revelation. True, it’s jut to mock it but it’s still a good hate watch.

But what is it about Silent Hill that’s scary? I’m talking about the town of Silent Hill itself. Particularly as presented in Silent Hill 2. If you like games with layer and depth then you absolutely need to play Silent Hill 2. I’ll be going somewhat into the plot and characters of Silent Hill 2 because it’s necessary to understand what is so damn terrifying about the town.

So, from here on out, there will be massive spoilers for the game. Also, Trigger Warnings for suicide, sexual abuse, murder, euthanasia, and bullying.

Silent Hill game cover

The Characters

There are four main characters in Silent Hill 2: James, Angela, Eddie and Laura. You play as James. James believes his wife died three years ago of an unnamed disease. But. He received a letter from her, asking him to come to Silent Hill.

James

Mary's letter from Silent Hill - In my restless dreams I see that town, Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday. But you never did. Well, I'm alone there now...

As James you fight and puzzle your way through the horrors of Silent Hill to reunite with Mary. After climbing through abandoned apartment buildings, dark hospitals and a wet, dank Civil War prison you finally get to the Lakeview Hotel. You’ve suffered with James. You want him to find Mary, want her to be alive. By this time, however, you’re pretty sure that something’s not right. The things you’ve heard, seen and talked with people about show you that perhaps James’ perception is skewed. At this time in the game I was fully prepared for James to realize that Mary was, in fact, dead. What I was not prepared for, however, was that James murdered Mary. It’s revealed through videotape that James smothered Mary with a pillow.

As the absolutely beautiful music by Akira Yamaoka played, I sat there as stunned as James was. It was the first time a game had pulled the rug out from under me so thoroughly. Most games up until that time were pretty clearly defined. You were clearly the hero or an anti-hero.

Silent Hill 2 - James sitting in a chair

And, by the end of the game, you realize James’ motivations. They’re understandable. They were to me at the time and even more so the older I’ve gotten. This murder did not take place in Silent Hill. James was called there by his guilt and self-deception.

But to really understand the horror of the town and what it does I’ll need to tell you about Angela and Eddie’s stories, as well.

Angela

Angela in the fog

When you first meet Angela in Silent Hill she’s in a cemetery. She says she’s looking for her mother. She says that “she hasn’t seen her in so long” and sounds very wistful. She warns you about the town, there’s something wrong with it and gets very defensive when you just say “Ok”. You leave her there, amongst the graves, and continue your own journey.

You meet her again in the apartment buildings. Her demeanor is drastically different. She is lying on the floor, staring at a knife and seems to lack the motivation/energy to get off the floor. It’s pretty clear that she’s contemplating suicide. After a brief, strange (on both sides) exchange with her you ask her what she plans to do with the knife. She offers it to you, because she’s afraid of what she will do if she keeps it in her possession. It also appears to have bloodstains on it. The stains will be explained a bit more later.

As she hands it to you she gets panicky and says that she’s sorry and that she’s “been bad“. Then she abruptly leaves the room.

You don’t see her again until much later in the game. Leading up to the room you find her in you, in the Labyrinth area, find a paper on the floor detailing the murder of a man named Thomas Orosco, Angela’s father. The paper says that he died of multiple stab wounds to the neck. There was no sign of forced entry and no money was stolen. The police assumed it was a crime of passion.

From the hall you can hear Angela scream in terror “No, Daddy!” and when you enter the room, it’s…pretty obvious what the symbolism of it is supposed to represent. There are pistons thrusting in and out of the flesh colored wall and the monster inside is called the Abstract Daddy. It’s called the Abstract Daddy because James only sees a representation of what Angela is seeing. It’s obvious that she is seeing something that strikes terror into her very heart and soul.

Abstract Daddy, Silent Hill 2

James defeats the monster and Angela loses it on the creature, smashing it with a tv and kicking it. Afterwards, when James tries to help her stand up she freaks out on him, saying that she knows what he wants, guys only want one thing. Or James could “just take it, beat her up like he always did.” She then obviously knows a bit about James’ story, as well. Which raises the suggestion that the stories and ‘dimensions’ overlap.

Your last encounter with her is in the Lakeview Hotel, after James has learned the truth about himself. She is standing between two skinned figures on the wall. At first she mistakes James for her mother but then realizes her mistake. She tells James that she wished he had left her to die and asks for the knife back. He refuses. She asks, very sarcastically, if he’ll save her, heal all her wounds? James doesn’t answer but responds that it’s hot as hell (referencing the fire). She’s surprised that he can see it. She walks up the staircase, presumably to her death.

Angela’s story is sad and tragic. The town reflected her worst thoughts back to her and she couldn’t bear up under her (misplaced) guilt about the sexual abuse. I will be mentioning her again, a little later.

But to wrap up the characters, for now, we’ll move on to Eddie.

Eddie Dombrowski

Eddie

Eddie’s story is a bit simpler, but no less sad. He was bullied in school. After leaving school his bully would frequent the place he worked and torment Eddie. Before arriving in Silent Hill, Eddie shot the bully’s dog and, when the owner came after him, shot his knee.

You first meet Eddie in the apartments, as well. There is a room with a dead body in it and your first moments talking to Eddie are when he’s throwing up into a toilet. Lovely. He claims off the bat that he didn’t kill the guy. Which is a bit suspicious of a declaration.

Each time you run into Eddie, it’s clear that he’s sinking farther and farther into violence and madness. Until your encounters culminate in pitched gun battle with Eddie, ending with killing him. You really have to dig for Eddie’s story and listen to dialogue to get his backstory. But it’s a story of a man so beaten down that he turns into the very thing that created him.

Small Sci-Fi and Scary Divider

So, why did I tell you this? because it shows what the town does. Or, rather, what it doesn’t do, but what it is. It makes no judgements. It takes no retribution. it’s just there. What you see there is what you ring to it. Your own guilt, madness, fears and pain. It holds it up to you and reflects yourself back at you. And I honestly can’t think of anything more terrifying than that. To be trapped in a town where the only things attacking me are myself and my own fears and weaknesses? I can’t think of anything more horrifying.

Published inFocus on the Frightful

One Comment

  1. Oooh- now I really wanna watch a let’s play of it. I remember having watched let’s plays of Silent Hill revelations, downpour and the 3rd one in the amusement park.. Downpour has always been my favorite and i’ve watched different people play it atleast 10times XD I just love all the sidequests and how each persons play it differently.

    totally agreeing with you ! facing your own darkness is the worst, many times in the game the player see something that’s actually not what it seemed at all..

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