Pyramid Head first appeared in Silent Hill 2, and has since become one of the most iconic monsters in modern horror. We explore why he’s so damn terrifying.
Even if you’ve never played a Silent Hill video game you are likely aware of Pyramid Head. You mightn’t know his backstory or why he’s become one of the most feared characters in video game history; hell you might not even know why he’s called Pyramid Head (although I’m guessing you do if you’re on this page).
Despite his relatively brief screen time, he has haunted the dreams of gamers throughout the world for over two decades. He originally appeared in Silent Hill 2, but has since appeared in various sequels, the Silent Hill film adaptation and, most recently, Dead By Daylight.
Essentially, Pyramid Head has joined the pantheon of horror greats, standing side-by-side with legendary monsters such as the Xenomorph, Freddy Krueger, Jason and Resident Evil‘s Nemesis. Which isn’t to say that he’s quite as well known, but rather that he’s equally as effective in the domain of terror.
However, after all these years of flinching at the mention of his name, I found myself asking why? The more I thought about it I wasn’t exactly sure; was it as simple as his outward appearance, or something more complex – like the mystery of what lies beneath his pointy headgear?
The more I questioned why, the more I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, yet I was certain others feel similarly. With this in mind, I decided to investigate the lore surrounding Pyramid Head in an attempt to explain why people find him so disturbing.
The creation of Pyramid Head
When the creative team behind Silent Hill 2 were working on the main narrative of the game, various key figures realised they needed to create a particular character to serve the role of a ‘chaser’. Because this antagonist would be used to make you run away in a specific direction, and the game was meant to be a horror title, it was important this character made an impression.
Silent Hill 2 director, Masahiro Ito, designed Pyramid Head without a visible face to make him appear less human. Despite this goal, the majority of the character design could easily be described as humanoid; or more specifically that of a butcher. His bloody apron suggests exactly what he’s been up to, while his oversized cleaver let’s you know he’s pretty damn good at it.
However, the fact that his entire head is covered still leaves a lot to the imagination, and we know how that can work out. Although if I’m honest, I think there’s more at work here than aesthetics.
Symbology, meaning and context (spoilers)
It would be almost impossible to explain the disturbing effect of Pyramid Head without looking at how he’s introduced. In the role James Sunderland, you are walking down a creepy corridor when you stumble across something extremely worrisome: Pyramid Head having his way with two lifeless mannequins (creatures made of two pairs of feminine legs).
It’s not entirely clear, but whatever he’s up to appears to be violent and sexual. It’s also relevant that you end up hiding in a cupboard while this performance happens close by. The scene plays out like a horror version of walking in on your parents having sex, and not having the maturity to fully comprehend what’s going on.
This disturbing undertone is almost certainly deliberate. The events and monsters of Silent Hill 2, particularly Pyramid Head, are metaphors for James Sutherland’s guilt, repression and denial. The themes of sexual abuse and trauma are also explored through the character Angela.
This introduction paints Pyramid Head in a different light than otherwise would be the case; highlighting a surreal, mysterious and transgressive quality that separates him from more straightforward monsters.
Silent Hill 2 character designer Takayoshi Sato touched on this theme in a short documentary, explaining:
“Psychological horror has to shake human’s heart deeply. Shaking people’s heart deeply means uncover people’s core emotion and their core motivation for life. Everybody is thinking and concerning about sex and death. Everything. If we want to scare, shake, or touch the users or spectators, then we have to think about sex and death deeply.”
It’s almost impossible to separate Pyramid Head from what he represents: abuse, trauma, denial, guilt and losing touch with reality. And even if you’re unware of his connection to these themes, well, I think most would agree that his appearance possesses a certain je ne sais quoi.
Pyramid Head is terrifying from the get-go – and only gets more disturbing from there on out.