Written by Jonathan Wojcik

A Silent Hill Monstrouspective: Part IV!

When the first three games in your series have all been smash hits, it's usually expected that you'll just keep on going from there...but having wrapped up the story started by the original Silent Hill, the team intended to give the foggy town a rest and begin development of an almost entirely unrelated horror property, and The Room was born. A fresh start. A clean slate.

...At least until Konami grew concerned about the risks involved in an entirely new series, and at the very last minute, had the "Silent Hill" name and lore tacked on to the new title in an effort to boost sales.

Fortunately, The Room is still a unique, interesting game with a fascinating premise, whether you see its last-minute rebranding as a good or bad decision. As Henry Townshend, you just sort of wake up one day locked in your own apartment, unable to open the door and your cries for help inaudible to everyone else.

Henry's only escape from his apartment is the hole in his bathroom wall, growing slightly bigger every day despite Henry having no memory of ever carving it. Impossibly, entering the hole takes him through a long, winding tunnel into a very different, remote location every time, and whatever he finds there, he'll eventually wake right back up in his own bed.

Through each of these excursions, Henry slowly pieces together the mystery of his apartment, and along the way, meets a variety of other characters and creatures...

The Ghosts

The most troublesome and noteworthy monsters in The Room are the "ghosts" of various murder victims. Admittedly, when I first heard this game would include the "spirits" of dead people, I thought Silent Hill had jumped the eyeless, skinless shark. Ghosts just seemed a little too conventional for the series, a little too nameable of a horror.

Of course, this was before I knew the game wasn't originally going to be a Silent Hill title, and it was before I actually saw the things in action.

Silent Hill 4's "ghosts" may be some of the most disturbing things to ever carry the monikor. That they're fully corporeal is perhaps the scariest thing about them, actually just flesh and blood human bodies awkwardly hovering through the air as though bobbing from unseen strings. They don't even look up as they drift after you, and their mere proximity causes Henry an agonizing headache until he blacks out.

These beings can even be touched, beaten or shot until they fall...but they'll get right back up. You can never kill any of them. Yikes.

The Sniffer Dog

Nerve-wracking as the ghosts may be, people really come back to Silent Hill hoping to see some warped looking monsters, and The Room delivers beautifully in that regard as well. The first monstrous creatures we ever actually encounter are this game's dogs, which may be the most unsettling of the series. Covered in scabrous, cracked flesh, the eyeless "sniffers" have decidedly un-canine mouths with extremely long, serpentine tongues, which the creatures actually use to drain the blood of their prey. Interestingly, they also come in a "female" form, which is larger, stronger and substantially more tumorous. This might be the first instance of the Silent Hill franchise delving into the biology of any of its monsters to such a degree, an implication Sniffer Dogs might be a matriarchal species. Maybe they're not even canines at all, but closer to hyenas?

The Wall Men

For some reason, there are absolutely no good pictures of the wallmen on the internet, except this candid shot of them peeking their heads out in an empty room. Matching their surrounding color and texture, these menacing, blade-armed humanoids lie in wait like camouflaged mantids until Henry gets too close, at which point they emerge up to their waist and lash out with their long, bladed claws.

Wall Men are also possibly among the most frustrating monsters in any Silent Hill title.

The Twin Victims

These are widely regarded as the scariest creatures in the game, and yeah, putting baby faces where they don't belong will do that. Besides the distressingly infantile heads, these monsters walk around on a pair of gigantic arms, seemingly devoid of a lower torso or legs, and their "shrouds" are difficult to distinguish from a part of their physical anatomy, in some places looking more like dirty, black feathers.

What makes the Twin Victims even creepier than their appearance, however, is probably their habit of standing deathly still and silently pointing at you from a distance, until you get close enough for them to start plodding around and smacking you upside the head.

The Hummer

A favorite of mine, these neat little creatures have bat-like bodies, bird-like blood-sucking skull heads, and beat their wings with a blinding, hummingbird-like speed. It's pretty disconcerting to be pursued by a black, fuzzy little blur with a needle aimed in your direction, particularly since the creatures are absolutely dead silent.

Course, if you're either a big enough gaming nerd or a thorough enough reader of this very website, you may have realized the hummer is almost exactly a stirge, at least in the sense that it's a bat-winged, bird-beaked mosquito-like creature.

The Gumhead

This might be a controversial opinion to series fans, but one thing I have to give credit for is that The Room's humanoid enemies are worlds creepier than any previous Silent Hill title. Sure, Closers and Lying Figures and even Bubble-head Nurses were all distressing to a degree, but the blind, drooping face of this wretched little man-thing is just so much worse than the more alien, faceless qualities of a bubble head nurse or a closer, which just kind of exude more cool factor than pure horror.

The main design gimmick of the gum head is that its mouth basically hangs completely off its face, flaring into that tumor-like skin sac on its chest so it almost appears to have a second head. A novel grotesquerie, for sure, even if it's rather easy to miss in the heat of gameplay, and perhaps just a bit squandered, as this gummy head, for which the monster is named, doesn't factor into its behavior or attack strategy in any way.

Instead, the gum head makes stock monkey-like sounds and tries to hit you with a wrench. It's a bit too simple for a creature that looks so horrid. I might have had a fluid, gas or deadly appendage emerge from the sac-mouth, or even have the mouth itself shoot out like a proboscis.

The Toadstools

Another favorite, toadstools aren't especially menacing and function more as obstacles than adversaries, but they're just such atmospheric obstacles. They sprout right in front of your eyes, animated remarkably like actual footage of fungal growth on high speed, which is unnerving enough before they begin swaying back and forth, faster and faster the closer you get and exploding in a cloud of black, noxious spores if you give them the chance.

With their bulbous tips and fleshy, bloody texturing, the toadstools really give me the impression of fetuses on stalks, and it's probably intentional, though a variation later in the game consists of the stalks alone, ending abruptly in bloody stumps.

If I could have one Silent Hill monster for a pet, believe it or not, this might be one of my top possible choices. I would love to have one of these knobby meat-stalks just quietly swaying in a nice planter in the corner.

The Greedy Worm

Greedy worm is interesting, because while you'll encounter it multiple times and can even attack it, it will never die and it will never defend itself. Greedy worm is so greedy, it doesn't even have any time to fight, continuously eating away at walls and presumably creating holes like the ones in your bathroom. Some reviewers complained about the lack of boss battles in this game, but I love monsters that exist just for aesthetic dressing. Everything doesn't have to try and kill you to be fun.

The Tremers

Case in point, my very favorite enemies in this game are nothing but faceless, shuddering meat-slugs that barely register as a threat. They can damage you, but they mostly just slither about their business and wiggle pathetically when you're nearby. You can go the whole game never really needing to kill a tremer. Sometimes, you'll even see tiny little baby tremers slithering around, resembling nearly transparent planaria, which really are completely harmless.

There are also, as you can see, two distinct "species" of tremer, and I'm not even sure why. I much prefer the teardrop-shaped variety, but the diamond shaped tremers, with two distinct body segments, are interesting if just for the biodiversity they bring to the table.

The Bottom

Another example of The Room's creepier humanoids, Bottom is just sort of a hasty model swap of the twin victims, but I'd argue it's actually a little more disturbing. It has a gumhead-like face and torso dangling under it, and the baby heads are swapped out for a huge, horrible ass. An ass with cracked, rotten cheeks that twist and writhe in your direction like they're still a pair of faces. It's one of those cases where something ostensibly silly is very easily rendered horrific.

The Wheelchair

This is an often forgotten one, maybe because it's literally just a wheelchair that moves of its own accord and doesn't feel so much like a "monster," but there's always something fun about inanimate objects as characters or creatures, and a wheelchair attempting to ram you might seem goofy, but it's also sort of pitiful in a way that contributes to the game's mood.

Under some lighting conditions, the wheelchair actually casts a shadow with a person sitting in it, and when the wheelchair is "killed," the shadowy figure will attempt - futilely - to exit the chair. I really like these details that you can actually miss for an entire play, it adds a richness many games still neglect to consider.

The Patient

I'm still so glad that this game doesn't have sexy monster nurses in it. I like the nurses of previous games, but they were getting pretty old by this point, and the patient is a fantastic replacement for them. The patient's face alone might be the most shuddersome visual in almost any Silent Hill title, a lump of flesh writhes in its stomach like a monstrous fetus attempting to break free, and the whole entity is at least a couple feet taller than any normal human being.

In this case, the fact that the monster comes at you with fairly mundane implements adds something to the terror. It towers over us, it looks at us with a mangled face that couldn't care less and it just wants to bash our brains in.

The most peculiar thing about the patient monster, however, are its sound effects, which are a point of contention for some reviewers. When hit or knocked down, the patient belches. It's straight-up just a stock sound effect of a cartoon burp, which some players thought broke the mood and made the monsters too absurd to be disturbing. As usual, I feel like "disturbing" and "absurd" are practically interchangeable anyway. Belching can easily be more gross and obnoxious than funny depending on the situation, and especially so coming out of a mindlessly sadistic, looming giant with a fractured face.

The Giant Head

I hate to spoil this for people who never played this game, but speaking of the intersection between the comical and nightmarish, I even knew all about this from early trailers and a walkthrough and it remains the biggest "scare" a Silent Hill game ever gave me. When you first enter this hospital room, the camera faces the door, focusing on Henry and hiding the room's contents...but you can hear a slow, raspy, laborious breathing, and once you take a step, perspective snaps to this titanic, realistic human face protruding into the building, wet eyeballs jittering and twitching as they follow Henry's every move.

My guard was down enough to actually jump out of the chair I was sitting in the first time this happened. I just was not at all expecting a giant face to instantly fill the screen. Even once you realize it's harmless, it's still one of the most abominable things in the series. It's just the sheer normalcy of its features, albeit horribly scarred and obscenely magnified, that feel so much more unsavory than if the visage had been less human, and there's even cobweb-like strands of flesh connecting it to its surroundings, like it grew here.

I sorely wish Silent Hill games had experimented with more imagery this outrageous and dreamlike, and I was fully expecting this one to get even weirder before its end...but it never really reaches this level again. Everything after the giant head feels a little humdrum in comparison.

The head even belongs to a specific character, and there's a specific reason it manifests like this, but I'll leave at least a few things unspoiled.

The One Truth

There are only two "boss fights" in the entire game, and one of these is just a scaled up remodeling of the wall men, but it's a pretty cool remodeling, each one attached to a framed sheet of tanned flesh instead of a wall, in a wonderfully abstract room with velvet lined walls, a chandelier and a huge inexplicable concrete pit in the center of it all, the kind of screwed-up architecture you might really get a faint impression of in a dream.

Walter Sullivan

Finally, we come to this one's true villain, whose story slowly unravels over the course of the game. It eventually turns out out that the very apartment Henry now rents was the birthplace of this infamous serial killer, who believed the apartment itself to be his mother, and having been raised by a certain deranged cult, also believed he could be reunited with his mother on some higher plane of existence if he simply murdered enough people.

Every world Henry visits is from Walter's own past, and every creature he encounters is a manifestation of Walter's fears, beliefs, and hideous deeds. Things like the gumhead and tremers represent how lowly, pathetic and vile the human race appears to Walter, while the greedy worm is actually gross exaggeration of an umbilical cord. Each "ghost," most importantly, represents one of Walter's victims in his ongoing sacrificial ritual, and their numbers will be added to as the game progresses.

The most disturbing thing we learn about Walter is that he sacrificed himself to his purposes long before the events of the game, and it's his own "ghost" - or whatever these things really are - that has been continuing his work. In our final confrontation, Walter's ghost is connected to a huge being, The Conjurer, embedded in the surrounding walls, implied to be Walter's "true" body. This being could have stood to be a little creepier - it pales in comparison to some of the "minor" enemies we've seen - but it gets the job done, and leaves us pondering what really might have been going on with this person, if he was indeed ever a normal human being at all.

By introducing "ghosts," The Room sort of gave us an explanation for its phenomenon that I can't really call my preference. The entities and environments of other Silent Hill titles felt like a more abstract mingling of subconscious and reality, like human fears and nightmares were congealing into flesh and blood forms.

Knowing that The Room began as an unrelated project, however, explains a lot of this conceptual and stylistic shift, and it's still easy enough to fit it into the narrative of other games in the franchise. The ghosts are, after all, some of the creepiest I've ever seen in any piece of media, and don't even follow rules typical of the trope.

For better or for worse, The Room would remain an odd one out in the series, neither its positive nor negative features impacting much of the series since its release.

...And despite even those negatives, The Room remains the last Silent Hill game I can really call completely good, to say the least. Some of them barely even deserve it, but we are going to continue reviewing Silent Hill titles. You're going to finally start seeing me getting actually angry about monsters. I bet you can't wait.






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