Monday 6 June 2016

Why the Unseen Monster is Often Scarier than the Seen One - #MonsterMondays 38

Good morning/afternoon/evening and welcome to my blog for another Monster Monday. Today I have a thought rather than a specific monster to talk about. I very much hope you enjoy the post.

Why the Unseen Monster is Often Scarier than the Seen One

Have you, like me, ever sat through a horror movie being really scared until, that it, the monster actually appears on screen? Up it pops with dripping fangs and snarls and all sorts of other effects the director decided to throw at it, but the whole package is rather underwhelming?

I don't believe this can always be blamed on cheap special effects either.

The fact is, the human mind can be an amazingly dark place. Giving a person hints about the monster and glimpses will fill their mind with imaginings far more sinister than are every likely to appear on a screen or in a book. If a monster is a little bit amorphous, a little bit mysterious people fill in the blanks with what really scares them.

One film/miniseries with a really disappointing monster is Stephen King's IT. IT is the story of The Losers Club, a group of kids who came together one summer when their town, Derry, was going through a terrible time where children were disappearing. They confronted the evil then, but as adults they are called back when the evil rises again.

Pennywise the clown is really, really scary, especially when we are given hints of his monstrousness underneath. We know he isn't really a clown, we know he's something worse and the clown is just what people see. He is terrifying with his balloons and his "we all float down here".

Then, however, comes the climax of the story, when we see Pennywise's true form and we get this:

Well I know which one is more likely to make me shudder and it's not the spider thing. Pennywise as an evil clown is far scarier than an alien spider thingy. I'm hoping they do a better job with the new version that is in the pipeline.

The reason I started thinking about this is because my husband and I sat down and watched The Babadook this weekend. Now I did find some of the film very slow and not overly engaging, but when it was scary - wow, it was really scary.

The Babadook is the story of a mother and her child. She used to be a writer of children's books before her husband died driving her to the hospital to have her son. Their house is invaded by Mr Babadook, an evil that could easily destroy them both.

What makes him so scary is, first of all, we see him as an illustration in a children's book:

After that he is mostly shadows, quick glimpses that are impossible to see without freeze frame and, at one point, a falling hat. This gives plenty of room for the imagination to build. I was hiding behind a cushion (yes, I do do that :)) not because of what I actually saw, but because of what I might have seen. My brain was conjuring up so many hideous possibilities that I was really scared.

It's a shame I found the beginning of the film quite deadly, because once it got going it was really frightening and Essie Davis was brilliant. The ending was also a little odd, but I thought it actually worked.

Both of these films work on the same premise: the monster we see isn't really what the monster is, but with The Babadook, we never really see it, our minds are left to imagine, whereas in IT the monster appears in the end and is simply meh.

IT is actually my favourite of the two - I watch it again and again. Pennywise is so scary that it's still brilliant, even if the ending is a little underwhelming. IT gets the monster right before it gets it wrong. The Babadook never gets the monster wrong, but it's a little dull in too many places.

IT gets 10/10 for Pennywise and 90% of the film and 3/10 for Pennywise revealed. The Babadook gets 10/10 for the monster and 6/10 for the film.

Some films do manage to get the monster reveal right, but I wish more would understand that it can, in fact, be the make or break moment. It can win or lose the audience in a breath. Getting is wrong is worse than leaving it to the audience's imagination.

I've also seen too many movies that think their monster is horrible when, in fact, it's really not and showing it right from the beginning just makes everything not scary at all. Even the original Doctor Who knew the value in hiding the monster some of the time.

Insidious is another one that got it so right at the beginning, but then went OTT at the end and completely lost it IMHO. I mean, didn't we all find this bit really, really scary?

It was done in a second and it was terrifying because of the shock. Then came the rest, however, and I didn't find it scary any more. It was as if the film went into overload and I lost interest.

Sometimes less really is more.

What do you think? Do you prefer just glimpses, or do you like to see the monster for what it is? Have you been disappointed by monster reveals? Do you know any absolutely brilliant monster reveals?


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with It and Insidious. I didn't get past the boring start of The Babdook, but I might have to go back and watch it now, just skipping the start.

    I do prefer just glimpses - it is much scarier - this is why I love ghost stories, because a lot of them start with just a flicker of a candle, a shadow moving on a wall. The scariest camera trick is a simple one, the quick movement of a camera past a shape in a corner, or in a mirror, those are the ones that really scare me, because they are the film equivalent to catching something out of the corner of your eye.

    1. The flash of something in a mirror always freaks me out in horror movies. Blink and you missed it kind of thing :)

  2. Just a hint is fine with me. Hitchcock proved how effective the hint can be in involving people in a story.

  3. The imagination of the viewer is often much "scarier" than the "Monster" that is presented... "Alien" (1979) was a great example of this.

    1. Although the Giger-designed "Monster" was very well done... the imagination of the viewer can make far scarier "Monsters"... Sometimes we enjoy the many scenes of the Monster... even those "shadowy glimpses"... though very often the Monster is "just a man in a rubber suit"... Thoughtful (Thought Evoking) post, dear Lady Tasha...

    2. It's the whole 'what if' isn't it, that can make things so scary. Because different things scare different people horror is often much better when there is that room for individual imaginations to fill in the gaps :)

  4. Yeah, IT as a clown is much scarier than as the spider monster. That actually makes me laugh.

    1. I know - it's such a shame isn't it. It's like - scary, scary, scary, scary, scary, lame. :)

  5. Unseen is scarier than the overstated. Always remember the scare factor in Hush (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Blink (Doctor Who) - neither overt, but scarier than a bogieman.

  6. I definitely agree. So much of the time the monsters look so fake. I really liked the ghost film Mama, but didn't love the shape reveal at the end. That being said, when I was a kid I watched The Thing from Another World (1951)--that one made me so scared I was sick although it wasn't so much the monster as what the monster did to people.


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