“The Never-Ending Nightmare: The Day I Discovered Horror Didn’t Have to Suck”
a guest post by Jesse Galena
Most of the meaningful changes in my life didn’t happen because of one, documentable moment. They consisted of countless interactions, encounters, and thoughts that eventually altered my perception enough to understand something I had not considered, allowing me to accept or appreciate something in a way I couldn’t have before.
That’s not the case when it comes to the day I learned that I loved the horror genre. When I was in college, a friend let me borrow a PlayStation game called Silent Hill. After a mere few hours, my perception of what horror was and how it could tell a captivating and meaningful story changed forever.
When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the majority of horror was about blood splatter, chainsaws, hook hands, and gutting people. They were about acts of violence against people, usually done by people or something that looked too human for me to think of it as anything else. The Thing and Alien were exceptions, but I unfortunately didn’t know about those at the time. Horror, as I understood it, was solely about cruel people doing cruel things because reasons, and that’s about as deep as it got. It was boring and predictable.
Silent Hill was nothing like the tropes and trappings of the horror genre that dominated the world I knew. Silent Hill built tension with isolation and a true sense of uncertainty. The enemy wasn’t a man in a mask with a knife. No true villain in the game was even human. You fought or ran from creatures that were manifestations of fear, monsters that held no human emotions or motivations. Part of the horror and a main part of the story came from the idea that what scared you was beyond humanity, and what could harm you was beyond it as well.
The monsters in Silent Hill had a grotesque twist to their anatomies, but the designs did not rely on gore to bring discomfort to the viewer. On some of the creepiest creatures, humanoid features appeared as a mockery rather than being something truly human. Aside from the monsters, either fog or darkness obscured the player’s view at every step, giving a sense of dread for what the light might reveal with each step.
Rather than bombarding the audience with blood and gore and jump scares, Silent Hill shrouded the visuals of the world, and the story, in a layer of mystery. It made the player connect events and different aspects of the game, forcing the player to use their imagination and populate the unseen corners of the world with their own fears.
From Silent Hill, I learned that horror was a way to explore the unsettling and uncertain parts of the human condition. I learned that making a story uncomfortable could help tell a story the audience could not experience any other way. I learned that horror could be so much more than cruel people being cruel. I learned more about pacing and the rising and falling of the tension release cycle from that game more than any English class or from authors speaking about it.
While I have found many fantastic horror books, video games, and other media, the idea of the true antagonist being the physical form of a person’s own fears and nightmares really stuck with me. I’ve seen a few other works dabble with that idea, but I wanted to use it as a staple concept in my book, The Corrupted Kingdom. The idea that a place can actually syphon your fears out of you and turn them into monsters was a concept I had to expand upon. In The Corrupted Kingdom, not only does the kingdom create monsters based on your fears, but it is also rife with the lingering monsters from the people who have come before you. It’s a land stuck in our world, yet it adheres to rules we do not understand.
I love other games in the Silent Hill series, but I will always have a special appreciation for the original on PlayStation. It’s an amazing game, and I cannot recommend it enough for anyone who is a fan of the survival/horror genre of games or someone wanting a good story and a thrilling scare.
Happy candy hangover!