For those not familiar, P.T. was a playable demo released in 2014, purportedly for a new game in the Silent Hill franchise. The demo was created by Hideo Kojima, which was enough to gain the attention of a large swath of the gaming universe.
But P.T. was so well done, so disturbing and terrifying, that it immediately captured the imagination of all who played it. Now, more than seven years after its release, its influence still resonates throughout the horror game genre.
There’s a moment in the second part of Resident Evil Village where the lights flicker off, Ethan gasps, and your entire inventory is removed from you, guns and all.
The Beneviento house is nothing compared to Lady Dimitriscu’s sprawling, gilded mansion. It’s a charming family home overlooking a foggy ravine, a wonderland house whose cute interior can almost be forgiven for the path it took to arrive there. Ethan must traverse through a sprawling graveyard whose tree branches carry delicate dolls strung up like the victims of a carefully arranged hanging. This part of Village is a tall order, curiously coming after the much-advertised Lady Dimitriscu segment, where much of Resident Evil Village’s advertisement and meme-laden excitement has been grown. Where Dimitriscu’s manor felt like an explorative tentpole, the House Beneviento doesn’t immediately strike one as interesting.
Then the lights flicker out. When they return, the player is buckled into a haunted house thrill ride, a segment of such unique psychological horror that it not only feels like the spiritual sequel to P.T., but a segment of the game carefully crafted to inflict as much psychic damage as possible.
Ethan Winters is haunted by the death of his wife Mia at the beginning of the game and is spurred forward by the kidnapping of his daughter, Rose. While we don’t know much about the actual circumstances, it seems that Rose has somehow been split into four equal parts of the deranged denizens of the village. Ethan’s hunt brings him into the basement of House Beneviento which, outside of an overly eclectic doll collection can, be forgiven as a relatively normal aspect of the village’s Halloween set pieces. After Ethan’s weapons are removed, he finds himself in the same room but staring at a lifelike doll of his dead beloved, a wooden mannequin puzzle box whose arms and legs hide all manner of secrets necessary to move forward.
The tone shifts again. As I played, I found that there was more going on than sweaty hands and a thumping heart — I was actually scared.
While we as players are not equally invested in Ethan’s familial plight, there are certain horrors that remain indelibly linked to the united human consciousness. As I directed Ethan unprotected through Beneviento’s rapidly shifting kaleidoscopic antique, I was assailed by the very real fact that there were no enemies to attack me, no traps to disarm me. As the puzzles clicked into place, I took this impression for what it was, a segment divorced from the rest of the game.
Then the baby started to wail.
The room of the puzzlebox body dripped in detail, with one unmissable note, that of the blood on the floor — and the boa-constrictor-sized umbilical cord that snaked across the carpet. Unable to do anything else, I followed this wretched thing to its conclusion, hoping that I might be fortunate enough to simply hop into the elevator again and ascend my way to the next area. All hope was dashed from me as the baby wailed again, and this time I was presented with a horrific entity of such corrupted nightmare that I fought the urge to pause the game and walk away.
As the baby screamed and taunted me, I forced Ethan through the next set of puzzles and traps. Moving with indelicate abandon through darkened rooms, this infant creature the size of a cow charged behind me, the rooms painted dark by its blood and birthing fluid. This segment was terrifying, a straight-up nightmare that had me twisting this way and that. Despite my utter fear, a smile remained plastered to my deranged face during this entire segment. It was the first time in years I felt like I was actually playing a game that nailed what it was about Kojima’s P.T. that made the failed Silent Hills demo just so damn good.
While House Beneviento does not stop there, the remainder of the hunt for the deranged doll turns more psychedelic. The very graphics on the screen changed and warped before my eyes as hordes of living dolls assailed Ethan from all directions, the deranged wedding-dress doll floating effortlessly from room to room as it hid from my desperate desire to rip it to shreds. The entire segment is laid out as an insane fever dream, one that ends only when Ethan can finally plunge a pair of scissors deep into the brain of this infernal thing and be done with it, dismembering the living connection between reality and harrowed subconscious delusion.
It’s been a couple of days since I experienced this segment of Village and I just cannot stop thinking about it. While the game overall is an enjoyable wonder, this segment feels to me like an unnatural high, an absolute gift to horror fans that will be talked about for years to come. House Beneviento was startling in its beauty — and arresting in its gut-churning horror.
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