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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading.
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