Even though October is still a few months away, please indulge me with a little talk about horror movies. Within this genre of film, there are a hell of a lot of franchises that got their start with impressive and genuinely scary antagonists. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street; these are just a few of the movies that freaked out an entire generation and created a slew of new boogeymen to check the closet for. While the flagship entries for many of these series have become rather dated, the horror contained within is a timeless entity. Well, mostly.
It seems whenever a movie is even a moderate success, the first reaction is to rapidly make a sequel and profit from consumer frenzy. Sometimes these follow-ups can bring new perspectives on the monsters and the terror they create, but there is a sort of water-down effect that occurs over time. The more screen time a creature gets, the more opportunities the audience has to face that monster and rationalize their fear. Couple this with declining quality of sequels, and you are left with a once terrifying series that has become schlocky or just downright awful to watch. The monsters are not scary anymore, they are the subject of parody.
The same sort of thing can be said about video games, particularly within the survival horror genre. When Silent Hill first hit the scene, there were warnings of sleepless nights and new horrors all over the place. Players had faced plenty of monsters in the past (just look at Castlevania), but things were different now. The protagonists of these games were low on resources in an unfamiliar place, pitted against hordes of terrifying opponents, or worse yet, against themselves. In Silent Hill 2, Konami decided to put a face to this psychological terror through Pyramid Head.
The first Silent Hill was on no short supply of shambling abominations, but none of these monsters were very distinct within the story of the game. Much of the game’s real terror was based on the dark history of the town itself. The sequel turned the focus away from how Silent Hill came to be, and twisted the lens to the effect the town has on those who come across it. When James arrives in Silent Hill, he is haunted by the guilt and darkness of his past. These psychological demons manifest in the form of Pyramid Head, a sort of faceless executioner who torments the main character over the course of the game. Pyramid Head made for a perfect monster in Silent Hill 2, and his image became iconic with the series.
A little too iconic it seems, as Mr. Head has been jammed into other Silent Hill games, as well as both of the movies. Here we have a perfect example of trying to force an ideal monster into different situations that don’t exactly suit it. In the second game, Pyramid Head directly correlates with the main character and his situation. For every other appearance, Pyramid Head just serves as a generic bogeyman who is pandering to fans of Silent Hill 2. He has become a mascot for Konami’s survival horror genre, and it was only a matter of time until he completely jumped the shark.
In 2008, the latest International Track and Field game was released the Nintendo DS. The newest sequel offered a robust set of events, which could be played in a single-player campaign or over the Nintendo Wi-Fi system. This title was well received; praised for its gameplay and character design, which was handled by Udon Comics. There was a set of original characters, right alongside some Konami favorites like Solid Snake, Frogger, and (you guessed it) Pyramid Head. All of the characters were drawn in a super-deformed style, so with enough victories in the game, players could take control of this adorable little monster for every event. Chibi-Pyramid Head could pole vault, run the hurdles track, or just take a fancy dive into the pool.
While this diminutive version of Pyramid head may incite less “AH!” and more “awww,” players are still reminded of the creature once feared so long ago. Multiple cameos may have watered down this fear, but that first appearance of Pyramid Head still raises the hair on the back of my neck. To this day, I cannot play Silent Hill 2 on my own, and certainly not while the sun is down. I suppose the true measure of these monsters is not how often they appear in media, but the impact of their first appearance, and the lingering terror they leave behind.