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The Memory Card .42: Pyramid Head!

4:00 PM on 10.30.2008 // Chad Concelmo

What is the scariest moment in videogame history? Actually, scratch that -- what is the creepiest moment in videogame history?

If someone asked me the scariest moment, I would immediately answer when the damned zombie dog jumps through the window in the original Resident Evil. That moment makes me jump every single time.

But the creepiest? That’s a tougher question.

While there are many moments -- especially in current games -- that make my hairs stand on end just thinking about them, one in particular almost terrifies me more than any horror movie I have ever seen. And that includes the time I was permanently traumatized in the movie theater watching The Descent. (Just thinking of that girl stuck in the narrow cave corridor ... *shiver*)

The moment occurs in Silent Hill 2 for the PlayStation 2 and, as you can tell from the title of this post, it has to do with one of the freakiest videogame characters of all time. But what specific moment is the one still giving me nightmares?

Hit the jump to find out. But be warned: this Halloween edition is not for the kiddies.

The Set-Up

For many gamers -- like Destructoid’s very own Colette Bennett -- Silent Hill 2 is the pinnacle of survival horror. And, honestly, it’s hard to argue that point. Silent Hill 2 may possess some pretty traditional horror trappings, but it is taken to the next level by a story that is, for lack of a better term, seriously effed up.

In the game, you play as main character James Sunderland. As the game begins, James receives a letter from his long-deceased wife, Mary, beckoning him to the small town of Silent Hill. Yeah, you read that right: “long-deceased.” This is only the first of many strange and unusual things that occur in the game.

On his way to the town, James exits his car at a roadblock and makes his way into a graveyard. Here, James meets a girl named Angela. Like James, Angela is heading to Silent Hill to search for a missing family member. She warns James that Silent Hill may be a dangerous place and that he should turn back. Partly because he is a man still in love with his dead wife and partly because he is a stubborn hero of a horror game, James decides to ignore her warning.

Once parting with Angela, James finally makes it to the beyond creepy (and beyond foggy) town. With no real sense of direction, James wanders around aimlessly until he finds a strange radio that helps him detect evil creatures. Now, keep in mind that one of the creepiest things about Silent Hill 2 is the way simple sounds create such a terrifying atmosphere throughout the game. The radio James finds creates static that grows louder as an enemy approaches. This unnerving static -- combined with the thick fog and overwhelming darkness -- truly creates an extremely tense experience. In a way, the sound in Silent Hill 2 is almost like a character unto itself.

Using the radio and map as a guide, James eventually makes his way to an abandoned apartment building. Against all common sense, James enters the dark building, unsure of what he will find within its shadowy walls.

While journeying through the darkness with a newly acquired flashlight, James hears a strange sound emitting from a narrow hallway. As he walks down the hallway, James approaches a wall of rusty bars.

On the other side of the rusty bars is a terrifying sight -- one that could be a Memory Card of its own.

Standing beyond the obstacle is a creature with a giant head in the shape of a pyramid. This Pyramid Head -- as James comes to call him -- drags behind him a giant knife and stands completely silent in the blackness. It is this silence that makes him all the more frightening.

Not wanting to confront this gruesome beast, James backs away and continues searching the building.

After making some horrific discoveries (including some discarded, half-destroyed mannequins) and solving some classic survival horror nonsensical puzzles, James discovers a key to room 307 of the apartment complex.

Thinking this room will help him find his deceased wife’s location, James makes his way to the random room.

It is in this room when the next (horribly disturbing) Memory Card moment occurs: Pyramid Head!

The Moment

Standing in front of the door, room 307 looks like any other room in the Silent Hill 2 universe. If only he knew what he was about to step into, maybe James wouldn’t have been so anxious to turn the key.

With the radio blaring static by his side, James slowly opens the door and steps into room 307.

Before even closing the door behind him, James is immediately hit with the horrible sound of grunting and screaming.

As he walks forward he sees something ... horrible.

Pyramid Head -- the eerily docile creature he had just seen at the end of the hallway -- is violently raping a pair of mannequins over the side of a table. The act is horrible. Not only is he sexual violating the inanimate objects, Pyramid Head performs with such an over-the-top aggression that the sexual violence is almost impossible to watch.

James (and the player!) is stunned by not only the sight, but the sound of ripping and tearing that accompanies the shocking sequence.

Before Pyramid Head notices him, James quickly knocks himself into reality and hides in a nearby closet.

At this point, the player watches through the slats of the closet door (from James’ perspective) as Pyramid Head finishes what he is doing, drags one of the lifeless mannequin bodies by its leg, and slowly approaches James’s hiding spot.

Pyramid Head creeps closer and closer, the sound of the dragging body echoing throughout James’ ears.

As he approaches the door, Pyramid Head just stops. He gestures as if he is sniffing the air.

He is on the hunt.

The hunt for an intruder.

Suddenly, the view shifts to third-person, showing James alone in the closet. The door starts to shake. Pyramid Head is trying to come in!

Without even thinking, James grabs a conveniently placed gun off a nearby shelf and begins firing through the door.

Even though the bullets have no lethal effect, Pyramid Head shakes violently from the attack and oddly disappears into the surrounding darkness.

Surprised by the hasty retreat, James listens as the haunting sound of Pyramid Head’s footsteps slowly fades away.

Once he is sure everything is safe, James exits the closet and continues on his dangerous journey -- shaken, but happy to be alive.

You can view the entire Pyramid Head experience -- from his first appearance all the way up to the disturbing rape scene -- here (3:40 and 8:40, respectively):

The Impact

I will never forget the first time I encountered the Pyramid Head rape scene in the abandoned apartment complex. To this day it is easily the creepiest, most disturbing sequence I have ever seen in a videogame.

True, certain videogames have become much more graphic and violent over the years, but seeing something like this occur during Silent Hill 2 was shocking, to say the least. I had never seen something so violent and disturbingly sexual in a videogame ... well ... ever.

When I was discussing Silent Hill 2 with Colette for this very special Halloween-themed Memory Card, we were both in agreement that the first real encounter with Pyramid Head was the most memorable. While (SPOILER ALERT!) Maria’s “death” scene at the elevator and the epic battle with the two Pyramid Heads near the end of the game are worthy of posts on their own, something about the sexual attack scene really stuck with us.

For starters, and this is obvious, the entire act of seeing Pyramid Head is disturbing. Even though the game is survival horror, seeing Pyramid Head mutilate the mannequins in such a specific, violent way is traumatizing.

But beyond that -- and I hate to say this -- the scene is quite brilliant in the way it establishes Pyramid Head as a character.

Seeing Pyramid Head for the first time in the hallway is creepy -- the way he just stands there and watches you from behind the bars still sends a chill up my spine -- but to immediately follow this quiet scene with something as shocking as the sexual assault really shows the player what kind of creature you are dealing with. Pyramid Head is not just some mysterious monster that will lurk quietly in the shadows. He is a terrifying, horrifying beast that has no problem performing gruesome acts of violence.

I also love the way the director of Silent Hill 2 lets this scene play out. By cutting to the act with almost no build-up, the player is scared and confused as to what is going on. Then, just like James, the camera pulls back into the closet as Pyramid Head slowly starts to look around the room. And finally, the first-person perspective switches to a more cinematic third-person as Pyramid Head tries to break through the closet door.

Although the creative choices are very subtle, these three distinct viewpoints help elicit the best reactions from the player. Shock, suspense, and fear: the perfect recipe for a great survival horror game. It really takes a lot of thought and planning to establish this specific a tone in something like a videogame.

There is a reason that Pyramid Head has become one of the most iconic characters in videogame history and this ridiculously memorable sequence from Silent Hill 2 proves it. Although he has popped up in later games in the series, I will never be able to get this first, horribly traumatizing encounter out of my mind.

And I don’t know if that is a good thing.

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 - .20 (Season 1)
.21 - .40 (Season 2)
.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)

Chad Concelmo,
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