While nothing I’ve read indicates that Peter Jackson’s comedic horror classic, The Frighteners, inspired Team Silent in the making of the video game Silent Hill: The Room (aka Silent Hill 4), I couldn’t help but note multiple similarities between the two. And as I love finding ways to combine the things I love, I thought I’d post my observations (and what the hell, it’s my blog anyway).
For those that don’t know, Silent Hill 4: The Room was the last game created by the original Konami team that provided the classics of the franchise (Silent Hill 1, 2, & 3). Silent Hill 4: The Room, though a decent game on it’s own, is certainly one of the less popular of the franchise as a whole (often tied with Homecoming). Nevertheless, for it’s time it was a bit refreshing for some fans because it offered a unique story-line for the characters (instead of the much done “repressed memories” schtick that would be a staple of the series) and provided a slightly different style of game play for the fans. Fan boys hate it, though they will pretend to appreciate it (which they didn’t do when it came out) since they refuse to admit that their “gods” at Team Silent could possible err in any way (not-shockingly similar behavior to Fallout fan boys). In any case it signaled the last of the “glory” days of the franchise (though the popularity of the series would pick back up with Shattered Memories and Downpour).
Just a quick glance on how the game fared with reviewers and the like (from Wikipedia):
The previews of Silent Hill 4: The Room provided at E3 2004 lead IGN to name it the best PlayStation 2 adventure game in show. Upon its release in 2004 the game also attracted the attention of mainstream news outlets CNN, the BBC and The Times. Rating aggregation site Metacritic shows an average rating of 76 out of 100 for both PS2 and Xbox console versions,while the PC version shows an average rating of 67 out of 100. Rating aggregation site Game Rankings shows an average rating of 76.13% for the PlayStation 2 version, 73.16% for the Xbox version, and 70.35% for the PC version. Silent Hill 4 topped game sales charts in Japan during a video game sales slump, but dropped to tenth place one week later. Official statements by Konami referred to sales of the game in North America as “favorable.”
The PS2 and Xbox versions of the game received an “impressive” 8.0 rating from IGN reviewer Douglass C. Perry. Perry described it as “neither brilliant nor terrible,” and was displeased by the lack of boss fights and complicated puzzles. The article expressed the author’s mixed feelings toward the element of “the room,” and while Perry noted that the room “itself is a good idea,” he was displeased by the inconvenience of constantly having to return there. His closing comments also noted another problem: “While all the classic touches that have become so familiar and so great in the series have returned, they have simultaneously become cliché.”
Kristan Reed, a reviewer for Eurogamer, expressed disappointment with the degree to which the game had been geared as a combat game with an absence of standard Silent Hill puzzles. He was nevertheless pleased with the game’s plot, graphics, and audio and gave the game a 7/10 rating for the PS2, and a 6/10 for the Xbox version. GameSpot gave both the PS2 and Xbox ports 7.9 ratings, concluding with “While not all of the changes made necessarily serve to enhance the series, the dark, gripping storytelling is what allows this game its Silent Hill credentials.”
The PC port of the game received lower ratings than the console versions. IGN reviewer Perry complained about “the blurriest textures we’ve seen in years and some serious graphical glitches” and “extremely low mouse sensitivity” inhibiting gameplay, giving it a comparatively low 6.9 rating. GameSpot’s review of the PC version was slightly lower (7.6) than the console version, praising the graphics as having “been optimized well for the PC” but acknowledging “keyboard and mouse controls just don’t fare that well in an environment of constantly shifting perspective views that can make navigation frustrating.”
It is notable that the game has gained more in popularity since then, similar to Jackson’s The Frighteners.
The Frighteners (1996), was both directed and partially written by Jackson, and though unsuccessful at it’s initial release, has since gone on to develop a sizable following. It’s appealing for it’s all star cast (including 70’s and 80’s scream queen Dee Wallace Stone, star of The Howling) and it’s fun combination of fantasy, horror, and comedy. It was a rushed film, but featured the combined writing talents of Fran Walsh (Jackson’s wife) as well as Jackson himself and the delightful music of Danny Elfman.
A quick overview of the fairly positive response (including it’s nominations at the Saturn Awards):
The Frighteners received generally positive reviews from film critics. As of December 2011, 69% of the 28 reviewers selected by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive review, certifying it “Fresh.”
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times stated “Director Peter Jackson, at home with all kinds of excess in New Zealand, keeps everything spinning nicely, not even losing a step when the mood turns increasingly disturbing.” Janet Maslin from The New York Times enjoyed The Frighteners, but “walked out the theater with mixed emotions,” she commented that “Peter Jackson deserves more enthusiasm for expert, imaginative effects than for his live actors anyhow. These lively touches would leave The Frighteners looking more like a more frantic Beetlejuice if Jackson’s film weren’t so wearyingly overcrowded. The Frighteners is not immune to overkill, even though most of its characters are already dead.” Jeff Vice of Deseret Newspraised the acting in the film, with the performances of Fox and Alvarado in particular, but said that there were also “bits that push the taste barrier too far and which grind things to a screeching halt”, and that if “Jackson had used the restraint he showed in Heavenly Creatures, the movie could have “been the best of its kind”. Critic Christopher Null praised the film, as he described it as a mixture between Ghostbusters and Twin Peaks.Michael Drucker of IGN said that although the film wouldn’t make Jackson’s top five of movies, it “is a harmless and fun dark comedy that you’ll enjoy casually watching from time to time”. The Frighteners received mixed reviews from critics from Jackson’s native country, New Zealand.
Conversely, Todd McCarthy of Variety thought that the movie should have remained an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Critic James Berardinellibelieved that although The Frighteners wasn’t “a bad film”, it was “a disappointment, following Jackson’s powerful, true-life matricide tale, Heavenly Creatures“, and because of that “The Frighteners fell short of expectations by being just one of many in the long line of 1996 summer movies.”Chicago Sun-Times‘ Roger Ebert, felt that Jackson was more interested in prosthetic makeup designs, computer animation and special effects than writing a cohesive storyline. Ebert and critic Gene Siskel gave it a “two thumbs down” rating on their TV show At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, described the film’s special effects as “ugly, aggressive” and “proliferating”, saying that “trying to keep interested in [the special effects] was like trying to remain interested in a loudmouth shouting in [his] ear”. Edward Guthmann of theSan Francisco Chronicle stated that “instead of moving the horror genre in new directions, The Frighteners simply falls apart from its barrage of visual effects and the overmixed onslaught of Danny Elfman’s music score”. The Austin Chronicle‘s Joey O’Brien, said that although the screenplay was “practically loaded with wild ideas, knowingly campy dialogue and offbeat characterizations”, it “switched gears” too fast and too frequently that “the audience is left struggling to catch up as [The Frighteners] twists and turns its way unmercifully towards a literally out-of-its-words finale”.
At the 23rd Saturn Awards, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films honored Jackson with nominations for Best Direction and Best Writing, the latter he shared with wife Fran Walsh. The Frighteners also was nominated the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film, and for its Special Effects, Make-up (Rick Baker) and Music (Danny Elfman). Michael J. Fox and Jeffrey Combs were also nominated for their work.
But here is where Silent Hill really echos of The Frighteners:
Both feature serial killers. Walter Sullivan (Silent Hill 4) and Johnny Bartlett (The Frighteners), respectively. Both were young adults (twenty-somethings) when they began their spree and at the time of their death. Both were blonde, tall, anti-social, and broad shouldered.
Both feature ghosts that interact with the protagonist. In Silent Hill: The Room, the majority of the ghosts try to harm the protagonist (Henry) and his potential love interest (Eileen). In The Frighteners, Johnny also attacks the protagonist (Frank). Likewise, the killers in both attack the leading ladies (and potential love interests), with the intent of killing them at the end, during their attempted resurrection. And of course, both are sent back to the other plane by the hero. However, there are also benevolent/helpful ghosts in each, more-so in The Frightners then Silent Hill: The Room (Joseph Schrieber was a benevolent ghost that provided Henry with his “revelation”).
Both feature rituals being performed. The Ouiji board is used in The Frighteners by the ex-girlfriend of Johnny to communicate with him to bring him back and perform more killings, while the serial murders of Walter Sullivan were all part of his own elaborate ritual, which were to continue after his death (perpetrated by Walter himself, like Johnny).
Both feature “old” types of victims and “new” types of victims. By “old”, we mean the ones that were killed while the killer was among the living, whereas the “new” victim type comes from their ghostly killings.
But perhaps most importantly, all victims are marked with numbers on their bodies, with a goal to obtain a certain number. For the post-death murders, the number of and/or the victim themselves are revealed beforehand prior to the victims death to the protagonist (in Silent Hill 4, the victims are also given a special identity). Henry will visit the “new” victims in the Otherworld, while Frank would see the “invisible” carved number on the predetermined victims head.
See what I mean? When you think about it, the similarities are striking. I wonder if perhaps part of the creative team that created Silent Hill 4 viewed Jackson’s film and then subconciously mirrored some of it’s contents in their writing process. As Silent Hill 4 came many years after, I could see how that might happen. But who knows? It’s still a fun idea to ponder with repeated viewings/playings of either The Frighteners and/or Silent Hill 4, respectively. Also keep in mind that Team Silent (and later the American team) have cited films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Session 9, Carrie, Suspiria, and Jacob’s Ladder as inspirations for their franchise.