"Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is that?" I can't remember exactly what I said upon my debut encounter with Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2 – a meeting that occurred on this day 21 years ago – but it was words to this effect. For many players, that first rendezvous would have been during a cutscene which, while pretty terrifying in itself, was also pre-scripted and safe. But for some of us, those of us who decided not to ignore the static feedback blazing from our haywire radios deep within the hallways of the Blue Creek Apartment block moments prior, that encounter occurred on the fly. I'm doing everything I can here not to spoil what is one of my favorite moments in the second of Konami's now long standing survival horror series with an eye on the incoming remake, so let's just say it's an if you know, you know moment that, for me, has stood the test of time.
Fast forward over two decades and Pyramid Head is an icon of both the Silent Hill series, and survival horror far and wide. The twisted antagonist has since featured in the Sean Bean-starring 2006 movie, and has made cameos across a number of external franchises, including online horror romp Dead By Daylight, and, um, Super Bomberman R. Somewhat inevitably, the success of Pyramid Head has spawned many shameless clones in the Silent Hill series itself over the years – each of which has been met with disdain from fans and critics alike. But one particular doppelganger I don't think gets the credit they deserve is The Butcher of Silent Hill: Origins.
Wind it back
On November 23, 2001, two months after landing in the US and Japan, Silent Hill 2 arrived on European shores. I remember it vividly – finishing school, and rushing to the video games shop near my parents' house with a bundle of old PSOne games tucked under my arm to trade against Konami and Team Silent's long-awaited horror sequel. I hadn't long picked up a PS2 at the time, and the thought of taking another trip to the most cursed town in gaming, even then, was exciting and terrifying. Fast forward a few hours, and I'd met Pyramid Head for the first time. Fast forward a few more hours again, and I couldn't sleep.
Fast forward almost six years to the day, and I was playing Silent Hill: Origins on the PSP and marveling at how incredible it looked on such a small screen. In the wake of 2004's The Room, Origins marked the first game of the series not to be developed by Team Silent (this one led by Climax Action, with Her Story's Sam Barlow as principal designer), but it retained all the charm and chills of its best bits – including a distinctly Pyramid Head-inspired baddie named The Butcher. Unlike the shameless copy and paste job Silent Hill: Homecoming would carry out the following year with Pyramid Head – a design decision criticized by the character's creator Masahiro Ito himself – The Butcher was a neat boss whose stalking presence was genuinely unsettling.
I mean, no one wants to be chased by this thing, right?
With that, the visual similarities between The Butcher and Pyramid Head are pretty stark. But whereas the latter's movements were always janky, erratic and, I dunno, twitchy, for want of a better word, The Butcher's were always smooth, calm and calculated – only adding to the terror of having it hot on your heels in pursuit. Your first very graphic meeting in the hallway of The Family Butcher shop in downtown Silent Hill sets the tone early doors, while hearing the bastard dragging its oversized meat cleaver across the concrete floor of the Lumber Yard, without making an actual visual appearance, is undoubtedly even more stomach-churning.
Later, when exploring the Riverside Motel, you can peer through a peephole and see The Butcher standing next to a bed in the opposite room. The room, Room 503, is adorned with weird photos of The Butcher slaughtering various humanoids and otherworldly creatures, and, worse, you stood in that very room just moments before. Look away, then look back, and The Butcher is nowhere to be seen – in what is a masterfully-executed example of incidental, easily-missable, exploration-based horror. Less abstract is your final showdown with The Butcher, an intense Benny Hill-esque encounter that sees you sprinting around an industrial kitchen, dodging its grasp and emptying every weapon on your person into its metal-plated skull.
Symbolism is something that's been discussed to death in reference to Silent Hill 2 and Pyramid Head, and the same rhetoric has since been applied to Origins, and, indeed, The Butcher on a smaller scale. Again, in the interest of not spoiling anything for prospective Silent Hill 2 first-timers – after all, a well-done remake can be the best introduction to an iconic series – I won't elaborate, but some of the theories pertaining to Origins protagonist Travis Grady and The Butcher's relationship are interesting, albeit far from concrete. What I'm much more confident about is Origin's design, and how this elevates The Butcher's character, presence and terror.
For example, the game's derelict movie theater location is easily one of the best Silent Hill maps of all time with some cool puzzles, while revisiting Silent Hill 1's Alchemilla Hospital is a hair-raising joy. The town itself is littered with explorable interiors which, given Origins is not an open-world game, was a big step up from previous Silent Hill entries at the time. The Sanitarium level does little to eschew mental health tropes, but it is a massive and intriguing setting; and the use of mirrors to flit between the normal and otherworld is a neat twist on the series' penchant for realm-hopping. The Butcher's looming presence is felt throughout all of these scenes, sometimes seen, sometimes heard, always bloody terrifying.
And so on this day, November 23, I raise a glass to The Butcher of Silent Hill: Origins – the best realized, and most sophisticated slant on Pyramid Head since the boss otherwise known as 'Red Pyramid Thing' first graced our screens 21 years ago. I first played Silent Hill: Origins exactly 15 years ago today, and I'm looking forward to Bloober Team's modernized take on Henry Townsend's beleaguered tale whenever it's ready. In October, we learned that the Silent Hill 2 Remake is reportedly nearly done, and a release date is expected soon. Wouldn't it be something if that was on this day in 2023?
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