Real-life events have been the inspiration for horror stories ever since humans first learned to speak. Any good scary storyteller knows that to truly frighten your audience, your tale must be grounded in reality. Thus, we have classic works of horror such as the cask of amontillado, Dracula, and the exorcist.
But where do modern-day creators find their inspiration for world-building?
Today, we're going to plumb the fiery depths of the real town that inspired silent hill, considered one of the greatest video games ever made.
Origins Of The Game
Silent Hill, the video game, was published by Konami and developed by team silent for the PlayStation in 1999. This eerie entertainment powerhouse was designed to intrigue and terrify gamers and filmgoers alike.
Due to creative conflicts, the members of the team silent, the development team tasked with creating the game, felt alienated from Konami management who'd lost faith in the game. Lucky for us, the time spent in development hell paid off in a big way.
The team focused on humanity's innate fear of the unknown, leading to psychological horror over jump scares which were more popular at the time. The plot was made vague. And, occasionally, contradictory to leave its true meaning up to interpretation and to make players reflect upon unexplained parts. The game's narrative follows harry mason, every man, as opposed to a protagonist with combat training, as he searches for his missing adopted daughter in the fictional American town of silent hill.
During his search, mason stumbles upon a cult conducting a ritual to revive a deity they worship and discovers her true origin. Five game endings are possible, depending on actions taken by the player, including one joke ending. With its suspenseful music, grainy dilapidated texture, and focus on psychological horror, the game quickly became a best-seller, selling over two million copies, and cementing its place as one of Time magazine's 100 greatest video games of all time.
Silent Hill 2 released in 2001, found itself following James Sunderland, a widower, who has received a letter from his dead wife. The return address-- you guessed it.
This entry to the silent hill canon was praised for its story, use of metaphors, psychological horror, and taboo topics. It introduced players to a new set of disturbing circumstances and cringe-worthy creatures.
The game series would go on to release eight installments, silent hill 3, silent hill 4: the room, silent hill: origins, silent hill: homecoming, silent hill: shattered memories, and silent hill: downpour in 2012. As of 2013, the game series had sold more than 8.4 million copies worldwide. Then 2014 came.
In August 2014, PlayStation users discovered a free download of a playable horror trailer from an unknown company called 7780s studio.
In the demo, players found themselves lurking through a tense and creepy corridor that repeats itself in a continuous loop, each time getting more and more terrifying. If gamers could solve the puzzles and survive the scares, they would unlock a trailer revealing the true origin of the playable teaser.
A new silent hill title directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro and starring the walking dead's Norman Reedus. While the trailer has been downloaded over a million times, it wasn't enough to keep the game alive.
In March 2015, sources reported that due to conflicts with Konami, Kojima and his senior staff planned to exit Konami. That April, del Toro, and Reedus confirmed the cancellation. And that same day, Konami announced that the playable trailer would be pulled from the PlayStation store on April 29, 2015. While that version of the silent hill never really came to be, the franchise was far from done. With the commercial success of the game series, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood wanted in.
How Silent Hill Became A Film
Director Christopher gans, best known for the french film brotherhood of the wolf, spent five years attempting to obtain the film rights to the silent hill series. He even went so far as to send them a pitch video, explaining his plans for adapting the game and how important the series was to him. Konami was so impressed that gans was awarded the film rights.
In 2004, gans recruited screenwriter roger Avery, known for co-writing pulp fiction, and began writing the script for the first silent hill film adaptation. What they crafted was an amalgamation of elements established by the game and true-life events.
In particular, a very gained inspiration from his father who was a mining engineer. And during Avery's childhood often spoke of a small town in Pennsylvania that was left deserted, dammed, and burning.
On May 7, 1962, the town council of Centralia, Pennsylvania, met to discuss the approaching memorial day holiday and how the town would clean up the Centralia landfill. The landfill was a 300 foot wide, 75-foot long pit that was once mined for coal but had since become an eyesore filled with trash.
Although Pennsylvania state law prohibited dump fires, five volunteer firefighters ignited the dump a few weeks later. They incinerated the trash, doused the remaining flames with water that evening, and then called it a night.
Two days later, flames were spotted once more. And again, the firefighters extinguished them but the flames came back again and again. The landfill was supposed to be lined with fire retardant to contain the burn, but apparently, they missed a spot. Embers of the landfill fire entered a hole that led down into a labyrinth of abandoned coal mines.
The coal-lined mine shafts were ignited causing a fire that burns to this day. The large and unending fire beneath Centralia has led to some chilling but remarkable phenomena. It's no wonder Avery plucked these events from real life and put them in his screenplay.
Road To Nowhere
Centralia was once reachable via route 61, a four-lane highway that led into the heart of the town. Unfortunately, the fire destroyed any possibility of the road being useful. And in the 1990s, the highway was shut down due to numerous fissures and sinkholes that were opened by the fire burning directly beneath it.
In fact, the closer you come to the city, the worse the road gets. People, who happen to be in the vicinity, are warned to keep watch of their children at all times, in case the road suddenly decides to open up and swallow them.
Because the coal fire has an eternal source of fuel, the town and its surrounding areas are shrouded in dense white smoke. Before reaching Centralia proper, one of the main dangers on the road is a caution to watch out for the smoke that travels from below.
Because the fire burns 30 feet below the surface of the town, every crack and hole in the ground spews noxious fumes, creating a very real danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, even if you're outside. It's actually dangerous to stay anywhere in town for too long. The most likely cause of suffocation in Centralia is a random release of smoke or gas that strikes without warning and fills your lungs before you can take refuge.
The fumes of the underground fire haven't just destroyed the roads and homes, the carbon monoxide also managed to taint the vegetation around town. It turned the lush greenery into a blackened eerie wasteland where most living things seem to hover just above the point of demise. Even though noxious gases have almost completely destroyed the vegetation and wildlife surrounding Centralia, nature has found a way to persevere.
Route 61 is full of fissures that are sprouting strange plant life that seem to be reaching out from the depths of hell.
As we've mentioned, it's not even safe to walk around the town of Centralia. As the fire burns the coal away, an empty cavity is left behind. With nothing to support the ground above it, a sinkhole develops waiting for some unfortunate soul to swallow whole.
On veterans day 1981, a 12-year-old boy was swallowed up while playing with his cousin in their grandmother's backyard. According to reports, the boy slowly slid through the steam-warmed mud until he was six feet below ground level in a carbon monoxide-filled hole. If he'd been playing alone, he certainly would have perished.
The Town Still Burns
Although the fire below Centralia has been burning for nearly 70 years now, it shows no sign of slowing down.
According to the Smithsonian, the underground fire has actually been growing by about 75 feet a year in four different directions. The fire's most evident along the st. Ignatius cemetery and has been recorded burning at a temperature of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're looking to visit this literal hellhole, the only signage you'll find is a simple hand-painted sign reading fire and an arrow pointing the way.
Gans and Avery used inspiration from Centralia to paint a grim picture of a tortured town, broken and crumbled streets, a perpetual dense and ashy fog, and a raging fire below.
The look of the town wasn't just for scares though, it served to reflect the theme. Gans described the film's concept of the town's connection to the child Alessa and the cult. Quote,
It's a town of people trapped in dark dreams. And she inflicts onto the town what those people did to her body. That is to Me the meaning of the darkness. The appearance of the town is corrupted in the way that her own flesh was wounded
Gans further expands on Alessa's connection to the alternate reality scene in the film, saying that the alternate reality is in Alessa's head.
He found it interesting that the town itself mirrored her fractured psychology, different dimensions, and different versions of the same person.
What Did and Didn't Make It Into The Movie
Gans and Avery saw the major theme of the movie being motherhood and needed to change some key elements of the game to tell the story they wanted to tell.
Chiefly, the main character of the original silent hill game, harry mason, and father to the missing daughter, became rose da silva, adoptive mother of Sharon. Continuing the motherhood theme, the main villain changed from Daliah Gillespie, Alessa's mother, to a made-up sister of dahlia's, Christabella played by Alice krige.
While the game just has one fanatical, religious cult called the order, silent hill the film added the brethren, a second fanatical religious cult, that stands in opposition to the order. Gans saw fit to clarify the confusion this additional cult caused, stating there are two separate cults and that the order is not the cult in the film. The brethren are witch hunters who kill convicted witches to prevent the apocalypse.
The silent hill game series created a slew of iconic creatures. The names and designs of some of these creatures are based on books enjoyed by the character of Alessa, including the lost world by Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll's Alice's adventures in wonderland. Fans would be devastated if at least a few didn't appear in the film.
So gans made sure to include the nurses, somehow as alluring as they are ghastly. These memorable health care workers, who attack players based on sound, appear in a tense sequence in the film. The scene serves as an homage to the game, which always seemed to have players encountered the nurses in confined spaces.
Abstract daddy, a.k.a. Ideal father, a.k.a. The doorman, is a beast that approximates a man and a woman having intercourse within a collapsed four-poster bed. This disturbing creature is believed to represent the abuse Alessa suffered from her father.
While abstract daddy didn't make it into the film, the idea of trauma personified did. Gans got the idea for the film's infamous janitor, colin, from a corpse found in the bathroom stall in the original silent hill game.
A designer from the game was so inspired by colin that he asked gans if he could use the crusty custodian in a future silent hill release. This may have served as the source of inspiration for Caliban in silent hill: origins.
Of course, everyone's favorite, pyramid head, had to make a cameo. With his head caged in the iconic iron helmet wielding the great knife, he's one of the most well-known characters from the game and is said to represent the guilt and torment of the protagonist of silent hill 2.
In fact, during production, gans had the games booted up on set at all times to help his cast and crew nail the tone and atmosphere of the source material.
Avery and gans seized on these creepy true events and wove them into the 2006 psychological horror film silent hill, starring Radha Mitchell, sean bean, and Laurie holden.
The film follows rose who takes her adopted daughter Sharon to the town of the silent hill in an attempt to cure her nightmares. While in town, the mother and daughter become separated, and rose must battle a local cult and uncovers Sharon's connection to the town to get her back.
The film opened to a $20 million take at the domestic box office and went on to gross $129 million worldwide, landing silent hill in the top 10 highest-grossing film adaptations of a video game.
Critics gave the film generally unfavorable reviews. But I'll agree that it is a great-looking film, in part because of Centralia.
So what do you think? would you visit the real silent hill? we wouldn't recommend it. But if you do decide to go, let us know if you see pyramid heads.