Friday’s Feature: Facing Fear – The Unseen Is Always Scarier

Welcome to the last feature in October and the last horror focused feature for awhile. If you missed the previous posts I’ve looked at visuals, the victims, and how characters can make the audience feel the fear, and today I am looking at whether the seen or the unseen is scarier.

Now every horror fan knows that it is the unseen enemy that is far scarier than the giant monster stomping houses flat. This was true of older films because the special effects weren’t up to the task of bringing anything really to life, but it is true even now. The thing that will scare an audience faster than any amount of gore, jump scares, or bizareness on the screen is their own imagination. We are our own worst enemies.

The Lost Village attempted to capitalise on that particular trait (admittedly it failed pretty hard due to the writing, characters, and literally everything else to the point where many people will argue it is actually a satire rather than a failed horror). In the story the characters, sick of their lives, run away together to live in a lost village on a mountain somewhere. However, once they get there, they find themselves confronted by their worst fears.

In early episodes this kind of works. The characters are still horrible and the writing questionable, but at first the audience isn’t shown what the characters are seeing. We hear noises, we see reactions, we realise characters have gone missing but we don’t know why, and it is kind of building up a creepy atmosphere.

Village 9

Then, and fairly early in its run time, they start showing us these apparitions the characters are seeing. Not only are the visually kind of lame, but even metaphorically they really kind of fail. One guy sees a giant penguin, another is literally chased by a giant silicone implant and so on. These visions are incredibly literal given what we’ve learned about the characters and they aren’t scary. It is about that point in the story that even the audience members hoping this show would salvage itself gave up.

another

In Another, the threat is intangible in the first place. It is a curse. While there might be someone who is actually dead in the class, you don’t know who and they look the same as everyone else. There’s nothing to see of the villain that would be frightening. And it is the absence of a tangible threat, while characters are literally dropping like flies that really helps to add to the tension in the story.

shiki 3

Some stories take a different approach. Shiki isn’t overly shy about revealing the vampire threat early on to the audience and to a few key characters but many of the characters remain in the dark. Those characters feel the tangible fear fo the unknown so even while the audience knows what the threat is and what is coming, the characters manage to draw us into their fear of the unknown.

Langoliers.jpg

Moving away from anime, if we look at an older Stephen King adaption, The Langoliers, from 1995, what we see is a story that manages to be fairly creepy and suspenseful (even if it is pretty boring) until the end. Why? Because while we realise the world the characters have found themselves in is wrong, and while we have heard approaching sounds, until the very end we do not see the actual Langoliers. Once they finally appear, they are so laughably terrible that any tension the show may have attempted to build goes out the window.

Still, it is really appreciated when a villain or monster can take the screen and still manage to creep out and disturb the audience. They are few and far between and for the most part the less we see them the better, but every now and then you get one that works.

What really amazes me about fictional fear is how emotionally it hits you the same as fear in real life. You get the same response to it. What is scary, is scary, whether it is fake or real. Which is why I’ve always wondered why characters try to tell themselves something is only a dream as if that will make them feel better. Scary dreams are still pretty distressing.

So what do you prefer when watching a show? Do you want to see the villain right from the start? Do you want to be kept in the dark? Or are you sitting somewhere in between?

That concludes this series of features on horror. Thanks for joining me during October and be sure to have a great Halloween.


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Karandi James.

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18 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Facing Fear – The Unseen Is Always Scarier

  1. Great post! The only movie that ever incited true fear in me had the protagonist locked and handcuffed in a room by unknown means. There’s rumour of a ghost living in the building but they never actually show the ghost. The main characters spent better part of the night waiting for something to happen and it never does, and that’s exactly what made it so scary. I think it also makes books an easier medium to create fear than any visual medium.

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  2. I usually avoid Horror and Psychological genre (All credits to the gore scenes), but I completely agree with your observation. Human mind always seeks out new ways of scaring themselves, because fright and deadly situations are the greatest pleasures of our masochistic inner selves. And it’s because of that curious mind of ours, that we always try to seek something that we have never seen or heard about before. We have no idea about the dangers of seeking the unseen; whether it will be a great decision or our worst nightmare is always a mystery. But that’s exactly why we keep searching for it all our life! The Unseen is the greatest fear that we could ever think of, and that’s exactly why it is our greatest pleasure.

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  3. Great post! For me, horror always works better when things are left to my imagination. If I’m shown what the horror is supposed to be, I’m not going to be as scared. If I’m left in the dark, my imagination will take full control and the fantasies are pretty crazy. Still, I think somethings are better off shown rather than hidden. In some instances, it works better if you know what it is rather than be left in the dark.

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  4. It totally depends. For horror, things are usually better left to your imagination for as long as possible but sometimes you really do need to see bits and pieces for anything to really develop and go anywhere.

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  5. Nice article, and your observations ring true in my experience. I find that in anime it’s hard to incite fear through visuals. Live-action films or dramas may pull it off but animation never hits the same intensity. For me, i think it’s because I don’t believe the fear (especially relating to supernatural/ horror) in anime. It’s hard for me to connect with that and see the characters as real people when they’re dealing with ghosts. Funnily, I can relate to all the other emotions that anime characters undergo such as their sorrow or joy. Also funnily, I can’t watch live-action horror films because I’m dead scared of them.

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    1. Anime definitely keeps things like horror at a distance because it is easier to pretend it isn’t real. That’s probably why I have no intention of watching the live action Tokyo Ghoul because while it didn’t bother me a bit in anime with characters eating flesh or biting each other, the thought of watching actors do that makes me a little queasy.

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  6. I love a touch of horror in things. It excites me, gets me interested and involved. I like trying to predict when the reason for all the suspense will be fulfilled. Thanks for this!

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  7. I don’t watch horror all that much, but I agree with what you mentioned.
    The thing about horror is that most of the time, it kind of pulls out the deepest and darkest fears specific to the individual – It works a lot better if the show manages to put the viewer in the shoes of the cast in the show, and induce them to create his/her own impression of the threat.
    I guess we aren’t really afraid until we become convinced (from the influence of other people because of their fear, or the terrible things that happen to them) that even something fictional can create a fear so real.

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  8. I totally agree. Spielberg said that the secret to the success of Jaws as a scary movie was the fact that he refused to show the shark until very late in the movie, and then only in brief flashes. He realized that even with the best special effects, which Jaws definitely did NOT have, once the audience sees the monster it loses it’s bite.

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    1. I’d believe that except that they planned to show the shark more and it was only because the shark malfunctioned and they couldn’t get any more shots of it that we ended up with the film we did. Admittedly, it probably wouldn’t have been the memorable film it is if we’d seen the shark more.

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  9. Terrific post and a great closing one to your Halloween feature. I’m someone that sits in between. I love suspense of the unknown, but for instance in monster movies I also enjoy seeing a cool monster. As long as the monster is done well that is. But unseen threats can work very well too, like for instance in the Blair Witch Project 😊 Movies like that are my favorites. Happy Halloween to you too 😉

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  10. Great post as always. I would argue that Shiki would probably have been “scarier” if the mystery had been kept up throughout most of the show. Revealing the monsters allowed them to be humanized and created a lot of dramatic tension but I think it also brought down the primal fear factor.

    Langoliers is a masterpiece. I still use “to be langolieered” as a verb…

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    1. Shiki may have ended up scarier but I think a good part of the story and its themes would have come undone. The humanising of the vampires is what brings a lot of the tension in the story for the audience.

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