Written by Jonathan Wojcik
A Silent Hill Monstrouspective: Part III!
Nobody really knew what to expect when a third Silent Hill
was announced. The first game was an almost epic adventure through the fears of a child. The second was an almost entirely unrelated supernatural mystery that would far eclipse the popularity of its predecessor. When a third was confirmed, many expected something closer to the second, perhaps another self-contained story, and perhaps with monsters and motifs reflecting the tortured mind of a brand new character.
Surprisingly, the third game would instead serve as a direct sequel
to the first, focusing on Heather Mason, grown-up daughter of the original game's hero, as the world around her - even far away from Silent Hill - begins to corrupt and warp.
Sadly, the monster designs in this one were no longer as cohesively metaphorical as the previous installment, but in my honest opinion, this wound up the most exciting Silent Hill to actually play.
A little lighter on the horror and no artistic masterpiece, but heavier on the exploration and bizarre environments. I mean, look at that screenshot. What the hell is
all that?! That's not even the most baffling sight we're treated to. Plus, the relatively fearless Heather is definitely a more fun protagonist to get behind than another angsty, lonely middle aged man.
So, let's dive right into this one creatures.
The first monster you encounter is one of my favorites of Silent Hill's "basic humanoid" threats, which is no surprise I guess, because it's actually more or less the same design as the Mandarin from the last game. It loses the two things that make the Mandarin so wonderful - the lip-hands and the brachiation - but there's definitely something to be said for these club-limbed beings simply towering over you, looming down with their tubular, twitching, twisting faces. Our designer has officially stated that he based these monsters on the closer to demonstrate that Silent Hill's monsters aren't
always strictly generated from its victims, but that the town has a "design input" of its own, as well.
This one's canine enemies maybe aren't as interesting as the wormheads of Silent Hill 1, but a dog with its head neatly split down the middle is fairly horrifying in its own right. These may actually
symbolize a certain dual nature of our heroine, too.
The Numb Body
A favorite of mine, these ultra-simplified creatures are little more than smooth, vestigial bodies with legs, a single dark hole the only feature breaking their veiny, pearly skin. Their rubbery heads also flop
as they walk, which some people seem to find hilarious, but it's the silly little touches that make these and other monsters so haunting to begin with. That face-hole also conceales a long, bony spike, like a hidden proboscis, visible only on higher difficulties.
Perhaps the most unsettling part of the numb body is that they hang out in both "adult" and "child" sizes. Does that actually mean Silent Hill's manifestations reproduce?
Or does it lend credence to the popular theory that Heather is hallucinating monsters where there are, in fact, regular human beings?
The Insane Cancer
I appreciate a headless, flabby, rotten humanoid as much as anybody else, and "Insane Cancer" is probably one of my favorite monster names in the franchise, but I always felt like these guys were missing
something. Just one little extra detail, one bonus oddity other than being fat and faceless. In-game, I could have sworn at one time that they had a pair of glassy eyes in their stomachs, but that's what a small, fuzzy tube television will do to your gaming experience. I was just misreading their collection of scars and boils. I suppose their simplicity and vagueness is its own charm, though, and they do have a habit of just lying face down on the ground like a pile of dead meat until you approach, at which point they slowly, laboriously get up as though they're mostly just pissed they have to exert any effort at all.
The Split Worm
A massive boss monster, and another creature with a "split" theme, though we unfortunately won't see any more, relevant though they be. Split Worm is similar in many regards to the Split Head from the first game, but without any limbs, and the addition of jaws and teeth, which are more "menacing," yes, but are they creepier
than just a wet, red, toothless hole attempting to swallow you? The latter is both less human and carries the more terrifying threat of suffocating in digestive juices.
This is the monster I always forget exists in Silent Hill 3, and that's probably because this one is literally just a man in a suit. Its proportions and movements are not only completely human, but on close inspection of its model, a human mouth and nose can be seen in the recesses of the "head" - nothing but a bag it's wearing. The Missionary even takes orders from human members of Silent Hill's cult, whom we first saw as only more victims of the weird entities and phenomena generated from Alessa's brain.
Whether or not this all "cheapens" the nature of Silent Hill, I'm really not that sure. It demonstrates further that there's more going on than just subjective hallucinations, and it's fairly horrifying to think that a person can become something so much like one of the town's "monsters." Just what did
the cult do to this guy?
The nurses of Silent Hill 3 are by far where its monster designs falter the most. In the first game, they were puppeted around by unseen parasites. In the second game, they were wholly alien creatures taking on a human shape. This time around, they're indistinguishable from humans other than their movements. Those movements are, at least, fairly uncanny; not only do they stagger and twitch around like something that doesn't really belong in its own skin, but they never actually lift their heads to look where they're going.
A look at the nurse's model reveals a human but very dead-looking face, strangely made up with an enigmatic red square pattern. Their eyes are also permanently shut, so we know why they leave their heads hanging most of the time. Like the previous, less human nurses, they're not guided by sight at all. These are all fairly unnerving traits, but the design is still remarkably plain for this series.
The Pendulum is quite possibly the most outrageous and jarring monster in the original three games. Whereas most others are sluggish, haunting, subtly unnatural beings, the Pendulum is a whirling, flying, screeching
terror, its body and limbs spinning in different directions like some ridiculous flesh and metal gyroscope, emitting a perpetual grinding, rusty squeal as it floats through the air. It's an unreal sight, and difficult to even fully grasp your first time; you can't tell what
the hell you're looking at in the buzzing vortex of blades and flesh, until you either kill it, or you sneak up on one in its idle mode, teetering lazily on its two "legs."
The actual design of the Pendulum feels a little over the top; two human torsos, limbs severed, fused at their waists with a blade attached to the top of each skull and those needly, metal legs grafted to the middle. It's less "otherworldly manifestation crudely recalling a living thing" and more "regular people modified into a clive barker monster," and it shares enough of its style with the Missionary that it's probably intended to be another example of cult experimentation. Normally, I would find that somewhat trite and disappointing for this setting, but the more I think about it and the more literally I take it, the more terrifying the Pendulum becomes.
I suppose this actually gives the Missionary a pretty clear niche, too. Other monsters in Silent Hill 3 are more obviously pure manifestations of the town's paranatural forces, while the Missionary demonstrates what happens when ordinary humans really start losing themselves to those forces, and the Pendulum shows how maddeningly
far that can go. It's one thing to sew a bag on a guy's head and make him stab people, but to turn people into something this
improbable, this completely removed from all humanity and all sense? How?! Why!? What brings you to a point where you ever decide that what you need to do is turn two people into one floating knife tornado? It's even scarier to imagine that maybe cult members submit
to this rather than undergo the transformation by force, that the things they've seen and learned have actually lead to a form like this being both desirable and logical in their minds. "Yes. I must become a hovering gyroscope. Why didn't I see it before?!"
It's funny, until you really try to imagine what would send somebody down that road.
This has no official name, and it's not even a monster you can interact with in the conventional fashion; if you try to cross a particular bridge in the sewers, a cinematic sequence has this meaty tentacle, tipped with a black sucker, pull you into the sludge and drown you unless you've done some puzzle-solving to electrify the water and fry the thing to death.
An open-and-shut killer tentacle case, but I always love when an environmental hazard or even harmless decor adds another monster to a game's bestiary. Every creature doesn't have
to be an NPC model you can beat up, right? It's little one-offs like these that make a game feel even more alive, and the tentacle even adds another little layer to the game's lore, as you can find notes left by sewer workers convinced there's some kind of "alligator" or something loose in the area. Coincidence, or another little hint of Silent Hill's reality bleeding into the real world?
One of my favorites from this game, the Slurper is another simple human-shaped enemy, but it's impossible to tell where its flesh ends and "clothing" begins, even where it's clearly laced and stitched together, and then there's the face, simply ending in an eyeless tube like some horrible aardvark, its very name telling us it just awkwardly sucks food through its bony nozzle. What makes the Slurper particularly unsettling is its complete inability to stand upright, scurrying around more like a cockroach on its splayed limbs.
Later in the game, we start to meet an alternate slurper design, missing the elongated face, as though it were only a mask or a removable extension of bone. Here, we see their "true" faces are meaty, fleshy masses with leech-like sucker maws!
A particularly interesting boss battle, Leonard Wolf was a former member of the cult rejected for basically being even more
fanatical and abusive towards his daughter, Claudia, another of the game's antagonists. Heather gets to communicate with Leonard on and off before she finally meets up with him, only for him to appear as another grotesque monster and attack her. Covered in putrid, warty yellow flesh, his hands terminate in bony claws, his eyes are only a pair of holes, and instead of a mouth, he has two black tongues protruding from two different orifices.
Creepiest of all are the series of wound-like, pulsing "gills" down Leonard's back...and his ability to plunge under water and glide around like shark.
Again, we're left to ponder how much of this is "real" and to whom. Is Leonard literally in this form, or just appear that way to Heather? How does he see himself? What form is the "truest," or is there no answer?
I'm going to count this as a "monster" because I can, and because it's one of the most horrifying traps in the game. There's not much to do in this room at Brookhaven Hospital, but if you hang around watching the mirror, you'll start to see the reflection...change. Black stains will spread out in the reflected version of the room, until every surface starts to look like diseased flesh, including yourself. Soon, your own reflection will simply freeze in place, and the same stains will begin to creep out into "your" side of the mirror. At that point, the door no longer opens, and you're left to run around looking in vain for an exit while your surroundings deteriorate and you finally die.
This real-time "corruption" effect was one of my favorite new features in Silent Hill 3; getting to see the world grow weirder and weirder as Silent Hill more or less "pursued" you like a living force.
Glutton made my personal top ten list of all-time favorite Silent Hill creatures some years ago, and it would still have a place there. Like the tentacle, it's another monster you can only defeat through puzzle solving. Unlike the tentacle - or damn near anything else - it has absolutely no means of hurting you, or at least none that it ever attempts to use. All the glutton does is block your path, and only when you gather some ritualistic items together will the glutton disappear off-screen with a rumbling howl.
What I love about this monster, aside from being another instance of a monster as an environmental obstacle, is that I still can't really make perfect sense of its design, in or out of the game itself. It seems to be some sort of torso suspended in a "cage," though the cage is apparently also a part of its body, as are the red hoses and the hanging strips of skin. It has a "head" resembling the saucer-mouths of the Closers, and it has a second one protruding from its "chest," which is its only moving part, constantly spinning and jittering. What the hell are you, Glutton, seriously?
THIS is the Silent Hill aesthetic I know and love.
At last we come to Valtiel, more or less Silent Hill 3's equivalent to Pyramid Head, except that you don't ever actually fight this guy. When you die, a cutscene will simply show Valtiel dragging off your corpse to parts unknown, and perhaps he's even the reason you can keep respawning and continuing. You'll also see him a few times in the game operating machinery, turning valves, and in at least one instance, engaged in some sort of bizarre bondage act on the other side of a filthy glass wall.
The meaning and nature of Valtiel has been discussed in excessive
length by the fandom, but there's very little official conceptual documentation backing up their many theories. All we can really extrapolate is that he's some sort of emissary or agent of the cult's god, and we still don't know whether the town, the god, the cult, or Alessa's powers actually came first.
Valtiel's design seems fairly bland at first glance, but what people constantly overlook is that he has a pair of lips and a thin, wiry tongue on the back
of his head. Beautiful.
"Fukuro Lady" and her monster
An entity even more cryptic than Valtiel, this mysterious woman resembles the nurses, and first appeared in a short 2001 film, Fukuro, created by Silent Hill 2's team and said by Masahiro Ito to symbolize "the womb" in some way. In the film, the woman is briefly seen riding some sort of two-legged, hunched monster, and both make a new cameo appearance in Silent Hill 3, briefly seen by Heather through a rusty, metal grill. The Fukuro Lady is also seen later in some sort of vaguely sexual act with Valtiel, and hidden in a few other environments in various states of bondage. What she means is anyone's guess, but you'll notice the game's nurses recycle her model, or vice-versa.
The monster ridden by Fukuro is especially interesting. It appears to be a large man with his arms either severed or fused into his torso, like the last game's Lying Figures,
but on the top of his otherwise featureless head is a round hole with another set of those disturbing lips we've seen on the Closers, Glutton, Flesh-lips, Mandarins and Abstract Daddies. This guy might just be the most obscure creature in the games.
Memory of Alessa
As many already guessed early on in the game, Heather Mason was not, in fact, a new or different daughter to Harry Mason, but the same little girl he spent the original game searching for. The same little girl, you may also recall, who was generated
by Alessa to live a more torture-free existence. It's nice to know that, in the end, she was as real a human being as any other, but of course, her connection to Alessa was doomed to haunt her from the start. Drawn to a decrepit fairground, Heather eventually has a shoot-out with her own doppelganger, forcing her to confront her true nature as a reflection of another person. Not the most imaginative sounding boss battle, no, but the whole thing takes place on a horrifying merry-go-round for good measure, the "wooden" horses, naturally, appearing as faceless and twitching meat-monsters that even scream when you strike them. Yeesh.
Of course, the reason Silent Hill and its cult have crept into Heather's life is that they're still kind of fixated on that whole "bringing their god to life" thing, and everything Heather has experienced up to this point is basically the side effect of having an unnatural, superhuman embryo germinating in her body. If you've taken the proper measures, Heather will actually vomit out
the god-fetus, but the twisted Claudia will take it into herself - by eating it - and bring about the manifestation of their goddess.
Whether this manifestation is "correct" is unknown, and it seems fairly unlikely. Claudia was not meant to be its vessel, and though it was supposed to be able to end the world and bring about some sort of paradise, the half-skeletal giant simply tumbles to the floor, attempts to kill you like a vicious animal, and can ultimately be shot or bludgeoned to death with enough patience. Having slain the wannabe deity, Heather presumably continues on as best she can with her human life, and we never hear from her again. Case closed...I guess.
In the end, Silent Hill 3 was something of a mixed bag. Rather than giving us something radically new and inventive like the second game, it chose to give some closure to the first, and even weave a more coherent mythos from the ambiguous nature of the setting. I always felt like there were equally positive and negative sides to this decision, but in the end, I overall loved playing this one, loved its protagonist, loves its especially abstracted environments and loved most of its new monsters. It was a solid end to a solid little trilogy, and it was intended to remain that way. The next project by the team was originally billed at entirely unrelated to the Silent Hill series, but would be rebranded at the last minute. Again, for both better and for worse, as we'll be discussing before the month's end.
MORE HALLOWEEN FEATURES:
Silent Hill II
Silent Hill 3