How Jacob's Ladder (Lyne, 1990) and Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997) influenced Silent Hill 2 (2001)



"Movies are the best references when making games"
- Akihiro Imamura - Producer, Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2 is influenced by many different works of fiction, the Japanese creators turned to western works of art when they were looking for inspiration. Not only did they do this to make themselves more informed about western culture, but also to ensure that their videogames were as appealing as possible to American and European audiences. You only have to watch a making of video to realise that Team Silent draws influences from all types of media including books and paintings as well as TV shows and films when they're designing their monsters or building their memorable environments.

In terms of plot and atmosphere however, Silent Hill 2 is perhaps not as reminiscent as any other films more than it is of David Lynch's Lost Highway or Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder. Both of these pictures deal with the themes of guilt, repression, hallucinations and death, with unstable main characters who are battling with their own minds - constantly shifting between different realities. Both of these pictures are more concerned with the psychological state of the main character rather than trying to frighten viewers with jump scares and violence. 

Jacob's Ladder follows Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), a Vietnam veteran who returns home to be followed and plagued by horrible and traumatising demons and monsters, these hallucinations lead him to believe that his military unit was experimented on whilst at war. The story jumps between the present day, his time in Vietnam and the period in his life before he went to war - throughout the picture Jacob and by extension the viewer is always questioning what is real and what is a dream.

There are a few blatant references that the creators of Silent Hill snuck into their games here, and is a film that actually has influenced the whole game series, not just Silent Hill 2, from day one. The start of the picture, which takes place in Bergen Street subway is homaged in Silent Hill 3, when Heather explores an identical station with the same name. There is also a puzzle item in Silent Hill 2 called the Lyne house key which no doubt is named after the film's director, and James' clothing was lifted from that of Jacobs. Furthermore, the 'bad ending' of the very first game is taken from the ending of Jacob's Ladder, as it is revealed that all all the events that have transpired are in fact the dying dream of the protagonist. But generally, it's more the ambiance of the environments in the picture, the experiences of the main character and the appearance of the creatures that jump to mind when trying to draw similarities.

The uniqueness of the Silent Hill games is drawn from the sense of uncertainty that the player experiences throughout, they're in a town that looks perfectly normal on the surface, but there's a constant feeling of doubt that only increases as time goes on. By juxtaposing very realistic areas like hospitals and hotels with elements that make them alarming, such as the lack of humans and the presence of strange creatures, there is a greater sense of surreality than there would otherwise be in a setting such as a Resident Evil type 'haunted house'. Likewise, Jacob often experiences his visions whilst in familiar areas such as subway stations, and the way he is constantly switching between alternate realities of these spaces echoes the one constant elemental theme of Silent Hill, the shift that the playable character experiences between the real world and otherworld. Because of this, both Jacob Singer and James Sunderland start to feel like their own mind is fighting against them as they continue on their journey, this idea is what Jacob's Ladder was built around:

"The script was unusually evocative... it really does tap into something that is a kind of underlying insecurity in people — 'is this world real or not?'" - Bruce Joel Ruben - screenwriter, Jacob's Ladder

As mentioned, Silent Hill monsters are not typical monsters that one might find in a sci-fi game because they resemble deformed human beings, it's this imagery that makes the game's monsters unnerving. The twitching and grotesque beings that Jacob sees are not completely emulated by Team Silent, (apart from the one with the shakey head, which let's be honest, was totally copied) but the human aesthetic definitely was. Again, this serves to make everything a bit more frightening if they're comparable to humans because it means they're more realistic and are more a part of the character's psyche. Both Jacob and James are almost completely defenceless against these creatures, although James has various weapons to fight monsters with - he's no expert, and has never fired a gun in his life. Similarly, Jacob is underpowered and is often only able to run from his visions rather than fight them.

Jacob is almost completely isolated - he has people in his life such as his girlfriend and doctor, but there's no-one else that is going through what he is. Although his fellow veterans have experienced visions too, they abandon him in his pursuit to get some kind of compensation from the army for their experimentation. The other people that he does meet seem to be completely unreliable, this is the same fate that meets James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2 - Angela is unhinged, Eddie is basically completely crazy, and Maria may not be real at all but instead a figment of his imagination. Isolation is the key component of fear, it's always going to be more scary for players when they've got no companion to travel with, or no one else who they can relate their experiences too. This 'everyman in a crisis' theme was a central component of many of Alfred Hitchcock's films too, another director that the Silent Hill team very often quotes as an inspiration.   

Jacobs Ladder silent Hill 2

In Lost Highway Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) live in a minimalist house in Los Angeles, where the two of them keep finding mysterious VHS tapes left on their doorstep that inexplicably contains footage from the inside of their home. Fred is suspecting his wife of having an affair, and as his jealousy grown more intense, there is finally a videotape which contains footage of him covered in blood next to her dead body, as it is revealed that he murdered her. After his arrest, the prison guards check up on him to inexplicably find that Fred has transformed into a completely different person, a young mechanic called Pete (Balthazar Getty) who is immediately released from jail. Upon his release he starts a romantic relationship with the wife of a gangster called Alice (also played by Patricia Arquette), who is the spitting image of Renee, but with blonde hair. An individual, not named explicitly in the movie but who is known as The Mystery Man is eventually revealed to be the person responsible for the aforementioned videotapes. (I did my best to describe this film but alas, it's a David Lynch movie so it's probably better to just watch it if you want to understand fully what's going on). 

The way that both James and Fred deal with their guilt is almost identical - they're in denial and, with the help of another 'being' they are forced to remember their crime. Fred creates a whole new reality for himself, in which he is an innocent teenager rather than a jealous husband. He mentions that he dislikes the video cameras because he prefers to rely on his own memory to recall past events:

"I like to remember things my own way... how I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened" - Fred Madison
Likewise, James Sunderland has repressed his own memories and prefers to think that his wife has died from the effects of her illness, only after viewing the videotape left in the hotel is he able to accept the truth of what happened. Memories can be sometimes self-deceptive and distorted, and the two are attempting to run away from what they've done by creating their own version of events. The Mystery Man can be seen as Lost Highway's equivalent of Pyramid Head, someone who's job it is to bring the main character to justice, by reminding them of their past actions. Fred and James are always running away from the truth, at one point towards the end of Lost Highway, Fred basically recoils in horror at the Mystery Man as he holds his video camera - which, like in Silent Hill 2 is the source of proof of his crime.

The early Silent Hill games are notable for not going down the route of employing cheap jump scares to frighten their players, wandering aimlessly around a deserted town or apartment complex is unnerving because you're anticipating something to happen, especially considering that the score of the game is sparse and very often completely absent during the exploratory moments. It's this silence and foreboding which creates apprehension:

"In Silent Hill 2, fear could be defined as what you don't see makes you afraid"- Imamura Akihiro - Producer, Silent Hill 2

"Silence is also a sound" - Akira Yamaoka - Sound Designer, Silent Hill 2

In Lost Highway this fear of the unknown is employed in the scenes when Fred is wandering around his home, there's no music and lighting it kept to a minimum, which cinematographer Peter Demming achieved by not employing the use of a backlight, giving the film a distinctive moody appearance in many of these scenes. The pitch black environments are a key characteristic that has existed from the very first Silent Hill game right through to the present day - so much so that progress in the games are halted without the use of a flashlight. Furthermore, the creepiness factor of the games very much lie in the restraint of the soundtrack, Yamaoka purposefully restricts using any kind of score over much of the gameplay, whereas other games like Dead Space crank up the music whenever a monster appears. In Lost Highway's most famous scene, The Mystery Man walks up to Fred at a party, and the background music completely fades out, leaving the the two to chat in stillness.

While I've been intending to write a blog such as this for a while now, alot of what was written here was taken from an excellent video from a Youtube channel called Twin Perfect, which speaks in great detail about all manner of art, films and books that influenced the famous game series: