Fear is best when it’s unseen

By Glenn Battishill

Fear is a fun feeling. Despite being adults, most of us get jittery when we turn the light out in the basement, causing us to race up the stairs as if some invisible monster is lurking one step behind us.

It’s the voice that tells you the noise you heard laying in bed wasn’t your bed creaking but was instead an angry demon coming to collect your soul, forcing you to sleep with one eye open.

Horror movies work best when the antagonist is completely unseen. Look at the first “Paranormal Activity.” Remember the part where the demon is standing right in front of the camera while the couple sits oblivious? No you don’t because that never happened.

The reason that movie worked was because you had no clue who or what was haunting them.

The filmmakers made the right choice because not showing the monster leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination and your imagination is a million times scarier than any monster.

Conversely, look at the horribleness of a movie like “The Haunting” (1999) wherein fake-looking CGI ghosts come out of the woodwork to harass the protagonists. The movie isn’t scary at all and is really only worth watching for a laugh.

This concept of using the player’s imagination applies to all forms of horror fiction.

The horror genre has fallen into disrepair recently essentially because of this. If you play video games, think about the scariest time you had playing a game.

For me this was a few years ago playing “Fatal Frame 2,” a game where your only means of self-defense against ghosts is by taking their picture on a magic camera.

The rooms of the game are almost always dark and you can often hear ghosts long before you see them. Even when you can see the ghosts they are usually visible for a few seconds before disappearing again, leaving the player frantically trying to capture it before it gets too close.

This is one area where video games will always be better than horror movies; interactivity.

More often than not, people are screaming at movie characters to “look behind them” or “don’t go in there you idiot!” but in video games you are the idiot. It adds a level of fear because you are the one in control, and by placing the experience in the hands of the player, it becomes infinitely scarier than just watching someone on a TV.

Horror authors worth their salt know that coming out at the beginning of the book and saying “it’s a giant tentacle monster” is no where near as scary as letting the reader create their own monstrosity.

We humans have a desire to know the unknown. The unknown draws us in, terrifies and intrigues us. That’s why more often than not, the psychopath in a movie is more interesting than the protagonist.

Take “The Dark Knight” for example. Everyone loves the joker but is anyone really watching that movie for Batman? No, because we understand Batman. We can relate to Batman. But the Joker? He’s a mystery that no one knows how to solve, which makes him infinitely more interesting.

A game, movie or book that leaves the horror up to the player, viewer or reader doesn’t just creep them out, it opens up their imagination to all sorts of nightmares.