Welcome back to our 23rd installment of Shocktoberfest! Today’s featured monster is not only the newest one to enter the public consciousness (debuting in 2001), but he’s also the only monster this month whose origin lies in the world of video games. He’s gone by a few different monikers, but the colloquial consensus is that he is called Pyramid Head.
He first appears in Silent Hill 2 as the main antagonist. While he only makes a few appearances, each one is memorable and dreadfully scary. He is portrayed as a tall, pale man with a muscular physique, yet he does not speak and has a large red pyramid where his head should be. When he isn’t tearing his victims to death with his bare hands, he uses a gigantic knife and spear to slice and skewer anyone in his path, and since some of the laws of reality don’t always apply to him, his weapons are sometimes able to cut through steel. His designer, Masahiro Ito, wanted to create a villain with a hidden face to add an extra degree of mystery to Silent Hill, but he was unhappy with every sketch because they all resembled humans wearing masks. Ito wanted something to make him stand out, so he drew a sharp metallic pyramid for the head to suggest pain not only for the victim but for the monster as well. On the surface, his design is supposed to be a distorted memory of a town executioner in a town with a dark past, but as we play the game, we begin to discover that he serves an even grimmer purpose.
In order to understand what Pyramid Head symbolizes, we first need to understand our protagonist, James Sunderland. James is a man who has come to Silent Hill because he received a letter from his wife Mary who died three years ago from an unmentioned illness. Obsessed with grief and guilt, he searches the deserted town for Mary and comes across a woman named Maria who bears a striking resemblance to Mary but wears different clothes and has a different personality, yet Maria recalls memories that only James and Mary would know. At nearly every encounter with Maria, Pyramid Head appears and violently kills her while James watches helplessly. Maria never stays dead though. She always finds James and has no recollection of being murdered, and towards the game’s end, James encounters two Pyramid Heads who kill Maria yet again. In this scene we learn why Pyramid Head is tormenting James: he’s a figment of James’ psyche and represents James’ belief that he deserves to be punished because he was the one who killed Mary to end her suffering. Upon facing his demons, Mary’s letter disappears, and both Pyramid Heads commit suicide. How the story ends depends on your choices earlier in the game.
An interesting thing to note is that while Pyramid Head makes several appearances in other Silent Hill games and movies, he’s never called Pyramid Head. He doesn’t really have a name at all. If he’s referenced at all, he’s referred to as Red Pyramid, Bogeyman or that red pyramid thing. (How original.)
With the huge success of Silent Hill 2, both commercially and critically, the franchise was eventually given the movie treatment, and while the 2006 movie simply called Silent Hill doesn’t follow the same story as the game, Pyramid Head does pop up to deal some damage. In spite of fantastic visuals that really captured the aesthetic of the game, this film failed miserably. The terror wasn’t really used to establish anything besides a cheap thrill, the plot didn’t make much sense, and fans of the game were also disappointed how Pyramid Head was used. Actor Roberto Campanella was able to provide the correct look to the character, but the production team changed his motivation, and by changing it, I mean they took it away and left him with nothing. There’s a very disturbing scene in which he tears the clothes and then flesh off of a mentally-ill woman like it was wrapping paper–which is a scene that is not for the faint of heart–but it served no real purpose. There was no implication that Anna [the victim] felt guilty about anything and believed that she deserved to be punished. That’s what Pyramid Head represents: regret. In the movie he’s just there to make sure people die messy deaths. We never learn what he is, where he comes from or why he’s doing any of this. Silent Hill is another example of why Hollywood shouldn’t green-light a movie based on a popular franchise and shove it out the door as quickly as they can to make a buck while the trend is still high. They never take the time to understand why the story and/or characters were appealing in the first place, so they botch the execution because they didn’t even try to make it worth anyone’s time.
Whether or not Pyramid Head gets unnecessarily shoe-horned into another installment of Silent Hill doesn’t ultimately matter because the original inception is carved in stone and is there for the fans to keep it alive. If you’ve been to any comic book, video game or anime convention, you might find someone cosplaying as the big red baddie, and if you do decide to try it for yourself, you may become a convention rock star if you can pull it off.
In the end, we freaks and geeks love Pyramid Head because he’s more than just a big lumbering slasher. The hellish appearance he gives off is the reflection of how our own sense of guilt can torture us to madness, and the only way we can overcome these fears is by facing them, not running from them.