I hate horror.
With a passion.
The last real horror film I watched was The Ring back in 2000.
I hate the feeling of adrenaline taking over. Not knowing what to expect, bracing yourself for the worst.
It’s not even the “in the moment” pain I suffer, it’s what comes later. After I’m in bed and the lights are out. Or worse, when I’m in the shower and the curtain is closed. You never know what’s waiting on the other side (little girl ghosts. ALWAYS little girl ghosts).
It’s worse when there’s nothing else to distract me.
When there’s nothing to stop my imagination from taking over.
I know people fall on either side of this argument in horror: whether it’s better to let the imagination lead the viewer/player/reader through the story or whether it’s better to reveal the Big Scary.
The closest horror experience I’ve had in recent years has been being in the room while my husband played Layers of Fear. If you haven’t played it, it’s quite a fun game if you like that sort of thing. Around and around the house you go, and each time to finish a circuit… things get weirder.
I watched most of it through my fingers, and there was at least one nightmare-ridden night because of it.
But for the most part, the Big Scary was never revealed. Just hinted at. Glimpsed in the corner of your eye. Shadows where there shouldn’t be any. Objects moving, being knocked over. A wicker wheelchair.
So creepy. So well done.
But I guess the developers felt the weight of critique, because we just started Layers of Fear 2 (which we’re streaming live on Twitch every weekend if you want to watch me scream and be reduced to tears), and I keep being pulled out of the game. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will limit this particular example to simply saying: the imagination is given less to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I still watched it between my fingers, but there were times where the fear wasn’t there (thank goodness, really), and I really don’t think that’s what they were going for.
The imagination, the brain, is pretty cool like that. It finds patterns out of nothing. That’s a big part of what it’s wired to do, which means as soon as that adrenaline is going, it will seek out the threat, so nothing could be there, and there will still be a few jumps and shrieks every time you open a door or hear a thump in the distance.
Why bother to make that threat real when just the suggestion of one is enough to get the heart rate going?
The imagination is a powerful force. If you’re looking to evoke emotion in whatever project you’re working on, it serves well to remember it, use it manipulate it.
The advice “show don’t tell,” in my opinion, can be used given just as accurately here as in any other part of creation, and the audience will be more satisfied for it.
So where do you lie on the argument? Should they have shown the demigorgon in Stranger Things? Would Paranormal Activity be more terrifying if they gave away the Scary?
Let me know in the comments!