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Monday, 13 May 2013

May Monster Madness #3 - Things That Go Bump ...

Blog #3 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

Okay, so what is scarier than the monster you can see stalking you? The monster you can't see.

In recent years I think Hollywood has forgotten this, because it has budgets for huge special effects. The thing about the human imagination is that we are all different; different things scare us to different amounts. Hence, the more you leave to the human imagination, the scarier it is likely to be for everyone.

The greatest weapon in the arsenal of scare to achieve this in a film is SOUND.

I think one of the genres that understands this best these days is Asian Horror (Japanese, Korean etc). What they do is have long build up scenes where you have really creepy noises and thuds which show you the monster's progress. By the time the monster actually appears the viewer is so scared already it could look like a little fluffy bunny and everyone would still be terrified. The sound of the cat and Kayako Saeki's croaking sound from The Grudge both spring to mind - you can hear them at this site if you would like to.

English and American horror used to understand this as well. If you look at a film like The Haunting (the original specifically, but they used some similar devices in the remake) it relies a lot on sound and the building of fear. The reactions of the actors are what create the atmosphere, not some huge monster leaping out of the cupboard.

One set of films from the modern era that does understand this, I think, is Paranormal Activity. Because the first one was made on a shoestring budget they could not rely on special effects or the Hollywood tricks of big block busters, they had to go old school. They didn't use sound all the time, but what they did was quite stunning. The fact that we didn't really see anything was total genius. Having to nip to the loo at 3am after seeing Paranormal Activity suddenly became much scarier :).

Paranormal Activity is also a genre that shows how simple effects can be brilliant. In #3 the bit that scares the hell out of me isn't any of the big scenes at the end, it's the scene with the babysitter and the sheet. Now a sheet is the cheesiest representation of a ghost ever and yet this scene scared the stuffing out of me the first time I saw it.

All it is, is a moving camera the swings from left to right and back again past a central pillar. The sheet ghost never moves when the camera is on it, only when it is not, and it is terrifying. What may or may not happen is left totally to the viewer's imagination and that's the worst part. I didn't enjoy PA3 as much as PA1 and PA2, but that scene was magnificent.

The same principles can be applied to the written word as well. The build up to a monster in a book is just as important as it is in film. If a writers describes the monster straight away, they've lost something. Sound can play an important part in this and an author has the advantage of being able to use smell and touch as well. The cold clammy touch on the back of the neck, the tap, tap, tapping on the window, the low moaning that could be the wind, the dank smell of mould and decay: all can be used to build the mood.

Too many people seem to think instant gratification, instant scare with full on monsters is the best way to go, when in fact it's the build up, the tension that creates the terror. I think monsters are much more likely to terrify when we can't see them.

Thank you for reading. What are your favourite scary moments in movies or books?


If you enjoy books with a ghost story build up, you might like my book Face of the Dead:
Face of The Dead
Old houses creak and groan and make noises. Miles had expected that when he bought the farmhouse, but the tapping on the windows is a bit of a shock the first night he moves in. Of course there has to be a rational explanation and Miles is determined to find it, which would be easier if things didn't keep getting stranger.

You can see all of my other titles listed beside this blog.

14 comments:

  1. Great monster posts, especially about imagination and the covers not necessarily being safe. So, I had to download Faces of the Dead. Will go in a little while and read it. (Have to charge the Kindle first) Will be back to look at other works.

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    1. Thank you and I very much hope you enjoy Face of the Dead.

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  2. You're absolutely right about the importance of soundtracks to Horror movies. When I'm really scared during a scene, I won't close my eyes, I'll turn off the sound! lol

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    1. It is amazing how just taking away the sound effects can alter a scene completely :). Thank you for stopping by again.

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  3. Can't agree more... sound and music make such a huge difference... look at the exorcist... silence and small sounds made that movie beyond freaky.

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    1. Sometimes what is required is subtlety rather than in your face visuals. I think that often makes the difference between a good film and a great one. Thank you for dropping by.

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  4. Yes, soundtracks make a huge difference! I'm a big music and sound fan so it's important to me how the movie sounds.

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    1. It really is amazing how a simple sound can make you shiver. Thanks for dropping by.

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  5. I haven't seen the PA movies on account of the fact that Ghosties scare the holy living crap out of me! But I completely agree with you on the soundtrack! You know we did an experiment in school where our music teacher showed us Jaws without the iconic soundtrack and really it was just a mechanical shark getting chompy with it! We knew what was coming and we weren't scared at all. But that dissonant music crawls under your skin and makes you feel the fear down to the marrow of your bones!
    Great post!
    Here's my MMM'S for today Carmen Jenner Author and Book Me!
    Happy Hopping! =D

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    1. Ghosties scare me too, but that's okay as long as hubby is in the house :).
      Tries to imagine Jaws without the music ... fails. Sound artists really don't get enough credit in movies.

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  6. I agree Tasha, keep people guessing! They give too much away and make everything too obvious. One that comes to mind which is not a great movie, but the twist at the end is just so RICH... "The Others".
    Great post!
    Here's my day III MMM at Design du Jour.

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    1. Thank you.

      I didn't like The Others when I first saw it (although the twist is superb), but I find, now that I go back to it I really enjoy the way it creeps me out. I think when I saw it first I was expecting something else, but now that I'm not I appreciate it more.

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  7. I love the Paranormal Activity movies! And I agree, it's the ones we can't see that are the creepiest.

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    1. The imagination is far scarier than special effects :) Thanks for commenting.

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Thank you so much for reading. I love to hear from people. Please leave your comments below.