Everyday this week I'm counting down my favorite monsters. Today is about the unseen. Let me explain:
The Stephen King story It was made into a miniseries back in 1990. I'm typically a really big fan of the miniseries they make out of Stephen King novels. The Stand is my favorite. Rose Red is up there as well. At any rate, in the movie the monster which serves as the namesake of the film comes in a variety of different forms. From Pennywise the dancing clown to a wolfman to a mummy to "deadlights" which hypnotize and transfix It's victims. All of these forms are frightening in their own right because they are decided by the thoughts of It's victims. It's true form, its physical body, is never seen. Until the end.
This is where It and so many other stories like it fail: the monster can't possibly live up to the fear that's built up to that point. Something that changes form to fit your particular flavor of fear? Scary. A giant paper mache spider? NOT. There are countless movies where the audience is scared out of their wits by the idea of a monster- something off screen that kills its victims without showing its face- and then disappointed when that monster shows up looking silly or stupid or downright funny in its failure to produce fear. It's a huge let down after the build-up of so much suspense.
The best monster, the most disturbing fear, comes from the imagination: from the thing you don't see. It's the entire reason we're afraid of the dark- who the hell knows what's lurking beyond the light, right? So this post is devoted to those creatures which are so terrifying that we couldn't even view them on screen.
The Exorcist is the first that comes to mind. While Regan seems to take on the appearance of a monster as the demon distorts her appearance she herself isn't it- she's possessed by it. And you can imagine that if she looks this bad then the real thing must be really frightening. Same thing with Fallen which features a demon so cunning that it can jump from person to person simply by touch. You never see Azazel but you know it's there when it starts humming its favorite song: Time is on my side. Those few notes have never been so creepy as when hummed by a stranger standing outside on the street.
Part of what made The Blair Witch Project such a cult classic, in addition to the "found footage" angle, was the fact that you never saw the witch. In the end when we see Mike standing in the corner awaiting his fate we are unsettled and left wondering, fearing what it was that put him there. This is the same thing that made the original Paranormal Activity such a mad success. The demon that ultimately possesses poor Katie is never seen. We know it has three toes (because we see its footprints in the baby powder) and that it's big (because it lets out a breath on the top of Katie's head) but we never actually see it. Tiny little cues with our imagination filling in the rest. Any attempt they could have made to show you the real thing couldn't possibly live up to that unknown dread in your mind.
It's hard to come up with a lot of movies for this list because so many start off with the promise of fear and end in agonizing disappointment when the film makers reveal the monster- dumb, unconvincing and sometimes even sort-of cute (the little guys from Don't be Afraid of the Dark come to mind- boy was that devastating.) They're never as scary as the evil you can't see. It's difficult to make a movie about something that you never see but when that challenge is met it tends to have rather spectacular results. I hope more filmmakers take this challenge because my imagination is ripe with unseen horrors.
What about you? What are your favorite unseen monsters? Let me know, I'd love to expand the list!
And once you've let me know, I invite you to hop along and keep the monster lovin' goin'.