Vincent: Don’t stand there looking so smug. You’re the worst person in this room. You come here and enjoy spilling their blood and listening to them cry out. You feel excited when you step on them, snuffing out their lives.
Heather: Are you talking about the monsters?
Vincent: Monsters…? They look like monsters to you?
Some time in the future, before Konami tires of cashing in on the series’ name, I hope they release a comprehensive Silent Hill Trivia Collection. If you dig deep enough, there are some great tidbits out there. For example, did you know….
- The original names for Silent Hill protagonist Harry Mason and his daughter, Cheryl, were Humbert and Dolores, respectively. Chew on that, lit freaks!
- Maria’s stripperware in Silent Hill 2 is an exact replica of an outfit worn by Christina Aguilera at the 1999 Teen Choice Awards. Chew on that, Ag hags!
- The dead body that James Sunderland discovers in Silent Hill 2‘s apartment complex, who has apparently committed suicide in front of a staticky television, is James’ character model with some gore added on. The models used for the television and armchair are very similar to the ones seen in the infamous videotape cutscene near the end of the game.
- In Silent Hill 3, a glitch caused the eyes of characters during cutscenes to never quite point where they were intended to be looking. The effect is almost unnoticeable but subconsciously unnerving. Team Silent, being awesome, left it in.
After the genre-evolving psychocosmic horror of Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2‘s Dostoyevskian melancholy, all bets were off for Konami’s next sequel. A deferred return to Silent Hill‘s unresolved mysteries? Another standalone character portrait? As it turns out, we got a little bit of both.
Silent Hill 3 doesn’t often get the unqualified praise that Silent Hill 2 receives, but it deserves to. While Silent Hill piles on the scares and Silent Hill 2 sets the series’ high-water mark for psychological complexity, Silent Hill 3 is an unrelenting, oppressively tense blend of high-stakes combat (the first video game I ever had to shut down because my heart was beating too quickly) and hauntingly beautiful, surreal visuals, peppered with surprising moments of oddball humor.
It’s also the first and only game in the core series with a female protagonist. 17-year-old Heather is, by all appearances, your typical American teenager. She spends her afternoons at the shopping mall, eating herself into a food coma at the local Happy Burger and dreaming of not-so-fun times at Lakeside Amusement Park. That is, until she is accosted by Douglas Cartland, a private investigator hired by Heather’s “mother” to bring her back home…to Silent Hill. Things go from bad to worse in the typical Silent Hill fashion.
When Heather finally makes it back to her apartment, both she and the player are faced with a startling revelation. Heather’s father, Harry Mason, is dead, murdered by Claudia Wolf, a devotee of the cult that first appeared in Silent Hill. Once the player realizes that Heather is Harry Mason’s daughter, it doesn’t take long to figure out that she is actually Cheryl/Alessa, the girl who birthed a god. Armed with this knowledge, Douglas and Heather return to Silent Hill to put an end to Claudia’s plans.
That’s a lot to dump on a girl, you know?
Taken literally, Heather’s triple-reincarnation may seem a lot less realistic, and therefore less “serious,” than James’ euthanasia guilt. However, if you put aside the occult elements framing the narrative, you’ll find that Heather/Cheryl/Alessa’s life story is not all that different from one that haunts men and women across the world every day. In fact, Heather is a textbook example of a dissociative identity disorder.
Often linked to childhood physical or sexual abuse (Alessa, immolated by her mother and forced to incubate a god in her prepubescent womb, experienced both), dissociative identity disorders are the clinical equivalent of the classic (perhaps overworn) “split personality” trope that underlies much gothic and psychological horror (including evil twin and doppelganger stories). The armchair psychoanalytical explanation is that during childhood, the individual experiences an event that is so psychically painful that the victim creates an entirely new personality as a means of distancing themselves from the traumatic memory. When subjected to the ritual of immolation, Alessa retreated inside herself in a superficially comatose state; at this same moment, she created a secondary personality, Cheryl, and lived life through the other girl for seven years, innocent of her original self’s continued suffering. After Cheryl and Alessa were reunited, a second trauma occurred (the birth and death of the god, resulting from the psychically unprepared Cheryl re-integrating Alessa’s memories), and a tertiary persona was born: Heather. Again, Heather grows up in complete ignorance of her original selves until Douglas and Claudia arrive, sending those dissociated memories bubbling to the surface. (A common visual effect in this game makes the walls appear as though they are erupting in ochre boils.) Unlike Cheryl, however, 17-year-old Heather is psychologically strong enough to accept Alessa’s memories while (mostly) retaining her own identity. Integrating the damaged Alessa and the underdeveloped Cheryl into her own psyche, she becomes the new dominant personality and proceeds to expunge and extinguish the original trauma.
Spectrophobia, or fear of mirrors, is comorbid with dissociative psychological disorders. Although it’s a subtle detail, Heather exhibits this very trait–distrustful of her own reflection, she has her bedroom mirror covered with a sheet. Later, in the Brookhaven Hospital portion of the game, Heather can become trapped inside a room dominated by a wall-length mirror; a sickly infection spreads from the mirrored storeroom, through a drain, and into the room Heather inhabits; meanwhile, her reflection dissociates itself from her body, no longer moving as she does. The door locks itself behind Heather, only unlocking once Heather becomes dissociated from her reflection.
Metamorphosis and transmutation are a recurring motif in Silent Hill 3‘s puzzles. In the shopping mall, one puzzle requires Heather to use a vise to crack open a walnut shell (found inside a display case in the jewelry store). Inside the walnut shell, Heather discovers a moonstone, which is used to unlock the door leading to the “Split Worm,” the game’s first boss. This sequence alone provides a wealth of symbolism, from the surreal nesting of the gemstone within a nut shell within a jeweler’s case, to cultural associations linking the moon to cycles or transformation, to this boss’s split-faced appearance (which, on another level, echoes the original Silent Hill‘s first boss confrontation).
Another puzzle in the shopping mall requires Heather to combine detergent and bleach to create a toxic gas, clearing out a hallway swarming with bat-sized moths. A later puzzle reiterates this process of combining two disparate elements to create a third. This puzzle, in the game’s office building segment, allows Heather access to a hidden room, previously blocked by a painting depicting Alessa, with the caption “Flame Purifies All” (another painting of Alessa bears the caption “Repressor of Memories”). Indeed, by combining raw meat and oxydol, Heather can create a flammable gas potent enough to burn the painting, revealing the hidden door. In the hidden room, Heather discovers a storybook containing the magic words needed to destroy an unkillable monster that is blocking her path. The Latin incantation is “To Fui, Ego Eris”–“As you are, I was; as I am, so you shall also be,” a subtle hint to the player that Heather is not the ordinary teenage girl she appears, at this point in the game, to be. (The Latin is a common memento mori gravestone inscription; the implied speaker is the deceased).
Predictably, the series’ first female protagonist comes with an extensive wardrobe of unlockable outfits for those gamers who enjoy playing Barbie dress-up within their horror game. Unpredictably, the game’s only “underwear” costume option is given to Douglas, not Heather, who remains tastefully clothed regardless of her outfit choice. In stark contrast to the female characters from Capcom’s competing Resident Evil and Devil May Cry franchises, Heather dresses realistically, wearing a sensible jacket that hides her curves rather than accentuating them. Additionally, her sunken eyes and blemished complexion mark her as one of gaming’s first realistic females–not ugly, but possessing traits, both physical and behavioral, that don’t directly contribute to her sex appeal.
Furthering the transmutation theme, one of the game’s unlockable costumes allows Heather to undergo a brief henshin sequence (the term used when an anime character transforms from a regular person into a superhero, as in Sailor Moon), emerging as “Princess Heart,” who can shoot heart-shaped energy beams from her eyes by shouting the words, “Sexy Beam!” Did I mention that this game has an odd sense of humor?
(Another Easter egg complementing the transmutation theme: if Heather drops her lead pipe into the sewer at a specific place, a magical fairy will appear and offer her a gold or silver pipe instead.)
Silent Hill 3‘s lush color palette, with its strong red and orange tones, stands in stark contrast to the washed-out look of the series entries immediately before and after it. Visually cribbing from films such as Session 9 and Jacob’s Ladder (both of which deal, in their own way, with the theme of repressed trauma) in the same way that Silent Hill 2 paid homage to Lost Highway and Blue Velvet, Silent Hill 3‘s surrealist landscapes are a high point for the series’ visual design.
Given that it is a direct sequel to the original Silent Hill, even though the player doesn’t realize it until midway through the game, Silent Hill 3 abounds with references and parallels to the original game, from a static-soaked version of Cheryl’s video distress, first aired in Silent Hill‘s town center and repeated in SH3‘s mall; to a boss battle at Lakeside Amusement Park’s merry-go-round segueing into the game’s final area. Like Silent Hill, many of SH3‘s visual touches, like the hospital gurneys and abandoned wheelchairs that litter the mall sequence, could be mistaken for generic “creepy landscaping” until the second playthrough, when the player is more intimately familiar with Heather’s psyche. Even Heather’s fugues into Silent Hill’s Otherworld (which occur, in the first half of the game, beyond the confines of Silent Hill) appear to be a plot hole until the player recalls that the Otherworld was always Alessa’s psychic projection. After that, it makes perfect sense that Heather experiences a shift to the Otherworld, accompanied by an intense headache, whenever Alessa’s memories (and latent abilities) begin to resurface.
Finally, Silent Hill 3 includes what is by far the strangest of the series’ infamous UFO alternate endings:
Join me next month as I leap to the defense of the series’ most divisive title, Silent Hill 4: The Room.
Douglas: You gonna let your hair color go back, too?
Heather: I don’t know. Don’t you think blondes have more fun?