A Horror trope where fear is not induced by some traumatic visual element or by a physical threat, but by the sole lack of event. This is a case of rampant creepiness, associated not with what is happening, but with the general atmosphere of a scene. When properly done, it can result in one of the scariest moments. It does so for one simple reason, the author refuses to show us what is causing this scariness but we desperately wish to know what, so our minds fill in the blanks.
It often has to do with where the events are happening, generally because said place is just inherently scary somehow, but sometimes merely because of the way it is filmed or described.
This trope comes in three flavors:
The classic version, where the moment serves to build up suspense and tension, until something scary suddenly jumps at you from nowhere. It has been done a million times, and is often poorly executed, ending up with the killer/monster/whatever apparition being less scary than the preceding sequence.note Stephen King once said that the actual presence of the "big scary thing" itself tends to be the cause of the letdown — whatever they actually show is unlikely to be worse than what we were expecting. And even if it is, it's not going to have nearly as much impact on a viewer who's been anticipating it for the last minute or more. Many times, what the directors do is make the character look around with some small light source (flashlight, cellphone, camera flashes) for that mystery noise and then suddenly turn around right when the suspense music reaches that peak. Of course, they sigh when they see nothing...and then they turn around again...
The full version is when there is really nothing happening, but the result can be several orders of magnitude scarier than the classic version, because the audience is left to imagine what could have happened.
The rarely used third variation is where there's nothing there... nothing there... nothing there... and then you realize there is something there, and it's been there all along.
In the early part of Shiki, a lot of the horror comes from the fact that nobody in universe or out has any way of knowing who or when the vampires will attack next—instead characters just mysteriously develop anemia and before their friends and family can do anything sensible, they're dead.
The last few episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Due to the budget starting to really run low, many scenes are dragged out beyond what appears reasonable. This includes a short moment during End of Evangelion, when Shinji finds the destroyed Unit-02, and we get treated to multiple very gory shots. Or in EOE, when Asuka is lying in the water, repeatedly saying "I don't want to die". That shot alone lasts for just about a minute, while the camera is slowly zooming in on Unit-02... And it's creepy as hell.
In Dragon Ball Z, while we see what it's like from the point of view of Buu's victims, no one knows what happens to the androids after they are absorbed by Cell.
The lights flickered once more before they finally went out completely.
Everyone in the group suddenly hugged each other, deathly afraid of losing anyone.
And a moment later, they heard Thunderstorm's screams. He screamed and screamed as loud as he could, sounding as though his terror quadrupled as he continued to scream. The scream turned into a screech, and the screech turned into a shriek, and then the shriek continued for a solid three seconds.
And then it stopped.
It happened so suddenly, they were almost deafened by the silence.
Five seconds later, the lights came back on, and when it did, the door was open, allowing the sunlight and cold air of the mountain to flow through the room.
Everyone remained frozen on the spot for at least another minute, each of them too horrified by what had transpired to budge from their spot.
One of the Halloween specials "Pranking The Ghosts" had the moment where the ghost pulls Andy and Sherman back into the house after this line:
Used literally, to truly frightening effect, in the Thor fanfic Out of Time. Nowhere is unknowable and Nothing is perfect . . .
A downplayed version works in the heroes' favor in Fist Of The Moon. The senshi all have a disguise field that protects their identity, and everyone from Genma to Amazon elders unanimously agree that being unable to remember someone's face while looking straight at them is very unsettling.
Film/Jumanji, showing that Robin Williams can be pretty damn terrifying when need be. For example, there's his description of the Eldritch LocationDeath World he was stuck in for 26 years:
"You think that mosquitoes, monkeys, and lions are bad? That is just the beginning. I've seen things you've only seen in your nightmares. Things you can't even imagine. Things you can't even see. There are things that hunt you in the night. Then something screams. Then you hear them eating, and you hope to God you aren't dessert. Afraid? You don't know what afraid is. You will not last five minutes without me."
Child's Play is remembered as being goofy and over the top, but Chucky is legitimately frightening before he begins mugging for the camera and cracking wise. People are murdered and things around the doll just happen, with no better excuse than a terrified child trying to explain that it was his "Good Guy" doll doing it.
Aspects of the film seem to revel in this fact, suggesting it might have been intended to be playing with the child as a potential Enfant Terrible before Executive Meddling.
2001: A Space Odyssey with the introduction of the featureless black monoliths and the incredibly eerie music accompanying them.
Done to a lesser extent in John Carpenter's remake The Thing (1982), mostly in the first part, with the dog wandering around, which is doing an incredible performance.
The Thing (2011) does the same through much of the movie, with the buildup to the alien finally breaking free of its ice block built up several times, starting with the sample being taken. The inevitable scene of the monster smashing its way up and out of the building startles the audience about as much as it does the character in the room.
The scene in Mulholland Dr. in which the two guys walk behind the diner.
The one after the Club Silencio scene where Betty goes off-camera for a second and really vanishes, leaving Rita alone and frightened.
Not to mention when the camera repeatedly lingers ominously on the mysterious blue box and...
Army of Darkness, mostly a comedic masterpiece, has Ash being chased by... SOMETHING. We never see what it is, as we watch the chase from its perspective, and this monster is one of only a few things that seem to scare him after his experiences in the first two Evil Dead films.
After Ash finds safety in the windmill, a deleted scene builds up more tension by showing something going by the windows twice.
Nine tenths of the scary in the Saw movies come from the characters walking around in the abandoned, desolate locations.
The first film in the series has the scene where Doctor Gordon's daughter wakes up and notices there's something beside her... The audience knows just by the shot where the camera zooms into the black void. Zepp attacks her later, long after she tells mommy and has daddy help her fall asleep.
David Lynch movies in general. Especially Inland Empire which manages to be unsettling and frightening the whole way through with nothing nightmarish actually happening (well, until that one part....). Also if you look at Eraserhead from the right angle, minus the last half hour or so. True, the baby is grotesque and monstrous, but it never really DOES anything (other than incessantly cry, and later incessantly laugh) and still manages to terrify its audience.
Jaws is another classic example. There's a lot of conjecture about the decision not to show the shark in the first half of the movie, but it was actually intentional. The mechanical difficulties with the shark may have reduced its screen time in the second half, but Steven Spielberg always intended to hide it during the first.
Ridley Scott's Alien is emblematic of this trope, using it in the most brilliant fashion to produce high levels of horror. Not that it is very difficult to see a monster designed by H. R. Giger let down on the scare factor, but it mostly remains unseen.
During one of the first screenings of the movie, in the infamous scene where Brett is looking for Jones The Cat, reportedly half of the audience left the room out of fear even before the monster showed up. This worked even when the audience saw the monster in full in the same scene, when it was just hanging from a chain, camouflaged from the audience with nothing more than its bio-mechanical appearance. The fact that it was able to hide in plain sight and still sneak up on both Brett and the audience is also pretty scary.
Lambert's death in Alien is possibly the most horrific, since the audience doesn't see it at all - we only hear what Ripley hears over the intercom.
Even the original trailer qualifies, showing nothing but a quick sequence of images with a chilling musical theme.
You KNOW there is going to be xenomorphs when the marines are walking into the hive, the only thing is how they'll meet... wait, did the wall just move??
The dropship pilot Ferro takes off to collect the other marines and her attempts to hurry up her co-pliot are met with silence. That's not him entering the cockpit.... Her blood subsequently splashing across the cockpit window can only suggest a particularly gruesome end.
When a pack of the xenomorphs is approaching inside the ceiling. Camera angles and Ripley's own dialogue (she guesses they might come through the floor) make it obvious where the creatures are, cranking up buckets of suspense until the Oh Crap moment when one of the marines looks up.
By the same director, as a rare non-horror film example, the final confrontation between Deckard and Roy Batty in Blade Runner, in the Bradbury Building, also uses this trope intensely and brilliantly.
A great example is from Rear Window: Love interest Lisa has gone over to the murderer's apartment to collect a crucial piece of evidence while protagonist Jeff, who has broken his leg, can only watch with his camera's telephoto lens. He notices the murderer coming back down the hall; Lisa, obviously, does not, and cheerfully waves in the direction of the camera.
Psycho: When Vera Crane sneaks into the Bates house, into Norman's room, sees the child's toys, sees a Beethoven record on the gramophone, then pulls out a book, opens it up, and looks quite unsettled. We don't see the contents; we can only imagine. (In Robert Bloch's original novel, it's a work of pornography.)
There's also the scene where Arbogast is killed. While the original storyboards had tense music and suspenseful camera angles cluing the audience in that a murder was about to happen, Hitchcock chose to shoot it with no music and a completely normal angle of Arbogast walking up the staircase before Norman suddenly pops out and stabs him. A similar technique is used in the infamous shower scene, which seems just like a standard bit of Eye Candy. Then you see the faint shadow appear in the background...
Frenzy has a subversion of the trope, when the murder of Babs by Bob Rusk happens offscreen. We see the two of them go up to Rusk's flat, he escorts her inside and closes the door...and then the camera pans down the staircase, through the front entryway, and across the busy London street.
Allegedly, Hitchcock observed that the scariest thing one could put on the silver screen was a closed door.
From The Other Wiki: on the filming of the early (nearly) silent horror movie Vampyr by Carl Dreyer, Dreyer reportedly told his cameraman, "Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because we have changed... This is the effect I want to get."
In the American The Ring movie there's a scene where Naomi Watts is talking to someone on the phone as she pours herself a glass of water from a plastic pitcher. Subconsciously we recognize the pitcher from the opening scene and become frightened even though nothing even remotely scary is happening to her... yet.
Also used to excellent effect when it is very dark in the movie. Especially in the last scene, where the characters are in the attic with only the night vision on. You can't see what the creature is, or where it is.
The Others was much like this. Nine-tenths of the creepy in that movie came from the kids talking and the dark surroundings.
The Mist had the parts where people were fighting in the stores or arguing to go outside rather suspenseful.
Generally considered a failure, The Happening still features one scene (when Elliot wakes up in the isolated country-house) that was extremely unsettling, solely because of the way it is filmed (it may be an ordinary old country-house, but at that very moment it seems very, very creepy).
Signs is another M. Night Shyamalan example. Nothing much out of the ordinary happens in some early scenes in the film, but there's a foreboding mood and a sense that things are subtly off, creating suspense long before the aliens show up (and making them a bit of a letdown when they do).
Another M. Night Shyamalan scene was from The Village when our protagonist is in the forest, completely blind, not even realizing she's stumbling into a patch of bright, red berries, thinking about the stories of Those Of Which We Do Not Speak. (Red attracts Those Of Which We Do Not Speak.)
Identity uses this quite a bit as well, being a whodunnit slasher. One notable scene is when a couple are arguing and the wife locks herself in the bathroom. The husband starts banging really frantically on the door. It becomes unnerving when he stops.
Arguably it is this technique, given that the killer is never seen.
Parodied by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier in the one-off comic Blair Which?, where it's revealed that there really wasn't anything to be scared of after all (except the old house getting dynamited).
Similar in How It Should Have Ended. In it, the cheesy witch is shown and totally breaks the mood.
Well, as she admits, it is her movie!
Pick about any moment after the first twenty minutes of the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. Or even a fair few in the TV movie with Steven Weber. Or the original novel. People wandering around an old hotel with things maybe-kinda-did-that-just-really happening never was so unnerving.
The famous "Elevator of Blood" scene in the trailer. It's not particularly graphic, but the message comes across immediately.
Alone in the Dark (2005) manages to fail in this twice. One is where Edward Carnby is walking home down a dark alley. The camera moves around to make it seem like something is following him... and nothing is. The second case is at the end of the movie, where monsters other than the ones in the movie that look like the love child of Ghostbusters and a xenomorph have taken over New York City, leaving everyone dead and absolutely no sign of their existence. One attacks Edward and his girlfriend using the power of Jaws First Person Perspective. The failure of these moments can be chalked up to the director, Uwe Boll.
The scene in 28 Days Later where Jim is walking through a completely abandoned London is made so eerie that one almost has a heart attack when the car alarm goes off.
The scene has a soundtrack ("East Hastings" by Godspeed You Black Emperor!) that starts off quietly and slowly builds to a climax when Jim finds out what has happened. The DVD Commentary says it was added because after a few minutes of silence, the car alarm almost killed viewers.
About half way through the film, Jim has a nightmare about being alone again, and it's extremely effective at evoking that same dread as well as being heart breaking.
The Descent. Watching it, and knowing something really bad is going to come out of the darkness at any second... The experience is perhaps best described as "Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit OH SHIT!"
And also masterful because the film never lets you be comfortable, long before the monsters show up. In addition to the claustrophobia and disorientation of the caves, our main character is suffering long-lasting PTSD.
Even the bloody DVD menu does this. It is not recommended to watch this, fall asleep drunk on someone else's sofa and be woken up in the dead of night by a sudden demonic howl.
The third variaton of this trope is also used, and highlighted in one of the Special Features. In numerous scenes prior to the group actually seeing one of the monsters, they'd had one camouflaged in the background, stalking them.
The most terrifying scene in The Silence of the Lambs comes, not when a young woman is kidnapped and held in a subterranean well or when Hannibal Lecter escapes from his prison in a veritable spray of blood, but when Clarice Starling stumbles through absolutely silent, pitch-black darkness, knowing the insane Serial Killer (who can conveniently see her just finenote via night-vision goggles, which he normally used raising and caring for moths) is in the room with her, and fully expecting to be shot dead at any second.
In the book it's specified he used to lure women down there, switch the lights off and watch them try to escape, before shooting them in the legs. He stopped because when he was done the pelts were useless.
This is the reason everything takes so long to happen in Nosferatu. Especially aboard the ship.
Attempted in "Manos" The Hands of Fate. Arguably, it was done successfully as the long periods of nothing, apart from the opening scene, are part of what make the movie so surreal and uncomfortable to watch.
The trailer for Buried is a solid minute of nothing but a black screen with a voiceover of a man panting and calling 911, not knowing where he is or what happened to him, until the very end where the flame of a lighter reveals that he's six feet under and very much alive.
Suspiria is made of this trope. It uses discordant and menacing music, a world intentionally designed to be slightly off, and constant buildup and anticipation to make truly frightening moments where absolutely nothing is happening... Yet. Unfortunately, as befits this trope, the tagline "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92" is woefully inaccurate.
The aftermath of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo in the original Gojira is full of this. Everything from the images of the destroyed buildings to the crowded hospitals to the haunting music makes the scene very creepy as well as very sad to watch.
In Werner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man, Herzog listens (through headphones, on-camera) to the sound-only video recording of two people being attacked, killed, and eaten by a grizzly bear. (It was recorded accidentally while the lens cap was still on.) This is horrifying on multiple levels: not least because it is a real recording of two people being eaten alive. There's no video of course, and we don't hear any sound. Herzog's face remains grimly stoic, but loses all color. He tells the woman who owns the video — an old confidant of Timothy Treadwell, one of the victims — "You must never listen to this recording. You must destroy it, and never listen to it." Not only do we not see anything, we don't hear it either.
For that matter, later we see what is believed (and noted in the film) to be Treadwell's actual video footage of the bear that would kill him and his girlfriend not long thereafter. It's quite unnerving to watch these scenes with that knowledge in mind, even though nothing frightening is actually happening.
John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is a genuinely scary movie with creepy voices, the walking dead, cockroach swarms, Alice Cooper, ancient runes, and so on. But the creepiest moment in the film happens when Jamison Parker's character... an amateur magician who is constantly practicing a "make the card disappear behind the magician's hand" sleight of hand trick... suddenly, and quite accidentally makes the card disappear for real. It sounds like nothing, but when you watch it?
Not to mention the final shot of the movie is one of the surviving characters reaching for a mirror, made more unnerving by the fact that it cuts to black just before he touches it.
Anthony Minghella's adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley is built on this. For the first act of the film, everything's going quite splendidly for all the main characters, but soon you feel deeply uncomfortable by this feeling of general unease that the situations the narrative is concocting are inexplicably giving you. Then someone's head gets smashed in, and the murderer must navigate his way through an endless series of exchanges and meetings in which his dirty little secrets are almost exposed. The almost farcical levels of suspenseful complications that occur during these exchanges is terrifying enough, but the most viscerally, nauseatingly scary aspect about them is that they are incredibly drawn-out and often do not have a violent payoff... which makes the instances where shit really does go down all the more unnerving. Worst of all, though, is that the film NEVER eases up on this tension.
Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) is a near-perfect (in every sense) example of this trope. We hear rhythmic thumping and pounding several times in the film, and one character realizes that something was holding her hand a moment ago, and there is a creepy moment where a door softens and bulges as something on the other side tries to get in. But it is never revealed who or what is stalking the characters. The film is a guaranteed way to give yourself nightmares. (The book that serves as inspiration, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, does the exact same thing.)
In Dark City, arguably the most nerve-wracking bit of the movie is when John wakes up in the eerie hotel bathroom. Hell, the city's unreal, dark, gloomy atmosphere never gives anyone a moment of respite.
Paranormal Activity is a great example of this trope. They scared the hell out of people just by swinging the bedroom door about a foot.
The ending. The period of silence before... it happens is absolutely terrifying.
But in the ending, something happened. The real terror is every night when the camera slows down. Nothing is happening, but the anticipation of what might happen is scarier than anything that actually happens when taken at face value.
The "music" played a big part in the ending too. You hear the footsteps getting louder as they climb the stairs and that sound in the background gets louder and louder too until the footsteps stop altogether and all there is left is this heavy, horrifying tension in the air.
This trope is what made The Exorcist III so damn scary. The hallway scene is simply a nurse doing her rounds for the night including a nice fake-out before she's almost done, and is beheaded by a fast-moving cloaked figure with amputation shears, which we don't even see used since the scene is quickly cut away.
Tremors did this very effectively during the first part of the film. All we saw of the Graboids (if we were shown anything) were surface undulations as they moved. Most of the time there was little hint at lurking danger, and the attack scenes were viscerally frightening because we couldn't see the subterranean monsters that were attacking. When the Graboids eventually revealed themselves, though, it made them only a little less scary.
The first Resident Evil builds atmosphere and suspense early on. As the lead and the soldiers are making their way into the facility, there are just few enough hints of how bad things are to keep it creepy. Then, the lasers and zombies show up and the movie turns into an action film.
Ti West's The House Of The Devil relies on this trope for nearly all but the last 10 minutes of the film. Its effectiveness is heavily debated.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques employs this extremely effectively during its climax.
There are differing opinions on Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon as to whether they should have shown the title demon at the beginning of the film - or at all - but the general consensus is that for or despite its spare appearances, it is a superb horror movie where nothing often lurks in the darkness.
The original Dawn of the Dead features a truly terrifying 20 seconds at the beginning, before someone taps the heroine on the shoulder in the TV studio. Nothing scary is happening, but it's unsettling as billy-o
In interviews, Clive Barker has spoke of his intent to avert this trope, due to its overuse in horror films growing up, and so the titular Rawhead Rex was revealed early in the movie. All Hellraiser films have followed the convention of showing the Cenobites in their full, gruesome glory.
1980's The Changeling is made completely on this concept: it's a ghost story where you never see the ghosts. Very scary.
AJ Annila's Surreal Horror film Sauna. Sure, there's a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl and a victim of The Corruption, but both are just remants with the encounter with something in the dark of the cellar, the shed, and ofcourse the sauna. You are in the dark. You are not alone. You hope that the other doesn't turn its gaze on you. And then there's the burning question: is the person who walks out of the sauna the same person who walked in?
The first half of Pontypool is terrific, the audience and characters are being fed by information about the chaos happening outside through phone calls, and no one knows exactly what is happening.
The horror film Absentia relies heavily on build-up and not showing anything for much of the film to horrifying results.
Martha Marcy May Marlene exists almost entirely on this trope, and does it masterfully. Nothing bad ever actually happens to Martha after she escapes the cult, and its not entirely clear whether or not she's actually in any real danger, and somehow that only makes it more frightening.
Val Lewton may be the Trope Codifier. The movies he produced for RKO had (as dictated by his bosses) low budgets and lurid titles such as Cat People, Bedlam, The Body Snatcher and I Walked With a Zombie, but he was able to work around those limitations to produce films that were subtle and thoughtful, and at the same time delivered the chills. He was a firm believer in the idea that what you can't see can be scarier than what you can see.
Many horror films in the 1980s were modified for television, with particularly gruesome scenes radically shortened or cut out entirely to meet broadcasting standards. In some cases this enhanced the film by removing badly executed special effects, leaving the viewer's imagination to fill in the blanks.
Angel Heart has it's share of creepy surreal shots that include panoramic views of spiral staircases and fans spinning, which are somehow creepy on their own but take some horrific meanings with hindsight, especially the fan, which at first seems like nothing, until you realize after watching the film that it appears every time Harry Angel is about to commit a murder. Also, one of the creepiest scenes in the film is Robert De Niro eating a hard-boiled egg. Even once the real horror (as in the stuff that actually should be scary) comes along it's mostly psychological and Robert De Niro with the same beard he had in The Mission may very well be the creepiest depiction of Satan ever put on film. He even lampshades it in The Reveal when he remarks to a skeptical Johnny Favorite "if I cloven hooves and a pointed tail would you be more convinced?.
Fans of The Cabin in the Woods often suspect that "Kevin" is the most terrifying and evil entity in the Cabin's arsenal, simply because we never find out what he is.
Zero Dark Thirty is an interesting example of a non-horror/thriller use of this trope. The scene in question is the raid on Bin Laden's compound: it's long, drawn-out and uncomfortable as Navy SEALS hunt down and kill four militants, with only a few shots actually being fired. And it's pulled off extremely well.
In the opening of Anaconda, the Anaconda attacks a nameless poacher (played by Danny Trejo) who was piloting a boat full of captured animals before he kills himself. When the expedition later runs into his boat, it's completely empty with not a sign of life. They investigate, only for nothing to happen until a guy who got lost is picked off without anyone but Sarone noticing.
A lot of the time in Godzilla (2014), the presence of the monsters are felt through the paths of destruction they leave in their wake rather than actual appearances on-screen. All in all, the movie is seen more through human perception than the monsters'.
The short story "The Reaper's Image", one of his first published stories, focuses on something seemingly innocuous: a mirror with a black smudge that sometimes appears in the corner. The smudge doesn't appear for most people. But the few people who do see it, for some reason, become terrified and flee the room. Once they do — and once they are out of sight of any other human being — they are never seen again.
The short story "The Jaunt" has teleportation. It is virtually instantaneous for physical things. However, if someone is not put to sleep, the mental time taken seems endless. All people see is a featureless whiteness. Eventually "the mind turns on itself."
The book version of The Princess Bride has a Zoo of Death instead of the Pit of Despair. It has multiple levels of basement, and as you go down the enemies get scarier. One level has absolutely nothing in it. Just a long, black tunnel with the exit door at the other end. For Inigo and Fezzik this is doggone scary. Something should be happening! This is the level of the Enemies of Fear. The idea is that you panic, run for the opposite door and let the venomous spider under the handle kill you.
As soon as everybody had crowded into the room, Sir Egbert fastened shut the door, and started up the machinery inside the sofa. When Alice saw what was about to happen, she began to scream uncontrollably...
Worth mentioning that the sofa's function is strongly implied to be of an erotic nature, so Alice may not have been screaming infear.
The famous short story "The Monkey's Paw" wields this trope to terrifying effect. The couple's first wish gets them the money they wanted, but it comes in the form of compensation for their son's death. The horror summoned by the second wish is never revealed, because the old man uses the third wish to send it back just before it opens the door.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is arguably the tensest and most suspenseful book in the series because of the lull in the action. The Big Bad doesn't make a single appearance except in flashbacks, and Draco keeps sneaking around and is clearly up to something big. This builds up to some of the franchise's most intense and terrifying scenes in the final few chapters.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort invokes this after his takeover of the Ministry of Magic and infiltration of Hogwarts - he at first doesn't make it clear he's taken over the Ministry. If he had, say, proclaimed himself Minister right away, people obviously would have realized right away that the Ministry had fallen, been quicker to take precautions and protect themselves and each other, and been more active in resisting him. Instead, he placed a Ministry official under the Imperious curse, had him be the official Minister, acting as a puppet for Voldemort, while Voldemort himself remained in hiding with only his most trusted followers, carrying out his Evil Plan in private. The result? Most people, even those not in the Order realize something is going on, especially as anti-Muggle suprepecy spreads, but no one is sure what, and thanks to the fact that anyone could be working for Voldemort, this leads to a whole lot of suspicion, distrust, fear, panic, and no one being sure what to do. Sure enough, once Voldemort officially declares war on Hogwarts, most of the wizarding world springs into action to stop him.
In "The Raven", the narrator answers the tapping at his chamber door to find "darkness there, and nothing more."
The prisoner who recounts his captivity in a dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition in "The Pit and the Pendulum" discovers a deep pit in the middle of his prison chamber. Despite having already endured various tortures, a look down into the pit horrifies him more than anything—but he doesn't tell what he saw in the pit.
The Magician's Nephew (the prequel to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia) makes some use of this trope with the deadened world of Charn, in which there's absolutely no life whatsoever until Digory and Polly find the evil Empress Jadis, leaving them to wonder what happened and what purpose all the empty and silent structures they pass along the way served. Though Jadis pretty well explains all this to them later and what she tells them is pretty terrible, her description is not quite as creepy as the place was when they didn't know. Also, as Digory tells Polly later when Jadis escapes into their world and is at large making trouble, "When there's a wasp in the room, I like to know where it is." In other words, running into Jadis again, dangerous and menacing as she is, is nowhere near so bad as not running into her and knowing that she's still at large being dangerous and menacing to all of London.
The nothingness on Charn is not helped at all by the warning next to the bell, which seems to invoke this trope: The gist of it is that something bad will happen if you ring the bell, and nothing will happen if you don't... but the latter will scare you more than the former.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a group of invisible people force Lucy to go into the house of a powerful and terrifying magician, to find his book of spells and use it to make the people visible again. Lucy finds the book and completes her task safely, but the walk through the house to find the thing is terrifying, especially since the magician himself is invisible and can walk soundlessly. There's also the part where she finds the book, which is set on a podium in the middle of the room. To read it, Lucy has to stand with her back to the doorway. She feels incredibly vulnerable because of this, and wishes very much that there was a door to close. After she casts the spell, she learns that the magician is good. The walk out of the house is far less scary.
In Coraline, the protagonist encounters this when facing down the cocoon with something unseen inside. She gets through it by realizing that, logically, nothing can be worse than the moment of staring at it, terrified.
In a previous scene, she was walking down a hallway, hearing tapping sounds from a nearby room, which is either water dripping from the tap, or the Other Mother drumming her fingers on the table. She kept walking without looking.
In another scene, the Other Mother disappears immediately after shaking hands with Coraline to agree to the game. Coraline's creeped out by this— she prefers the Other Mother to have a definitive location, because if she's nowhere, then she could be anywhere. And of course, it's always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.
Lampshaded, of course, in Witches Abroad when Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg agree that nothing they find under a certain trap door could be worse than what they can imagine.
This trope is the heart of William Gibson's short story "Hinterlands", which concerns an interdimensional "highway" and its effects on the astronauts who travel it. The Fear, as it's called in the story, visits those who even think too much about what's on the other side. The astronauts who actually go there all come back insane or dead by their own hands.
One of H.P. Lovecraft's signature styles, where he describes the monster(s) only partially... and allows the readers' minds to assemble them from that description, if any is given.
He's probably at his scariest when he tells you absolutely nothing about what's happening; see "The Music of Erich Zann" for an example.
At other times, on the other hand, he gives meticulous, almost clinically scientific descriptions of what the creatures are like. But in At the Mountains of Madness he combines the two ways of storytelling, and describes the creatures to the most minute detail when they are in hibernating state and assumed dead, but at no point does the narrator see them move or do anything - he only sees the results of the massacre that took place once they woke up on the autopsy table.
Also... whatever it was that Danforth saw that psychologically scarred him. We never even get any real hints beyond the idea that it may either be a mirage, a hallucination brought on by extreme stress, or something so terrible that even the Elder-Things feared it. It also doesn't help that Danforth's ramblings (the only clues he ever shares about what it was) mention several unrelated creatures such as Yog-Sothoth and the Colour out of Space.
In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire children experience this trope when they are shoved down a dark, empty elevator shaft. The following two pages are filled entirely in black, after which the author writes that he couldn't possibly describe what their screaming sounded like.
This is actually fairly common in Gothic Romanticism. Ann Radcliffe wrote what amounted to a treatise on horror writing. Essentially, "terror" is the feeling that precedes an event, while "horror" is the revulsion felt during/after said event. The former is, by far, more difficult to pull off. Scaring the audience without a visible threat is no small feat, but, as the other examples show, it tends to be much, much more effective.
As the quintessential Gothic novel, Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho spends its time terrifying Emily, the main character. At one point she freezes because of some unseen thing lurking in the shadows, only to be relieved when it turns out to be a suitor . Radcliffe gets bonus points for including a bit of Fridge Horror when the reader realizes that this takes place in the character's room; the real "terror" isn't the possibility of something supernatural, but the possibility of rape by her overly-aggressive suitor even if it doesn't come to that.
A literal example, which crosses with The Nothing After Death and Cessation of Existence: The Neverending Story (and its movie adaptation) has an Eldritch Abomination called The Nothing, which is a sudden erasing of existing things. The Nothing itself isn't ever described in the book. In fact, it's implied that it cannot be described by any other word than "nothing"... One character tries to describe a lake being claimed by the Nothing and fails. The lake did not become a hole or a dried-up lake, because then there would be a hole or a dried lake bed. No, the only thing that was left was simply nothing. Later, when Atreyu takes a look at the Nothing from afar, he can't even glance at it head-on, and his eyes hurt just from seeing it, because his brain can't comprehend it. It isn't blackness, it isn't even empty space, because blackness can be comprehended and empty space is something that can be occupied. The Nothing is quite simply something that isn't. And it's disturbing!
They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing!
In The Hobbit it's flat-out stated that the scariest thing Bilbo had to do in his whole adventure was walk down the lightless tunnel to Smaug's lair. Not the dragon himself, not the giant spiders from Mirkwood, not the Goblins, Trolls or Wolves from the Misty Mountains, just the tunnel and the crippling fear of not knowing if a dragon was sleeping at the end of it.
In Out of the Dark, the Shongairi, when the vampires attack, find the silence more disturbing than facing the destruction humans can cause in direct combat.
[The living room] was curtained and quite dark, but it had the feel of great size. The darkness was heavy in it and my nose twitched at a lingering odor that said somebody had been there not too long ago. I stopped breathing and listened. Tigers could be in the darkness watching me. Or guys with large guns, standing flat-footed, breathing softly with their mouths open. Or nothing and nobody and too much imagination in the wrong place.'
Live Action TV
In The Avengers, there was a fairly long scene in the middle of the episode "Don't Look Behind You" with Cathy Gale walking around in a large, spooky house in the countryside. It seems at first like no one else is present in the house, but then things in rooms begin to get changed while she is out of the room. There is no BGM at all during this scene; just the sound of Gale's footsteps.
Many first episodes of serials in the Classic series rely on this, as it's natural to want to reveal the monster to the audience for the first time as the Cliffhanger:
"The Dead Planet", the first episode of the serial "The Daleks", where the TARDIS crew explore a strange petrified jungle where everything is dead, and yet they have the feeling that something is following them. They enter a deadly-beautiful ruined city with long corridors and proportions built uncomfortably for human bodies, and begin to be aware that something else is following them. We only get to see any monsters right at the very end of the story via a Shaky P.O.V. Cam shot as it suddenly ambushes Barbara at the end of a corridor, and even then, only its hand is visible. Or - well - its plunger.
"The Edge of Destruction" has no clear enemy for the first episode, with the malevolent presence represented by the TARDIS doors opening and closing and everyone on the ship going slightly mad thanks to its psychic influence. The second episode of the serial shows them actually puzzling through the problem and isn't half as scary, but the first episode is just horrifying.
"World's End", first episode of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", opens with a shot of a cyborg committing suicide in a Crapsack World version of London where a sign informs us "it is forbidden to dump bodies into the river". The crew spend the episode wondering around, trying to imagine who or what could be responsible for the total collapse of civilisation. Then something comes out of the Thames... with its eye stalk wobbling back and forth and its plunger waving.
Episode 1 of "The Space Museum" has the crew caught in a TARDIS technical fault in which they are unable to interact with or see anyone, can't leave footprints, and time occasionally flows backwards or skips ahead of events they have no recollection of doing. It is very spooky and atmospheric and especially stands out when the rest of the serial is a fairly light-hearted comedy story.
While the Silence in the series itself don't really count, series 6's advertisements talked a lot about them, and they've released a couple of few second long videos as an advertisement. These videos show... Well, absolutely nothing except for a couple of empty streets on CCTV footage. People have been pausing and going through them frame by frame but still seeing nothing unusual, except for the occasional flickering of the screen. And they are scaring the pants off of everyone. In one of them, you can see one of the Silence. It isn't doing anything, just standing there in plain sight.
The thing about the Silence is that as soon as you lose sight of them you completely forget about them. So the characters took to marking on their arms when they had seen one and constantly checking. The moment that was nothing more than Amy glancing down to see her arm literally covered in tally marks was seriously scary.
The Vashta Nerada embody this trope. They can be seen under the right circumstances, but mostly the only sign of them is the room getting darker and darker, and the lights shorting out one by one...
There's a scene near the beginning of "The Eleventh Hour" where Amy has the Doctor handcuffed and he lets slip where Prisoner Zero is hiding. She starts walking towards the door, and he's screaming at her not to open it, but she walks through anyway... the appearance of the giant piranha-eel thing suspended from the ceiling directly behind Amy's head is actually a bit of a relief compared to the empty, dusty room that's always been in your house but you've never noticed it that the Doctor is yelling to get out of now.
In "The God Complex", a Hell Hotel has a room that contains each visitor's greatest fear. When the Doctor finds his room, the audience doesn't see it. All we get is a dark room with the sound of the Cloister Bell (which only goes off in big emergencies) and the Doctor remarking "Of course, who else would it be?". Knowing the Doctor, whatever is on the other side may be too much for humans to comprehend. In the 2013 Christmas special, we find out that it's the cracks in time from the fifth series.
Used effectively (and effects-savingly) in "Cold War": Immediately after Skaldak leaves his armor, all we see is something just out of frame rushing past; later, aside from a few closeups of his face in the shadows, all we see is a pair of very large claws. Also, when Clara realizes Skaldak has abandoned his armor, she's searching all over the room without finding anything, invoking this in spades.
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is generally pretty up front with its monsters, there have been a few notable — and scary! — exceptions. Probably the most frightening is the Season 5 episode "Forever," where Dawn recruits Spike's assistance to bring Joyce back from the dead. The final scene of the episode is lifted directly from the short story "The Monkey's Paw," and is equally chilling.
There's also the season four finale "Restless" in which Xander, Willow, Giles and Buffy are hunted in their dreams by a malevolent entity that is only ever seen as a shadowy shape or a blurred, fast-moving brown thing or a shimmering, indistinct object stalking back and forth in the heat-blasted distance...
In the notably nightmare-inducing season 4 episode "Hush", the villains-of-the-week are collecting 7 human hearts for something, but we're never told what it is - which of course only serves to make the whole thing that much creepier.
In a Season 7 episode, the Potentials are introduced to the pleasant, friendly, thoroughly non-evil demon Clem, who looks like a bald human with rather too much skin. Then he shows them his other face. All we see is various bits that fly out to the sides, from the back, and the girls all screaming, very much like a scene in Beetlejuice.
The ending of the Cold Case episode "Offender", where we find out who really molested and killed the boy. The killer lures the boy into the garage supposedly to fix his knee. Then, he shuts the garage and approaches the boy, whose expression changes to one of terror as the door shuts.
Cold Case is surprisingly good at this. Another fine example would be the rape/murder flashback in "Death Sentence: Final Appeal".
Burn Notice makes good use of this in Shot in the Dark when Michael has to scare the Douchebag of the Week into leaving town.
Michael: The same things that scare people as kids scare them as adults: fear of the dark [lights go out around the bastich], fear of being alone [car won't start and cell phone is jammed], and fear of the unknown, [the gang peels rubber towards Mook, spitting bullets]. Granted, the last bit proves there's something after him, but it's not the something he thinks it is, so it still fits.
Done for comedy in an episode of M*A*S*H. BJ bets the gang that he can get every one of them with an epic prank inside of a week, which he does, except for Hawkeye, who thinks he has foiled him by sleeping outside in a bathtub surrounded by barbed wire and jumping at every sound. In the morning, BJ informs him that "The greatest joke . . . was the joke that never came."note The five other "victims" BJ got, Charles, Col. Potter, "Hot Lips", Klinger, and Father Mulchay were in on it and made it look like they were gotten in more elaborate and underhanded ways, adding to Hawkeye's fear.
The Max Headroomincident, more so with its predecessor: the voice is replaced by a screeching static sound, and nothing actually happens in the video; no Take Thats at politicians or corporations, no spanking, just a man in a creepy mask bopping his head around. In addition, the delay between the interruption of the news show and the actual video makes it all the more shocking. Needless to say, it comes as surprisingly as a screamer.
The Hub's upcoming TV show Welcome to Spooksville is likely to be aimed at kids and probably won't be that scary, but we still have a teaser of a first-person view of a car driving down a lonely road as an automated GPS voice announces how close they are to Springville, interspersed with snippets of radio broadcasts from the city, as night gradually falls... and the GPS' voice starts telling the driver, "Stop" and "Turn back". In the last couple seconds, something flies into the camera and we see the car's occupants react. Then it fades to the titles on "Turn back... turn back... turn back..." and that's all she wrote. Details are presumably forthcoming.
Torchwood has an episode "They Keep Killing Suzie", Gwen's driving Suzie through the night. Suzie tells her that something evil is in the darkness, but it doesn't show up until a later episode.
It is common now for albums to feature hidden "bonus tracks" after the last listed song with several minutes of silence in between. Some of these can start out startling or even outright alarming. If you've been forewarned and have decided to leave the player on to see for yourself, well... the people who were surprised might have been better off.
Well, they encourage your complete cooperation... (Bonus points because Way starts singing in a tinny music hall voice, to the accompaniment of nothing but piano, that sounds so different from earlier tracks that some people refused to believe it was the same singer.)
Ladytron's Witching Hour ends with 10 minutes of silence, but no hidden track afterwards.
Smilarly enough, Coheed and Cambria's album "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3" album has a hidden track, which is a separate track between the aptly titled ten tracks "A Whole Lot of Nothing".
The CD version of Covenant's Modern Ruin has a hidden dark ambient track after a minute or so of silence, but the downloadable release, which for some reason lacks the bonus track, still has the silence at the end of the last track.
Boris has a song called "Absolutego" which is a complete, droning, shrapnel heavy drone doom song that goes on for about 49 minutes. If the genre of drone metal wasn't creepy enough, during the final 16 minutes of this "song" (if you can even call it that), we get an ear piercing, headache-inducing "riff" that sounds like a sawblade trying to cut up metal. But the scariest part about it is that it is just pure, absolute nothingness - it's just that one riff droning for endless minutes, no instruments to back it up, just...THAT. If Cthulhu sounds like anything, it sounds like this.
Alien Sex Fiend's "Black Rabbit" could be the theme song for the full version of this trope. This throwaway song was the last track on the band's first album, and remains one of the most unsettling pieces of music ever recorded, even by ASF's bizarre standards. It doesn't go anywhere in terms of music, but that's what makes it spooky.
The Cure's "Subway Song" from their first album is an unsettling little number about a woman being followed home from work late at night. After about a minute and a half, the song starts to fade out. There's about a second of silence, followed by a startlingly LOUD reverb-drenched scream. It manages to have the same effect every time, even when you know it's coming.
"Mer Girl" by Madonna is a slow, plodding, aimless and quiet tune. It's scary for that very reason. Never mind the gory lyrics, her soft and quiet singing and mixed with the monotonous music leaves you with the most disturbed feeling ever.
Done for comedy in one week-long series of FoxTrot strips, it was similar to the episode of M*A*S*H, above. After Peter smashed Jason's lunar module model, Jason vowed vengeance within twenty-four hours, something that made Peter fear for his life. He spent the whole day sneaking around, jumping at every little noise, and spent the night lying in a pile of dog doo after eating twigs for dinner just to hide (after his mother grounded him for two weeks for driving everyone nuts). Once the 24 hours were up, he thought he had escaped Jason's plan... But then realized he hadn't. Jason had done enough by doing nothing at all. ("Let's do this again sometime," Jason remarked, when Peter realized it.)
A common warning sign that a tornado is about to arrive is severe weather stilling to a dead calm or near-absolute calm/silence. This is because with tornadoes from low-precipitation supercells that aren't rain-wrapped, the part of the storm before the tornado is often entirely free of rain, hail, and wind - with all of that being behind the tornado if present at all.
It's been said in many places that the strategy for most nuclear powers engaged in a nuclear war is a first strike for electromagnetic pulse - e.g. a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere to knock out power, warning systems, and communications - followed up by a Macross Missile Massacre / Spam Attack with everything else in their nuclear arsenal. This is why it's advised that if all power and communications and anything electronic even on battery power or otherwise not capable of being shorted out by, say, a blown transformer or lightning strike fails all at the same moment, to assume a nuclear attack is taking place.
In Girl Genius, Volume Five, two men from the troupe scout ahead, and return riding as fast as they can, and there's no pursuit. Then the monsters come...
Worse, when Lars and Augie tell the story, this is when they note that something is veryvery wrong.
Augie: Took us a while to figure out why. No animals. No birds. We left the road to look around. There were no signs of life. No active burrows, no fresh nests. No fresh tracks. No droppings. No bodies. No bones. Nothing.
Discussed and parodied in Skin Horse after Tip becomes a werewolf. Unity references Jaws and Alien, both classic movies that took a very long time to show monsters that ultimately turned out to be disappointing. "The monster's always a letdown because it's not as scary as the idea of the monster! Y'know what you are? You're a plywood shark!"
A previous interpretation of SCP-087 was the prime example of this trope taken to the extreme. While not exactly a game, SCP-087 serves as a "simulator" of sorts. This "simulator" involves the player simply going down stairs in the dark with nothing but small light sources at each platform which leads to the next flight of stairs. The paranoia level is BEYOND eleven and the tension is so thick you can't even cut it with a chainsaw. The only thing that causes the tension? Nothing. The only thing that happens is you go down countless flights of stairs and occasionally see a shadow pass by you, which can be classified as a Cat Scare, since it does nothing other than scare the living s**t out of you for a second followed by an awkward laugh or sigh of relief. The simulator only gets scarier from here, since you now hear the sounds of scary breathing echoing through the flights of stairs. The breathing gets louder and louder until you get to the last platform, where you are surprised by a strange figure while cardboard cut-out hands extend their reach towards your face before the simulator intentionally crashes. While the initial scare is expected, the hands reaching out towards your face can generate mild yelps from the easily terrified.
SCP Foundation. Most of the time they describe the stuff that's happening in bureaucratic language to make it even creepier, but when things get really scary, like [REDACTED] incident with SCP-███, they just [DATA EXPUNGED].
This gets even worse when you see SCP-835's incredibly squicky uncensored articles and realize that there is a very good reason for that.
SCP-231. You never know what they're actually doing to the pregnant woman girl, though it's kinda obvious with how any Class-D personnel conducting Procedure 110-Montauk will be terminated if they even try to prolong it. (The author has claimed it's actually not the obvious answer, but refuses to elaborate on what it actually is, beyond "worse".)
SCP-579 is described simply as [DATA EXPUNGED]. However, it's kept in an alternate universe created by another SCP. Procedure if that doesn't work? Destroy that alternate universe. Procedure if that doesn't work? "In the event of an unsuccessful Action 10-Israfil-B, no further action will be necessary." In fact, this trope is why the containment procedures always come before the description. Unless you cheat and skip ahead, you start out knowing nothing about the thing but the increasingly Long List of just what it takes to make sure the thing never sees the light of day, and if it's done right, you're scared before the section after that, which tells what it is, and the section after that, that tells what it did last time it was in the general population.
There's one artefact that actually, in-universe, is basically this trope in a box. What's done to contain it is epic, more so than some artefacts known to be capable of ending the world. Then you find out what it is: it's a box that makes a ticking sound, like a clock. What is it counting down to? How much time is left? Being near it makes you incredibly paranoid about that, but that is all it does.
The Slender Man Mythos, wherein we only see traces of the Slender Man. What exactly he does to his victims and how is completely up to the imagination.
This trope also contributes to why some find Slender Man to be Nightmare Retardant, due to the belief that he might not do anything to his victims beyond staring at them.
Everyman HYBRID, in I'm Okay. It starts out rather quiet, before suddenly springing incredibly loud distortion on you. Expect to have full britches afterwards.
The Haunted Majoras MaskARG actually has type 3 several times, especially in the first arc. The most unnerving, though, is in the first video of the Ryukaki arc, Sounds.wmv, where Kayd is going through his house while weird things are happening, happens to turn right, and OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT the Elegy statue from MM's EYES are staring back at you!
It's even worse if you read the video's description where Ryukaki says that he didn't see them until he actually watched the video
Encyclopedia Dramatica features an article "Offended", a Shock Site unto its own (once you start scrolling down past the pictures of cute animals). Visit the same article on its SFW counterpart, and you'll find nothing but pictures of cute animals. What, you expected those nasty, nasty things on an explicitly SFW site?.
This variation on an already creepy ytmnd meme puts this trope to, um, extremely good use.
Rose Codreanu's death in Survival of the Fittest V4. She goes to sleep in a danger zone during the announcements but before it's announced as one, and has a calm, happy, introspective dream... with a constant beeping increasing in frequency throughout. Then, in the middle of a sentence, it cuts off with the notice that she's deceased. Very much a break from the usual Gorn deaths.
The first minute and a half of this video is conventional, if effective, horror. The rest of it is equally terrifying to watch, running purely on this trope, even though nothing happens.
A brief example appears when it came to the release of System Shock 2 on digital distribution website GOG.com. Entering the homepage briefly showed a closeup of SHODAN which opened her eyes, and then the rest of the homepage finally appeared. A perfectly chilling way to commemorate one of the most-often requested games appearing on the site.
The Wyoming Incident, a simulation of a TV broadcast hijacking courtesy of Something Awful, uses this trope very well. The entire scene is made up of only black and white, and in a low resolution. The ominous noises, unsettling font, and abstract messagesnote "WHAT HIDES IN YOUR MIND?"/"WE HAVE ALREADY SEEN IT"; "WE STAND AT THE DOOR"; "YOU ARE ILL"/"WE JUST WANT TO FIX YOU" magnify the apprehension of the viewer, building up to the surreal and VERY creepy use of 3D modelfaces, in between a pattern of long pauses and sudden transitions. And the little static hisses on the soundtrack during those pauses ramps up the tension even further if you can use them to mark time before the faces and music kick in.
It begins as an Affectionate Parody of Silent Hill, so You Awaken in Razor Hill makes use of this trope regularly. As the protagonist discovers more and more of what is out there (and could be approaching or hidden in the shadows), the periods of no activity get far more (scrape) tense.
At the end of The Nostalgia Critic's already-dark review of James and the Giant Peach, the screen goes dark and there's a mess of noisy shots. Nasty, but not particularly scary. But then there's two seconds worth of complete silence, and one last bullet rings out. It's bloody creepy.
Critic apparently picked up some tricks from all that written abuse, as one of the scariest moments in "The Review Must Go On" is when Doug sees a shadow of Critic just beyond the corner of his wall, and he runs away when Doug notices.
In To Boldly Flee, 8-Bit Mickey goes berserk after Prick pushes his Berserk Button (his height). We have absolutely no idea what happened, only that afterwards, Mickey's shirt was covered in blood (including "help me"), it severed a hand, and while Prick is dead for all interacting with the rest of the world purposes, he's still technically alive.
In Worm, Lung believes in an inversion of this: the fear of the unknown is a weak fear, he says, that is broken the moment the actual threat hidden within the unknown is revealed. He believes that a far greater fear is knowing exactly what the threat is, and knowing that you are utterly helpless against said threat.
The Looney Tunes short, "Scaredy Cat" features Porky Pig and Sylvester moving into a creepy old mansion that's inhabited by homicidal mice who try to kill them in typical cartoon fashion (death traps that always miss the mark, anvils, etc). But at one point, the comical elements stop when Sylvester sleeps in a hamper, which is silently lowered into the floor. Three hours later, and Sylvester rides back up, now completely white, and so scared out of his mind, he can barely even walk. We never find out what the mice did to him. Arguably one of the most chilling Looney Tunes moments ever.
Serial Experiments Lain is also fond of this, the whole show sweats with creepiness even in the most casual scenes.
Less systematic, but still present to some extent in its spiritual successor Ghost Hound. For instance, we know Taro and his sister Mizuka were kidnapped as children and that Mizuka died as a result, but during flashbacks we never see the kidnapper's face or actually learn what killed Mizuka.
The horror manga series Fuan no Tane very rarely has anything that is overtly threatening anyone, but is nonetheless incredibly eerie. A prime example is in the 5 page segment starting here.
Possibly unintentional, but there is a certain uncanniness to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou's harmonious, post-apocalyptic setting. It is caused by a combination of the unexplained mysteries regarding the androids, humanoid fungi and feral beings that populate the world, and the apparent lack of purpose they seem to have (despite presumably them originally having one). The suspense comes just from the endless waiting for them to reveal why they are here.
In Gokukoku No Brynhildr, there are three buttons every "magician" (read:test subject). This acts as a collar, so it is expected, but it is their functions that are extremely creepy. One button acts as a suppressant for the powers. Another kills them and does so in an extremely gory fashion. The third is unknown to everyone and is implied to be a Fate Worse than Death, so no one even dares to find out what it does.
Yu-Gi-Oh! does this with the monsters 'The Thing in the Crater', where all we see is a deep crater filled with lava, and 'Dweller in the Depths', where all we see is a dark cave with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere, aside from very vague silhouettes of something in each.
The final challenge Toriko must face before reaching the Bubble Fruit is a simple path lined with bubbles. Toriko starts trembling when he realizes that there is absolutely nothing else on the path. No dangerous beasts, no deadly traps...and no food or water anywhere.
In Attack on Titan chapter 38, the soldiers trying to locate the breach at night express the fear that Titans could be anywhere nearby and they wouldn't know until it's too late due to the tiny pool of light provided by their torches.
One of the scariest scenes from Soul Eater is when Medusa's cronies enter the tomb of Asura, the first demon god and madness incarnate. After consecutive fight scenes and tensions rising as the heroes try to prevent Asura's rebirth, they are faced with a vast, shadowy room, completely silent but for the faint clinking of chains. And Asura, waiting somewhere up ahead.
Asura himself qualifies for this. Despite being the Big Bad, and a near-constant presence due to his madness infecting the world, he barely ever makes an appearance. It's eventually revealed that he's been hiding on the Moon the whole time, watching...
And when the heroes learn of this and track him down, descending deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Moon, until they can sense his madness right in front of them...there's no one there. Just darkness. Then, suddenly, they hear the sound of a heartbeat.
The BBC Doctor Who audio drama Dead Air plays with this trope. The recording opens with a cheerful woman telling you that you're about to listen to a piece of history, the very last recording of a Pirate Radio station from the 60s. What follows is the Doctor telling you "If you can hear this, then one of us is going to die." The Doctor then goes on to narrate a story (switching, a bit oddly, between first person and third person point-of-view) which is pretty standard Doctor Who fare. A nasty alien entity which is composed entirely of sound has taken over the pirate radio ship and is killing everyone aboard before going on to conquer all of Earth. Throughout the recording there are instances of static bursts, occasional distortion in sound, jumps in the recording that give you snippets of odd music that was on the tape until the Doctor recorded over it, and at one point a tinny voice overlapping the recording begging for help. In the final confrontation between the Doctor and the big bad, the Doctor traps the monster in a recording, the very one the audience is listening to.The monster taunts that as soon as anyone listens to the recording the monster will be free, and the Doctor announces that no one will ever listen to the recording, because he’s put a warning on the tape to not listen to it. And that, with such a warning in place, who could possibly be stupid enough to listen all the way to the end of the recording? The Doctor then says a cheerful “Goodbye!” and the tape immediately cuts to a distorted portion of blaring music which clicks into static...
Used to great effect in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio Scherzo, where the Eighth Doctor and Charley are trapped in a White Void Room and slowly lose all of their senses except hearing, including their sense of time. That the listener already only perceives the story through hearing punches it up to almost unbearably tense.
Quiet Please uses this in the very first episode, entitled, fittingly enough, Nothing Behind The Door. The protagonist and his friends try to rob a small house on a mountainside, only to find that anything that passes through the door simply ceases to exist.
DC had a horror anthology title in the 80s called Wasteland. Due to one error or another, issue #5 was published with issue #6's cover. When the real #6 came out, it was numbered "the real number six", and the cover, apart from framing elements, was pure white. For a horror comic, it worked quite well.
The Pony POV Series has the first Big Bad of the Reharmonized Series Loneliness, a Shapeshifter and Trixie's Enemy Within. We never find out if any of the forms she assumes are her true one, if she even has one, or what she is. Is she a figment of Trixie's imagination? A split personality? An Eldritch Abomination? Some kind of parasitic monster? We don't know, and Word of God has invoked Multiple Choice Past on her so we'll probably never find out. Made even worse by the fact there's a complete chapter between our first notice of her existence and actually seeing her. It's quite effective at making her legitimately terrifying.
Royal Heights has the Elite undergoing their first Vision under the Headmaster's guidance which is a literal look into pure nothingness. It's meant to help them understand that nothingness takes place of everything that once existed but all it really does is terrify them.
The original version of the "Stuck in the Middle with You" scene of Reservoir Dogs is much more graphic; you actually see Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear, with fairly realistic prosthetics and fake blood. The version used in the movie does not include the gory visuals, but is much more horrific as you try to imagine exactly what is happening.
Just to show how well they use this trope - there are still LOTS of people who are convinced that you actually see Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear. Despite there not being the actual gore on screen, there are still people who insist that it happened plain as day.
The Orphanage lives and breathes this trope. Shall we cite the main character playing a game with ghost children? Or how about little Tomas?
Who Framed Roger Rabbit has this with Judge Doom's true form. We see a glimpse of it with his glowing red eyes that are occasionally literal daggers and the shapeshifting weapons he uses, but the fact he remains hidden completely by his latex suit except for that enters this trope. Since the dip melted him while was still in the suit, we don't know what his true form is, if he even has one, and that just makes a villain who was already pure horrifying even more terrifying!
What really deepens the horror is that Judge Doom had been a Devil in Plain Sight for years. Nobody ever suspected he was not human, and in fact the Toons themselves had voted him into the position after he bribed them. Up until the climax he was always more forbidding than truly scary, a Knight Templar with Smug Snake undertones who was hated as well as feared. Eddie Valiant even calls him a "gargoyle" while he's in the same room, hushing his voice more out of feigned politeness than out of fear of retribution. It's actually a bit of relief when he's revealed to be a Toon himself, since now Eddie can destroy that murdering bastard without any qualms.
The short film "The Confession" by Tanel Toom uses the "disturbing lack of noise" part of this trope very well. There are numerous scenes in the films, such as right after the first car crash and after little Jacob's fall, when there is nothing but heavy, empty, silence, allowing the horror to REALLY sink in.
In The Sixth Sense, Cole (the boy who sees dead people) goes to a classmate's birthday party in an old Philadelphian house. Two mean classmates dare him to go up some stairs and peek into a closet. As he ascends the staircase, Cole and the audience hear a ghost's voice hissing "Let me out! I did not steal the master's horse!" coming from the closet; when Cole opens the door, this ghost pulls him inside and we hear his yelps. Finally, the adults and other children open the closet and get him out, but even then, the audience never sees this ghost. We see a dozen others in various states of gore throughout the film, but this one remains invisible, which makes it more frightening. Even more terrifying are the ghost's words, which imply that he was a slave and his spirit has been languishing in that closetfor centuries.
Much of the horror of the original The Wicker Man film comes from this. There's no Jump Scares, no gore, no supernatural horror, not even any deaths until the final scene; just a persistent aura of weirdness and a vague, ever-pervading sense that there's something very, very wrong with the people of Summerisle.
Man from Bambi. We never see the hunters. Ever. And the result is one of the creepiest villains of Disney history.
Suddenly, there was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called Douglas to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage who suddenly found themselves alone with the shadows and darkness!
In "The White People" by Arthur Machen, we never do find out what the horrible eponymous beings are.
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the heroes are traveling through the Labyrinth when they hear breathing and footsteps. They escape from the maze and seal the door before they find out what the creature is.
We're talking about a man here who managed to make a description of an ordinary rental apartment in the middle of a hot summer day, with the narrator in the company of the landlady and two burly mechanics suspenseful and creepy.
House of Leaves was built on this. The house and the Minotaur are terrifying because you can't possibly know when they'll strike. Tom nearly goes insane from this, which gets all better when he smokes a few joints. But the same sensation drives Halloway to suicide and traumatizes everyone who was in the house, including Karen who never actually went into the mysterious parts of the house and Johnny, who didn't even know whether it existed.
It could be said they go to an even greater extreme on this, really. The climax of the book, where the house makes its most "aggressive" attempt on its inhabitants, isn't the end. Unlike the standard horror movie, where the family stands outside the smoldering ruins of the haunted house, minus one or two members, and the hero grimly says "It's over" (until the sequel), the family flees to another state and the house remains where it is. The story continues, and one of the characters returns simply because he can't stop picking at it in his mind. Even after that return, the book goes on in Truant's narrative, then terminates...several times. When it finally ends, the reader is left unsure of where they are and if the story is truly over, or even if it ended and the narrative kept going on. It's a truly labyrinthine and truly disconcerting effect.
The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock upon the door.
This is known as the shortest horror story ever. However, another author was able to modify this story to make it scarier:
In Patricia A. McKillip's The Riddle Master Trilogy, we hear of a king of Hed chased into his home by — something. But it didn't come through the last door. He waited, and waited, until he longed for it to break in. Then he opened the door — and found no sign of it.
Of all the places for this trope to originate, it may have come from A Christmas Carol. After the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present give Scrooge long conversations about what's wrong with him, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come never says a thing. Adaptations with a narrator tend to emphasize this by removing or reducing the narrator's part for the length of time that the third spirit is on.
A Song of Ice and Fire: when Daenerys visits the House of the Undying, she is told to take the first door on the right in each room to navigate the house. At some point she comes across a long corridor with only doors to the left. Then the lights begin to go out and she hears something approach... At which point she figures out that the last door to the left is the first door to the right, escaping whatever that was.
The short story "Peekaboo" by Bill Pronzini embodies this trope. The only character in the story is a career criminal pretending to be a reclusive writer hiding out in a rented house a good distance away from the closest town. One night he thinks he hears an intruder in the house and decides to investigate while armed. While he's searching his suddenly creepy hideout, he can't help but reminisce on the games of Peekaboo he used to play when he was a kid (Peekaboo. I see you. Hiding under the stairs.) as well as the old rumors of occult worship and paranormal activities surrounding the house. He's a nervous wreck by the end of the story, and when he finally reaches the basement after finding nothing in the rest of the house he giggles in relief. There's nothing there after all, it's just him, all alone, hiding under the stairs. Peekaboo
"The Nothing Equation" by Tom Godwin (better known for his other short story with "Equation" in the title) is about a man who's sent out to an observation bubble in space, far away from any space station or planet. The people who've manned the bubble previously have all gone insane and/or committed suicide, afraid of what's outside the bubble. The protagonist, however, is quite certain that there's nothing out there. He's right, there's nothing. A whole lot of nothing.
Most of the vignettes in the "Notebook of the Night" section of Thomas Ligotti's story collection Noctuary are of this nature, with special mention to be paid to "One May Be Dreaming".
The vug under the rug from Dr. Seuss' There's a Wocket in My Pocket. It is never shown, hiding under a rug in a dark room, and the only detail the reader knows about it is that it's the only creature the narrator is afraid of. This character, along with the red under the bed, was scary enough to be scrapped from the 1996 reprint.
The stories of stations wiped out by the Dark Ones from Metro 2033. Patrols go to the end of their routes and vanish. Guards are slaughtered without firing a single shot. The stations are wiped out to a man, with no corpses left behind, just lots of blood...
This story tells of a story that is so frightening that anyone who hears it dies of fright. Thankfully, the story it describes doesn't exist...
In Lord of the Rings, when in Moria, the Company comes across a fork in the road, with one of three passageways all leading in the same direction they could choose from. The passage on the left led downwards while the passage on the right leads upward and the passage in the middle stays level, but is narrower than the other two. Gandalf does not recognize the fork at all, having had travelled only in the opposite direction through Moria before. They retire to the nearby guardroom to rest as Gandalf contemplated the path to take. Finally, he says, "I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide." Gandalf goes with the right passageway that leads upwards. One figures the left passageway probably was home to Orcs or something because of the odor, but what awaited errant travellers in that middle passageway that caused Gandalf to have such an intuition, such consternation?
In Bird Box, there is something outside whose appearance drives people into insanity. A mother and her two children flee to a safe place but to do so they have to cross a river while completely blindfolded. Much of the book is spent in complete darkness with the protagonist having to rely on her other senses and not knowing if something is out there or not.
An in-universe example in The Guns of the South. Nate Caudell witnesses a black mulatto slave on the run from her master, one of the AWB men. Later in the story the slave hangs herself which he learns about from a letter from Mollie. Nate wonders what could have driven the slave to escape and later kill herself. He is so shaken by the possibilities of the later he tears up the letter from Mollie.
From "The Pandorica Opens": never have the words "silence will fall" been more scary. Even the background music stops. Earlier in the same episode, we suddenly hear "silence will fall" spoken by a hideous, rasping voice out of goddamn nowhere, just before the TARDIS is hijacked. The source of the sound, and hence the source of the tampering, is never shown.
Played with more famously in "Blink", when every time you see the Weeping Angels, people are safe. It's between these moments that they're lethal, but the audience is most frightened when everything is, for the moment, clearly fine by the story's rules.
Waaaaaaaay way back in the classic series (in the second serial!), Ian drinks from a river and the camera shows his face reacting in horror to something underwater. He has no idea what it was he saw and later on a secondary character in the same place is heard screaming in fear as he is dragged under the surface. What exactly it was is never revealed.
In the serial after that one, the Doctor and his companions are trapped inside the TARDIS, which is stalled in the Void, while everything is both broken and working at the same time...while Susan screams about something having gotten inside the TARDIS and trying to kill one of the other companions with a pair of scissors.
The concept of "the Void" as the gap which separates universes, according to the Tenth Doctor's explanation in "Army of Ghosts".
The Doctor: There's all sorts of realities around us—different dimensions. Billions of parallel universes all stacked up against each other. The Void is in between, containing absolutely nothing. Imagine that—no light, no dark, no up, no down. No life. No time. Without end. My people called it the Void, the Eternals called it the Howling. But some people call it Hell.
The central premise of the episode "Listen": The Doctor tries to find out why "nothing" is so unnerving, and concludes that there is a race so effective at hiding that no-one has ever seen them. In his investigation, he finds himself in several situations where he confronts a scary "nothing", but never actually sees them. Because they probably don't exist. Sometimes your imagination playing tricks on you is just your imagination playing tricks on you, even in Doctor Who.
Used very effectively in the Torchwood episode "Countrycide" where it seems as if aliens are kidnapping and skinning people. Made even more creepy when we learn the danger is the local villagers, who kidnap strangers in order to eat them. Just because it "makes them happy". It's the only episode in the entire Whoniverse that doesn't feature anything supernatural, which is completely Played for Drama. Gwen suffers a full-on breakdown from the realization that humans can be worse than any alien threat she'll ever face.
And yet this isn't the last time Torchwood portrays humans as worse than aliens. "Children of Earth" and "Miracle Day" both do that.
Parodied in an episode of The Weird Al Show that aired shortly after The Blair Witch Project became a hit. Al announced that they would show a clip of the upcoming Blair Witch 2 (years before the film was actually made), which will be "the first film done entirely with the lens cap on." Cut to a solid black screen and a woman's voice screaming, "oh no, it's coming, it's so big and so horrible! AAAAAH!" Cut back to Al, who says "now isn't it scarier when they leave it to your imagination?"
The red bag in Ideal, which apparently contains something terrifying enough to reduce Ax-Crazy gangsters to tears. What is actually in it is never revealed.
Similar to the Doctor Who example above - the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Eye of the Beholder." A doctor and a nurse discuss the patient of their experimental reconstructive surgery - a woman whose face is so deformed that other people have hated and reviled her all her life. And they're preparing to take off the bandages to see if the surgery has worked. The set-up to The Reveal is so effective that it strips the rest of the episode of any possible Narm-itude.
This one's not so much scary as extremely tense, but in the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos the family is in a diner, waiting for the daughter, Meadow, to show up. The scene is shot using slightly odd angles with slightly jumpy cuts, and the camera keeps focusing on people sitting nearby. The whole effect is rather unsettling, as though something big and terrible is about to happen, especially given that in the previous few episodes most of the show's characters have been shot dead by a rival 'family'. The tension builds as Meadow approaches the diner, then she opens the door... and the series ends.
Similar to the Sopranos example above in that it's dramatic rather than scary, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode The Body - in which Joyce's body is found - has very little actually happening, making it that much more depressing.
And of course, since this is Buffy, nobody is safe from further abuse, even the fans. So it also eliminates the background soundtrack to remove the possible relief of tension it could provide. The effect is, shall we say, powerful.
Another Diner scene, from the episode "Two Minutes to Midnight" in Supernatural, when Dean catches up to Death. It's basically just two guys talking and eating pizza, albeit with a bunch of dead bodies lying around, but you could cut the tension with a knife. I don't think I can remember another scene when Dean looked so nervous.
For just a hint of why he was so nervous: Dean's faced monsters, demons, even angels. Death, on the other hand, is possibly the oldest being in the universe and will one day reap God. All he wants is to have a nice chat and a slice of pizza though, but it is still unnerving as hell.
In an episode of Bones, the characters are investigating the dead body found in the middle of nowhere by a UFO hunter. The episode is known for several creepy moments, unusual for the crime drama. However, the scariest moment happens at the end, after the murder is solved. Booth and Brennan are in a field, lying on a car hood, stargazing and talking about the possibility of alien life. Suddenly, all sounds stop, even the crickets and the wind don't make a sound. Both characters are suddenly very uncomfortable. End of the episode.
Made worse by the fact that right after this happens, Booth asks, "Did you hear that?" the viewers NEVER FIND OUT WHAT THEY HEARD.
The original series of The Outer Limits had an episode called "Cry of Silence" that was intended to work off this trope. Unfortunately, the first half of the episode involves possessed killer tumbleweeds, and a later scene features possessed Frogs and Toads; both of these tend to invoke giggles rather than shudders.
An episode of Millennium has this occur. The group is aware of a serial killer whose motive is proving nobody is safe, and part of his MO is casing out "high security" suburban homes during their open house showings. They know him well enough to set up a sting for him on the "right" night, and they've got a strong suspect and a picture, just no proof prior to the sting. When the sting goes off, however, nothing happens... until they realize they're in a suburban housing tract, and every house for blocks around them has the exact design plan as the one they assumed he was in. This being the "right" night, he's somewhere in one of these identical houses, killing again, and they won't find him until he's done. They get to spend the rest of the night dwelling on that as a family dies.
Twin Peaks, already a somewhat creepy and unsettling series, also had a vibe throughout it that there was something beyond the town, just watching. Many viewers think that it was a Wendigo, never seen but felt.
In the Firefly episode "Bushwacked," the entire derelict ship is one long example of this: nothing but empty corridors, signs of habitation, and a crewman's log that interrupts right in the middle. But you know something's wrong, because River is acting very odd. This is also one of those cases where the crew discovering what caused the disaster is in fact as scary as the nothing preceding it.
It could be said that, in Firefly, outer space qualifies for this. There was never any sound in space, you were always reminded that, outside the ship, there was nothing, and, as Jayne says in the same episode, "It's impressive what nothing can do to a man."
In the episode "The Hounds of Baskerville" from Sherlock, after accidentally inhaling a hallucinogenic that induces fear, John gets locked in a lab where he hears the growls of the titular hound and desperately tries to hide by locking himself in a cage. He eventually claims he can see the hound, but the audience never does.
During Moriarty's trial, said character looks up to where John is sitting and smirks, with John looking visibly uncomfortable. The former had kidnapped John for hours, leaving him unarmed and unable to defend himself with a bomb strapped onto him. We never find out what exactly happened during the time John had left for Sarah's apartment and Sherlock arriving at the pool. Only that John - who was described by Sherlock of having Nerves of Steel and developed a hand tremor because he missed being in danger - was extremely pale, haggard and seconds away from collapsing.
Babylon 5 uses this for a Discussed Trope: Ivanova hates it when nothing is going wrong. In her experience, something is always going wrong. Thus, if nothing seems to be going wrong, it simply means that she hasn't yet discovered what huge problem has developed for her to deal with.
The cover art for Orbital's 1996 single 'The Box' is weirdly unsettling, despite the fact that it just shows a house with, well, nothing going on. The tracks on the single (especially track 2) just add to the fear factor of the house...
Similarly, the cover art◊ for Brian Eno's and Davis Byrne's album Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. In this case, the artist deliberately added some unsettling details to the pictures inside the liner notes: for example, there's a discarded condom wrapper in the roof gutter, a silhouette of some person looking through binoculars in a upstairs window, and one of the interior rooms has a large, sealed, metal door. The deluxe edition of the album takes this several few steps further by adding a sound chip to the packaging, so that it plays the sound of a door creaking open and footsteps when you open the tin.
Oddly, yet another example involving an album cover depicting nothing but a nondescript house - Silversun Pickups' Neck Of The Woods◊.
Should you worry when the skullhead is in front of you
Or is it worse because it's always waiting where your eyes don't go?
The Bad Plus and Wendy's Lewis's cover of Pink Floyd's famous "Comfortably Numb" replaces the "Aaaaaa-aa-aaaahhh!" that follows "there'll be no more" with several beats of complete silence. Considering most TBP fans probably expected the often bombastic trio to exaggerate that moment, it makes the silence all the more unsettling.
Steve Roden, and moreover the entire lowercase genre, make surprisingly good use out of this. With their songs being so minimal and abstract it gives the feeling of being lost and isolated.
A lot of Edward Hopper's paintings fall into this category, but in all cases overlap with Fridge Horror, so you don't quite notice it until you think hard about it.
Punchdrunk Theater Company's Hitchcock inspired, haunted-house-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-1940's Noir ballet of Macbeth. 'Sleep No More'. The audience is given a creepy ''bird'' mask told not to talk and set loose in the 100 room, five floor, Mckittrick Hotel to find their own way through a series of beautiful, unsettling rooms. You're allowed to touch/eat/read/open anything you find and follow the performers at will. And it's instantly terrifying. *Nothing* will ever jump out at you or even attempt to scare you and there's no conventional Haunted House elements, besides the atmosphere of dread and general creepiness of the design. After a while you get into the swing of things, the place becomes familiar and you can start to really enjoy exploring or following the story- but the first twenty minutes after getting off the elevator, faced with room after creepy room, with no direction and separated from your friends, is pants-wettingly, paralyzingly scary.
Part of what they do is get groups in the elevator together and the deliberately separate them as much as possible. You are alone. You are lost and confused. Meanwhile a varient of Macbeth is going on around you.
Eclipse Phase: the Gatecrashing sourcebook gets a lot of mileage out of alien worlds that are uninhabited but have the ruins of a lost civilization on them; extinction is a major theme in the game, and as a result a lot of areas are left completely depopulated. Some of them go the extra mile, like the planet where there's a massive, self-repairing virtual reality network, with easily enough storage space for the minds of an entire planetary populace...but the network seems to be empty, with simple programs and predesigned environments but no actually intelligent beings, and no-one is quite sure why.
Note that there is one known living sentient alien race, the Factors, who for some reason they haven't explained do not use Pandora Gates and strongly advise transhumanity against using them either.
There is also the belief that the Solar System's Gates were built by the TITANS, those hyper-advance AIs who almost wiped out transhumanity, which makes one wonder who built the others systems' Gates. The GM-only section confirms that it was the TITANS, and that they were infected by a virus of extraterrestrial origin, which has infected many other civilizations before transhumanity's. Whether any of those civilizations survived is left up to the GM, as well as other things like the Factors' true motivations (are they survivors, witnesses, agents of the Viruses creators?), or if the Virus was intended to exterminate or assimilate seeing how the TITANS forcibly uploaded or mutated many of their victims.
Rank Amateur's prologue has a brief walk through an abandoned spacestation "where it all started." What happened there and what it started hasn't yet been explained. The only information given is that it's a 'covert' research facility.
In Homestuck, we have Doc Scratch's warning to Karkat:
[Don't turn your back on the body.]
When he turns around, none of the bodies have moved.
In-universe example from Sluggy Freelance: Torg comes back from the doctor's office and announces that he's had a "magic flap" installed; no one's quite sure what a magic flap is, but imagining what it might be freaks everyone the hell out.
Technically speaking, very little happens in Marble Hornets. "Nothing happening" will keep you awake for weeks.
Case in point: Entry 21. Daylight. No audio or video distortion whatsoever except around a small burrow of sorts. Yet when Jay climbs up the tower, you feel like you're gonna die!
The entirety of Entry 17 is Type 3. It's just a clip of Tim sitting around, running through some lines with J and Alex. It might take some time to notice our friend in the back◊.
Marble Hornets took this trope to the extreme in Entry #16 - Nothing happens, and you never see Slendy, unlike literally every other entry up to that point. It's one of the scariest entries in the series. Then you notice that midway through, the video tears. Meaning that Slendy was there all along and you never saw him.
Slenderman was originally supposed to be this trope. Everyone was to his face differently and the horror is tailored specifically for them, only the camera is not a person so the audience sees only a white blur. Instead the facelessness became Slendy's defining feature but is still a good example, your mind can make his nothing of a face infinitely more terrifying.
In Zero Punctuation's review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Yahtzee states that the form of terror Nothing is Scarier invokes (although he does not refer to the trope by name, instead using a humorous example), "is best, because your imagination is doing all the work. All a good horror game needs to do is hand you a piece of sandpaper and shout encouragement as you vigorously massage your own undercarriage."
Towards the end of this video from The Onion. The narrator says "Somehow the fear of spiders is even worse than the spiders themselves."
Often used in Welcome to Night Vale, something which the purely audio-format makes particularly effective. We don't know what exactly re-education, Valentines Day or Street Cleaning entails, but we can imagine that it is terrible.
Cecil: Listeners, the only thing more terrifying than seeing the devil is no longer being able to see the devil.
In The 99 Rooms, except for one or two rooms, there's never anything really in-your-face terrifying. Maybe in-your-face would be for the better...
In the Creepypasta Suicide Mouse, the majority of the titular episode is just Mickey Mouse walking past some buildings while odd noises play. It somehow managed to make an employee who was watching it commit suicide.
There's a very creepy episode of Samurai Jack, called "Jack And The Zombies". No prizes for guessing his opponents in this one. However, it begins with him walking into a graveyard, and it is dead silent. Except for children's laughter. And a man's evil cackling. And scraping, rattling noises. It is very, very effective.
Throw in B.J. Ward in a brief taunting scene doing her best Witch Hagar voice. Jack never actually gets to fight her—she just states their boasting goal and leaves.
Parodied in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. Lisa reads Poe's "The Raven", causing Bart to comment "You know what would be scarier than nothing? ANYTHING!"
In an episode of the new George of the Jungle cartoon, Ursula is telling a scary story to the gang while they're all around the campfire. Ape persuades her to change the ending to something not very scary so that he won't have to deal with George having nightmares. She complies, and when the man in the story opens the door, there is nothing on the other side. George then spends most of the episode literally afraid of nothing.
George: (scared) Ape, check in the closet. What's in there?
*Ape opens the closet to reveal a monster with silverware and a bib.*
Ape: (deadpan) A large, hungry monster holding a knife and fork.
George: (relieved) Oh. Well, as long as it's not nothing. Good night!
*Ape slams the closet door in the monster's face and heads to bed.*
We never see exactly whatDr.Destiny did to his ex-wife. We do know, however, that she died without ever waking up.
Dr. Destiny: And now that I'm a doctor, I think I'll perform some surgery.
Then there's the rather chilling scene end, with Dee himself lying on his cot with his eyes wide open, mumbling the tune to "Frère Jacques" to himself. One can only imagine what he's seeing.
In Dougal and the Blue Cat, as Dougal tells Zebedee about the events of the night before, we are treated to a flashback in which Dougal wakes up and wanders around in the middle of the night and we hear the piercing sound of a cat shrieking, then we hear a sinister female voice singing "Blue is beautiful, blue is best." Nothing happens to Dougal and for now we don't see the source of either of them, but the atmosphere is chilling.
The Adventure Time episode "No One Can Hear You". Most of the episode is Finn and Jake alone in the Candy Kingdom. It's particularly scary because Adventure Time is a Loads and Loads of Characters show, so not seeing anybody else for almost 10 minutes never happens.
Soundwave from Transformers Prime makes heavy use of this trope. Even in situations where you think he'll do something, he's usually content to just stand there and stare directly at the object of his ire (or the camera), boring into their sparks with his blank void of a faceplate, punctuating it with an occasional menacing gesture or two. Otherwise, he mostly just lurks in the background, ever watching, ever waiting...
Pompey got a taste of this when he conquered Judaea (sort of) for Rome. Having marched into Jerusalem, he took the usual conqueror's right and went into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, expecting to see a statue of the Israelite god, or some sacred relics, or at least some good treasure — you know, the kind of stuff people normally keep in their sanctuaries. However, the Jews had been commanded to never make any images of their god. So the kadosh kedoshim, the Holy of Holies, was a small secluded room in a big fancy temple, and it contained ... nothing. Pompey reportedly found this empty room where a god should be the spookiest thing he had ever seen. (Were these people atheists? Or, in a maddening Mind Screw, did they worship atheism?)
When the rest of the Romans heard about it, some were thoroughly bewildered, others were unimpressed (Crassus looted the Temple, took a peek at the Holy of Holies, said "meh" and continued his futile expedition to Persia), others vicariously terrified, and one—Emperor Caligula—was psychotically generous: "Hey Jews! I heard your Temple doesn't have a statue! Whadda shame! Take one of me! I've got loads!"
In Mexico we have "los Túneles de Guanajuato", mining tunnels that cross the whole city from below, most of them are well-lighted and used as a fastway through the city... most of them.
Space is full of nothing. An endless expanse of absolutely nothing with a few big things thrown on. So much nothing, it quite literally kills you if you go out into it unprotected. So much nothing that you could waste your entire life and get absolutely nowhere. A little pixel of black on a picture of the night sky is full of so much nothing. Just know that outside your house, outside your precious little atmosphere there. Is.Nothing. If this doesn't scare you enough, there are some voids out there, regions in space where there is literally nothing. Not even a hydrogen atom. The biggest one so far is one billion lightyears across. To compare, that's ten thousand times wider than the Milky Way galaxy. This may be the reason why scientists get funding to look for NEOs (Near Earth Objects). Because "out there" is the only unknown left where anything (including aliens, if they exist) could come from.
While space in itself may be a frightening collection of nothingness: the vast depths of Earth's oceans have also been largely unexplored. Every year marine biologists still discover new species in the deep sea. And at the very bottom of the ocean it's pitch black... forever!
This also makes phenomena like the "Bloop" and "Slow Down" sound so difficult to comprehend: sounds of things or maybe creatures far larger than anything imaginable at such a deep ocean depth.
Thisfootage of a fatal diving accident further highlights the horror of the deep sea, with the sea turning slowly from blue to pitch black...
Part of the reason graveyard shifts (or just late/closing shifts in general) are often portrayed as scary in fiction is because of this trope. Enter a place like a big retail store or a mall late at night, really early-morning, or when it's just near closing. We've trained ourselves to basically accept common background noises that when we enter crowded areas and it feels unsettling when it's not there. This has been known to drive people away from late shifts because they're so used to hearing common background noise that it's unsettling. Some people actually sleep with white noise generators of some kind because of this. It's one of the reasons why some stores leave their background music on, though the effectiveness of that is debatable.
Many people like to keep the radio or TV on in the background when they're home alone, even if they're not watching/listening to it, because the illusion of company created by the recorded voices can help alleviate any fear from being alone.
Schools. During the day, there are so many people there and so much background noise that being there in the evening or during the weekend can be extremely unsettling.
The same could be said of churches. Sure, they're pretty and warm in the day. You may even find yourself cheerfully humming a hymn. At night, though, they look like the setting of a horror movie or you may think they're being used by a secret cabal. The emptiness is simply unnerving.
Fort Edmonton Park is all fun when it's full of people... Then comes the time when it's completely empty and you're the only one there. Then you feel scared and uncomfortable.
Aokigahara, the forest at the foot of Mount Fuji, is well known for being dead quiet due to its general lack of wildlife and the wind being blocked by the densely-packed trees. That may not sound too bad on its own, but the place is also known for being a favorite place for suicides (second in the world after the Golden Gate Bridge, in fact) and it is rumored that ubasute (where people would leave sick or elderly relatives in the forest to die, usually during a famine when extra mouths were hard to feed) was commonly practiced there as late as the 19th century. The eerie silence coupled with such a strong association with death can be extraordinarily unnerving. And any cliff called ättestupa in Scandinavia. They were used during the Iron Age to kill any useless eaters, such as disabled children or sickly and elderly parents. They are usually located at naturally beautiful and calm places.
Possibly invoked by US law enforcement in response to the locating of suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and said suspects' subsequent gun battle with police. The greater Boston area was placed on lock-down, making it resemble a ghost town, and residents reported it's quite scary to see a usually busy urban and suburban area completely deserted apart from the occasional police car. This may or may not have been intentional.
Read any true crime story, about murderers, serial killers, and missing people. The ones that really haunt your dreams tend to be the ones where they Never Found the Body. How did the victims die, or are they even dead? Your mind will fill in the blanks with the creepiest things imaginable; and it doesn't help that their loved ones don't have even the solace of burying the victims or in extreme cases knowing what happened to them at all.
There was a video floating around the internet for a while of someone wading through a New York Subway station that had been flooded by Hurricane Sandy (one of the upper levels; the level where the actual trains go was completely submerged). The video is completely silent (aside from the cameraman's slight footsteps) and would not be at all out of place in a horror movie.
Oh no, what's that behind you!?
Absolutely nothing, and you knew that the whole time, but there's a pretty good chance that if you're in a dark room, alone, simply uttering the words, "what's that behind you," freaked you out.
How about when you wake up from a nightmare you can't remember? You just lie there, frozen, too frightened to move, knowing there was something terrifying there but not knowing just what it was...
When planes and ships go missing with no evidence. This was common through history (giving rise to concepts like The Bermuda Triangle) and became more rare as technology improved. It still happens occasionally, though such as with Malaysian Airlines MH370 in 2014.
Mixes with OOC Is Serious Business: If you're a student or an office-guy who regularly gets assignments, and then all of a sudden you get no assignment at all for an extended period of time, you may start imagining some unpleasant things (for example, an office-guy not getting assignment for too long may start imagining if he/she's about to get fired).
Likewise, if you and your family or friends regularly chat or text, a sudden lack of communication may cause you some worry.
In this video, if you follow the instructions of the video, you don't notice the moonwalking bear.
Anime and Manga
In the manga adaptation of Yume Nikki, notice how the eye on Madotsuki's sweatshirt logo keeps shifting positions. What purpose this serves is seen in Chapter 4, which it carries Madotsuki's effects with her.
A good examples from Tiger Mask: when telling of Mr. Chi's first appearance intruding in a battle royal to choose the challenger for a wrestling world championship and crushing everyone, Baba relates that Mr. Chi didn't run and jump in, he just walked on the ring and looked the match for a while before anyone noticed him. Between this and the Curb-Stomp Battle he inflicted on two dozens wrestlers three or four times his size, Baba is comprensibly terrified of him.
In the graphic novel Blankets, Craig Thompson mentioned a story about a babysitter who did something horrible to him and his little brother. (It's not hard to figure out just what it was...) However, the Babysitter's eyes are never shown. It's a very powerful method to inspire fear - the viewer never sees the full image of the babysitter, making some wonder what the babysitter's gender was, until later.
Dungeon Keeper Ami invokes and inverts this at one point. Ami is forced to discipline her minions for attempted murder. As the preffered method in the Dungeon Keeper universe is bloody, horrific torture- that she absolutely can not, will not do, she created a selective fear charm (useing a tracking spell and a general fear trap as a basis). She then knocks out the offender (and a Dark Mistress who wanted in on the fun) once they wake up, the fear charm hits them and they are informed that Ami wiped their memory of the torture to preserve her technique for next time. Their imaginations do the rest.
In Party of None, an insane Pinkie Pie lets it slip that she's been spying on Rainbow Dash months prior to imprisoning her. From Dash's perspective, every single time, there was nothing there when she went to check.
The Last Equestrian Doom Patrol: "Nobody was there." An impossible entity capable of eliminating even the Mane Six (and terrifying the Physical God princesses), and who is (maybe) capable of turning out to have been there all along, and now it's too late to flee.
Lake Mungo: While you see images of a ghost in photos and videos throughout the movie, most of these are later revealed to be fake. But during the credits, you see the ghost is actually in some of the fake photos, just very well hidden.
In Signs, Mel Gibson's character is in his corn field at night. He hears a noise behind him and whirls around, shining his light between some rows to reveal... nothing. Then the alien moves.
At the end of Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is chasing after the Beast, following it across the roof, running past a row of gargoyles in the darkness. Then one of the gargoyles moves...
In another example from Alien, near the very end, Ripley escapes the Xenomorph by abandoning ship to a shuttle. The soundtrack ceases, she removes her EVA gear and starts preparing for suspended animation over a couple of minutes of near-silence. Slowly and simultaneously, Ripley and the audience both realize that the metallic-colored Xenomorph has been sleeping in the wall of the shuttle for the entire scene, feet away from Ripley. Then it wakes up.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a brilliant use of this, where Radagast makes his way into the ruined castle where the Necromancer lives. He gazes at a statue in wonder for a few seconds before walking away from it. Then the camera pans to the statue... and it clenches its fist.
The Japanese One Missed Call series love this. The scene looks completely normal as the character exchange dialogue until something moves slightly in the background and you realise the ghost has been onscreen the whole time.
In Megan is Missing, there is a scene where Amy, the titular Megan's best friend, videotapes herself talking under her "secret" overpass hiding spot. Later on, after Amy is abducted by the same man who kidnapped and killed Megan, the police find the video Amy made in her hiding spot. After watching it, they realize that the abductor was in the background the entire time, camouflaged by the trees in the background. If you go back and rewatch that scene, you'll be able to spot him spying on Amy.
The Hunt uses this in one scene in a similar manner to Alien, to a brilliant effect. Lucas and his son Marcus are making dinner together, and the audience notices the scene is really long and drawn out. It isn't until a shot of the windowpane later that the audience realizes the director did this to distract the audience from the fact that something is about to happen. From there on, the audience knows that someone was outside the house the entire time, and a Jump Scare occurs where a brick goes flying through the window, leading the audience to be every bit as shocked as the characters.
Blindsight: After frantically fumbling around while weird things happen all around them, the protagonist finally realizes that alien...things have been on their ship for quite some time, concealing themselves in plain sight by using a loophole in human visual processing. It's actually pretty ninja.
In the second book of the Codex Alera series, Amara is resting in an abandoned barn with legionares after a battle. She wakes up, kicks away a rat, goes outside and finds Bernard and Doroga. They discuss tactics and Doroga explains more about the Vord and their ability to turn people into pretty much super-zombies via parasites. Nine pages later, Bernard complains that the Vord have scared away every animal within a half-mile, including the rats. Amara's reaction is pretty much the same as the reader's.
The first and third series had this in a unique form. Bad Wolf is strewn heavily throughout the season, but you don't even notice until they point it out. You think to yourself, "That won't catch me off guard again" until you realise that "Mr Saxon" and "Vote Saxon" thread of series 3 connect to a newspaper article in "Love & Monsters" and the order to shoot the Monster of the Week in "The Runaway Bride". The first appearance of the "Vote Saxon" posters actually appears in series 1 of Torchwood.
There's the Empty Child. We hear a recording of the Child saying "Are you my mummy?" over and over again. Then we find out that the tape has already run out.
As well as the Weeping Angels in "The Time of Angels". The first half of the episode is spent hunting a Weeping Angel that's hiding amongst a mausoleum of stone statues of an extinct two-headed species. The characters venture deep into the mausoleum in search of it, until that thing that was bothering them comes into focus— the stone statues only have one head, meaning all the statues are Weeping Angels.
The Silence of series 6 are an excellent example of this. They're almost an opposite of the Angels in that they only seem to exist when you are looking at them. As soon as you look away, you forget they were even there. This can get really creepy when the viewer knows where they are and what they are doing but the characters act like everything is normal. It is especially creepy when the scene is progressing as normal and all of a sudden a character turns around and there are tally marks all over their arms (each tally mark means they have seen a monster) or their palm glows red (the Doctor put a device in their palms which lets them record messages. It then glows red until the message is played back).
Case in point: Amy and Canton Delaware visit a creepy orphanage. At night. During a thunderstorm. They split up so Amy can explore on her own. She enters a room, doesn't see anything (and neither do we). She walks over to a window, looks out, and sees her reflection in the window revealing that she's seen dozens of Silence in the room that we haven't.
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead—one of the explorers is repeatedly urging the Doctor to get a move on... and then you (and the Doctor) realize that he's repeating because Vashta Nerada ate him without anyone noticing, and his suit is repeating his last words.
In one episode of Psych, a killer is stalking a woman in a cabin, but only the viewer sees him. This leads to the extremely creepy shot of the woman talking on the phone, the killer nowhere in sight...and then he moves away from the window in the background.
Mythology and Folklore
The ever-popular campfire story "The Hook," wherin a couple making out in a car hear over the radio that an escaped lunatic with a hook for a hand has been seen in the area. They leave immediately and, upon arriving at the girl's house, find a hook hanging from the handle of the car door.
"The Boyfriend's Death" is another example. As in the aforementioned tale, a couple is making out in the car but this time when they hear sounds outside the boy goes to investigate. He never returns. In the pitch darkness, the girl only hears an odd sound and then an irregular tapping against the top of the car. Terrified, she locks the doors, hides, and waits there through the night. The next day when the sun comes up a local sheriff arrives and tells her to get out of the car, walk to his car, and not to look back. She does look back, of course, to see her boyfriend's severed head impaled on the car's CB antenna. The tapping sound was his blood dripping onto the roof of the car.
The urban legend "Aren't You Glad You Didn't Turn On The Light?" and it's variants. In the most popular variation a girl at a college campus stops by her dorm room to pick up some books. Knowing her roommate is sleeping she leaves the light off, grabbing her books in the dark. When she returns home later and does turn the light on she finds her roommate dead and a note written in lipstick on the mirror that reads: "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?"
Another popular variant involves a women being woken up at night by an odd sound. She reaches toward the foot of the bed, where the sound originated from, and when something licks her hand she decides it's only the dog and goes back to sleep. The next day, she finds the dead dog hanging in the shower and a lipstick note on the mirror that reads: "People can lick too."
Most photos from The Slender Man Mythos. You'll see, say, a creepy, foggyforest. You'll stare at it for a while, trying to see what all the "OH SHIT" comments are about. Then you'll notice that that one tree off to the side and way in the back isn't a tree.
The Mind of the Nightmare pulls this off when Devin realizes that, despite his compulsively locking of doors since he was a child, the Rake has somehow managed to sneak in and out of his room while he was asleep for who knows how long, just to sit at the foot of his bed and stare at him. Just think about it. Some creature with razor sharp claws and an unknown agenda could have sneaked its way into your room last night some time after you fell asleep, leaving you completely at its mercy.
A video from the minds at Fewdio Horror shows a woman talking on her cell phone while driving down the freeway at night, the rest of the car shrouded in darkness. As a car passes her by (or she's passing under a streetlight), the viewers get to see the eyes of a humanoid creature sitting in the back seat, its face between the driver and passenger seats. After hanging up the phone, a beat happens before the woman gasps and turns around... and the video ends.
Played with in episode 33 of Welcome to Night Vale. Teenage!Cecil describes a flicker of static that seems to be getting closer each time he turns on his tape recorder. In the last scene the thing is coming for him, and we get no description of what it is or what it's doing to Cecil, other than tearing, gurgling sounds as though the thing were eating him.
This is the entire point of those infamous "shitbrix" pictures; they show what looks to be a normal picture, with the caption "when you see it, you'll shit bricks". You look and look and after a whole you'll give up and think there's nothing there... but when "it" appears, it pretty much jumps out at you, and you wonder how you didn't notice it almost immediately. A◊ few◊ examples◊.
The previous image for this page◊. At first, it appears to be only a black screen staring at you; look at the screen from an angle (and by that we mean, from above) and you'll discover that there's something else in that image...It's a cat's eye.
This is used surprisingly well in an episode of Postman Pat. When Pat arrives at Garner Hall to deliver a package to Major Forbes, he knocks on the door to find that it's open, he calls to see if anyone's home. No reply. He leaves the package on the hall table, note This would turn out to be Pat's sandwiches, and he had the Major's parcel the whole time. and when he turns to leave he hears a noise. He boils it down to just imagining things and leaves. When he returns later, he learns that there was a robbery, the Major's collection of toy soldiers gone. We never see the robbers nor find out whether they were dangerous or not, but the idea that Postman Pat was probably this close to being attacked by some desperate villains is very unnerving.
XANA, the Big Bad from Code Lyoko. Somewhat subverted, because there's no doubt in the heroes' minds that he's there, and he wants them all dead. However, XANA has no real body, he has only taken a form they could see a total of twice (both disguised as someone else) and only communicated with them three times (the two times they saw him and once to deliver a ransom demand. The heroes are fighting an enemy that doesn't seem to be there who doesn't seem to acknowledge their existence, but he IS there, he DOES know about them, and he wants nothing less than their deaths. It's clearly a frightening situation for them to be in.
Chernobyl and the surrounding areas are very creepy, with the empty settlements falling into ruin after they were abandoned decades ago. If you've so much as heard of Chernobyl, then you probably know that it has a very good reason for being abandoned.
On a more general note, any place that is devoid of life is a good indicator that something is preventing life from existing there. Check out several Real Life entries under Cool Clear Water, for some examples.