I've been falling in love with the horror genre for a little while now. Not too much - I'm a bit of a scaredycat - but a little. Over the past few days, my friends and I have been watching 'horror' movies and comedies that pretend to be horror movies. (Tremors, I'm looking at you)
Nothing with Kevin Bacon's name on the cover can be scary.
Nothing really scares me like it used to, not since I've played Amnesia. (I've written about Amnesia before and how to make your villains terrifying.) Simply, nothing comes close. This goes to several different aspects of the games. The villains, the monsters, the immersion, the type of 'scary', and the atmosphere.
Today, I'm going to talk about the type of scary. (I'm using Zero Punctuation's review as a basic idea. He's a fantastic game reviewer, if you're a gamer, check him out.)
To make this simple, let's start with a basic room. There's an empty room, well lit. White walls, white ceiling, wooden floor. You are in the doorway entering the room, on the other side of the room is a wardrobe. You flinch: the wardrobe may have just shuddered - but you don't know for sure.
Scary Type A) There's a pause. The wardrobe shakes again, the door slowly opens. Out creeps a monster, terrifying, ugly. It lumbers toward you slowly, and you're helpless to move. It reaches out clawed hands, gutting you. You die. (Or, alternately, you run and/or gun down with an AK-47)
Or a flamethrower. Whatevs
Scary Type B) Closet is absolutely still. Your breath calms down, you relax, and maybe watch some TV. Maybe you're still a little wary. Still, when you least expect it, the monster JUMPS OUT AT YOU!
Courtesy of Zero Punctuation. Abloogy Woogy Woo!
Scary Type C) The closet stays absolutely still. It does not move. You take a tentative step toward it but just KNOW that a monster is going to jump out at you like in scenario B. You wait. You wait. You wait. Nothing happens. But every time you turn away, you could swear it shudders again.
Which is the most effective?
Well, there are different situations for each types. But the way our friend at Zero Punctuation puts it is this: Type C is the most terrifying, because it's your imagination doing all the work. The reader (gamer) is terrifying himself. And as anyone who has ever jumped to get onto bed after the lights are off (avoiding the monsters under the bed) knows, your imagination is the scariest power of all.
It's all about giving the reader enough rope to hang himself with, so to speak. Which leads me to another aspect of terror - but we'll get to that later.
What terrifies you most in stories? In movies? In real life?