Friday, March 30, 2012

Six Things that make Silent Hill so Wonderfully Scary

"Silent Hill" came out in 1999 and since then the franchise has spawned four games that were true to it's core themes and way too many that aren't. The last three to come out, "Silent Hill: Homecoming," "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories" and "Silent Hill: Downpour" pale in comparison to the original three installments. It's like the game developers read the really, really crappy Silent Hill comics they put out and decided that they were so brilliant that they just had to imitate them.

For instance:

"Silent Hill: Paint it Black" is a trade paperback about an angst ridden artist is sucked into Silent Hill. He comes across a school bus full of cheerleader commandos. I'm not kidding. Here's page 27. Cheryl, head of the cheerleaders knows Seven Schools of Hand-to-hand Combat. And, she has a baseball bat.

So... Yeah.... That's as good as that comic gets. None of the Silent Hill comics have ever really been able to capture the essence of Silent Hill. None that I've read at least.

So, what then, is at the heart of Silent Hill that the current installments in the franchise lack? What is missing? What is the one thing that game developers keep getting wrong?

Well, it isn't just one thing, but six things that are really at the heart of Silent Hill and the Survival Horror genre. And it's these six things that make these video games so scary and so great.

1. The Everyman Character
Silent Hill for PlayStation introduced us to Harry Mason. He's looking for his daughter. Have you seen her?

What made "Silent Hill" so scary was the fact that the characters were average, every day people. Harry was a normal guy looking for his lost daughter. That is what the game is about: a loving father's desperate search for his child.

Harry isn't a highly trained muscle bound commando. He's an average skinny guy who is so clumsy at times that he can trip down stairs. It's his frailty that not only adds to the overall feel of Survival Horror, it makes him a character that anyone can relate to, which in turn makes the game play experience all the more terrifying.

"Silent Hill 2" gave us James Sunderland, a poor bastard that "lost" his wife to a disease and then received a letter from her telling him that she's waiting for him in Silent Hill.

Clues throughout the game lead up the final reveal that James killed his wife to put her out of her misery and to end his own suffering at having to watch the one woman he loved waste away to nothing. His feelings of guilt over his incompetency and his  deeply repressed sexual desires are represented throughout the game, with the overtly sexual manikins, Pyramid Head and the presence of Maria. James was not a soldier. He was just a grieving husband whose guilt over his wife's death drove insane. And his insanity dragged him into Silent Hill.

In "Silent Hill 3," we have Heather Mason- Harry Mason's adopted daughter. He rescued her from the ashes of the final fight in "Silent Hill."

She is a teenage girl who slowly learns the mystery behind her birth and who and what she really is, all the while being terrorized by monsters formed by her own psyche.

Heck, even "Silent Hill 4" is about an agoraphobic shut-in. Then, we get "Silent Hill: Homecoming," in which the reigns were handed completely over to an American gaming team. And it shows.

The focus on combat at the sake of everything else utterly ruined the game experience for me. Of course, so does the direct from the movie to the video game import of the sexy demon nurse and Pyramid Head. The nurses are freaking fast and will stab you to death faster than you can even get a knife up to parry them. Arrrrrgg!!

2. Less Ammo, More Running
Monsters aren't scary if you have an unlimited supply of ammo and really powerful guns. Makeshift weapons, such as rusty pipes, wooden planks with nails in them, etc. do make things a bit more dangerous when you decide to engage in combat. ("Silent Hill: Origins" did not have a lot of guns, but the weapons degraded with each hit and eventually broke. It was annoying and did not improve the game play experience, but detracted from of it.) The whole idea of Survival Horror is that you have to struggle to survive the monsters the game throws at you. Limited ammo makes every encounter a fight or flight experience- which combined with our natural instincts to run or fight when we encounter danger makes Survival Horror all the more terrifying to play.

With the option of running away thrown out the window and being stuck with having to fight unavoidable monsters-- not bosses-- just monsters like the Needler monster in the Grand Hotel in "Silent Hill: Homecoming" where all you could do is parry it's scythe arm attacks with a knife and not hit it for the life of you. There are also those that you cannot, in any way run away from, such as the Lurkers that would continue to come after you and will chase you all the way to Alex's house and wait for you to exit to attack en mass. When the choice of fighting or running is ripped away from you and you are forced to fight everything you come across, the Survival Horror experience turns into a frustrating gaming nightmare that totally kills the feeling of foreboding dread that the original three Silent Hill games so brilliantly cultivated.

3. Sound, visuals, and Story work in Tandem to scare the living BEEP out of you.

"One unique innovation to the game play of Silent Hill is the use of sound. Music changes to create tension as you explore, but even cooler than that is how you will hear enemies before you actually see them.... On top of that, the [radio] sound is in stereo, so by rotating in place you can narrow down the direction and number of baddies before you can see them or they see you." Page 26- Totally Unauthorized Silent Hill Strategy Guide by Brady Games.

It's very rare when a game maker can use all three elements of sight, sound and story to conjure up such feelings of dread and uncertainty. So we have non-traditional auditory cues to alert us to the presence of monsters, music that starts up in the presence of other monsters or in certain areas to create this utter sense of foreboding and an overall soundtrack that did not rely on any of the Western traditions of horror music; such as the often over-used and now cliched violin trill.

The visual style of Silent Hill is two-fold. There is the day time style with dilapidated run-down buildings and an oppressive looming fog that threatens to consume you while hiding unspeakable horrors that are lurking in your midst.

Then there is the night time style, with the pitch black darkness, rusted metal chain link fences and steel doors, and more grotesque scenes of carnage with mangled corpses hanging from walls or bound up in an almost fetishistic manner and locked in rusted metal cages.

Overall, the story line of the first three games tackles the idea of a cult living in a town that existed outside of reality, and yet, at the same time, existed right along side it, which leads me to number four on my list.

4. Personal Hell in a Parasite Reality
Silent Hill exists in our world and in the Otherworld (or Otherside or Nightmare realm or whatever you want to call it.). Silent Hill straddles the Veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead. It subsumes other towns and will continue to creep out over the land, swallowing more places and people as it goes. It does not have a reality or its own plane of existence, but rather, sucks life from our own, which is why it is a parasite reality. Silent Hill also appears to have a consciousness as well, which makes me wonder if the parasite reality itself isn't some sort of huge demon.

The psyche of each individual that enters Silent Hill affects the shape and feel of the town and its monsters. A person's fears, anxieties and traumatic past warps the Parasite Reality into something nightmarish and evil. It feeds on fear and pain and blood. It wants you to be scared, even more than it wants you to die. When one or more people are there at the same time, the monsters created from their subconscious minds can clash- with the strongest being the one that was made by the strongest fear from an individual.

The first three installments of the Silent Hill franchise also had unique monsters. "Silent Hill" had monsters that were influenced by Cheryl's subconscious mind. There were evil demon children that represented the kids at school that tormented her and there were monsters based on insects, such as huge months, dogs and other critters. Even though you play as Harry, the monsters weren't created from his psyche, probably because he was emotionally stable and a normal guy.

"Silent Hill 2" had strange grotesque, yet oddly sexual monsters that were drawn from James' subconscious mind. Pyramid Head wielded either a huge sword or a spear and was a direct result of his primal male urge to procreate, which was demonstrated in the now infamous mannikin rape scene.

My oh my! Look at the time!

"Silent Hill 3" started to deviate from the idea of having protean monsters that were shaped by people's fears and obsessions in that the monsters really didn't represent much of anything as they were far too abstract. The creator's reasoning for some of the more stranger creatures being aspects of Heather's repressed fears and obsessions weren't very convincing either.

Speaking of personal monsters, if the character does not have repressed sexual urges, keep Pyramid Head out of the game. If a character does not have a traumatic hospital experience, keep the "sexy" demon nurses out of the game.

You don't see Maria showing up in any other game. She's also a product of James' repressed sexuality. Why doesn't she also appear in other Silent Hill games? She is made by the same thing that created Pyramid Head.

The reason why he shows up so much is because Pyramid Head is a fan favorite that has taken over our collective imagination. Personally, I think the strange demonic entity is cool as hell and loved it when he appeared in the Silent Hill movie (in that case, it was explained that he was a manifestation of Alessa's hatred, or some theorize, a demonic avatar and enforcer of Silent Hill itself). But, honestly, he doesn't belong in any other game because James isn't there. The only way I could accept it is if James makes an appearance in another Silent Hill game, then the appearance of his personal demons would make sense.

It's as simple as that. Silent Hill is shaped by our Shadow- all of the negative stuff in our subconscious mind. If a character does not have these traits lurking in the back of her mind,  Pyramid Head and sexy demon nurses do not belong in the game.

5. J-Horror Themes
Vengeful Ghost
In Japanese Horror, a person who suffers greatly becomes a vengeful hungry ghost who holds a grudge against the living. It cannot be placated, it just wants living people to suffer and die. There is also a theme of psychic projection in a lot of Japanese horror and anime where a comatose patient can send an avatar of themselves out into reality to interact with living people and objects as if they are really physically there. Creepy.

In "Silent Hill," that is what Alessa became. Cheryl was an avatar of Alessa, a projection of her desires to live a normal life. When Alessa could no longer escape the truth, Cheryl was brought back to Silent Hill. She influenced Harry, and he took her there.

Ghost in the Machine
In Japanese folk beliefs, ghosts can manipulate electronic devices. They can mess with the lights, your TV, your radio, your computer and so on. A classic example of this is "The Ring." Samara could curse VHS tapes. She always knew when they were being played and could see who was watching them because they were an extension of her existence. This is also why she could crawl out of the well and then directly through the TV screen and into the room where her victims are sitting, watching in abject horror as she walks towards them. Ghosts are literally in our machines.

Silent Hill Radio Interference
In J-horror, ghosts are believed to be able to manipulate computers and electronic devices. That is why there is so much radio interference when the monsters of Silent Hill get close to a radio, or a person that is carrying a radio, such as the main character of the game.

6. The FOG
One of the things that makes the original three installations of Silent Hill so creepy are the figures and silhouettes lurking in the fog. While it was originally done in Silent Hill for PSX because of limitations in the gaming console that caused a short "draw" distance (how far ahead the scenery could be produced by the gaming computer while you ran or walked), it was kept because it's creepy as hell.

I can assure you, if you ever get the chance to walk in a thick fog, you will spot figures that you can't quite make out. This is what makes it so scary, because you can't really see what's out there. The monsters are literally hidden from you and their shapes are only hinted at in the dense foggy streets. Removing the fog, or lightening it up to reveal more of the streets, as what happened with the glitchy Silent Hill 2 in the HD Collection ruins the mood of the game and makes it less scary.

If game creators in the future could manage to just hit these six things when they make another Silent Hill game, they'll put the heart right back into that creepy looming monstrosity and give us a true Survivor Horror game play experience.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Worst Zombie Movies Ever Made

There are plenty of lists out there about zombie movies. This one is about the worst zombie movies ever made. And while there were a lot of contenders, these four are the worst of the lot: "Survival of the Dead", "Zombie Apocalypse," "Steve Niles' Remains" and "Deadlands: The Rising."

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Synopsis from Magnet Releasing:
The newest film from horror master George A. Romero (legendary creator of the Night of the Living Dead franchise) picks up where Diary of the Dead leaves off. On a small island off the coast of Delaware, live two families locked in a struggle for power and control over the fate of the undead. The O’Flynns approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude. The Muldoons feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept “alive,” in hopes that a solution will be discovered. For both families, existence on Plum Island is a nightmarish world where humans are the minority and zombies rule.

"Survival of the Dead" is the worst zombie movie Romero has ever done. Period.  Anyone who says otherwise is suffering from Romero Fan-Boy Wank Syndrome: No matter what it is, if Romero makes it and there's zombies in it, the movie is absolute gold!

Ha! "Survival of the Dead" is drowning in trite cliches and not a single character in the movie has any sort of redeeming quality about them. Not only are all of the characters unsympathetic jerks, they are stuck in a bad retelling of the Hatfields and the McCoys on Little Ireland er, I mean, Plum Island in North America off the coast of Delaware. Delaware? Seriously?

One faction of Little Ireland, the O'Flynn clan, wants to dispose of the zombies and put them out of their undead misery. (I'm on the O'Flynn's side on the matter, but that's just me.) The other faction, the Muldoon clan, wants to "train" them and use them for menial labor. Muldoon even has tethered a "mailman" zombie to a mailbox. It walks away, is yanked back on the tether and then returns to the mailbox to "deliver" a letter. The idiots firmly believe that zombies are safe to be around and that they can be taught, which results in having a "herd" of zombies stored in a corral on the Muldoon clan farm. This idea that zombies can be useful began in the Romero zombie franchise with "Day of the Dead."

In "Day of the Dead" Romero posited the idea: What if rotting zombie brains could retain some intelligence, however animalistic it is? What would happen if they could remember things or events from when they were alive?

It's an interesting idea, one that was handled quite well by Kim Paffenroth's novel "Dying to Live." Unfortunately, neither "Land of the Dead" nor "Survival of the Dead" managed to pull it off with any sort of dignity.

"Survival of the Dead" takes the idea presented with Beethoven loving Bub the zombie in "Day of the Dead" and Big Daddy aka zombie Moses in "Land of the Dead" and runs with it in circles while holding a razor sharp pair of scissors to give us horse riding zombie Jane.

Horse riding "smart zombie" Jane O'Flynn in "Survival of the Dead" is the undead twin sister of Janet O'Flynn. Smart zombie Jane rides a horse all over the place on Little Ireland. Yeah. You read that right. The zombie is riding a living, breathing animal and the horse for some strange reason, has absolutely no problem with being ridden by a dead thing that is still moving.

Oh sure, you can train a horse to do a lot of things, but get it to allow a rotting animated corpse on its back? You have to be freaking kidding me. Horses are not that dumb. It is highly unlikely that a horse would let anything that smells like a rotting cess pool and looks like it just crawled up out of its grave anywhere near it.

Which brings us to one of my main problems with "Survival of the Dead." The zombies are not treated like a threat. They are taunted and played with like it's happy fun time in the zombie apocalypse. When they are not being played with, the zombies are somehow able to teleport behind people, or like ninja undead, slip between a whole squad of soldiers (as in the beginning of the movie) and attack a poor man while his dumbfounded buddies just stand there and watch. They don't take even kill it until after their buddy is dead.

One remarkable idiotic zombie death takes place on a fishing boat. One of the soldiers picks up a fire extinguisher, gets the zombie's attention with it and then gets it to bite it, kind of like you would when teasing a dog (well if you are that kind of a jerk...). The zombie then has its eyes and brain blown out of its head when the fire extinguisher goes off. (Which apparently was also done by a soldier in "Day of the Dead.")

By the time I got to the end of the movie, I was wishing that someone would blow out my eyes out too, just to put me out of my misery. Don't bother with this one. It's terrible.

SyFy's Zombie Apocalypse (2011)

Synopsis from IMDB:
Months after a zombie plague has wiped out 90 percent of the American population, a small group of survivors fight their way cross-country to a rumored refuge on the island of Catalina.

Please, please SyFy, just stop. Stop making movies that rely on CG-- it's obvious you can't afford a computer effects studio that can actually make the animation look believable. And while you're at it, just stop producing movies all together. 

"Zombie Apocalypse" is another bad SYFY movie with terrible two dimensional weightless computer graphics, this time with "magic katana" karate-chop action! Awesome chick with katana Cassie is so amazing that her katana blade doesn't even get remotely close to a zombie when swings it, and yet, WOOSH! Off with their heads! It's kind of like watching one of those Samurai magic sword attacks in anime where they just swing it and the force of the blade flinging through the air is so strong that it knocks down buildings. Except this movie was supposed to be about normal average every day people trying to survive... Sigh.

Just when you think the CG can't get any worse, they encounter a weightless zombie tiger on the pier.
I guess it wanted to go fishing...?

SyFy's "Zombie Apocalypse" has such unbelievable character actions that even the intro is dumb.

Who decided it would be a good idea to set off global wide EMPs to cut off all communication in an attempt to quarantine the zombie virus? I mean, it's not a high-tech zombie virus caused by nanites infecting the tissue of dead human beings and reanimating them. So how exactly would cutting off communications stop it from spreading? Blowing up bridges, cutting off fuel supplies, military enforcement of quarantine zones, that would help, for a while at least. But, ruining electronic devices? Come on!

Taryn Manning who plays Ramona, the main character and stereotypical dumb blonde, sounds like she has one hell of a head cold throughout the whole movie. The best I can compare it to is the voice of Lindsay Lohan in the Robot Chicken episode "Highlohander." Not only does she sound just like her, Ramona is just as stupid as the Lohan parody as well.

Yes. That is an actual line from the movie. And it's as intelligent and articulate as the movie's heroine gets, or anyone else in "Zombie Apocalypse" for that matter.

These characters are so dumb, they'd have to stop and ask the zombies for directions to Catalina.
The heavy reliance on sub-par computer graphics for animated special effects and the terrible dialog in "Zombie Apocalypse" would only work if we were living in the Bizarro universe of "Idiocracy." Then it might, and that's a big MIGHT, be funny. But scary? Hell no. The only thing scary about this movie is that someone paid money to get it produced. Don't even bother renting it, or watching it if it ever appears on TV again. You'll lose SAN points if you do.

Steve Niles' Remains (2011)

IMDB Synopsis:
The story centers on two lone survivors of a bizarre accident that reduced most of the world's population to zombies. They take refuge in a vacant casino and fight a losing battle against the undead.

"Steve Niles' Remains" by Chiller is another zombie movie that gets a ton of really, really good gushing praise from reviewers and for the life of me, I can't figure out why, other than the fact that "It's got zombies in it. Hur Durr..."

The zombies in "Remains" are so dumb, they eat their own arms.
It's a damn shame that the acting and overall attention to detail in the short film that leads up to the start of the movie in "Remains: Road to Reno" wasn't held up as an example of production value for the actual freaking movie. Talk about a disappointment. I couldn't even get through the first half hour of the damn thing. It was absolute eye-rolling stupidity.

None of the characters acted like a real person would and the entire thing suffers from Idiot Plot Syndrome. As in, if real thinking people were in the same situations, they would never do any of the things that the characters in this movie did.

What's worse is that the character creator and writer of the comic that the movie was based on, Steve Niles, admits in an interview with Yahoo! Movies that his characters are in fact, idiotic douche bags. "[Tom] is kind of a dumb ass. He's not the brightest guy in the world. Tori isn't the nicest person in the world."

So, his two main characters are an idiot and a mean, shallow chick that works in a casino? Great. At least the zombies didn't talk in the movie, like they do in the comic book and say things like "Need flesh!" But that's the only thing "Remains" does right.

Hey guys, I know there's zombies loose in the hotel, but I'm going to split up and go off on my own anyways...  

Deadlands: The Rising (2006)

Synopsis from IMDB:
October 2008. A biochemical weapon explosion causes a freak chain of events and brings the dead back to life. It is up to five people to make a stand for survival against an ever growing army of the Living Dead.

Remember, "Deadlands: The Rising" has nothing to do with the Pinnacle tabletop RPG "Deadlands." I know because the intro to the movie tells us and it was on the box when I rented it from the video store.

At first when I was looking for info on the Internet about this movie, I didn't believe that it was the same thing. The synopsis has absolutely NOTHING in common with the actual movie that was put out.

So, what's "Deadlands: The Rising" about? Nothing. Seriously. It's about nothing. There is no plot. More than half of the movie is either A. Michelle writing in her "journal" about events that already happened with her narrating as she writes (Yeah. That got old real quick) or B. Gary and/or Brian whining and doing nothing at all.

Most of  "Deadlands: The Rising" is just filler. It lingers on events that are of absolute no consequence and are boring as hell. There is a scene that takes over a half an hour where Gary and Brian shoot at cans. I'm not kidding. Shooting at cans and improvising boring dialog. For over 30 minutes of the film.

Oh, and there's a scene with a dog in a closet. And one scene where Gary or Brian (because seriously, after a while I stopped caring about who was whom) is stuck in a "traffic jam" at night and zombies come out of the darkness and attack people in cars. Gee. If only they managed to just lock their damned car doors. Then none of that would've happened.

Yeah. "Deadlands: The Rising" makes "Zombie Apocalypse" seem like a decent movie. And that's sad, because it sucks.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 13: Beside the Dying Fire

The episode starts out back in Atlanta, where walkers are eating a dog. When the helicopter flies overhead, gets their attention, and they follow it. The walkers head out of the city and keep gathering more of their number as they continue moving. The herd piles up at a wooden fence and the weight of their numbers breaks it and they stumble through.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 12: Better Angels

"The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 12: Better Angels" starts with a flash forward of Andrea, Shane, Daryl and T-Dog go out hunting walkers and fixing the fence that is intertwined with Rick giving Dale's eulogy at his funeral. He talks about honoring Dale by doing things his way, so that they don't lose their humanity. He wants to fix the group, and believes that they can makes things right.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Character Autopsy: The Walking Dead's Shane Walsh is a Shakespeare Villain

Something's rotten in the state of Georgia Horatio. And it's not the zombies. It's Shane Walsh.

In an interview with AMC, Jon Bernthal stated that he feels that Shane shares traits with three characters from Shakespeare's Othello.  He has Iago's villainy, Cassio's nobility, and Othello's jealousy."

For those of you that don't know, the works of William Shakespeare have a huge influence on Western culture. Shakespeare's complex characters have a depth of emotion similar to those found in people you'd meet in real life. The Walking Dead's Shane Walsh is, like a Shakespeare villain, a very complex character with a deep seated fear that drives every single choice he makes; whether it is pre-meditated or not.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cast Member Quits "The Walking Dead"

Back in November, reported that one of the main cast members wanted to quit the show when Frank Darabont was fired. This past week, one of the characters of "The Walking Dead" was killed, and the actor that played him had previously worked with Darabont.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 11: Judge, Jury, Executioner

"The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 11: Judge, Jury, Executioner" was a combination of "12 Angry Men," "Survival of the Dead," and a "Very Special Episode" for Carl, in which we learn that actions have consequences.

Someone just shoot me already...