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 saidplaceisjustinherentlyscarysomehow, but sometimes merely because of the way it is filmed or described.
This trope comes in three flavors:
The classic version, where the Nothing is Scarier 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.
In the Pony POV Series, this is one of the most truly terrifying things about first Big BadLoneliness — even over a year (in real life time) after her appearance and defeat, no concrete answer has been given as to what she really was or where she came from. Word Of God is that it'll never be revealed, precisely because of this trope.
Used literally, to truly frightening effect, in the Thor fanfic Out of Time. Nowhere is worse than the space between worlds, but Nothing is perfect . . .
Childs 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.
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 one after the Club Silencio scene where Betty goes off-camera for a second and really vanishes, leaving Rita alone and frightened.
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 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??
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.
Roger Corman has asserted that one of the creepiest effects in a movie is a handheld camera slowly approaching a closed door; one of his "alumni", director Jonathan Demme, uses this to good effect in The Silence of the Lambs.
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.
The Stephen King 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.
Another Stephen King 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.
In Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" the narrator answers the tapping at his chamber door to find "darkness there, and nothing more."
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 faces this when facing down the cocoon with something unseen inside. She gets through it by realizing this trope: logically, that 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 knocking 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 can 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 HP 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 write anything describing 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.
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 what was 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.
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.
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.
The classic series has a few examples of this as well. In the first Doctor's initial encounter with the Daleks one of the companions, 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 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. It's heavily implied to be the War Doctor, who was the incarnation between Eight and Nine, and was responsible for wiping out most of the Daleks and everyone on Gallifrey.
Used effectively (and effects-savingly) in Doctor Who S 33 E 08 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.
It's more frightening after they resurrect Buffy in S6, however, as the way she acts makes one wonder if Joyce would have been fine in the end (that is to say, much different from her normal self).
She wouldn't have. It's been repeated to exhaustion, in "Forever", and at the beginning of season 6, that there is a difference between bringing back people who died of natural causes and bringing back people who died for mystical causes: the latter is considered borderline acceptable, while the former is an abomination and might have unpleasant side effects.
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 villans-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. I found that scene one of the most disturbing in Cold Case history (and there have been a few, believe me).
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 Mash. 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.
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 Mash, 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.)
In The Ship Murder Party, there is nothing more likely to crank a player's heart rate than another character walking nonchalantly past them in a wide hallway.
Jurassic Park for the SNES. Not the whole game by any means, as most of it just involves walking around in a top-down view and blasting any dinosaur that gets in the way, but the indoor segments were a different story. Especially if you walked into one of those dark rooms without night vision equipped...
Even further, there's a glitch in a specific room in one indoor area that allows you to walk through a wall and into a room where there is absolutely nothing to be seen. The walls, even the ones you should be able to see from that position, appear completely absent. There's only the floor and ceiling gradient on the screen beyond your goggles and weapon, and it's impossible to tell if you're coming or going, or if you're even moving at all. If you don't turn back immediately after entry, you could get lost forever... and you can still hear the dinosaurs...
If you think that's bad, try noclipping outside a level in Doom. The game doesn't even draw floors or ceilings where you can't see any, nor even BLACKNESS.
Black Snow takes this to extremes. A good deal of the game is spent trying to fight off the cold and scrounging for a way to get off the station. And your enemy? It might as well be the literal darkness, as it's a very aggressive form of fungus that looks like a malevolent shadow.
The whole Silent Hill series uses this. All the time. Never before has radio static made your heart leap out of your mouth and go running for cover.
Even better is the fact that the monsters are attracted to light and sound, so you can either check out what's going on and at least have an advance warning, or avoid bringing attention to yourself as much as possible and risk an ambush. The Doom games invoke a similar compromise.
One of the most terrifying scenes in Silent Hill 1 is when you walk toward a door in the alternate hospital, on a narrow bridge of floor a few feet wide that is surrounded by a "moat" of endless void... and it's just another door leading to another hallway. One of the most effective uses of environment and camera in video game history.
Less powerful but still spook-worthy: empty rooms that dead-ended at a boarded-up window. Not joking. You turn to leave, and then comes a sudden crash of breaking glass, a couple of seconds after the third-person view shifts back towards the door. And if you were brave enough to go back into the rooms... they were still empty.
One instance where its the music is when you come out in the courtyard of the other world school, you come out side, and the music that starts up practically screams "SOMETHINGS COMING!" while the area is totally dark, it turns out to be completely empty.
In Silent Hill 2 at one point you were forced to stick your arm into a hole in the wall of a decrepit room, and the whole atmosphere of the place makes you watch in real dread... until nothing happens. This reaching into darkness is repeated a few other times in the game, but seldom more effectively than here.
There are also many strange rooms (such as the one with the butterflies) with nothing in them at all despite them appearing clearly distinct from others, where the soundtrack just repeats ominous clanks and gutteral buzzes that create far more unease than any of the monster-infested rooms.
Hell, the first twenty minutes or so of Silent Hill 2 is this trope. There are absolutely no monsters at all, but the entire atmosphere makes you feel like something is going to jump you at any second.
Just the first twenty minutes? Silent Hill 2 by far has the most examples of this trope! How about the glass shattering in one room of the Brookhaven Hospital, or the loud crash you hear in one of the Toluca Prison's restrooms after knocking on a locked bathroom stall?
If you go back, it's still locked and still no answer from the other side. Even if a Nurse popped out, the likes of which has only been seen also in the Silent Hill franchise, it wouldn't be as horrifying. I applaud you, Konami. I applaud you.
Silent Hill 3 has a similar example. You start in the toilets of a shopping mall. If you knock on one of the stall doors, there'll be a knock in reply, prompting Heather to remark that it must be occupied. Shortly afterwards, you revisit the same stall in the Otherworld - if you knock again there will once again be a knock in reply, which freaks Heather out somewhat. When you go to leave, the stall door swings open revealing a bloodstained, but unoccupied, stall.
In Toluca Prison, there is a narrow hall of cells where some unseen monster stomps around and a courtyard where you're surrounded by the sound of furiously galloping hooves. You will never see the source of either of these noises, and whatever's making them won't hurt you, but try not to spend three minutes standing on the gallows, psyching yourself up to sprint across the courtyard in the direction that you think the door is in.
Shattered Memories has absolutely no monsters outside the nightmare world (except for a random shadow figure which doesn't harm you and really doesn't interact with you that much), but you still feel like you could be attacked at any moment. Everything is creepy, even though it seemingly does nothing to try to be creepy.
The mannequin room. You enter the room, and the only real object of interest seems to be the completed mannequin by the door. The room isn't that big, so the only thing to do before leaving is explore the other side, but all you can see is shelf upon shelf of mannequin parts — until you hear a brief scream accompanied by a vague chopping sound come from the side of the room you just got done poking around in. Returning to that side of the room reveals the mannequin you just saw not even five minutes ago, decapitated and stained with blood.
The use of mannequins as creepy factors in Silent Hill have been done later on (say, the second boss of Silent Hill: Homecoming, in which it says nothing- which is much creepier than the growls of the other enemies and sort of brings along this trope), but nothing compared to the Mannequin Room from SH 3.
In the same game, you enter the hospital basement, hear a creaking noise, and round a corner to find an overturned wheelchair with its wheel still spinning, and the walls bloodstained and riddled with bullet holes, but no signs of life.
Approaching the apartments' third floor door in SH2, you hear a Sinister Scraping Sound that happens to be the same sound as Pyramid Head dragging his knife, although this is well before he is introduced.
Eternal Darkness is organized in chapters, during each of which the player controls a different character. Most of the characters go mad or die horribly at the end of their chapter. The story is tied together by the main character, who is reading their stories. Between each chapter she wanders around the Lovecraft Country house looking for the pages of the next chapter. Nothing happens to her until after the much later chapters, even after finding a weapon right at the beginning of the game, as well as several better weapons, and even playing a level in the same house she's wandering around. It doesn't help that there's a good chance that her Sanity Meter might be low just from reading a chapter, leading to Sanity Effects. It's almost a relief when she starts meeting things that can actually be killed...
The developers knew what they were about. The first screen of the game, even before the Nintendo and Sillicon Knights Vanity Plates, consists of an Edgar Allan Poe from The Ravennote (Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,\\ Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before\\ But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token\\ And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'\\ This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'\\ Merely this and nothing more.), from its beginning through "doubting..." It even trails off into an ellipsis.
No One Lives Forever: A Spy in Harm's Way contains a brilliant example in a level set in at an Antarctic base. The protagonist infiltrates a secret base with the sole occupant being one scientist in the beginning that promptly dies. The rest of the level has the player explore the base without running into anyone, gathering loose pieces of information and finding ways to advance, all the time while the game's signature swinging 60s is absent and the only background sound in the wind blowing outside. It all comes to an end when the player finds schematics to a new super-soldier, and just then, the silence is interrupted by the blood curdling, anguished screams of one prototype super-soldier, who promptly goes on to obliterate everything in its path trying to get to you.
Ravenholm in Half-Life 2 is like this at times. Made especially scary by the fact that fast zombies may not attack for several minutes after they scream...
Made even more so by the fact that the standard zombies will often times lie dormant, sometimes hidden among the actual corpses, and only rise to attack after you have passed by them.
City 17 Underground, full stop. The battles with zombies are far more preferable to walking through almost complete darkness with the only sounds made by the player and Alyx.
One of those sounds, it should be pointed out, is Alyx making scary zombie growls. I love you, my dear, but do that again, and I will blow your head off out of sheer terror.
Episode Two has some of this. First, the beginning, where the player and Alyx find an old trainyard. You can hear the lurking Hunter moving around, but you don't see any more than an easily-missed glimpse of it, and one of its unfortunate victims until it impales Alyx and pins you under a pile of rubble. Also, the farmhouse after the radio tower battle.
The third-party modification Dear Esther features no action, no enemies, and no weapons. The only sounds are haunting music and narrated snippets of a letter written to some woman named "Esther" that are played out as your character walks a path around a deserted island. It gets very unnerving in places.
The Dark Eye, which is based on several Edgar Allan Poe, has some of the scariest moments just in roaming about the bare house where the framing story takes place. Nothing happens until you touch a single specific object to move the plot along, but it's disturbing as hell to be there alone.
In Eversion, World X-7 replaces the stage music with a heartbeat.
One of the randomly-selected "READY!" screens in World X-6 to X-8 is a completely blank screen.
In World X-8, all foreground objects (except you, the enemies, and the red liquid) are black and textureless.
Doom 3 had a level like this about halfway through the game. You finally get to the place in the complex where the monster attacks are coming from, and for the first 10 minutes of the level...nothing. You see various monsters lurking in inaccessible areas, but nothing attacks you. It ends up being one of the scariest levels of the game.
Aliens TC, an early and elaborate fan-made total conversion of the original Doom, also used this trope. The first level had no enemies at all, although there were several indications that something was amiss; acid holes in the floor, broken machinery, and the ticking sound of a motion tracker. For 1994 it was extremely effective and the author was apparently courted by several games development houses immediately thereafter.
This trope is one of the reasons why Thief 3's "Shalebridge Cradle" is one of the scariest video game levels of all time. The first part of the level has nothing in it whatsoever. It's just dark, and has freaky ambient noises. To get to the second half, you have to go down to the basement and and turn the generator on, which causes enough noise that you just KNOW will have alerted anything within a mile radius. It also turns most of the lights on, leaving little shadow to hide in.
This is used twice in the same level. At some point in the first empty part of the Cradle you hear the sound of something beating on a door, trying to get out. The ONLY way to proceed further in the level is to walk up several flights of stairs all the way to a single solitary door leading into the attic. Right outside the door the beating sounds are loud and frantic. Once you muster the courage to open the door you find... an empty room. For starters, at least.
Zork: Some of the most chilling words ever to appear in any video game: "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue."
Nicely one-upped by Zork The Grand Inquisitor: early in the game, you can only escape getting arrested by climbing down into a deep, dark well. Then you have a few minutes to catch your breath, look around the inside of the well, see nothing but blackness, try to take a step forward ... and then you hear a roar, and a chomping noise. Game over.
Though the grue disguise in Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, the Grue Repellent and Grue Convention of Zork III, and the Snavig spell (turns you into the target creature, i.e. "snavig grue") kind of ruin their scariness.
The first level of F.E.A.R. has exactly zero enemies, just try not firing your weapon in it. There are also lots of dark, creepy hallways in the rest of the game that would make great ambush points for enemy soldiers and psychic little girls... and most of them are completely empty and no less terrifying for it.
Later on in the game, while moving through the ATC headquarters' research division, there's a laboratory off to the side with a scientist who has been dragged halfway up into a vent, with his legs hanging out, and his body is still twitching violently as something is tearing at his upper body. Then, the corpse goes limp, and it stays up there, stuck in place, and you have no idea what it was that killed him - which is a hell of a lot creepier than knowing what killed him.
Your first entrance to the ATC headquarters is like this; you get ambushed while your helicopter is dropping you off, you fight off a few Replica near the helipad, and then for the next ten minutes, they pull back and have invisible Assassins watching you. One of them tosses a body through a glass wall right in front of you. You'll be glad when they show themselves again.
And then, a few levels further in, you fall down into the infrastructure of the building. Seemingly endless maintenance corridores, air ducts and pipes. For quite some time, you just creep around the empty, silent halls; I never jumped because of a ventilation fan going on before. The Replica soldiers coming down in a lift at the end of the level are really a relief.
Before this, there's the sewage underground cooridor. Sudden scary "feeling", then all the rats haul ass from the opposite direction you HAVE to go, and the main character's breath suddenly increases as you proceed forward (along with your own).
The Ocean House Hotel in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is a haunted hotel, naturally. While there are a smattering of scripted events, a great deal of it involves you just stumbling around in the dark, and only a complete nit of a gamer could ever seriously run the risk of dying within. It's still a terrifying experience.
To some, no other example shows the singular power of this trope. Your character is an immortal vampire and even though you've just been turned you can still take several shots to the face from a pistol and regenerate from it in a pretty short time. You might be able to turn invisible or run faster than a car or any other weird supernatural powers. But whatever you're facing is an unknown - and that's always more powerful than anything you know.
There is also the scene in the abandoned hospital, you see scripted events of people being dragged around corners to their death, then the friendly quest-giver NPC at the bottom mentions this trope: "Real terror is not the sight of death. It is the fear of death. What is the fear of death? Terror of the unknown."
The Nosferatu Warrens: no enemies to speak of, but still astoundingly creepy because of the fact that the place is almost deserted, and there's a mysterious whispering that follows you from the moment you enter the area. It turns out that most of the local Nosferatu have become invisible and are now stalking you, occasionally hissing in your ears, waiting patiently for you to make the wrong move. And then Gary leaps out of the darkness, yelling "BOOO!" and it's almost a relief to have a jagged-toothed sewer-dwelling monstrosity laughing at you.
The game also pulls this in the museum in an awesome manner. At the start of the museum, you're in a storage area, moving to the main building. The section consists of empty hallways and rooms filled with crates. Somewhat unnverving but at least it's well-lit. Then you open the door and come nose-to-nose with a velociraptor! Numerous players reported literally shrieking when that happened. And it gets worse: The velociraptor in question was a model. Yes. Big scary vampire almost had a heart attack (figuratively speaking, of course) from a model dinosaur.
You even find an angry note from a security guard who fell for the same thing.
This trope is one of the reasons why System Shock 2 is consistently voted one of the scariest games of all time, even today. it's true that the monsters, unexpected computer voices, and explosions are frightening, but the true horror comes in once you've cleared an area out. You've been shattering hybrid skulls with precious ammunition and fighting tooth-and-nail for survival for 5 adrenaline pumping minutes, and suddenly, silence. They're gone. You'll be wired and jumpy and you'll be seeing unmistakable twitches out of the corner of the screen, but it's nothing. It's always nothing. Just your own footsteps and the sounds of the ship's autonomic systems, and that's when you realize there's nothing on this god-damn ship but you, a malevolently insane AI, and hordes of despairing abominations who could be RIGHT AROUND THAT CORNER.
And will be. You can clear out an area and make it safe to inhabit, but only for a while; the game is diabolically clever in this regard, and will spawn new enemies far away from your current location just so you get to hear them hunting you down. There's times in that game where it's awfully damn hard not to just cower in a dark corner and wait to be slaughtered.
The original has its moments too. Players who think they'd cleared out the maintenance level of Citadel Station are completely surprised when one of those invisible blobs wandered up and smack them. A full clip of ammo was spent on it, just to make sure.
In Gungrave, which is a game that is all about being the Badass—just mowing through hordes and hordes of enemies easily through every level, the last level can be very unsettling because there are very little enemies and the music isn't the standard tune, it's quiet, with a few random screeches on a violin every once in a while.
In the sequel, there's a stretch of hallway just before your chosen character tackles the final boss. There's no music or hostile enemies, only the sound of machinery humming and your character's footsteps. You can shoot the test tubes full of those little seed parasite creatures to build up your Beat Meter/Demolition Gauge, which results in them letting out an ear-raping shriek.
In Left 4 Dead, hearing a sobbing Witch and knowing she's close and you have to be careful or you'll startle her and she'll screech and try to rip you apart - and sometimes you just don't find her...
This is even more scary in Left 4 Dead 2's infamous Hard Rain campaign. It isn't bad enough to have 20 Witches, it isn't bad enough to have them walk around, it isn't bad enough that all but three of the Special Infected can push you into one (and will appear absolutely out of nowhere), and it also isn't bad enough to have to fight Tanks during this, but they also had to throw in the sugar cane fields (where your vision is reduced to about 2 feet in front of you).
And then it gets even worse on the way back through! Whenever the storming starts up, all the Witches in the area will HOWL IN RAGE yet the odds of you actually running into one are pretty low. This continues right up until the finale, and you can never tell if that howl is on the other end of the level or just around that corner...
It doesn't help that the sounds made by the storm can resemble startled Witches.
Forget Witches, sometimes you hear a Special Infected or its musical cue long before you see it or you know it's around the corner but don't want to be the guinea pig. The worse still, is when the Tank music starts playing but takes its time finding you so players are left frantically trying to spot it whilst trying to stick together or rethink their plans.
The worst scares you can get in Left 4 Dead 2 is in the mutation The Last Man On Earth, where it's single-player with no bots, and no Common Infected. It can get very eerie walking through the level alone while hearing the growls of Special Infected sneaking up on you, and since you're alone they are far deadlier.
What's even worse than that is the fact that the single character's vocal script is unchanged, meaning that they talk to thin air - even taking to specific survivors who aren't there anymore. Not to mention the occasional "Hello?" or "Where you all at?".
In the Quake III: Arena Mod "Dark Conjunction" almost every single part of the game that isn't a battle is like this. In one scene: You walk into a room with strange pillars, each pillar has a glass ball with a human head floating in it. After a while of complete silence, the eyes open up with a chilling sound and you are briefly teleported into a strange room with a great big Eldritch Abomination staring down at you. You can't move, so you just stare at this big horrible alien demon thing for ages... But nothing happens, and eventually you are transported back as if nothing happened, and the locked door you needed to open to get through opens by itself.
Similarly the whole series of They Hunger mods for Half Life 1 used this well, along with every zombie trope in the Wiki.
Siren is pretty bad for this. Often you'll be walking in a nearly pitch black house, village, whatever with no weapon and sight jack. You'll be able to see through the Shibito's eyes but you won't actually KNOW where they are visually until you hear them. This is bad because generally you're too afraid to go forward even though the Shibito are dumb as a pile of hammers and aren't likely to do much.
Also, there'll be no music or any indication anything's wrong when suddenly the screen will flash red and you'll hear a Shibito yell from near you providing a wonderful "omg wtf what that?!?!?!" moment complete with running in random directions and possibly pissing yourself.
In Diablo, the dungeon levels are large and there can be quite a distance between the monsters, which only adds to the suspense and scariness of the game. Even more so because there are monsters that can turn invisible and sneak up on you, and others that charge you from far off-screen with a blood-curdling roar.
Portal: After discovering the truth behind the cake, GLaDOS continues to talk at you as you make your way through the back end of the facility. Because many of her lines are threats against the player's life, going through the facility is hell - nothing ever happens, but you're constantly fearing that something might...
The effect of this level on players who rely heavily on hearing as a habit. In the final level, much like the rest of the game, there is total silence, punctuated very occasional by mechanical creaks and thumps. When you're going through the level searching for ANY sign of life, alive or otherwise, and you expect every door to try to kill you anyway, these little sounds can be terrifying.
And after walking along for ages you get to a place where you walk down a short hallway that is immediately, and silently, blocked off by some sort of pillar. You step into the next room and the floor slides out from under you, dropping you into a room full of turrets. It's scarier after the long silences.
From the very start of the game, the windows to the offices above you give you the eerie sensation that you are being watched. But when you see these windows from the other side, you realize there was no-one watching you, which in turn, raises a question: Where is everybody?
Really, the whole game is this. From the beginning, GLaDOS's vaguely sinister remarks, the occasional death-trap, and the fact that nothing has happened yet lead the player to think that surely something will in the next chamber... or the next... or the next...
GLaDOS herself is a tremendous case of this. You don't ever see her until the absolute final room of the game. You just hear her. And at first, you don't realize there's a "her" at all. The messages sound generic, automated, predetermined. But then they start glitching out. And, suddenly, something completely innocuous sounds like a death threat thanks to a missing word here or there. But slowly, surely, throughout the game, you start to realize that somewhere, someone or something is talking to you. Uniquely, specifically, to you. And those glitches were no glitches at all. But even after the revelation, you still never see her. The game doesn't even give you the tiniest, tiniest indication of who she is, where she is, what she is, what she looks like... All you know is that she can see everything you do, and she wants you dead. The moment before you finally lay eyes on her are far and away the most tense, terrifying, and utterly electric few seconds in the game.
Portal 2 ups the paranoia with old Aperture. There are signs plastered everywhere telling you to stay out under all circumstances, and massive chambers that have been locked, locked again, then relocked for good measure that you obviously have to trek through to progress. You keep going through the place expecting something to happen but it never does.
There are signs that say that parts were vitrified. That means that they were cooled until their atoms formed a glass like grid, and it is done to nuclear waste to make it "less" deadly. And they did this to "miles" of underground test chambers. That means that Aperture Science was so afraid of whatever was in there they felt the need to TURN IT INTO GLASS! And you never find out what was in there! You get hints of course, with mentions of time travel, gamma radiation, and an army of Mantis Men but you never find out what it was exactly that was in there.
Dead Space is a fan of this, especially in the space walk segments, where you can'thear any noises except sounds from inside your suit and coming up from the ship, meaning you'll never know the necromorph is right behind you until you see him slashing you across the back.
Unfortunately, when inside the ship, unless you are in an area with lots of large machinery running, the Necromorphs often loudly announce their presence, which kinda kills the tension.
And of course, if you think that's bad, try turning off the music and wandering the Ishimura in silence. No stings, no problem, right? Wrong. Without the stings to warn you when something is just out of view, you get real paranoid real quick.
Perhaps best illustrated by the Hunter, an enemy that regenerates severed limbs and can shrug off any damage you throw at it. Actual combat with the Hunter isn't too scary, especially once you realize you can control it by cutting off its legs and/or freezing it, but the real terror comes from hearing the damn thing howl as it stalks you through the ventilation system, ready to strike the moment you let your guard down...
Brutes share a similar schtick; fights with them are more thrilling than scary. In cases where they don't suddenly jump out at you, on the other hand, the buildup to having to fight one can be terrifying, especially when that involves just hearing their roars coming out of the darkness (as is the case in Chapter 1, a full three chapters before you get to find out where those noises are coming from).
The mission on the habitation deck has this too. The first room in that area has plenty of dead bodies lying around, having been prepared for assimilation by the mad doctor. And yet, nothing happens. You keep expecting them to wake up and attack you, but they don't. For the whole level, which forces you to pass through that area a few times, that particular area remains completely dead, with nothing other than someone, somewhere, singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in an immensely creepy way. In the end, when infectors do show up and start infecting the bodies, it's a very liberating experience to finally blow them away.
Done to great effect in Chapter 10 of the sequel, upon Isaac's return to the Ishimura. After slaughtering your way through nine chapters of Necromorph-stuffed corridors and hallways, you've started to get used to encountering them everywhere you go. So you would think that dozens of empty rooms and walkways would be a welcome change of pace, but if anything the quiet, empty corridors and constant expectation of attack that never come makes it one of the scariest portions of an already terrifying game
When you acess the shops, music stops playing. But some disturbing whispering can be heard if the volume is loud enough.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a showdown in Killer Croc's lair; an abandoned sewer beneath Arkham. Croc's just a stupid brute, right? You'll just have to trick him into running headlong into something or exploit his weak point, right? Nope, he spends most of the scene underwater, listening for you. If you move too fast, he'll figure out where you are and drag you down to your doom. So you have to move through the level gathering plot coupons at a glacial pace, with only the sound of Croc's breathing keeping you company. Unless he decides to come up and attack (and if he catches you, you're not getting away), which gets nerve wracking, really quick.
Unfortunately, you can destroy that by just crouch-walking, which is fairly quick, and using a quick batarang throw to knock him back into the water.
In other words, just crouch walk and keep your finger on the quick batarang. That can really kill the mood.
There's also an area that is used to house the criminally insane in group cells. If you're unfortunate enough to be using Detective Vision (which you will use all the damn time), all you see are hordes of red skeleton enemies before you even go through the door to the room. Then the door opens and reveals all the enemies are still securely locked up, and they are never freed the entire time you walk through the room. That happens later.
During the first Scarecrow nightmare, you end up entering a morgue that has nothing dangerous at all in it except for some body freezer doors opening and closing on their own and some creepy whispering. Then you turn to leave through the same door and end up going into another room of the morgue, where you find three body bags containing Thomas Wayne, Martha Wayne, and Scarecrow respectively.
On the flipside, some of the most fun parts of the game are the Predator sections where you get to be the cause of this for a group of mooks. As you pick them off one-by-one, the remaining mooks become increasingly more terrified as they have no clue where you are, which one of them will be the next one you get, or what direction you'll come from when you do get them.
In Chrono Cross, the final battle against the game's Eldritch Abomination is the only battle in the game without any background music. All the soundtrack offers are distorted sounds like distant crashing waves, or a mournful wind. It does a good job of heightening the tension.
Chrono Trigger did this too in Magus's Castle - there's no background music when you first enter, which makes the hypnotized-seeming dialogue of the human servants who are actually demons and zombies in disguise all the more unnerving.
There's no background music, but there is an unusally high-fidelity recording of children laughing in the distance. It's not quite silent, but definitely makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
And how about your wingman yelling "The 8492nd squadron does not exist!" then the music stops and tons of enemies appears from nowhere.
Also in the mission right after that one, where you're flying around a volcanic 6island trying to ditch your pursuers. You can hear their radio chatter, and your wingmen sometimes talk to them and you, but your radar is on the fritz and you never get a good glimpse at the enemy. Unnerving at times.
In the first Halo game, the first part of the level "343 Guilty Spark" was like this. After an initial bout of Covenant enemies, you spent the rest of the first half of the level wandering around in COMPLETE SILENCE.
Worse is the implications of things happening everywhere. You find barricades, shattered glass, bullet casings, hallways and floors absolutely covered in various kinds of alien blood. Sometimes you even find piles of corpses behind locked doors. And there is absolutely no evidence of what the hell caused all of this.
Especially when you realize that all the barricades and defenses that have been set up and positioned in such a way as to counter something trying to get out of the facility, rather than something trying to force its way in. And you are headed into the direction those defenses are set to defend from...
Ditto for the first few minutes of Halo: Reach, which features an in-game homage to Aliens's famously tense motion sensor sequences.
A less telegraphed reference to the motion sensors in Aliens occurs in, once again, "343 Guilty Spark." Before the first of the Flood finally attack you, they have to spend a few moments breaking through the doors. Any player not already scared will almost certainly have a change of heart when they see that their motion tracker is suddenly swarming with red dots.
The Godfather game is grounded in semi-reality and completely devoid of traditional supernatural horror elements. However, it does have the annoying tendency to have the music cut out completely at times. It's therefore much more startling if a hostile mobster starts shooting abruptly.
In Sly Cooper And The Thevius Racoonus there is an area with a massive gate outside it, allegedly to keep some horrible monster inside. The player wanders through the quiet, empty level for several minutes, constantly expecting the monster to appear and being severely creeped out when the reeds in the water beneath them move as if an animal is swimming right past you. After all of this excellently terrifying nothingness, the monster turns out to be a flamboyently-colored and cartoonish cobra thingy that moved so slowly you'd have to try to get caught by it.
In Operation Flashpoint, you might be on patrol in a forest for ten minutes, encountering no enemies whatsoever and hearing nothing but the birds singing, when you walk right into an ambush and the scene explodes into a loud firefight. This being in stark contrast to a game like Call of Duty, where you're rarely not being shot at, the sudden transition is quite harrowing.
The level Second Sun in Call of DutyModern Warfare 2 is like this. One minute, you and your squad are making a heroic last stand in and around a downed helicopter. The next, a nuke goes off over DC, and everything electronic shorts out. It's one minute of madness as planes and helicopters fall from the sky and come crashing down all around you, and the squad is running for cover in panic. And then, just silence. Then it starts to rain heavily as the last light of the day fades. Suddenly, in a flash of lighting, three enemies are spotted in front of you.
And then there's another encounter later in the level when the squad is sneaking through the ruins and the lighting reveals another squad crossing the street 20m ahead of you, completely oblivious to your team. Unsure of whether they're friend or foe, Sergeant Foley shouts the challenge "Star". They don't respond.
In The Suffering, much of the navigational and informal help can be seen through watching the prison surveillance cameras. You click on the control panel to watch them, and the window then takes up the entire screen, they are also in real-time, so you'll be watching a security guard being torn to bits by shank-monsters while it happens. You can also gather that there's going to be monsters in that room when you come to it. This is more of a "warning" than it is a shock strategy. That is, until you watch a surveillance camera showing a guy watching a surveillance camera, and see a creature slowly walking towards him. You try and exit the screen as soon as possible, then turn around to see nothing at all.:
Irisu Syndrome's game folder, as you play the game, gets populated with text files containing character profiles. Irisu's profile, conspicuously, is just Visible Silence. There is a very good reason for this.
Any moment of Minecraft that is spent in a dark place when you are not fighting monsters. Reason? In the dark, monsters spawn. Monsters spawn anywhere. Everywhere. If you've just opened up a hole into a cave system and hear growling, hissing, or clacking coming from it, you may be scared to venture into it, knowing a zombie, spider, or skeleton could be lurking around any corner. If you hear nothing, that's worse, because nothing is the sound that creepers make...
Endermen may creep some people out, but on the whole they aren't too scary in and of themselves. Once you set one off, however, and it teleports out of sight, the suspense of waiting for it to just go ahead and attack already is what makes fighting them such a trying experience.
There comes a moment while running around you hear one of the background sounds like lovely (terrifying) music but one of those sounds is very sinister. It's the same sound of an airplane flying over head, you look up to see it as a instinctual move and see... nothing. You are all alone. The sound can be heard here.
That is called an ambience, and it happens when you are near a dark area that's large enough, as a sort of indication or warning, even if that area is underound or behind a cliff face nearby and you actually can't see it. Nothing indeed.
Stalker plays with that too. Every dungeon could easily "accommodate" for several dozen monsters, yet they usually hold only 2 or 3 monsters (which, to add insult to injury, are almost invisible). Most of the time is spent exploring dark, creepy old laboratories with plenty of pitch black rooms and scary noises, waiting for the moment "they" will appear.
There are 3 main examples of this. Your first encounter with a bloodsucker in the first underground lab, you hear it screech, and since it's invisible, you only see its bright glowing eyes. When you go through the only way past the room it's in, it suddenly appears behind you and at close range.
To add to that, there are a few human enemies in the room directly behind it, so you may be lucky enough to hear the bloodsucker find them first.
The second, is the first encounter with the Mind Rape monster The Controller. It's right at the end of an underground area, after you fight through human enemies and a few less lethal mutants, you think you're safe, and heading to the exit. You turn a corner and bam you get a Mind Rape, which in this game consists of the screen POV being pulled towards the monster, being twisted and manipulated and loud screeching.
The last, is a Pseudo Giant, in another of the underground labs. You have to enter a locked door, all the while hearing something banging on the other side. You ready yourself for a fight, but nothing happens when you open the door. You spend most of the time in the lab in fear because you know this monster, that sounds like nothing you've encounterd before, is going to come at you eventually.
The fight against two Burer mutants in Call of Prypiat. You won't see those scary little suckers for more than a few seconds during the whole fight, instead you will be sneaking through the surrounding rooms trying to figure out where they are while trying to avoid the objects they throw at you via telekinesis. Of course, it doesn't help that it all takes place in another dark underground structure.
Don't wander the Zone at night with just your head lamp. Just don't. See main entry for details.
In general, the Zone is mostly empty. Mostly. You can wander all the way from Agroprom to Dark Valley, seeing nor other stalkers, nor any monsters. Try to relax, though, ang get torn to shreds by pseudodogs or a rifle round through the head from a bandit looking for some loot.
Mother 3: Inside the mailbox was absolutely nothing.
Nothing after nothing came bursting out.
Yume Nikki is very good at this, but oddly enough, the best example wouldn't even be an example were it not for the fact that one of the game's secrets got out. See this◊? A little creepy, but not worth being the picture for the game's Nightmare Fuel page when there's entire worlds full of severed body parts, right? Thing is, if you want to see Uboa (which may well be why you're playing the game at all), you have to deal with a Randomly Drops mechanic: he only has a 1/64 chance of showing up, and then only under very specific circumstances. By the time you've spent ten minutes walking in and out of Poniko's house and flipping her lights off, Uboa's actual appearance and accompanying sound effects will make you jump about a foot.
And on a broader scale, the dream worlds are so big and have so much empty space that you never know when you're going to stumble onto something, and after you've found a few of the... weirder parts of Madotsuki's dreams, you realize that whatever it is, it's going to be deeply disturbing. But then, this is basically EarthBoundmeetsSilent Hill...
Actually, for some, just the drastic change of the lights in Poniko's room turning on and off, without Uboa, is horror.
Of all places, it appears that Super Paper Mario invokes this trope. After Sammer's Kingdom gets destroyed by the Chaos Heart, Mario and friends return there to search for the Pure Heart. The previously colorful, vibrant kingdom of samurai has been replaced with... a gigantic white emptiness that you have to walk through for quite some time. It can be rather foreboding, especially with the music....
Myst? Where could nothingness ever be scary in that series? Try in Myst III: Exile, after you've seen the evidence of Saavedro's insanity and realize that you yourself are essentially trapped on those same worlds, with no humans and very little life save plants and a few animals, retracing Saavedro's footsteps as he desperately tried to find a way back home... And once you get to Narayan and meet Saavedro face to face and he locks himself in the bunker, you realize that he can get out to attack you at any time if he so feels like it, even though you can't get in. Saavedro never actually leaves the bunker until you solve a certain puzzle, and you're never actually in any danger (unless you don't solve the final puzzle correctly), but the loneliness of the ages and the sheer effect of nothing really going wrong up to that point is really creepy. Actually, the Myst series likes to use this trope quite a lot, come to think of it...
Riven also uses this very effectively by leaving little hints around the game that Gehn is moving around the islands and aware of your presence. Knowing that he never catches you until fixed points in the game doesn't help much. Similarly, in the original Myst, three of the four ages you visit were once inhabited, but are now empty, implying that the people who lived there have all been murdered; but somehow this doesn't match up to the creepiness of the fourth age, which has always been empty.
Likewise, if you don't know that you can't die (like I didn't), much of the Myst series is filled with the suspense of "Where did these skulls come from? What was that noise around the corner? Who closed that door; I know I left it open..." Nothing happens, but, like the trope suggests, nothing can be scarier than something.
What about Myst IV, where you know that there's someone sneaking around the place, but you never see more than a few seconds of him/her/it and you have even less idea what you're doing (in the other games at least you sort of knew where you were going) and around any corner this other person could be waiting for you. It doesn't help that early on a bridge collapses under you and you get knocked out. When you wake up, your best friend's daughter who you were looking after is gone. Creepy.
Enemy Zero, an old first-person adventure game for the Sega Saturn. Picture this: you're on a spaceship out in the middle of nowhere, and a bunch of nasty aliens have come aboard and murdered everyone save you and a few others. Problem is, the aliens are completely invisible, and you get to roam the corridors of the ship, completely unable to see them. Your only way of knowing they're around is a sonar-ish device that starts pulsing louder and faster depending on how close the aliens are, all of which is absolutely nerve-wracking. The slightest peep will have you spooked, to say nothing when the aliens can be heard growling closeby. Bring My Brown Pants, please.
The Resident Evil Gamecube remake has one hallway lined with windows. When you walk through it, you hear a clink, as though one of the windows just cracked (if you're next to the window, you can actually see the glass cracking). Nothing else happens in that hallway, but it makes your blood freeze. The second time you pass through it though...
This was made specially for everyone who played the original. The dogs jumping through the windows scared most of us. Then we all played the remake, and were expecting the dogs again, but nothing happened.
In fact, the vast majority of the Resident Evil franchise has this effect. Better rendered environments help with the atmosphere, of course, so the newer installments (REmake and Resident Evil 0 in particular) have more of this, but almost every game has several rooms where, even with all the enemies dead, the room itself will make your skin crawl. Notable examples are basement and parts of the lab from REmake, the dimly lit operating room and the winding Training Facility corridors from 0, and the Infirmary from Code: Veronica.
Aside from the sewers (which also uses this trope to great effect: setting up the Novistadors through terrifying ambient noises, their use of ambush tactics, and the fact that they're mostly invisible even as you fight them), one of the only really scary places in Resident Evil 4 is the operation room. You see the gray guy. You know he's going to attack you. And then he doesn't. And he keeps not doing it. He's just lying there, waiting for you to finish reading the text log describing how hard to kill he is. Then, when you finally get the card key and start to make your way back out, you hear him break out and, in all likelihood, try in vain to beat him before abandoning the fight and running away because he's almost invincible. But it doesn't end there. You escape him, and then get out into the hallway. Basically, your next experience should be "whew I escaped let's keep goiHOLYSHITANOTHERONE!"
Speaking of the Novistadors, there's the fight with the Colmillos in the hedge maze, which works very similarly. The maze keeps you from seeing very far ahead of you, and you know that one could suddenly come running around a corner or jump through a hedge wall at any moment. The near-constant, vicious growls keep you on your toes the entire time, and the only thing worse is when those growls shift into the sound of panting, because that means one of them is chasing you and you have only seconds to figure out where it is.
The buildup to the boss fight with Verdugo is one of the other examples. We've encountered it several times already in cutscenes, starting a chapter ago, but all we know about it is that it's far from human since we only glimpse its mandibles and glowing eyes peeking from within the hood of its cloak. Then it's built up through a cutscene from its point of view, stalking you as you make your way to the boss room, followed by a second one shortly after you enter the boss room in which it demonstrates its speed and power as it locks you in the room and you still can't see it. Once it finally does start attacking you, you only see its tail or, more rarely, a brief flash of its upper torso as it attacks from the ceiling and beneath the floor, growling and snarling from its unseen hiding spots at all other times. Following a long, very tense period after you call for the elevator in which nothing happens, he finally properly reveals himself and this trope lets up... though of course, the player quickly comes to fear him for an entirely different reason.
The first segment of the U-3 boss battle pulled a similar trick. The boss himself is more disgusting than scary, apart from moments where he can be hard to fight and the fact that he can't be killed until the second part of the fight. The part that grates on your nerves is whenever you damage him enough to make him hide, and no matter where you run you can still hear the sound of his guttural breathing as though he's right next to you, about to lunge... and then he does. (Also, its appearance is foreshadowed only by a single cutscene awhile before, in which Saddler merely refers to the creature as "it," keeping its identity a total mystery until the fight begins.)
The first encounter with a Licker in Resident Evil 2. You enter a room where there's no music playing, then you see something run across the window. Enter the next hallway, still no music, then the Licker drops down from the ceiling.
The interrogation room in Resident Evil 2, with the one-way window between the entrance and a file cabinet with an important object in it. You fully expect something to smash through the window as soon as you grab said object. Nothing does - they wait until after you've passed by the window a second time.
Lampshaded and subverted in Resident Evil: Code: Veronica Flash Edition by Legendary Frog based on the part where Claire walks down the area where dogs are hiding but let her past the first time and 3/4ths of the way back. "Something's going to jump out at me... something's going to jump out at me... phewwww". When she's gone, some zombies jump out and complain about being late and missing the chance to scare Claire because of decomposing bladder issues.
Resident Evil 6 has some of this in the first level of Leon's campaign. You enter an eerily silent college campus, with signs of disaster everywhere. No power, debris on the floor, broken glass. Completely deserted and not a soul to be seen. Then you enter a large banquet hall, meals set up on the tables and everything. Completely silent and rather creepy. Then you catch a glimpse of a dark figure darting around the toward the exit. The silence is pretty scary on your first playthrough. Even your own characters will occasionally jump at lightning crashing outside or a ceiling tile falling to the floor for no apparent reason. Keep in mind throughout this entire scenario, there are no enemies whatsoever and nothing can hurt you.
And then Leon says, "They're scared..." It's never explained what he's referring to.
Alan Wake gets scary as hell thanks to this. It doesn't take much playtime for you to start whirling around at every little noise, and scanning around yourself constantly with the flashlight. You'll be sprinting for the Safe Havens in no time.
In the final stage of Mega Man 2, there are no enemies or music until you enter the boss room.
In Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, you return to the Fountain of Prayer to find that the music has stopped, then the first boss smashes through the wall.
Any time in the Metroid Prime series where you're going through either a large empty area, or a hallway surrounded by things that look like they ought to be gargantuan enemies (or Metroids) ready to come out and decimate you, only for absolutely nothing to happen. Yet.
Several times in Corruption, you walk through various Metroid research facilities. Everything's okay, though you keep expecting something to come out and attack you. Those who are Genre Savvy enough, though, will know what you'll have to eventually do...
Metroid II: Return of Samus was, by far, the king of this trope for the series, especially considering how many of the Metroid attacks would come out of freaking nowhere, and just about everything else was 99% empty.
The opening of Super Metroid, where the player investigates a distress signal from space station, only to find the facility eerily silent and empty... up until the ambush byRidley. Later, it pulls off a nice example in Tourian, where several rooms occupied by Metroids and a pair of very large enemies aren't particularly scary. The next couple of rooms, however, contain no enemies at all - just the brittle, dessicated husks of enemies that became Metroid food (one of which is a Torizo, fought on two previous occasions as a boss).
The latter example is homaged in Corruption, to perhaps even greater effect, both because it takes place on a creepy, abandoned Galactic Federation starship and because the crumbling corpses are those of Federation Marines just like the ones you've previously fought alongside.
Metroid Fusion has your first visit to Sector 6 (NOC). You're told ahead of time that there are Blue X in the sector, which are sub-zero cold and will do heavy damage if they touch you. There's no enemies except the Blue X and very dark backgrounds and scenery, as well as Blue X hiding in the various bits of destructible scenery. Couple the fear of the Blue X with the sector's eerie music, and you'll soon be jumping out of your skin every time you enter a new room.
Your next visit isn't much better, because A) you're searching for a boss you fought once before, who never attacks you until you alert it to your presence by trying to enter a restricted area, and B) you're also told to leave the sector as soon as said boss is dead, because the Nigh Invulnerable SA-X is also tracking you.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent will envoke this trope to the point when you WANT monsters to show up, to relieve some of the tension.
Let's not forget that Daniel forgot everything on purpose, leaving you, present-time-Daniel, in the dark. In his letter to himself, past-Daniel says that he can't tell you why he chose to forget. This leaves the player wondering what the hell is so wrong with this place that the main character would willingly forget everything.
After leading you to believe that this trope will be played straight, the Amnesia Custom Story "The Dark Room" manages to avert this trope completely. After spending the first minute or so looking around for keys to unlock different doors, you have to go through a corridor which is completely pitch black. Once you go in the corridor, you hear an earth-shattering roar and a monster appears...but it's only when you see it that you find that they've stuck a troll-face on it, and the troll's "theme music" comes on when you're standing next to it. The revelation that EVERY enemy has something to do with an internet meme, despite their attempts to try and build tension, just makes it even funnier when the monsters show up.
7 Days a Skeptic. At the end of the game, you are chased by John DeFoe. Sort of. In the original game, there was no way of telling when DeFoe would enter a room, or from where, which meant that in some cases, you could enter a room, wait a moment to regroup, and be instantly gored to death when DeFoe appears inside of you.
Harbor missions at night in Terror From The Deep, as well as alien base assaults when Tentaculats are involved. Dark spaces, never knowing where the aliens might hide, outmatches troops is one half, the music does the rest.
The Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money evokes this. When you're getting swarmed by Ghosts, it's scary. When you've killed them all, the Villa gets really unnerving, really quickly. The dim lighting and constant haze limiting visibility doesn't help.
The Dunwich building in Fallout 3. The Ghouls patter of footsteps and shrieking in the dark is bad enough, then there's the audio logs of an unfortunate wanderer who was unlucky enough to be entrapped there. But possibly the most unsettling part are the hints of the supernatural. Most of the game is an outlandish but clearly defined sci fi universe where even the most nightmarish enemies have some explanation. The Ghostly whispering, slamming doors and mysterious flashback however all leave the player in a constant state of terror that some sort of demon, ghost or vampire will lunge at them from the shadows at any moment. Added to that is that the building is a maze of corridors with blocked doors, cave-ins and missing floors, and objects that JUMP at you from nowhere.
Most locations contain enemies, but occasionally you'll run into an empty one, which can really get on your nerves. And sometimes there will be ambient sounds suggesting something is there, even though nothing is. Add to that a mazelike environment, and it soon becomes terrifying.
Vault 106, which is a Vault much like home in 101, but disordered and dirty, leaving you wonder what happened and if it's about to jump on you. And when you start to find out... "Breathe in the blue." Yes indeed, you suddenly can't trust your very own senses.
Lampshaded in the Dragon Age: Origins expansion Awakening, where one of your resident snarker companions comments on a particularly long and ominous hallway (leading to a major boss battle): "Ooh, the suspense is killing me!"
In the basic game, there's much darkness and horror, but only two scary segments: Haven (before the cult attacks you) and the buildupto the Broodmother. Both of these sections make very effective use of atmosphere.
There is also the Orphanage in the Elven Alienage in Denerim. There's a lot of blood on the floor, and a whole bunch of demons. Creepy enough, but not enough to get on this trope. But the creepiest part is the fact that you never meet who summoned the demons, and you have no idea why they were summoned. There literally is no cause for the slaughter, as far as you know. And you don't even know what happened to the person. They could still be out there...
In fact, the build-up in the orphanage is so creepy—tiny dimly-lit corridors with blood everywhere, screaming and crying voices, deranged spirits and weird chanting and that Photoshop filter of evil—that when the actual boss demon appears, it's almost a letdown: it looks exactly like the standard-issue rage demon the PC has faced countless times before in the Circle Tower. Nothing is scarier.
When exploring Tartarus in Persona 3 every so often you will enter a floor where there are no enemies at all. Fuuka(Or Mitsuru, most likely Fuuka though) will comment that "something doesn't feel right". She's right, because this is one of the special floors of the game, the "Reaper Floor", where one of the Secret Bosses of the game (Aptly named "The Reaper") spawns after a fixed 2 minutes, must we remind you that these floors tend to be excruciatingly long and be filled with items? And that, unless you're max level or is using the cheap Satan & Lucifer trick, he's most likely going to slaughter you? And the fact the there is a chain rustling sound in the background that only gets louder the closer he is? And that your analyzer (Be it Mitsuru or Fuuka) tells you that he's spawned, but in a very indirect manner? (Saying something along the lines of "I've got a bad feeling...")
Both Condemned and its sequel make use of this trope quite frequently. The example that comes to mind is the cabin level in Bloodshot, where you spend a good half of the stage waiting for something to jump out at you. It never does, which makes the moment you finally come face to face with the thing that left the bodies, completely unexpected.
The Descent series likes to play with this trope, all three variants of it. All three games have at least one melee bot that make little to no noise and prefers to hide in dark areas. There are several levels in each game where these robots are a common enemy. Those levels are usually very dark, and will often have areas where there is no noise whatsoever. Using the headlight may not be an option; it runs on energy, and a lot of dark levels have a rather precious supply. Sometimes said enemies are stealth-camouflaged, others randomly stalk you. The soundtrack is also sprinkled with sections where the music drops to near silence without warning. That's if you have the music turned on at all...
Baten Kaitos Origins has the dungeon inside Seginus, an ancient magical puppet. The creepy music and surroundings only serve to remind you that you're walking inside its mind. At the end of the dungeon, when Seginus starts talking, there's a very good chance you'll jump out of your seat, just because it's such a nervewracking dungeon.
Operation Flashpoint and Arm A, full stop. They're generally not scripted examples, but you're going to be extremely tense running across the open field, hoping that a sniper doesn't put a bullet in your brain before you even realize what just happened. Given that it's firmly on the realistic end of the Fackler Scale of FPS Realism, complete with most hits being One Hit Kills, and The All-Seeing A.I. doesn't have the visibility problems you do, you have every right to be paranoid until the mission's over.
Scratches has nothing but the titular scratching noises, a flash of movement from a hidden room, and that creepy tribal mask. When the game cuts to a CGI cutscene of the actual creature plodding toward you, it just comes off as silly.
In Conkers Bad Fur Day, the mansion level has plenty of zombies in most areas, zombies which, incidentally, instakill you and run fast when they see you. Some big areas are just outright empty dead ends, which is way more scarier, especially because then the background music is very clear... With children chuckling, and a brilliant minimalistic style that just makes you expect something awful is going to happen.
Slender. It's pitch dark, you're wandering around with just a tiny flashlight, your player character is slower than molasses flowing uphill in January, and you keep finding creepy sketches and notes taped up around the place. By the time Slender Man himself makes an appearance with accompanying static and Scare Chord, you'll probably be so worked up you scream and jump about a foot. Then for the rest of the game, you're wandering around knowing that thing is probably right behind you.
"YOU F***ER YOU KNOW HE'S NOT THERE!"
A large part of what makes this so scary in Slender, in particular, is that this trope actually comprises the central gameplay mechanic. The Slender Man's scariness would quickly drop off as the game goes on if you were just allowed to take a good look at him - but your looking at him is how he kills you.
Devil May Cry: After the lights go out in Mallet Castle, its entire geography changes. You can't see more than a few feet in front of you, and the ambience doesn't help either. Of course, this is a Hack and Slash game starring a BadassHalf-Human Hybrid packing more than enough to take on anything thrown at him, so the effect isn't that powerful.
Dark Souls (in contrast to its predecessor ''Demon's Souls") utilizes atmosphere through this way throughout most of the game. For example: Anor Londo is one of the most beautiful areas in the game, but it's lack of enemies keeps you on edge; this is reinforced by the silence, because among the enemies present only the Batwing Demons make any noise when they are in combat.
The "Gamer" minigame from Game and Wario plays this trope well. The objective of the minigame is to hide from the Player Character's mother, while the Player Character tries to play WarioWare microgames in bed. The mother can bust the Player Character by opening the door, opening the bedroom window, or by popping out of the TV; the Player must hide from the mother so he can play his game to the fullest extent. The door entrance is creepy enough, but its abruptness makes its creepiness pale in comparison to the other two ways the mother can enter. The window opening is heralded by an incredibly creepy and drawn-out period when the mother stalks past the window while an ominous, dissonant chord plays. The mother may or may not actually open the window, and she often pauses in front of the window, adding to the tension. The TV entrance is even scarier, being preceded by a burst of unexpected static from the TV, which is turned off, after which the mother may or may not appear. As with the window entrance, the TV entrance is drawn out while the static adds much tension. In both situations, when the mother appears, she has glowing, demonic eyes. Keep in mind that the Player is supposed to be playing WarioWare on the Wii U Gamepad while all of this is happening; the lightheartedness of WarioWare contrasts sharply with the creepy ways the mother's arrival is foreshadowed.
Some might say that the online point-and-click game Daymare Town is this. The lack of audio and stationary, colorless, environment.
Lampshaded when you're forced to go into the pitch black cellar of the lowest floor of the library to obtain an item; the game refers to the cellar as "scary," and labels the exit as "get out!"
Really, this is very common with most of the games made by Mateusz Skutnik. Submachine features very creepy sound effects and soundtracks, with only vague hints about where you are and what has happened. Covert Front features dark stone areas that look like agents from the Empire could pop out of at any second. And in The Fog Fall, the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust is made deathly apparent by the lack of people and stark environments.
Speaking of Submachine: When you first start Submachine 2, there is a record player providing background noise of chirping crickets and other peaceful woodsy sounds. When you turn it off, the actual soundtrack kicks in, which begins with a near-Scare Chord and is full of creaking and electronic distortion sounds. Nothing horrific happens, but you might spend a good few minutes waiting for it anyway.
The Last of Us has one great point early on in the game. The protagonists decide to cut through a half fallen skyscraper in the midst of a torrential downpour. After finding a few corpses of some unlucky soldiers. You open a door and suddenly there's a Clicker on top of you.
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.
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.
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".)
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.
The previous image for this page◊ was, in fact, a subversion of this trope. 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.
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.
Nothing at all
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
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.
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 Kiwaguro 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.
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, madness incarnate who was sealed away long ago. After consecutive fight scenes and the tension of Asura's impending rebirth, the music stops and they are faced with a vast, shadowy room filled only with the clinking of chains. And Asura, waiting somewhere up ahead.
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.
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 terrifiying!
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 persistant 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.
To clarify, in the sentence "when it finally ends, the reader is left unsure of where they are", "they" refers to the reader.
The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock upon the door.
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 frightning that anyone who hears it dies of fright. Thankfully, the story it describes doesn't exist...
Live Action TV
The very SECOND Doctor who episode series ever produced. 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 Episode is called Edge of Destruction...
While mostly played for the Classic example, the Doctor Who episode "Midnight" also plays the full version too. We're built up to believe something terrifying has happened to a woman's face, but when she finally turns around, it's completely normal, and on some level this is worse.
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.
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 of 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 escape while never actually seeing the hound.
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.
Nothing accidental about it. Sherlock knowingly gave him coffee laced with the drug in order to test a theory. Yeah, that's the kind of person he is.
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◊.
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.
The level from Tomb Raider Legend which has Lara exploring King Arthur's tomb features a section where Lara must swim across a vast body of water. As she swims, the camera pulls out showing just how vast the water is and how little Lara is...and you wonder if something is going to come up from underneath...
Another particular example is in Temple of Xian in Tomb Raider 2 when you enter a cave full of small and Giant Spiders you find a massive chamber with a huge egg cocoon; the level design makes you platform almost right next to it, but it never opens...
This trope is also used throughout the series with Lara exploring places no-one has entered for thousands of years, and you're never sure what might be waiting around the next corner...
The Temple of Doom in the second level of TR 3 has a room with a pair of corpses suspended in mid-air, with no indication of what killed them. Also, the hangar in Area 51.
The first level of the original Alien TC for Doom. No enemies. None. Just fifteen minutes of slowly freaking out, searching every corner twice, thrice, four times, because for God's sakes, this is Doom!Where are they?
Same thing in the Marine's first level of AvP. The first time your motion sensor goes beep it's just an automatic elevator activating, but after several long minutes of increasing tension in deserted corridors, dark corners, hissing steam vents, and flickering lights you will empty the magazine in its general direction. The game's designers know full well that the motion sensor is more effective as a tension builder than a tracking device.
The tradition continues in the game's sequel. The first Marine mission takes you across a barren planet and deserted installation, where nothing more than a string of Cat Scares occur (such as a hissing pipe shaped like a xenomorph's head bursting from the ceiling). You're constantly in anticipation of of an all-out attack, so you are completely alert. But it doesn't come until about half an hour into the game, by which time you've probably decided nothing is coming and are skipping through the empty halls, at which point the aliens appear and rip your face off.
beep beep beep
In either version of Dead Rising after special forces have apparently taken out the zombies, those zombies all just lie on the ground. It is quite disturbing in the first play through.
Played with in DR 2: OTR where "jumpers" (just zombies that decide they need to lie down on the ground for a nap or wait around a corner, or worse inside a toilet stall and eat you if you pass by) who, first time around, scare the shi'ite out of you, but the thing that makes it scary is, that you never know where they will hide, until you go there. They spawn randomly too.
Rayman 2/Revolution/DS has the Cave of Bad Dreams, which is too over-the-top to scare anyone... except for the threat of a cyclopean demon attacking you if you take too long to complete the level.
An after-case, if possible: if you arrive at the Romani Ranch on the third day in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, you'll notice that the entire field, inhabitants included, are severely quiet. Not that there's that many people living on the ranch, mind you, but the effects are still felt. The problem is that alien-ghost creatures invaded the ranch just last night, and abducted the livestock and the owner's little sister. And when you talk to the younger girl on the farm, you'll notice what looks suspiciously like a lobotomy. For experienced players who knew about this, it's just a tiny bit creepy. But for those new to the area/game, it's very, ''very'' unsettling.
The Path has no enemies, no jump scares, nothing. It's just you, walking almost alone in the forest, listening to the calming songs and sounds of the forest, and yet you feel worked up, knowing that, since the game is a remake of the story of Little Red, there is a wolf out there, watching you...
The Penumbra series makes really good use of this trope as well. The tech demo (that started it all) has only 2 encounters throughout the entire thing, yet throughout the game you're terrified in case you find something around the next corner. The trope is also present in the series proper (Overture, Black Plague and Requiem), owing to their focus on Psychological Horror - and when we say they offer this in spades, we really mean it. The whole damn series is a rich source of pure Paranoia Fuel in video game form...
Speaking of Frictional Games, their latest offering, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is replete with this. The monsters are scarce enough to keep them from being a source of frustration, but frequent enough to ramp up the fear. Add to that ambient sounds that, at times, sound like footsteps and groaning, and you'll be cowering in a corner for fear of a monster you haven't even seen yet.
One of the key elements of keeping the monsters enduringly frightening throughout the game is that you can't even look at them without taking a severe hit to your Sanity Meter. If you do attempt to just look square-on at them there's an Interface Screw that blurs your vision: you never really get a good look at them unless you go on a panic-induced suicide spree, never mind that their models on their own are grotesque enough. The most one can catch safely during gameplay is perhaps their toes.
The game's sequel, ''A Machine For Pigs, manages to do this in its teaser trailer. We hear a high-pitched, unearthly squeal as a monster bursts down a door, out of view of the camera. Just as it's about the round the corner and come into view, the screen fades to black. This being a horror game, you expect some kind of Jump Scare in the final few seconds of the trailer. Nothing happens.
Deus Ex uses this with a little of the classic version in the underwater laboratory. Eerie music, no apparent enemies, ominous logs and corpses spread around, flat out informing you of every enemy you will face. The music and locations all build up towards something but that something never occurs.
And Invisible War does this with the abandoned Antarctic base. Parts of the level have only a few guards and penguins, the music is just this ambient wind, and inside is dead silent. Scattered throughout the level are datapads that serve as the diary of a researcher long dead, adding to the creepiness. Lastly you have to fight mutagenic creatures that have escaped into the base, and it is nearly a relief towards the end when you finally run into a few humans.
Near the end of the FEMA camp, you have to go through one otherwise empty warehouse room with shelves stocked with hundreds of huge boxes. After a couple seconds you recognize them as something you first saw earlier in the level: each and every one is the compact form of a car-sized killer robot that can be activated at any time, and the emptiness continuing for the next couple rooms highlights how completely screwed you'd be if they were.
During your initial wanderings through the Picus building it starts out completely empty, with little to no background music, but on it's very clear something bad has happened by all the locked fire-escapes and signs of a hasty evacuation. You'll be overjoyed when the bad guys come out of the woodwork - at least then you'll have something to hit.
Panchaea starts of with you walking around a deserted, ruined ocean facility in the middle of the Arctic. The only hazards are electrified water on the floor, the occasional loose wire, and a few mines. It's made scarier by the fact that you know that there are augmented people driven homicidally insane hanging around somewhere but you're not sure where.
Resident Evil 2, safe rooms. Keep in mind that these are places explicitly named such that nothing will jump out at you, so you can save your game and stuff. Then the rooms themselves are creepy as hell and they play this. * shudder*
Then, in the A side story, there's a door in one of these safe rooms. Normal enough, and maybe something interesting behind it. But then there are zombies in the loading screen. Suddenly the safe room is not so safe anymore. And it leaves the creeping worry... will it happen again?
The first part of Resident Evil 5: Lost In Nightmares. The first time you go through it (and subsequent times on Amateur), there are absolutely no enemies to be found, but the ambiance is downright terrifying. The later parts of the chapter follow the classic version of the trope.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has had plenty of classic examples. However, a full-blown example can be found in the Skyline Apartment building: given the keening whine of the music and the subdued lighting, you'd expect that something threatening would be waiting for you. Instead, after poking around in the shadows of almost every single room in the building, you find a frightened TV host, a vaguely ominous message on an answering machine, a fresh corpse, and a dying prostitute. The place brightens up when Prince Lacroix gives you an apartment there, but considering that almost every single resident has died for one reason or another, the eeriness never quite dies away.
Check the basement. The guards were spying on the tenants. "Were". As in, they're gone. What happened to them? Never explained.
They were most likely fired by the owner due to the Prince's influence. Living in a building with overly curious Creepy Janitor is actually not very Masquerade-conscious.
Scratches also relies heavily on this for 90% of the game, noteworthy examples are the effect the first time you enter the basement of the mansion, the music makes you thing something is gonna jump at you from the shadows at any moment, also near the end, when you finish crafting the sacred totem and you are on your way to confront the cursed mask, creepy laughs and whispers haunt you all the time on your way to it.
Haunting Ground, as a survival horror, makes full use of this. Creepy music is played as you walk round a castle that is yours In Name Only, where you know you are being hunted by an enemy you cannot kill, having no weapons or defense of any kind apart from that afforded by your large White German Shepherd (the dog). When your pursuer draws near (not that you can tell) the creepy music... stops. But then this trope is subverted - there is something scarier than no music: your dog growling at something he can smell and you can't see. Start running, and hope you pick the right direction.
Clock Tower, the series that Haunting Ground is based on, does the opposite in the first. While Jennifer roams around the huge mansion, there is absolutely no music playing. For the most part, the only sounds you'll hear will be your own footsteps and the occasional interaction with some background objects... until Scissorman pops out, that is.
Similarly, in the first arc of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, there's a scene in which a character responds to the perspective character's inquiry about murders by saying that she hasn't heard anything about something like that. Her facial expression doesn't change and she doesn't appear alarming or show any signs of lying, but holycrapthemusicjuststopped! It's almost an inverted Scare Chord. In fact, the fact that your first clue that something strange is going on is something that doesn't happen in-universe is the first hint that this arc is Through the Eyes of Madness.
Metro 2033. Iradiated areas when your mask is running low. The deep breathing, and just nothing else.
One of the creepiest levels is Ghosts. There is not a single enemy.
Fallout likes this as well. There are several locations, mostly abandoned military research installations or something like that where you're all alone. Which makes it really unsettling.
The loneliness is also brought out into Fallout 3 if you use the Animal Friend perk level 2. If you experience nothing, see a green blip indicating an ally, and find out it isn't human, but just another Mole Rat, then you know what it is like to be truly alone.
This in turn can be completely removed by gaining an ally.
Fujiwara no Mokou from Touhou mentions this after the heroines note a distinct lack of opponents at the end of the extra stage. Very much subverted, in that while it is almost outright mentioned in one stage, that happens to be the one in which you play the ghosts.
Mentioned again in Undefined Fantastic Object in one of Reimu's routes right before the final boss (although said final boss turns out to be not very horrifying at all).
Reimu: I can't sense anything at all, but... Anyways, what's with this world? All that ominous atmosphere from before is completely gone... ...It's just creepy in the opposite way.
This is probably the only "good" part of The Crystal Key, although it only kicks in during the second half of the game. In the beginning, you're in a Beautiful Void, and while the lighting and music are pretty dang creepy, it's not so bad because you have no reason to believe there's anything out to get you. When a soldier appears out of nowhere, shoots you, and dumps you in a prison cell, it's a bit jarring, but still not that bad. When you break out, however, you get to watch a Darth Vader ripoff force-choking a guard. And then he rushes out of the room and heads straight your way, and you have only a few seconds to get into a side corridor. After that, even the rest of the Beautiful Void segments become horror as you wait to see what will come for you next.
Speaking of Beautiful Voids, Schizm takes this and runs with it. You were sent on a starship to provide supplies to scientists studying a Ghost Planet where all the inhabitants mysteriously vanished—meals left uneaten, work begun but unfinished, that sort of thing. All the scientists are gone, too, and their audio logs speak of them vanishing one by one. They speculate at some length as to what's happening, but none of them can figure it out—so you have no idea where not to go or what buttons not to push. I never even got a Game Over before I quit playing because I was just too nervous.
Three points in Mass Effect 2. The first is when you board a Collector Ship and for the first half, you find absolutely nothing. It's pretty damn unsettling as you—and your characters—wonder where the Collectors are. Another is when you board the Derelict Reaper, and go through the first few minutes with no enemies while watching creepy vids which reveal that "even dead gods can still dream." A third takes place on a side mission, a derelict ship that has lots of puzzles but absolutely no enemies — and not many more lights.
In another optional mission, you're on a crashed ship hanging off of a cliff. There are no enemies and you can't bring any party members. There's also no music and the only sounds you'll hear are the creaking of the ship as it starts to slip off the edge (Which gets worse the farther you get into it) and the occasional crash of a piece of metal falling.
It becomes less scary once you've played it a few times and realized that all the creaking, crashing, and falling objects are scripted and no matter how fast you move the ship will never fall over the cliff until you reach the end.
It's actually quite soothing after you've played it a time or two. Nice change of pace from the rest of the game, much like exploring the Normandy crash site, another mission with no enemies.
The first mentioned example is particularly unsettling because of all the chest-high walls. Players have generally come to assume that chest-high walls equals imminent fight. So they're REALLY expecting something to come out.
And on the second, that one gets creepy before you ever get there. You're going into a millions of years old corpse of a super-advanced species whose only goal, as far as you know, is to kill every single sentient creature in the galaxy, previously studied by a group of scientists that Cerberus has lost all communication with. Then once you get there, you find nothing but empty rooms, leftover supplies, and creepy recordings of the scientists slowly going crazy. And if you've paid any attention at all in the games up to that point, you know exactly what is doing it to them. The husks attacking are practically a relief!
The fact that your soon-to-be party member isn't making a scene at all doesn't help. At one point you hear husks roaring, then a couple of shots shoot past you along with several dead husks, then one of your current party members says "Wait, what was that?"
In the third game, the Ardat-Yakshi monastery. Right after you drop, you find a shuttle with its engines still warm, with one of your squadmates noting that there may be a visitor. Then you enter the damn place, and the elevator isn't working. So you go down by ladder, and the large hall you enter is huge and completely dark. The only thing lighting it is your flashlight, while you hear ear-piercing screeches in the background - as James notes, "Like nails on a chalkboard... and it's calling its friends." As you explore the room, you hear several noises of something moving, and when you get close to the exit, you find a few dead Cannibals on the ground. The large room is, in fact, completely empty, and the Banshees don't attack until you're in a well-lit area, which is why this is an example of the second kind of this trope, not the first.
In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Drake gets stuck in the Rub'Al Khali desert and has to wander through dunes upon dunes of sand for a long time with only an empty well to encounter. The player controls Drake as he goes through all this, so the horror Drake gets from seeing nothing but sand for a while is a shared experience.
While the Shadow Temple from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is sometimes nicknamed "the Silent Hill level", this trope is the reason so many people find the Forest Temple utterly terrifying. Rather than a dark crypt like the Shadow Temple or an extension of the Lost Woods like one might imagine a scary temple being, the Forest Temple largely resembles a large mansion that hasn't been lived in for centuries. The rooms are humongous, dimly lit, and often...completely devoid of life. The temple has incredibly creepy background music that plays as you slowly make your way through one dim, empty space after another, almost wishing for an enemy to come out and break up the silence and stillness. There are places it plays much like a normal temple, but when you first begin to explore, it is one of the most unnerving experiences the game has thrown your way thus far. And then you get introduced to the Wallmasters.
Oh, and did we mention the Forest Temple's haunted? Yup, the miniboss is four ghosts that vanish from portraits and cackle at you.
Also, the first time you encounter the Redeads. They're underneath a tomb, way in the back of Kakariko Village Graveyard, in a big, open room full of thin walkways and channels of water. And they're just... standing there. Every other monster in the game moves at least a little bit, even the ones that are fixed in one place, but the Redeads are absolutely still. So you carefully start sneaking across the room, heart in your mouth because of these freaky things and music that sounds straight out of Silent Hill, and then you get halfway across the room and SCREEECH! You turn around, and... none of them have moved.
The Room of Clocks in Castlevania 64 and its remake Legacy of Darkness combines this with Suspicious Videogame Generosity. It's got a save point, food, and your pick of subweapons. The only background music is the ticking of the clocks. The Room of Clocks is still one of the most unsettling and nightmarish places in the game.
The chair room in Curse Of Darkness. It serves for nothing, other than just, well, sitting in everything you see. From a rocking chair, to the electric chair (that does nothing), and even the cannon, all settled in a simple and placid background of a sunny meadow. It becames at first interesting, then later rather boring... but stay just a few minutes more, and you'll start thinking what the hell is that room doing there, what purpose does it have, and why anything is happening there.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance does this at the VERY BEGINNING and through the game. A colossal armor comes to life BEFORE you enter the castle and you can't kill it, an indestructible great armor that you destroy by sending it to be crushed by gears, a mysterious creature you must sacrifice in order for its blood to fill the room and elevate the platfomr you're on... Oh, and Legion (Corpse) room.
Before I forget: There's a vacant room that you fill with furnitures you find through the castle. Curse of Darkness above borrowed this and made the Chair Room.
The Orz of Star Control, a strangely cute alien race from an alien dimension, don't really fit this trope, as the whole game is set into a non horrific, rather comedic atmosphere. However in a different setting, their uncanny, overly energetic friendliness, combined with their almost incomprehensible way to talk in strange pictures, which however allows many fearsome interpretations about their true, hidden nature and desires, as well as the fact that they seemingly just eradicated a whole human subspecies from existence, without leaving any witnesses of what exactly happened and them becoming instantly hostile to anyone asking to many questions about that, the diplomatic intercourse with them would fall into this trope, as dealing with them is dealing with an unratable danger of unfathomable nature.
The beautiful thing is that there is nothing in the game that will corroborate anything about the Orz. There's no proof, just conjecture. The Arilou are no help, because they're even more evasive about this than normal (amplifying the effect tremendously), and the Androsynth computers never give any specifics either. Also, the creators were very careful not to say anything else about the Orz in conversations with the fans.
Unfortunately, the third game reneged on this. Which is one of many reasons fans do not acknowledge the third game.
Used occasionally in Dragon Age: Origins. During the Dalish Elf origin, a companion notes that there are no sounds of wildlife, no wind in the trees... And of course, there's what happens if you decide to abandon Redcliffe to its fate and come back later...
Dark Fall: The Journal uses this method of horror almost exclusively. It's not possible to actually die at any point in those games, but they do their damnedest to help you forget that.
Dark Fall: Lost Souls makes similar use of this trope, although it has a lot more in-your-face horror than the original too.
In Huntsman The Orphanage, your only source of light is a small phone that occasionally comes to life whenever a ghost feels like communicating with you, you have no idea what your ultimate goal is for the first hour or so of the game, and the only thing that is certain is that a big creepy Slender Man with spider legs is stalking you while you explore. Yeah, the same one that killed all those poor orphan children.
Also, the phone light only shines a few feet in front of you, so you usually find yourself looking straight into complete and utter darkness. The Huntsman could be right in front of you, and you wouldn't have a clue until you were too close for comfort.
Example: The seemingly utopian town of Roppongi. Everyone seems to be at peace, and there are no demons around. Then you find out they're all zombies, reanimated by Belial and Nebiros in order to keep Alice company. Then there's the dungeon you navigate to get to the three of them—no encounters again, but instead, poison floors and exploding chests everywhere.
Shivers has you walking around a haunted museum of weirdness. Alone. With evil spirits hiding in inconspicuous objects, just waiting to suck out your soul.
In Stalker, there's the Wild Territory, a location usually bustling with mutants, anomalies and NPCs. Then there's a house which contains a stash that is completely empty, except for a few bushes which add to the "there's gotta be something hiding here"-feeling.
An unexpected (and possibly unintended) example shows up in Grand Theft Auto IV. There's an apartment across the street from one of your safehouses with an openable door. Usually building with a door you can push open serve some purpose or another (be it part of a mission, the location of a collectible item, or even the site of an Easter Egg), this place serves no purpose. Even weirder, every other apartment building in the game contains people hanging around the halls. This one is completely empty, although there is a photo of a police officer in there, which implies that the house was owned by a police officer or his family, who had to leave their apartment (or were killed). It is very creepy.
The endless staircase prior to the final level of Super Mario 64. The darkness of the staircase beyond combined with the music gives an unsettling feeling that would make younger players want to leave as soon as possible.
The Hellion-based instances in City of Heroes are creepiest when the map is largely cleared, and all you can hear are the eerie sound and music effects around the glowing mystic artifacts, bloody symbols, and candlelight. For those that are brand new to the game and unaware which game objects react to you and which don't, it's especially bad, as you keep expecting the symbols to do something.
BioShock uses this trope like it's going out of style. And it's really good at it. Especially Fort Frolic. It gets worse once you're able to access the basement of it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum uses this well after you left some areas. The Medical Facility and The Visitors Center are good (and terrifying) examples of this. The former, after you defeat Bane, you can enter and explore it on full... except that it has no enemies, and everything its just empty, except for a few doctors, that are of course just waiting for everything to chill out, and you can still go further and further on the medical levels, down and down below the elevator, and explore the chilling interiors of the facility. If it builts a lot of agoraphobia inside you, congratulations, it's working. For the Visitors Center... it's even worse, as its the only building that forces you into a first person view, and it's just a corridor with a lot of windows and chairs, and the only thing beside you in the building its a mannequin of The Joker, with a tv set on his head, that talks to you like a doctor to a patient, and nothing else.
In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake and Otacon return to a now deserted Shadow Moses Island. Despite knowing that all the soldiers are gone, and that nothing lurks around the corner, you still feel a sense of discomfort as you traverse the empty halls. This is especially prominent during the flashback at slaughter hallway, where you hear the agonizing screams of soldiers being sliced apart. There's no one there, and the screams eventually fade away, but you're left with a lingering feeling of unease.
While Eternal Darkness is better known for the classic example above, there is one Sanity effect that deserves mention here: Sometimes, when you enter a small room with no other exit than the door you came in through, you might go back through the door only to find that it is locked. Usually this happens when something really weird is about to happen, like your character sinking into the floor... but sometimes nothing happens, not even a flash of light or a cry of "This isn't really happening!"
The first half of the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief 3 The music is ominous and foreboding. Soft echoes and strange rattles come from everywhere. You prepare yourself to be scared witless... only to find that there are no enemies in the area.
An interesting example in World of Warcraft. In the Southern Barrens, a dwarf tells Alliance players that they Dug Too Deep and found... something. She doesn't say what they found, but they found something. She then mentions that the Cataclysm caused the cave where whatever it was is to cave in and tells you to pray that it was enough to keep it down.
Whereas the Dream Land of Yume Nikki falls under the Classic Variation (as noted above), the door in Madotsuki's (normal) room qualifies as this. Every time the player tries to enter the door, Madotsuki would nod her head and refuse to leave her room. What could be on the other side of the door that has her too afraid to leave, especially since she enters the door to her nightmarishDream Land throughout the game? Whatever it is, she would literally rather die than confront it.
The Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder has a good deal of exploration of an abandoned mansion. It's dark and not entirely finished, and creepy music plays through the entire thing, but it takes ages for anything to happen. At least until you rappel down that pit in the basement...
Fragile Dreams, taking place after a series of natural catastrophes and an experiment gone wrong that leaves humans on the brink of extinction, is made of this. The player explores the crumbling ruins of subways, an underground shopping mall, a theme park, a hotel, and a laboratory, and it's usually pitch dark outside of the area your flashlight illuminates. There isn't something trying to kill you in every room or corridor, but when you're approaching an enemy, you hear the ominous music before you see it and have to move forward.
The unknown sectors in the X-Universe series straddle the line between this and type three. Head into one, get a fair distance from the gate, and just look at how empty it is in there. Think about all the things in the universe, mundane things like Space Pirates, or insane terraforming robots or a Horde of Alien Locusts with point to point jumpdrives that could be jumping in right out of scanner range ... hey, why are you running for the gate?
In the game The Outsider, it's extremely silent and dark throughout the entire game. In several rooms, it's so dark that you expect something to jump out at you. It never happens.
In Might and Magic VIII, the Plane of Air is just an empty blue-white void during the day, and a pitch-black void at night.
I Can't Escape is taking place in constantly changing dungeon with many underground levels (each one is darker than the other), creepy environments, eerie sounds... and absolutely no enemies.
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."
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.*
In the Justice League episode "Only a Dream" we never see exactly what Dr. Destiny did to his ex-wife. We do know, however, that she died without ever waking up.
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...
Worth noting that terrorism suspect José Padilla was subjected to this before trial as he was considered an enemy combatant. In the end Padilla feared that his legal counsel were causing the ordeal and his captors were his protectors.
Scientific experiements using the world's quietest room has indeed shown that an utter lack of stimuli (in this case, sound) can cause people to start hearing things they normally don't hear, such as their own heartbeat. In addition, the lack of sound also makes it harder for the body to maintain its orientation, especially if the lights are off.
The creepiest thing about that is that no one has been able to stay in that room for even an hour because they start to freak out and even hallucinate, and they have to leave. It seems that a total lack of ambient noise can actually drive you insane.
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.
Bonus points: this is the same city that gaves us las momias de Guanajuato. Guess where the mummies were found.
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 the above 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.
Indeed, this may be the reason why scientists get funding to look for NEOs (Near Earth Asteroids). 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 dark... 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.
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.
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.
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...
There all along!
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.
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.
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 lone survivor using its own very effective (but involuntary) disguise of turning itself into a stone statue when looked at into something even more effective, by 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.
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."
In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the implication at the end that the Joker was with you all the time in front of you, when you visited the Visitor Center. It gets worse when you realise that the mannequin is posed differently everytime you go into that room, and that after you "speak" with the Joker & walk a certain distance away before quickly turning around, the damn thing's posed differently.
Also, although you were attacked several times earlier in the game by Scarecrow, if you find his secret lair, it is almost completely covered in pictures of you. Since they're polaroids, and due to the nature of Scarecrow's attacks, it's safe to assume that he has been stalking you since you arrived at the Asylum, and probably followed you around every other time you went there. *Brr...*
In The World Ends with You, Mitsuki Konishi, the game master, was there the whole time in your shadow during the third game.
Devil May Cry: There's a giant statue of a male, three-eyed angel facing the entrance of Mallet Island castle. Examining it prompts Dante to speculate that it depicts the God that the Castellans worship. Later, after the castle becomes the Dark World, it disappears. Guess what Mundus looks like once we finally see him?
In the Game Boy Advance version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, There's this secret in White Mountains's Edge where you find some loot, but the soldier next to where you find the secret warns you that the goblins doesn't leave their treasure unguarded for too long...
I See You: Its implied that you're being watched the entire time you're playing although nothing happens until later on in the game.
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 backseat, 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 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.