26/10/2016

SILENT HILL 4 IS A COMEDY

There’s a fine line between horror and comedy, which is probably why there a lot more horror-comedy movies than there are horror-espionage thrillers. Perhaps it’s because so many scary things are, in concept, deeply goofy, or maybe that some things in this world are so terrible that the only possible response is laughter. Sometimes things shoot for horror but fall off that narrow tightrope and land on the comedy side. Konami’s 2004 extreme agoraphobia simulator Silent Hill 4: The Room, the fourth entry in what was (up until this point) probably the most terrifying of all videogame franchises, is supposed to be a horror game. Occasionally it accomplishes this, and in some ways it might be the most traditionally “spooky” of all the Silent Hill games. The first-person apartment sections are very effective, certainly – making me not want to go back and save my game because the kitchen sink is haunted, for instance. However, Silent Hill 4 is also very amusing to me. I genuinely find it really, really funny, and today’s article is about why that is.Before I begin, a couple of disclaimers: there’ll be a lot of spoilers for Silent Hill 4, so if you’re planning on playing it yourself just bear this in mind. Also, a sense of humour is a very personal thing, so if you don’t agree and think SH4 is properly terrifying please don’t think I’m judging you. Anyway, let’s get started.

Perpetually Underwhelmed

The protagonist of Silent Hill 4 is one Henry Townshend, and he’s not very interesting. Unlike the first three game in the series, and especially Silent Hill 2, the story of the game isn’t about him. He’s just some poor schlub who happened to move into an evil apartment. It doesn’t help that Henry doesn’t have much to say about the bizarre events unfolding around him, and when he does speak he delivers all his lines in the same sleepy drawl, the voice of a child that’s just been woken up after a long car trip. The best example of this comes near the beginning of the game, when Henry finds a woman who’s been brutally and repeatedly stabbed.


I know that doesn’t sound like a recipe for comedy, but Henry reacts by asking the woman drawing her agonising last breath “are you okay?” in the same tone you’d use to ask someone who’d just stubbed their toe if they were okay. What’s that, Henry? Is the person bleeding all over the place okay? Yes, I’m sure she’s just dandy. The only way this could be more amusing is if Henry said “I’ll go and get a towel” in an exasperated manner.

Extreme Hoarders

Reacting to weird happenings in a surprisingly uninterested manner is a common theme throughout Silent Hill 4, and another wonderful example is when Henry’s neighbour and the apartment building’s superintendent try to get into his room.


The superintendent muses that Henry’s room has a history of weird occurrences, and that there are a lot of strange things in the world. Then, as casually as one might mention the purchase of a new kitchen appliance, he says that the umbilical cord he keeps in a box in his room has started to smell terrible recently. Oh, has it? Well, if you will keep in in a regular old box then hang on, what the hell are you talking about?! That’s a super-weird thing to mention, old man, and it’s definitely something you should either keep to yourself or make more of a big deal of. It’s a line that comes so completely out of nowhere that I refuse to believe there’s anyone who didn’t give at least a chuckle when they first heard it. Of course, the superintendent is heavily implied to be the father of Silent Hill 2 protagonist James, so being bonkers must be a family trait.

The Amazing Rubber Man

At one point during the game, a man falls from a considerable height and lands on concrete. Don’t worry, though, he’s fine.


It looks like a painful landing, and it was. You know this because Richard, the character in question, says “Ouch! Dammit!” when he lands. So it hurts about as much as a paper cut, then? Because that’s what his dialogue suggests. I know Silent Hill is all about strange pocket universes where the normal rules of nature don’t apply, but come on.  Silent Hill 4’s habit of being understated to the point of absurdity strikes again, and it’s always good for a laugh.

What’s In A Name?

One of the weapons you can collect in Silent Hill 4 is the Pickaxe of Despair.


It’s a pickaxe. It has “Despair” written on the handle. That’s it.

The Shovel Shimmy

Speaking of weapons, here’s Henry’s running animation when he’s got the spade equipped:


I don’t have anything particularly deep or interesting to say about this, just that Henry’s jaunty, sashaying gait is a pleasure to watch. It’s half catwalk model and half kid who’s just got a new shovel and is running to try it out in the sandpit. It’s nice to see that the horrors of Silent Hill haven’t broken Henry’s carefree spirit just yet.

At Least They’re Not Mobility Scooters

Wheelchairs are a prominent recurring motif in the Silent Hill games, usually dotted around to serve as a grim reminder of illness and debilitation. Not so in Silent Hill 4: in this game, the wheelchairs are fed up of being, ah ha ha, pushed around. They’ve risen up, ready to strike back against those who would use them.


This, of course, completely eliminates any creepiness factor they once possessed, reducing them to laughable rattling irritations that engender as much terror as a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel. Did I mention that they’re haunted wheelchairs, so much so that they can hurt Henry simply by being near him? How spooky. Still, this ghostly energy doesn’t seem to be nearly as painful as when they crash into Henry’s shins, which probably would be quite painful. My favourite – that is, the goofiest – thing about them is that they do a little wheelie whenever they turn around. They’re haunted and radical.

A Very Unattractive Light Fitting?

Amongst the small moments of mirth that make up Silent Hill 4, you shouldn’t overlook the fact that even for a Silent Hill game the plot is utterly bananas. Walter Sullivan, the game’s antagonist, is a case in point: he is spurred to action by the belief that his literal birth mother is a one-bedroom flat. I know Walter was raised by an evil cult in the middle of the woods and their biology classes are unlikely to pass an Ofsted inspection, but that shows a shocking lack of education. Everyone knows that apartments lay clutches of ten to thirteen eggs at a time.
Anyway, the upshot of this bizarre storyline is that someone needs to explain it, a task that falls to Joseph, previous tenant of Henry’s haunted home. How does Joseph give this vital information?


By appearing as a ghostly head and shoulders that pops out of the ceiling, upside down and monologuing. When Eileen sees this, she says “it’s him?” Him who? Mr. Upside-Down Bald Exposition Ghost Man? That’s the only reaction that either of the two main characters can muster, even when Joseph starts repeating “kill… kill… kill...” over and over. You know, it’s hard to warm to characters who respond to these kinds of events with absolutely no interest or emotion. You just can’t empathise with them. If a ghost stuck its head out of my living room wall and started telling me to kill people, at the very least I’d have to have a sit down and a strong cup of tea.

Googly Eyes

Ah yes, Eileen. Silent Hill 4’s second main character and a ruddy great anchor that drains the fun right out of the second half of the game. About halfway through the game Walter attempts to kill her but fails, and from then on Henry has to escort her through the dangerous environments, protecting her and (most infuriatingly) waiting for her to catch up to you after you’ve run somewhere. It’s one long escort mission, and if you do play through SH4 then by the end you’ll have said “come on, Eileen!” more times than Kevin Rowland.  Just before you pick her up, though, you visit a spooky corridor in a spooky hospital that’s lined with small rooms filled with what I can only describe as “spooky junk.” Here’s what’s in one of those rooms.


Yep, it’s Eileen’s giant head. All it does is sit there, staring at Henry and making weird sex noises. Now, I know there are people out there who found this scene quite frightening, and I’m not going to diminish that because a sense of fear is as subjective as a sense of humour. Unless you’re some kind of super-nerd who’s only scared because a girl’s looking at you, in that case I might make a little bit of fun. I can find no terror in Eileen’s giant head, however, only laughter. It’s a case of it being “here is a scary thing!” rather than the carefully-constructed horror of earlier SH games, but mostly it’s those eyes that make it funny, jiggling around like Mr. Blobby being throttled. If you walk right up to the head, you can make it go cross-eyed. If you are scared of Eileen’s giant head, I suggest you do walk up to it. It’ll definitely relieve some of the tension.

Voice-Over by Barney Gumble

The hospital is also where Henry has his first encounter with the Patient enemies. That’s patient as in someone receiving medical care, they’re not happy to wait for you to come to them. No, they’ll head straight for Henry and try to bash his head in with a metal pipe, and I’m fairly certain it’s not supposed to be an ironic nickname. The Patients are mostly uninteresting monsters that lack any deep symbolism – I mean, I’m sure Henry is scared of having his skull cracked open, but so is everyone else – but they do have one quirk, a quirk which might well be the most famous thing about SH4.


When you hit a Patient, they burp. Their “pain” sound effect is one hundred percent, unequivocally that of a human belch. Of all the possible noise they could have used, the developers of Silent Hill 4 saw fit to have these creatures sound like me after slamming down a can of Coke. What a bizarre, baffling design choice. It gets better, though. The Patients burp every time they get hit, and at one point you can knock them down a staircase, their excess gas singing forth ever time they hit a step. You can see – and more importantly hear - the effect in action in this video, which I suggest you watch because it puts forth the strongest case for my argument that Silent Hill 4 is actually hilarious.

Haunted Shoes

Lastly, here’s the opposite of the burping Patients: something that probably only amuses me, but by heck it doesn’t half tickle me. The thing in question is Henry’s shoes.


That’s right, Henry, your shoes. You can examine Henry’s shoes at various points in the game, and the description will change as you progress.


Here, for instance, Henry can’t remember when and where he bought his shoes. I’d venture “at a shoe shop” and “in the past,” but I guess he wants to be more specific than that.


Yes, Henry, they’re your shoes. Even if you didn’t purchase them yourself, that means they belong to the apartment’s previous occupant, and as you’re locked inside by an otherworldly serial killer and the previous tenant is a ghost and therefore has little need for comfortable loafers, I think you’re safe to lay claim to them.


Oh no, the shoes are from Silent Hill! They’re cursed! They’re the physical manifestation of Henry’s fear of fallen arches! Is that what’s going on here? Is Silent Hill 4 trying to make Henry’s shoes seem scary? You know, I think it is. Well, it doesn’t bloody work. They’re shoes! At one point in the game game, Henry’s shoes can become possessed, but all they do is shuffle into the kitchen leaving behind bloody footprints, which is far more adorable than it is terrifying. Man, spooky shoes. What will they think of next? Oh right, Silent Hill: Homecoming, Shattered Memories, Book of Memories and pachinko machines. Put in that context, Silent Hill 4 is a masterpiece.

There you go, then. Silent Hill 4 makes me laugh more than pretty much any game purposely designed to be funny. I’m assuming all this humour is unintentional, at least: the product of poor voice acting direction and exuberant weirdness, and not a stealth comedy. Ironically, Silent Hill 4 is one of the few games in the series not to have a joke ending, but in a game about fighting burping monsters while a man tries to kill people to wake up his mum-apartment, where the hell else could you go with it?

9 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. As a major silent hill fan I could discuss various points of your article with you, but I love it all the same and would only like to bring up a quote from the main character in SH1:
      "A wheelchair? At an elementary school?"

      Yes Harry Mason, young disabled children only exist in hellish nightmare realms. (I swear, the wheelchair thing has been a running joke from day 1!)

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  2. Thank you, I think I needed this article before the healing could start.

    I've seen a couple of misleading trailers in my day but SH4 takes the cake by actually making the game look scary. Many people heard from me "this is going to be the terrifyingest Silent Hill yet".

    And then the game actually came out. Trouble started brewing when Henry met the stuttering guy with the bordering-on-sexual obsession with chocolate milk, and you should have seen the knots my brain was twisting into trying to defend the game once the burping began. By the time I knocked one of the patient monsters down the staircase there was no denying it--this game is just silly.

    On the other hand, giant Eileen face scared me shitless

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  3. Actually I recall reading that keeping the umbilical cord is something from the Japanese culture. Either way, no wonder why James never called his dad again. Having Frank talking to Mary about his 'super cool' and bad-smelling collection of umbilical cords could turn a girl off

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  4. "The only way this could be more amusing is if Henry said “I’ll go and get a towel” in an exasperated manner."

    Or he could actually panic, and say: "Let me take care of that bullet wound!"

    ReplyDelete
  5. Apparently Konami knew about the ridiculousness of the game and took it one step further. In their tradition of game crossover music in Dance Dance Revolution (You might know it as Dancing Stage), they put a remix of this game's opening theme as a playable song in Extreme (US PS2) alongside 3's theme. This was the music video they used: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KngPMbvEKc

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  6. Can I just fucking say I'm so happy that I'm not the only one who thought the *falls from the sky* "Ouch! Dammit" was fucking absurd. Holy shit. I've been laughing about this for years. Jesus Christ. Thank fuck.

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  7. Excellent and hilarious article.
    Here is the "Are you okay" scene for the curious : https://youtu.be/4-El9QBiiaM?t=34m34s

    ReplyDelete
  8. Excellent and hilarious article.
    Here is the "Are you okay" scene for the curious : https://youtu.be/4-El9QBiiaM?t=34m34s

    ReplyDelete

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