Great article Duncan. Personally I remember first hearing about Centralia during the early production on Gans’ film where they talked about inspiration for justification on falling ash being caused by a fire and that is how they came about finding out about Centralia originally…. it’s a shame so many people think the entire franchise has a lot to do with it, and it causes so much problems for the people still involved with the town. But I feel there is one thing about this which probably shares blame not touched on.
Simply the post-PS2 era Silent Hill titles released in the wake of the film used various thematic elements on the films in the games… this included the upward peeling paint style, barbed wire extremes, the film version of Pyramid Head, and various direct to the film references… and sadly this probably doesn’t help the view impact the town supposedly has on the game franchise.
Finally, not to be one of the ‘Americans’ who try to take something too literal (although I’m not American) with the franchise, I don’t entirely agree with Leigh’s take on the game concept either. Indeed yes, it’s a Japanese made game with numerous sensibilities of Japanese that Americans won’t understand (I know there are horror themes to do with toilets, missing numbers, and so forth that exist specifically in Japan played upon in Silent Hill for example the staff have talked about). But casting such a broad brush on it ignores the fact that it’s actually a Japanese take on Western horror themes with an added dose of Japanese horror, something that is clear by setting it in Maine (a usual Stephen King haunt), the street names in the original game (Bachman, Koontz, Bradbury, Matheson, etc.), and the overt Jacob’s Ladder references among many others found in the game. Even the story telling elements themselves rely on something you’d see in a western horror novel than anything. I don’t think they chose it because it was ‘alien’ at all, they chose to set it with the locations most of the works that inspired it’s development were set… namely small American towns.
It’s this cultural pot of horror that probably makes the original three or four games in the franchise so beloved and why people feel like they can connect and want to take things apart literally I feel. And along with the adult themes probably why the Silent Hill franchise was so unique and stood out against it’s competitors in the first place.
Thanks again for the article, it was a great read.