Sometimes video games aren’t meant to empower or immerse, but for something much more primal: to scare the crap out of you. Playboy’s Fear and Loading series peers down dark hallways and checks under gaming’s bed to find the games that terrify us, and delves into how and why they work.
I’m in mourning. I’ve been in mourning for months. Every time I think I’m done, though, the knife twists again.
Silent Hill was a dying brand. What was once the best name in horror had become a series of off-brand rehashes. Then, all at once, it lived again. Through the weird, incredible teaser known as P.T., Silent Hill felt fresh all over again. There were meaningful, exciting names attached to it. Hideo Kojima confirmed his talent as a game designer again this summer with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and Guillermo del Toro is getting ready to remind us just that he’s the king of supernatural horror films with his upcoming Crimson Peak. Both were involved with Silent Hills, the game unceremoniously canned for still-not-fully-known reasons earlier this year.
A new, third name joined that list recently—one that shows us just what a loss that cancellation really was. And it’s the name western gamers probably know the least about: Junji Ito. The brief conceptual video we glimpsed last year for Silent Hills was reminiscent of his work, and knowing he was involved turns what was already a great match-up with Kojima and del Toro into a dream team.
Ito is, without exaggeration or hyperbole, a master of horror. He’s unquestionably at the same level as del Toro as well as creators like H.R. Giger, David Cronenberg, and Clive Barker, but he weaves his nightmares through the pages of Japanese comics (manga), specifically focusing on something called body horror.
Humans are very precious about their bodies, for the most part. Anything too different makes us deeply uncomfortable, whether it be body art like tattoos and piercings or something medical like an amputation or a deformity, regardless of how the owner of those things might feel about them. We look at things like that, and remember that we, too, have a similar set of body parts, and there’s an instant connection that allows us to see ourselves in that position. Body horror plays on that. Ito has a talent for taking real, mundane things and playing on the base fears and discomfort inherent to those.
His understanding of these types of fears and his talent for portraying them in comics would’ve been a huge boon to the Silent Hill franchise, helping pick up the pieces that fell away in later Silent Hill games, as series creator Akira Yamaoka left.
One of his most viral works, The Enigma of Amigara Fault, is a short story that begins in the wake of a severe Japanese earthquake. In a newly-exposed cliff face, dozens of what look to be human-shaped holes are now visible. People begin to find themselves drawn to these holes after seeing them in news reports on television, and begin flocking to the site, forcing themselves into these holes. Months later, the opposite end of these holes is discovered, and peering into them reveals a twisted, unrecognizable being undulating toward the viewer.
In another story, a town called Uzumaki is plagued by spirals. Yes, spirals. It sounds almost silly, but Ito uses the spiral imagery all over, with everything from plants to people twisting into barely recognizable shapes. The final frames, which depict a pair of doomed lovers stretching into a spiral as they embrace, is haunting.
Nearly all his works play off obsession and paranoia and how those twist us, manifesting physically in his work. Part of why Silent Hill has fallen so far from where it began is that, at its best, it played on fears about delusion and illness, often using twisted sexual imagery. As the series went on, though, it seemed to be about how often the developers could shoehorn Pyramid Head, the series’ scary but overused antagonist, into the story.
The notion of Ito’s sense of horror being incorporated into a Silent Hill title is chilling and exciting, and it’s why the conceptual video was so exciting. It’s a real shame the game will never be made.
Maybe Konami would’ve screwed Silent Hills up anyway. Maybe three incredibly talented creators on one project would’ve been a disaster. But the potential was there, and now it’s something we’ll never get to see. That’s the real nightmare.
Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, and it’s been downhill ever since. He takes a multifaceted approach to gaming news and reviews, mixing business analysis, cultural studies, tech and design. Eric has written for outlets like Playboy.com, TechnoBuffalo.com, TabTimes.com, and Kombo.com. In his free time, he perfects his napping technique and pursues the elusive perfect cheeseburger.
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