Written by Jonathan Wojcik
A Silent Hill Monstrouspective: Part II!
Last time, we went over virtually every creature appearing in the original Silent Hill and talked a bit about their meanings and origins. Now, we come to the second game, actually vastly more famous and more widely recognized. It was Silent Hill 2 which really seemed to put the franchise on the map, for better or for worse, introducing themes, motifs and creatures now central to Silent Hill's brand recognition - even where they don't really belong.
The Story Thus Far...
Silent Hill 2 likely owes its independent popularity to its self-contained nature. No knowledge of the first game is even necessary to understand or enjoy it, the saga of Alessa and the town's cult never directly playing into its all-new storyline. Instead, Silent Hill 2 tells the story of James Sunderland, a man who suddenly receives an invitation to the town signed by his wife, Mary. She tells him she'll be waiting for him in their "special place," something nobody else could have known about, but there's just one problem...
Mary has been dead for years. BOO!
...But seriously, that would be pretty terrifying. Even the most rational explanations you can come up with are still terrifying. James has no real choice but to find out what's really going on and who might really be waiting in their "special place," but as you may have guessed, he finds the town seemingly abandoned...though whether it appears recently, hastily evacuated or sat decaying and neglected for decades can vary with disturbing inconsistency.
James is not, however, completely alone in a crumbling ghost town. Four other people have been drawn inexplicably to Silent Hill, including the nervous and seemingly antisocial Angela Orosco, the violent bully Eddie Dombrowski, an innocent little girl named Laura and the mysterious Maria, a woman who looks remarkably similar to a younger, more idealized Mary...
...And then, there are the monsters. Silent Hill 2 featured far fewer monsters than the first game, which is a pity, but it was sure to make every shuddering apparition really count for something, piling on the symbolism in a fascinating journey through one man's figurative and literal personal demons, such as...
The Lying Figure
The lying figure is often portrayed in artwork - and in the first movie - as smooth and featureless, but a closer look at its in-game model reveals a zipper down the front of its face, like a body bag. This continues into a seam down to its stomach, where its digestive enzymes spew from, and it also appears to have oddly spaced breasts.
While the monsters in the first game were merely manifestations of a child's fears, the monsters in Silent Hill 2 generally have more metaphorical significance, the lying figure seemingly symbolic of death, sickness, and suffocation in both the literal and emotional sense.
The mannequin's design can look at first glance like someone simply took two sets of legs and fused them together, but the monster's in-game model reveals only a single posterior and what almost resembles a complete upper body, albeit terminating in the second set of footless legs and neither a head nor anywhere for a head to go. It's much more than just conventional mannequin parts put together wrong, but a figure that sort of "misinterprets" what a human is shaped like.
And while I doubt this was intentional, do those two tiny holes on the upper limbs give anyone else the impression of eyes? And can you also imagine that maybe it eats through the slits in its upper knees? It doesn't have either of those details on its lower legs.
The Bubble Head Nurse
The nurse's namesake, of course, is that bulbous, rubbery, mask-like cranium, which twitches and bobbles wildly as she staggers around the filthy, decaying halls of Brookhaven Hospital. Up close, we can see that it has an only moderately human shape, and even its "hair" is just a pair of fleshy, dangling flaps. At times, a bubble-head also momentarily reveals an oft-overlooked "mouth" of sorts, a bizarre square that protrudes eerily from her marbled flesh. In-game, this is probably supposed to look like an actual orifice full of bloody teeth and gums, but I rather like interpreting the model more literally. These creatures are, after all, physical manifestations of our "hero's" subconscious. No anatomical logic need apply.
As James explores the hospital, he gets his first major taste of Silent Hill's ever-changing nature, as areas he's already been to become even more abstracted. Bubble head nurses are the one monster in the game to actually vary with these shifts in scenery, boasting cranial features even more melded together into a featureless lump and an array of four long, black spines. These are typically assumed to be needles or nails driven into their skin, but I think they come across more as an organic part of their anatomy, some sort of sensory or feeding appendages.
More interestingly, these nurses have black, warty tumors on their shoulders...possibly a callback to the parasitized nurses of the first game? It's too bad this feature is so overlooked in fan art, and the nurses of later games offer nothing so strange.
Unfortunately, some of the coolest concepts for the bubble heads had to be left on the cutting room floor. Originally, Masahiro Ito wanted their heads to be hollow, balloon-like rubbery cysts sloshing with fluid, but this was a little beyond the playstation 2's graphical capabilities. Later, he would conceive some variations on the nurses, including one with an even bubblier head and an "acid nurse" with an oral hose we can assume would have spewed something corrosive. I guess it's too late now to ask for a Silent Hill 2 remake with some of its scrapped designs.
The fleshlips may just be one of the most abstract-looking monsters in the game, though we'll meet one later that vies pretty close for that title. Suspended in metal frames, these beings are shrouded in burlap bags or simply burlap-like skin, using their dangling, burnt-looking feet to try and strangle James. We can't actually see how their single arms connect to the ceiling during the fight, but they're somehow able to glide along smoothly, as though suspended from rails. Trying to picture how this works is pretty eerie, as though their fingers just scuttle along at blinding speed.
The creepiest part of the fleshlip, of course, are its fleshlips, which protrude from its crotch region through a perfectly circular opening in their bag. Yeesh. The game's psychosexual imagery grows in nastiness as it progresses, yet it also becomes steadily easier to miss, as monsters like these become more and more ambiguously shaped.
These sections always spooked me the most out of the game's twisted scenery, and I was especially delighted by the addition of monsters who only exist on the other side of these impossible fences. Brachiating like a monkey through the canopy, a mandarin hangs from grating with the two massive, sucker-like mouths on its club-shaped arms, and attacks by flicking a blade-like tongue through the metal bars. The screen floors are bad enough if you're afraid of heights, but to be chased around by blind things swinging beneath your feet is by far one of Silent Hill's most unpleasantly dream-like experiences. Both the mandarins and their natural habitat are brilliantly unnatural.
The Abstract Daddy
This is one of the only times you will encounter a monster that can be seen by another, actual human being, but it's obvious that you and Angela aren't actually seeing the same monster.
Where Angela sees a representation of her own father, James sees another faceless, meaty mockery of humanity, more obscene than anything he's dealt with before. The monster's final design would closely follow this original sketch, and you can really see how much sexual imagery they packed into the ghastly thing. Fused to a rectangular frame by a thin membrane of skin, the daddy evokes a huge, muscular figure hunched under a sheet in a sexual position, pinning down a second figure that also sort of resembles a humongous phallus. Lovely! The tip of this protrusion bears a set of lips, though the entire underside of the beast also opens in a long, vertical slit it may attempt to engulf you with. How lovelier!
The encounter with your first abstract daddy - and you will meet several more of them - isn't the only time "your" Silent Hill will cross paths with Angela's. When we meet her for the last time, her surroundings are engulfed in flames and decorated with stretched, framed human skins strikingly similar to the daddy-thing. She expresses surprise that James can perceive the raging inferno around her, and explicitly tells us that for her, Silent Hill is "always like this." It's our final confirmation that the horrors of Silent Hill are a subjective, personally tailored experience, but why?
As we piece together from both dialog and written notes, Angela was abandoned by her mother, abused horrifically by her father, and ultimately murdered him. Though nobody could possibly condemn her actions, Angela is nonetheless wracked with guilt, self-loathing and an uncontrollable sense that she was simply born to suffer. Her version of Silent Hill is a self-inflicted purgatory, tormenting her with images of her father because, on some subconscious level, she believes that's what she deserves. As we discussed in our look at the first game, Silent Hill is a place where the boundaries between thought and reality, for whatever reason, can be broken down. Believe something strongly enough, and Silent Hill can make it happen.
Which brings us to...
The Red Pyramid
Unless you count whatever's squirming under the abstract daddy's skin, Red is the only monster in the game designed with a "masculine" body, and he's also its most savage, most unstoppable force of destruction, even slaughtering his way through a series of other monsters.
This is what Red is most infamous for, though it's something I have to raise a bit of contention with. We repeatedly witness him engaging in what loosely resemble lethal, sexual attacks on other monsters, but I never personally felt it was anything more than just that - a loose resemblance. Some fans would vehemently disagree with me here, but I think these scenes are meant to symbolically remind the player of sexual violence without Red actually, literally, physically violating his victims. He's just killing and possibly feeding on whatever he stumbles across, albeit in ways cinematically directed to evoke something else in the filthy mind of the viewer.
Whatever you think Red is doing to his fellow Hillians, let's also take a moment to talk about that design. Peripheral materials would have you believe he's just a really scary man with a really scary helmet, but this licensed statue is based directly on his final, official design, which you can feel free to compare to the game model in our last screenshot. Protruding from under the "helmet" is an excess of diseased flesh, and in Konami's official making-of DVD, Masahiro Ito is quoted describing Red as a monster with a pyramid-shaped head. He even recounts being dissatisfied with some of his earlier designs because they too closely resembled "humans wearing masks," which all but confirms that, in the eyes of his own designer, that "pyramid" is either a permanent, physical part of the entity or concealing an organic head roughly the same shape.
The monstrousness of Red Pyramid is further demonstrated when he gets ahold of James, and extends a slimy, black tongue from a long, rubbery slot in the pyramid's surface, another physical feature nobody seems to remember. What he intends to do with this is impossible to determine, but lacking any visible eyes, it may be how he navigates his surroundings and detects his prey, like the tongue of a snake. You may also notice from this image that Red is actually not very large. He's often remembered as a towering, imposingly muscled brute, but he's not actually that much bigger than James, and his physique is actually pretty scrawny, except for an apparent beer gut in some shots. Nobody appreciates how schlubby he really was.
Red's single least human moment comes shortly after he's done manhandling mannequins, when James is hiding in a closet like a dork. Before leaving, Red takes a "look" around the room by pulling open his tongue-slot with one hand and curiously "scanning" his surroundings with the other. Like some troglobytic insect, his senses seem like they may be based purely on chemical and vibrational cues. It really is a damn shame that the poor guy would deteriorate so quickly into just a giant, scary butcher in a pointy hat; Red was always meant to be more an eerie, unsettlingly alien creature than some herculean brute.
This is why the monsters seen by James look the way they do. Their almost universal facelessness represents both figurative and literal suffocation, many of their designs communicate a person struggling against some form of bondage, and most exhibit a mix of sexualization and sickly, malformed feminine anatomy - all except Red Pyramid, representing the brutal monster James subconsciously sees in himself.
All of these themes reach a crescendo when we at last confront what Maria truly was, all along: a surrogate Mary, brought to life by Silent Hill from James' innermost desires.
With no further need of niceties, the false Mary's charade breaks down, and we're plunged into a grotesque fight against her floating, upside-down corpse, stretched across a metal rack and vomiting huge clouds of black moths because why not? She also has a nice, long, blackish tentacle-tongue to throttle James with, attempting to kill him more or less the same way he killed her, or more accurately, killed the real woman she was created to imitate.
The sad thing about this being is that it isn't entirely malevolent. A short, spin-off scenario, Born from a Wish, even allows the player to take control of Maria, who has awoken in the town with no memory of who she is. It seems even Silent Hill's monsters are only unwitting pawns of whatever forces spawn them, driven to behave according to the subconscious whims of the same people they exist to prey upon, and once more, we're left wondering why, and how.
The first Silent Hill told the story of a fanatical cult, a primeval god that may or may not have ever been real and a town warping to reflect the shattered mind of a tortured little girl. In the second game, we see more blatant evidence that there's something abnormal with this town far beyond the activities of the cult or the mind of Alessa, that something about the land that surrounds it can bring people's fears and desires to life, but doesn't always do a perfect job of it.
With everything from its terrain to its creatures functioning as clues in a dark mystery, Silent Hill 2 brought into vogue the idea that a mainstream, console horror game could be more than a zombie-blasting action adventure...but to this day, it feels like the atmosphere and style that made it so outstanding have never really quite been repeated.
Not even by Silent Hill itself.
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