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"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

This is a Horror trope where fear isn't induced by a traumatic visual element or by a physical threat, but by the sole lack of event. When properly done, it can result in terrifying moments. It does so for one simple reason: the creator refuses to show us what's causing this horror, but we desperately wish to know, so imagination fills in the blanks and our minds provide the content, using what the individual considers scary.

It often has to do with where the events are happening, generally because said place is inherently scary, but sometimes merely because of the way it is filmed or described.

This trope comes in three flavors:

  • The classic version, where the moment serves to build up suspense and tension, until something scary suddenly jumps at you from elsewhere. 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  Many times, what the directors do is make the character look around with some small light source (flashlight, cellphone, camera flashes) for a mysterious noise, then turn around right when the suspense reaches its peak. Of course, they sigh when they see nothing, and then they turn around again, and WHAM!. Both of these methods alternate between being the norm, in that they can still keep the tension high, even when expected.
  • The full version is when there really is nothing happening, but the result can be several magnitudes scarier than the classic version, because the audience is left to imagine what could have happened.
  • The 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. Perhaps the most common method of showing this is Nobody Here but Us Statues, when not played for comedy. Another variant (which has admittedly become discredited as Technology Marches On) is The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House.

Scare chords and cues may be used to reinforce the effect, but it seems to work best when there's no music at all. The camera might slowly close in on the "nothing", either as a character musters the courage to open the door, enter the dark depths, or cowers abjectly at the impenetrable darkness.

This trope can be used in combination with several other tropes; Through the Eyes of Madness, Darkness Equals Death, Quieter Than Silence, Leave the Camera Running, Mind Screw, and Obscured Special Effects are some examples. Since the space is empty, it may also appear as a part of Space Madness, usually as the second variant. Anything will do as long as the result is scary. Paranoia Fuel is a near-must.

In Real Life this trope is why it's terrifying to walk through a familiar dark room by yourself, through the woods or a secluded street at night, or why there is a promise of something after death (as opposed to Cessation of Existence, which is the ultimate nothingness) in every single religion. This is one horror trope everyone is familiar with. It's also a reason why the Silent Treatment can be an especially damaging punishment, both emotionally and sometimes even physically.

Compare and contrast And I Must Scream, Cat Scare, Creepy Basement, Daylight Horror, Gory Discretion Shot, Jump Scare, Monster Delay, Ultimate Evil, and The Unreveal. One of the counterarguments against leaving nothing to the imagination, and sometimes an argument against Gorn as well.

Interestingly, this is probably what makes people afraid of whatever The New Rock & Roll is.

Not to be confused with Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here, Empty Room Psych, or It's Quiet... Too Quiet.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Justified in the Anime adaption of Another. The person that was supposed to tell the main character everything was out sick for his first day. The result is the main character is just as scared as the viewer is for several episodes. This is lampshaded several times.
  • All the episodes of Kagewani show scenes that something is hunting down civilians from out of nowhere. Near the end of each episode, it shows a reveal that a cryptid chooses to reveal itself.
  • In the early part of Shiki, a lot of the horror comes from the fact that nobody in universe or out has any way of knowing who or when the vampires will attack next—instead characters just mysteriously develop anemia and before their friends and family can do anything sensible, they're dead.
  • The last few episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Due to the budget starting to really run low, many scenes are dragged out beyond what appears reasonable. This includes a short moment during End of Evangelion, when Shinji finds the destroyed Unit-02, and we get treated to multiple very gory shots. Or in EOE, when Asuka is lying in the water, repeatedly saying "I don't want to die". That shot alone lasts for just about a minute, while the camera is slowly zooming in on Unit-02... And it's creepy as hell.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, while we see what it's like from the point of view of Buu's victims, no one knows what happens to the androids after they are absorbed by Cell.
  • Invoked in a very unique fashion towards the end of the first volume of My Lovely Ghost Kana. Five pages of pure black with only a short paragraph of text on two of them. In context, it is a scary, tear-inducing moment of anxiety before finding out which sort of ending is coming - happy, sad, or downright devastating.
  • Subverted in episode 65 of Naruto. Gaara is on his way to his fight with Sasuke, only to run into two men who tell him that their superior has placed a bet on Sasuke and he needs to lose. And as this was before his Heel–Face Turn, Gaara proceeds to kill them. And we hear nothing but his footsteps getting louder and louder as he then walks down the hall and approaches the stairs, where Shikamaru and Naruto are. Them and the audience are fully expecting Gaara to kill them or at least attack them, but he doesn't do anything. He just walks past them as if they aren't even there. And it is terrifying.

    Comic Books 
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: There is a noise in the back door. Ben and May thought that it was Peter, who usually uses that door. They call for him... and nothing. Silence. They both realized that something was wrong, because of the kind of silence. And then, the burglar appears, with a gun.

    Comic Strips 
  • Done for comedy in one week-long series of FoxTrot strips. 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.)

    Fan Works 
  • In-Universe: the final room in the haunted fun house in Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has nothing but a few doors and an exit... unless you count the fake Monster Clown behind one door or the creepy poltergeist girl that shows up later.
    The lights flickered once more before they finally went out completely.
    Everyone in the group suddenly hugged each other, deathly afraid of losing anyone.
    And a moment later, they heard Thunderstorm's screams. He screamed and screamed as loud as he could, sounding as though his terror quadrupled as he continued to scream. The scream turned into a screech, and the screech turned into a shriek, and then the shriek continued for a solid three seconds.
    And then it stopped.
    It happened so suddenly, they were almost deafened by the silence.
    Five seconds later, the lights came back on, and when it did, the door was open, allowing the sunlight and cold air of the mountain to flow through the room.
    Everyone remained frozen on the spot for at least another minute, each of them too horrified by what had transpired to budge from their spot.
    • One of the Halloween specials "Pranking The Ghosts" had the moment where the ghost pulls Andy and Sherman back into the house after this line:
    Don't go in that house.
  • Used literally, to truly frightening effect, in the Thor fanfic Out of Time. Nowhere is unknowable and Nothing is perfect...
  • A downplayed version works in the heroes' favor in Fist of the Moon. The senshi all have a disguise field that protects their identity, and everyone from Genma to Amazon elders unanimously agree that being unable to remember someone's face while looking straight at them is very unsettling.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: In Acts III and IV, Hokuto somehow knows enough about Tsukune and his True Companions, as well as their past battle with Kuyou, to be able to play both sides for his Evil Plan. Not only that, but he was also aware that the Artifact of Doom he needed for said plan was hidden in Yokai Academy, that Kenzo knew where Felucia's Soul Jar was located, and finally where Tsukune's family lived. We never do find out how he knew so much despite first appearing in Act III; he just does.
  • Robb Returns: In chapter 97, it is shown that the Hightower has, deep in its basement, a mysterious gate which, ever since magic returned to Westeros, has been glowing sick green and causes such uneasiness on anyone standing near enough that guards are limited to two-hour shifts so they will not go crazy. But the worst thing is that something is trying to break that gate open.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the 1967 Disney animated version of The Jungle Book, Shere Khan does not physically appear until two-thirds through it. Before that, he is all built up so you know how formidable he is. It is not Shere Khan himself but his reputation as a ferocious man-eater that compels the wolves to send Mowgli to the man-village.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Unlike the Peter Jackson versions, we never see Sauron in full. The most we ever get is his shadow, that of a man in a horned helmet, but everything else is kept a mystery. Even so, there's always fear in peoples' voices whenever they talk about him.

    Literature 
  • In the works of Stephen King:
    • The short story "The Reaper's Image", one of his first published stories, focuses on something seemingly innocuous: a mirror with a black smudge that sometimes appears in the corner. The smudge doesn't appear for most people. But the few people who do see it, for some reason, become terrified and flee the room. Once they do — and once they are out of sight of any other human being — they are never seen again.
    • The short story "The Jaunt" has teleportation. It is virtually instantaneous for physical things. However, if someone is not put to sleep, the mental time taken seems endless. All people see is a featureless whiteness. Eventually "the mind turns on itself."
    • In his nonfiction book on the horror genre, Danse Macabre, he explains it like this: "So you build up suspense with noise and some scary lighting, and then they open the door and there's a 10 foot tall cockroach standing there. And the audience screams, but after a few minutes everyone's settled down again because everyone is saying, 'At least it wasn't a 100 foot tall cockroach...' and when you show them a 100 foot tall cockroach, they say to themselves, 'At least it wasn't a 1000 foot tall cockroach...'. So what you do is hold off on showing them the 10 foot tall cockroach as long as possible."
    • This trope is heavily used, played straight, played with and subverted in the opening chapter of It. Little Georgie Denbrough is nearly mad with fear during the seemingly endless minute he's searching for the box of paraffin at the top of the cellar stairs, imagining that something hairy and clawed crouched down there will grab and eat him at any second. But nothing bad happens to him; there's no monster, he gets the box and his fear sloughs off once he closes the cellar door. Then later, when he's sailing the boat he and Bill made and it's sucked down the stormdrain, he sees the clown Pennywise inside. As he sticks his hand into the drain to get the boat (and his balloon), he's not expecting anything bad to happennote , because all his senses are telling him "it's OK, everything is all right." Then Pennywise seizes his arm, he turns his head, sees the clown's face change into what Pennywise really looks like...and King refuses to tell the readers exactly what it is that Georgie sees in his final moments, only that it "was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams; what he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke."
  • 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 extremely venomous spider under the handle kill you. The thing is, Fezzik gets so panicked that he smashes the door off its hinges, and Inigo steps on the spider as it tries to escape.
  • The Red Room by H. G. Wells.
  • The Curious Sofa by Edward Gorey. Heroine Alice has spent the book happily indulging in every kind of sexual hi-jinks, but the titular sofa fills her with "a shudder of nameless apprehension". When it's turned on, our POV in the accompanying illustrations slowly pans away from the sofa to an empty corner of the room, and the following are the last lines of the book:
    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...
  • The famous short story "The Monkey's Paw" wields this trope to terrifying effect. The couple's first wish gets them the money they wanted, but it comes in the form of compensation for their son's death. The horror summoned by the second wish is never revealed, because the old man uses the third wish to send it back just before it opens the door.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has plenty of this because of the lull in the action. The Big Bad doesn't make a single appearance except in flashbacks, and Draco keeps sneaking around and is clearly up to something big. This builds up to some of the franchise's most intense and terrifying scenes in the final few chapters.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort invokes this after his takeover of the Ministry of Magic and infiltration of Hogwarts - he at first doesn't make it clear he's taken over the Ministry. If he had, say, proclaimed himself Minister right away, people obviously would have realized right away that the Ministry had fallen, been quicker to take precautions and protect themselves and each other, and been more active in resisting him. Instead, he placed a Ministry official under the Imperious curse, had him be the official Minister, acting as a puppet for Voldemort, while Voldemort himself remained in hiding with only his most trusted followers, carrying out his Evil Plan in private. The result? Most people, even those not in the Order realize something is going on, especially as anti-Muggle supremacy spreads, but no one is sure what, and thanks to the fact that anyone could be working for Voldemort, this leads to a whole lot of suspicion, distrust, fear, panic, and no one being sure what to do. Sure enough, once Voldemort officially declares war on Hogwarts, most of the wizarding world springs into action to stop him.
  • In the works of Edgar Allan Poe:
    • In "The Raven", the narrator answers the tapping at his chamber door to find "darkness there, and nothing more."
    • The prisoner who recounts his captivity in a dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition in "The Pit and the Pendulum" discovers a deep pit in the middle of his prison chamber. Despite having already endured various tortures, a look down into the pit horrifies him more than anything—but he doesn't tell what he saw in the pit.
  • The Magician's Nephew (the prequel to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia) makes some use of this trope with the deadened world of Charn, in which there's absolutely no life whatsoever until Digory and Polly find the evil Empress Jadis, leaving them to wonder what happened and what purpose all the empty and silent structures they pass along the way served. Though Jadis pretty well explains all this to them later and what she tells them is pretty terrible, her description is not quite as creepy as the place was when they didn't know. Also, as Digory tells Polly later when Jadis escapes into their world and is at large making trouble, "When there's a wasp in the room, I like to know where it is." In other words, running into Jadis again, dangerous and menacing as she is, is nowhere near so bad as not running into her and knowing that she's still at large being dangerous and menacing to all of London.
    • The nothingness on Charn is not helped at all by the warning next to the bell, which seems to invoke this trope: The gist of it is that something bad will happen if you ring the bell, and nothing will happen if you don't... but the latter will scare you more than the former.
    • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a group of invisible people force Lucy to go into the house of a powerful and terrifying magician, to find his book of spells and use it to make the people visible again. Lucy finds the book and completes her task safely, but the walk through the house to find the thing is terrifying, especially since the magician himself is invisible and can walk soundlessly. There's also the part where she finds the book, which is set on a podium in the middle of the room. To read it, Lucy has to stand with her back to the doorway. She feels incredibly vulnerable because of this, and wishes very much that there was a door to close. After she casts the spell, she learns that the magician is good. The walk out of the house is far less scary.
  • In Coraline, the protagonist encounters this when facing down the cocoon with something unseen inside. She gets through it by realizing that, logically, nothing can be worse than the moment of staring at it, terrified.
    • In a previous scene, she was walking down a hallway, hearing tapping sounds from a nearby room, which is either water dripping from the tap, or the Other Mother drumming her fingers on the table. She kept walking without looking.
    • In another scene, the Other Mother disappears immediately after shaking hands with Coraline to agree to the game. Coraline's creeped out by this— she prefers the Other Mother to have a definitive location, because if she's nowhere, then she could be anywhere. And of course, it's always easier to be afraid of something you cannot see.
  • Lampshaded, of course, in Witches Abroad when Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg agree that nothing they find under a certain trap door could be worse than what they can imagine.
  • This trope is the heart of William Gibson's short story "Hinterlands", which concerns an interdimensional "highway" and its effects on the astronauts who travel it. The Fear, as it's called in the story, visits those who even think too much about what's on the other side. The astronauts who actually go there all come back insane or dead by their own hands.
  • One of H.P. Lovecraft's signature styles, where he describes the monster(s) only partially... and allows the readers' minds to assemble them from that description, if any is given.
    • He's probably at his scariest when he tells you absolutely nothing about what's happening; see "The Music of Erich Zann" for an example.
    • At other times, on the other hand, he gives meticulous, almost clinically scientific descriptions of what the creatures are like. But in At the Mountains of Madness he combines the two ways of storytelling, and describes the creatures to the most minute detail when they are in hibernating state and assumed dead, but at no point does the narrator see them move or do anything - he only sees the results of the massacre that took place once they woke up on the autopsy table. Also, whatever it was that Danforth saw that psychologically scarred him. We never even get any real hints beyond the idea that it may either be a mirage, a hallucination brought on by extreme stress, or something so terrible that even the Elder-Things feared it. It also doesn't help that Danforth's ramblings (the only clues he ever shares about what it was) mention several unrelated creatures such as Yog-Sothoth and the Colour out of Space.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire children experience this trope when they are shoved down a dark, empty elevator shaft. The following two pages are filled entirely in black, after which the author writes that he couldn't possibly describe what their screaming sounded like.
  • This is actually fairly common in Gothic Romanticism. Ann Radcliffe wrote what amounted to a treatise on horror writing. Essentially, "terror" is the feeling that precedes an event, while "horror" is the revulsion felt during/after said event. The former is, by far, more difficult to pull off. Scaring the audience without a visible threat is no small feat, but, as the other examples show, it tends to be much, much more effective. Her 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 that someone is in her room without her knowing it.
  • Seven words from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: "Ellen...I am coming up the stairs..."
  • Fundamental to Lamplight, which features an invasion of un-named beings who can never be physically seen - only their shadows are visible.
  • A literal example, which crosses with The Nothing After Death and Cessation of Existence: The Neverending Story (and its movie adaptation) has an Eldritch Abomination called The Nothing, which is a sudden erasing of existing things. The Nothing itself isn't ever described in the book. In fact, it's implied that it cannot be described by any other word than "nothing"... One character tries to describe a lake being claimed by the Nothing and fails. The lake did not become a hole or a dried-up lake, because then there would be a hole or a dried lake bed. No, the only thing that was left was simply nothing. Later, when Atreyu takes a look at the Nothing from afar, he can't even glance at it head-on, and his eyes hurt just from seeing it, because his brain can't comprehend it. It isn't blackness, it isn't even empty space, because blackness can be comprehended and empty space is something that can be occupied. The Nothing is quite simply something that isn't. And it's disturbing! (Or just confusing...)
  • Mentioned fairly explicitly in the H. G. Wells story The Invisible Man when the invisible man finally reveals himself:
    They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing!
  • In The Hobbit it's flat-out stated that the scariest thing Bilbo had to do in his whole adventure was walk down the lightless tunnel to Smaug's lair. Not the dragon himself, not the giant spiders from Mirkwood, not the Goblins, Trolls or Wolves from the Misty Mountains, just the tunnel and the crippling fear of not knowing if a dragon was sleeping at the end of it.
  • In Out of the Dark, the Shongairi find the silence more disturbing than facing the destruction humans can cause in direct combat.
  • In The Little Sister, the series takes an unusual turn when the conclusion has Marlowe investigating an isolated estate on a private road. The lack of traffic or people makes it eerily quiet as it is, but then even Marlowe himself suddenly announces something seems off.
    [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.
  • Done twofold in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
    • Scrooge is warned that the first spirit will come at one o'clock that night, the second at one o'clock the next night, and the last on the final chime of midnight. After seeing the first spirit, he waits for the second, unaware that the spirit is in fact waiting for him.
      Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was by no means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling.
    • Then, of course, there was the Ghost Of Christmas Yet to Come, who is always shrouded in a cloak and never speaks.
  • Both played straight and played with in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which starts out creepy and just gets worse from there. From the moment Charlie Marlow begins speaking (to the unnamed narrator who frames the story) he makes clear that he has learned something that destroyed his innocence, but for the longest time he won't say precisely what it was. Then, as he launches into his tale about journeying to the Congo, he alternates between building more suspense on the one hand and outright describing horrible things on the other (Fresleven's slaying, for example); the genius of it is that even the horrible things, which at worst are merely gruesome, become terrifying in the context of what is revealed later. Very early, Marlow speaks of the Congo as a "snake" that bewitched him, compelling him to take up a job on a steamer there...for reasons even he couldn't fully understand. Once he gets there, it's not too long before he starts to hear about and even see some pretty horrible things - but he tries to ignore them at first, and even though he now knows what is happening, he still doesn't know why. The greatest riddle is put before him when he tries to peer into the impenetrable African jungle, noting that it looks like nothing he's ever seen in Europe, and reflecting that the immense vegetation, the humidity and the steam are together creating an atmosphere of tantalizing mystery that he simply must know about. "What was in there?" he asks himself - and also disturbingly slips into anthropomorphization when he wonders, "Would we handle [it], or would it handle us?" What Marlow eventually learns, of course, is that it's not the jungle itself that is creepy; it's what happens to "civilized" men when they go into the jungle.
  • Thomas Cromwell invokes this in Bring Up the Bodies when interrogating Mark Smeaton, whom he's accusing of adultery with Anne Boleyn and needs more names from. He chides Wriothesley for mentioning the rack and in fact declines to use actual torture in favor of letting Mark's own imagination destroy him. Nighttime, an oblique comment that they'll "write down what you say but not necessarily what we do," and putting him into a lightless closet full of sharp and strangely-shaped objectsnote  leave Smeaton barely coherent the next morning.
  • In Daughter of the Lioness, the first part of the Balitang family's trip to their estates are marked by dozens of raka villagers watching them silently from the sides of the paths, the adjourning boats and so on. When the watchers suddenly vanish, Aly guesses that something's wrong, and when she realises that all the animals have stopped making sounds, she knows there's something wrong. They get attacked shortly afterwards.
  • In The Man in the High Castle, it's never explained exactly what Nazi Germany is doing in Africa, as none of the characters who know like to think about it. But with references to a "big, empty ruin," Human Resources, vast construction of some kind, the reinstatement of African slavery, and one description of "the billion chemical heaps that are now not even corpses," it must go beyond just a Final Solution.
  • The Fifth Wave: The motive of The Others is seemingly just Kill All Humans. They wipe out all power grids, send tsunamis and a modified flu to kill off 99% of the population, but nobody seems to know why.
  • Made mundane in The Pearl, where the "Pearl of the World" found by the pearl-diver Kino eventually attracts the attention of two hired "trackers"; they are never identified as or associated with anyone.

    Music 
  • It is common 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.
    • My Chemical Romance: 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.
    • The final track on Biffy Clyro's Infinity Land is followed by around eight minutes of silence, and our patience is rewarded with... something truly horrible. This example is notable because the bonus track is every bit as scary as the silence, if not scarier.
  • 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.
  • In the Einstürzende Neubauten song "Seele Brennt", there are various moments when you just hear drums playing, and then the other instruments join in. Around three and a half minutes into the song, the drums start playing on their own, and, after only a couple of seconds of silence, Blixa Bargeld lets in with what could only be called an inhuman screech, which is very loud, and ultimately terrifying.

    Theatre 
  • This is the undercurrent running through "Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)" in Jesus Christ Superstar. It's not the torture and death that awaits him that disturbs Jesus the most; it's the uncertainty of what will happen after his death, which is guaranteed by his Father's silence on the matter. Definitely an unspoken acknowledgment of Cessation of Existence, not only for Jesus but, by extension, the entire human race.
    Jesus: But if I die
    See the saga through and do the things you ask of me
    Let them hate me, hit me, hurt me
    Nail me to their tree
    I'd want to know, I'd want to know, my God...
    I'd want to see, I'd want to see, my God...
    Why I should die.
    Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?
    Would the things I've said and done matter anymore?
    I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord...
    I'd have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord...
    If I die, what will be my reward?
  • The Propeller Shakespeare Company, an all-male Shakespearean troupe based in England, did this to remarkable effect in their production of Richard III. It was set in a Bedlam House, and featured horrifically gory murders that kept escalating until someone was being eviscerated with a chainsaw in a barely-concealed Gory Discretion Shot. But the scariest murder of them all occurred with the two young princes. Richard hires an assassin to get rid of them; the Company imagined that assassin as a mute Psychopathic Manchild with a broad, empty-eyed grin and toys sitting on his belt. The sequence played as follows: the princes (played by puppets) put on their nightcaps and went into a small space under a flight of stairs; the assassin emerged from the shadows and followed them; the stage was totally silent with the exception of a ticking clock...and then, after a minute, the assassin exited the space, now clutching the nightcaps. We have no idea what he did to the boys, or how long it took—our imaginations paint the picture for us, and it is terrifying.

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Adventurers!: Faced with the video game version of walking around a dark, dangerous hole in the ground, Gildward is clueless.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, chapter five. Sigrun, Emil and Lalli are investigating an old community space. Cue creepy dark space, corridors that appear to be blocked from the inside, and freakin' hospital beads all over the place. Creepiness dawns, but Sigrun assures the boys that there are no signs it's a nest... and then she finds Meat Moss, sure sign that it is a nest... And then Emil bumps into two trolls.
  • 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. Worse, when Lars and Augie tell the story, this is when they note that something is very very 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!"
  • Awful Hospital: Dr. Man, at least from what little we've seen of him, is what appears to be a normal human doctor. He's a bit odd-looking for a human, but not unrealistically, and compared to everything else in the hospital he's incredibly ordinary. After all that's come before, being relatively normal is what makes him scary.

    Web Original 
  • 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].
    • 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.
    • 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 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 worst part about it? She HAS to be alive, awake, and aware for the procedure to work.
    • SCP-579 is described simply as [DATA EXPUNGED]. However, it's kept in an alternate universe created by another SCP. Procedure if that doesn't work? Destroy that alternate universe. Procedure if that doesn't work? "In the event of an unsuccessful Action 10-Israfil-B, no further action will be necessary." In fact, this trope is why the containment procedures always come before the description. Unless you cheat and skip ahead, you start out knowing nothing about the thing but the increasingly Long List of just what it takes to make sure the thing never sees the light of day, and if it's done right, you're scared before the section after that, which tells what it is, and the section after that, that tells what it did last time it was in the general population.
    • There's one artifact that actually, in-universe, is basically this trope in a box. What's done to contain it is epic, more so than some artifacts known to be capable of ending the world. Then you find out what it is: it's a box that makes a ticking sound, like a clock. What is it counting down to? How much time is left? Being near it makes you incredibly paranoid about that, but that is all it does. Maybe. Perhaps the real danger is that the object's memetic paranoia will cause widespread panic if too many people realize its existence.
  • 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.
    • And of course the series based around Slendy, Marble Hornets. Think Blair Witch Project to the 10th power.
    • It says something about the series that one of the scariest clips shown is a bald man in a business suit walking into a dark bedroom. Bald all over.
    • Tribe Twelve, starting with Night Recording.
    • This trope also contributes to why some find Slender Man to be Nightmare Retardant, due to the belief that he might not do anything to his victims beyond staring at them.
    • Everyman HYBRID, in I'm Okay. It starts out rather quiet, before suddenly springing incredibly loud distortion on you. Expect to have full britches afterwards.
  • The Haunted Majoras Mask ARG has several, 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 then 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
  • 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 Dot 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  magnify the apprehension of the viewer, building up to the surreal and VERY creepy use of 3D model faces, in between a pattern of long pauses and sudden transitions. And the little static hisses on the soundtrack during those pauses ramps up the tension even further if you can use them to mark time before the faces and music kick in.
  • It begins as an Affectionate Parody of Silent Hill, so You Awaken In Razor Hill makes use of this trope regularly. As the protagonist discovers more and more of what is out there (and could be approaching or hidden in the shadows), the periods of no activity get far more (scrape) tense.
  • At the end of The Nostalgia Critic's already-dark review of James and the Giant Peach, the screen goes dark and there's a mess of noisy shots. Nasty, but not particularly scary. But then there's two seconds worth of complete silence, and one last bullet rings out. It's bloody creepy. Critic apparently picked up some tricks from all that written abuse, as one of the scariest moments in "The Review Must Go On" is when Doug sees a shadow of Critic just beyond the corner of his wall, and he runs away when Doug notices.
  • In To Boldly Flee, 8-Bit Mickey goes berserk after Prick pushes his Berserk Button (his height). We have absolutely no idea what happened, only that afterwards, Mickey's shirt was covered in blood (including "help me"), it severed a hand, and while Prick is dead for all interacting with the rest of the world purposes, he's still technically alive.
  • In Worm, Lung believes in an inversion of this: the fear of the unknown is a weak fear, he says, that is broken the moment the actual threat hidden within the unknown is revealed. He believes that a far greater fear is knowing exactly what the threat is, and knowing that you are utterly helpless against said threat.
  • The Immagetchu from Doraleous And Associates is only seen on camera briefly, and is largely depicted as a squeaky voice in the distance saying "I'mma get you!" and a hand from Behind the Black performing a Vertical Kidnapping. It manages to be creepy once we see it, too.
  • The main idea behind Max Giladri's The Northern Incident. The video starts off with a fisherman and his dog staying in a shack up in the Yukon Territories for a few days, only for their truck to be stolen by an unseen stranger; as time goes by, the fisherman was slowly being cut off from the rest of the world, all while hearing someone knocking on the door (and later all over the shack by these unwelcome guests), only to find no one outside. A Take That! towards Furries has never been more frightening than what this video demonstrated.
  • While Shitbrix are usually type 3, some Shitbrix pictures are actually animated, culminating in a Jump Scare. Be careful while looking at Shitbrix pictures...
  • Nikolay Yeriomin's trilogy of web-released short films named Trilogy of Senseless basically illustrates varying degrees of this trope. While first short, Rpik has nearly nothing occurring, it generally gives viewers slightly unpleasant feeling. Book of the Senseless on the other hand unleashes on the unsuspecting viewer massive amount of this mixed with incoherent and quite unnerving barely explained events happening in someone's basement. And if you look closely at the post-credits scene of the Book, you may notice what is essentially a link to a third installement, which was specifically made as a second for the purpose of this trick...

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: In the episode "Potty Emergency," Wakko, desperate for relief, enters a gas station bathroom. What he sees inside is not shown (other than legions of fleeing cockroaches), but the condition of the lavatory rattles his very sanity.
  • 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, Sylvester is sent back up, white as a ghost, and so traumatized that he can barely walk. We never find out what the mice did to him.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: In episode 26, Professor Pericles confronts Ed Machine, telling him he wants him to deliver a message to Mr. E... before Pericles admits that he doesn't actually intend to say anything, resulting in a Scream Discretion Shot with the sound of wings flapping. It's never revealed exactly what happened, but Word of God confirms that Pericles did indeed kill Ed Machine.
  • The Powerpuff Girls has an example in the one-shot villain, the Robbing Leech, who uses his Lamprey Mouth to drain a person's memories, allowing him to use that information to steal their valuables. What makes him so creepy is how little we know about him. While most of the villains in the show have at least some semblance of a backstory, he doesn't. There's little to no information on who he is, how he got his powers, or for that matter if he's even human. He's more or less just there.
  • Used to a truly terrifying degree in the animated film Superman: Doomsday. The cloned Superman, who is in full Knight Templar mode, has just rescued an elderly woman's Persian cat from a tree, then goes on to give an eerily calm speech on how it annoys him that people don't take responsibility for the small things as it keeps him from focusing on real emergencies. Adam Baldwin's chilling voice acting truly sells the scene. Throughout his speech, you're on the edge of your seat wondering if he's gonna kill the cat, kill the old lady, or kill them both.
    Superman: Now you know, Persian longhairs really shouldn't be outdoors. ... It really irks me when folks don't take responsibility for the little things. Don't get me wrong—I'm here to help. But every time I have to stop and sweat the small stuff, it potentially keeps me from attending to more urgent matters. Life-threatening matters. You may wanna think about that next time you leave the screen door open.
  • Used in-universe in the Doug episode "Doug's Nightmare on Jumbo Street". Doug watches "The Abnormal", a horror movie about a shape-shifting monster whose true form is just off-screen for most of the movie. It works so well Doug can't bring himself to look during The Reveal, and he ends up having nightmares about it. Doug eventually works up the nerve to see the movie one last time and get a good look at the monster, and it turns out to be a guy in an ugly costume with a zipper on the back.
  • In the early parts of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we see a peaceful scene with Rudolph's father teaching him the ways of the reindeer. Then suddenly, the father looks up in horror at a horrific roar, and quickly hides himself and his son under a snow bank. The music gets very dark, and we see two giant, furry legs walk by accompanied by more ferocious roaring. The narrator explains that it's the Abominable Snow Monster of the North, a gigantic monster who eats reindeer, threatens the entire North Pole, and hates Christmas. We don't see the thing until halfway through the special, but the ominous specter of the beast looms over the special until his first appearance. Even then, it's led up by Rudolph and Hermie struggling through a dark, stormy night and then hearing the distant roars of the beast. Once we see the whole thing, though, it's not as scary. Though there is a scary moment where Rudolph is journeying back towards the North Pole, and we hear the beast roar again as he approaches where it's inevitably waiting.
  • Used to brilliant effect in Ed, Edd n Eddy's Big Picture Show. The series proper is famous for its unique, zany sound effects and bombastic music... and so the movie begins with nearly two minutes of dead silence, with not a soul in sight. Even before the sudden Wham Shot of the aftermath of a scam Gone Horribly Wrong, it's crystal clear that something seriously bad has happened. The worst part is that the audience never learns exactly what happened, just that the end result was catastrophic even by the Eds' usual standards, and the cul-de-sac kids are enraged far beyond just wanting to hurt the Eds - they legitimately want them dead. It's essentially O.O.C. Is Serious Business, except the very world itself is what's O.O.C. in this case, with the effect being that the viewer is left wondering throughout the film, "What the hell happened?".

Nothing at all

    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. For instance, we know Taro and his sister Mizuka were kidnapped as children and that Mizuka died as a result, but during flashbacks we never see the kidnapper's face or actually learn what killed Mizuka.
  • Boogiepop Phantom: the Deliberately Monochrome and False Camera Effects make the entire show look like some insane nightmare.
  • Possibly unintentional, but there is a certain uncanny air 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 Brynhildr in the Darkness, 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.
  • 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.
  • Soul Eater
    • One of the scariest anime scenes is when Medusa's cronies enter the tomb of Asura, who had to be sealed away after he went mad and turned into a demon. The heroes have been fighting desperately to try and prevent Asura's rebirth, but just when the tension is highest, we are faced with a vast, shadowy room, completely silent but for the occasional clinking of chains. And Asura, waiting somewhere up ahead.
    • Asura himself qualifies for this. Despite being the Big Bad, and a near-constant threat due to his madness infecting the world, he barely ever makes an appearance. It's eventually revealed that he's been hiding on the Moon the whole time, watching...
    • And when the heroes learn of this and track him down, descending deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Moon, until they can sense his presence right in front of them...there's no one there. Just darkness. Then, comes the sound of a heartbeat.
  • In universe example from Pluto. When they examined human killer (and Expy of Hannibal Lecter) Brau 1589 for the malfunction that caused him to avert Three-Laws Compliant what did they find? Nothing. There was no error in his programming and thus nothing to suggest that any other robot couldn't do the same. As a result of the latter implication, the authorities are too afraid to even kill him until they can discover how this can be possible.

    Arts 

    Audio Plays 
  • 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 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 Gigantic Beard That Was Evil: We never find out what There actually is or what exists across the sea. We never find out why There ended up invading in the form of Dave's beard either, which is actually addressed in-story.
  • The Walking Dead has this in one of its most infamous defining moments in issue 66. Rick and his group have outsmarted the group of cannibal hunters that have been stalking them and although they promise not to eat them, they will still kill them. Rick tells the others to hold them down, and then the comic cuts to the aftermath. All we see are the bloody weapons they used on the hunters and the mess left behind before the group throws the dead bodies into a fire. We never find out exactly how the hunters were killed, but this event is referred to several times by the group members, wondering if they went too far and what they have become because of this moment.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pony POV Series has the first Big Bad of the Reharmonized Series Loneliness, a Shapeshifter and Trixie's Enemy Within. We never find out if any of the forms she assumes are her true one, if she even has one, or what she is. Is she a figment of Trixie's imagination? A split personality? An Eldritch Abomination? Some kind of parasitic monster? We don't know, and Word of God has invoked Multiple-Choice Past on her so we'll probably never find out. Made even worse by the fact there's a complete chapter between our first notice of her existence and actually seeing her. It's quite effective at making her legitimately terrifying.
  • Royal Heights has the Elite undergoing their first Vision under the Headmaster's guidance which is a literal look into pure nothingness. It's meant to help them understand that nothingness takes place of everything that once existed but all it really does is terrify them.
  • In Wizard Runemaster, when Harry and company explore the bottom half of Karazhan (which is a direct mirror of the above ground tower), they find absolutely nothing for most of the journey. Just a lot of evidence that there used to be many horrific things locked away there.
  • In the Italian remake of Battle Fantasia Project there's a mention of the White Dragon of the Anglo-Saxons trying to force the centaurs of the Lands of Myth into becoming his minions. He disappeared, and, thanks to those who knew dying without telling anyone, nobody knows what the centaurs did to him.
  • In the fanfic Concerning a Drifter, what happened to Ryuuko isn't described in full detail but it's obvious by implication. Likewise and invoked when Satsuki (and Houka) come across an illegal website, the which is only described as "total depravity" and, while watching a video, she had "no words" for what she had seen, both of those things not being named (besides the video's title being apt).
  • In chapters nine and ten (and, like many other examples, laced with Fridge Horror) of Lost, Found, we find out that some time ago, there was the first test subject and, according to Nui, due to the experiments, the girl, "Child 00-000-000-0001", was left as something "not human" and that "animal" could be the closest they could call her, which makes one wonder as to what the experiments did to her and what they could have done to her and Ryuuko. What doesn't help that is that a good many of the test subjects died.

    Films — Animation 
  • Man from Bambi. We never see the hunters. Ever. And the result is one of the creepiest villains of Disney history. Especially effective is the silence of the scene of Bambi's mother's killing, since the hunters are so stealthy that we don't hear a sound from them until the shot that slays Bambi's mother rings out - yet the mother still knows they're coming (perhaps she can smell them).
  • Finding Nemo has the trench scene, one of the most effectively ominous moments of the film as the characters never enter the terrifying trench and find out what lies inside, apart from the skeleton of a fish at its entrance. Ironically, the trench was said to be the safer route and the wide open space ends up proving more dangerous.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, while he is primarily remembered for his descriptions of Alien Geometries and Cosmic Horror, used descriptions of casual landscapes or events were just as equally unsettling and creepy.
    • We're talking about a man here who in "Cool Air" managed to make a description of an ordinary rental apartment in the middle of a hot summer day, with the narrator in the company of the landlady and two burly mechanics suspenseful and creepy.
  • House of Leaves was built on this. The house and the Minotaur are terrifying because you can't possibly know when they'll strike. Tom nearly goes insane from this, which gets all better when he smokes a few joints. But the same sensation drives Halloway to suicide and traumatizes everyone who was in the house, including Karen who never actually went into the mysterious parts of the house and Johnny, who didn't even know whether it existed.
    • It could be said they go to an even greater extreme on this, really. The climax of the book, where the house makes its most "aggressive" attempt on its inhabitants, isn't the end. Unlike the standard horror movie, where the family stands outside the smoldering ruins of the haunted house, minus one or two members, and the hero grimly says "It's over" (until the sequel), the family flees to another state and the house remains where it is. The story continues, and one of the characters returns simply because he can't stop picking at it in his mind. Even after that return, the book goes on in Truant's narrative, then terminates...several times. When it finally ends, the reader is left unsure of where they are and if the story is truly over, or even if it ended and the narrative kept going on. It's a truly labyrinthine and truly disconcerting effect.
  • The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock upon the door. This is known as the shortest horror story ever. However, another author was able to modify this story to make it scarier:
    The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a lock 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, 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.
  • This ironic and somewhat disturbing poem by Archibald MacLeish (see also The End of the World as We Know It trope):
    Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
    The armless ambidextrian was lighting
    A match between his great and second toe,
    And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
    The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
    Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
    In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb—-
    Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:
    And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
    Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
    There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
    There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
    There in the sudden blackness the black pall
    Of nothing, nothing, nothing —- nothing at all.
  • A rare in-universe example is from Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, when Dragon threatens to eat the protagonist for trespassing.
    Dragon: "I am frightened of nothing."
    Fat Charlie: "Nothing?"
    Dragon: "Nothing."
    Fat Charlie: "Are you extremely frightened of nothing?"
    Dragon: "Absolutely terrified of it."
    Fat Charlie: "I have nothing in my pockets. Would you like to see it?"
    Dragon: "No, I most definitely would not."
  • In Seeker Bears, Lusa comes across a forest with dead trees everywhere. But she realizes that the scariest part about the dead forest...was the silence.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's classic short story —And He Built a Crooked House—, Quintus Teal the crazy architect and the Baileys are trapped inside their house which Teal designed and which has features of Bizarrchitecture and Alien Geometries. They lift the blinds of one of the windows - and they see nothing. Nothing at all.
  • The stories of stations wiped out by the Dark Ones from Metro 2033. Patrols go to the end of their routes and vanish. Guards are slaughtered without firing a single shot. The stations are wiped out to a man, with no corpses left behind, just lots of blood...
  • This story tells of a story that is so frightening that anyone who hears it dies of fright. Thankfully, the story it describes doesn't exist...
  • In The Lord of the Rings, when in Moria, the Company comes across a fork in the road, with one of three passageways all leading in the same direction they could choose from. The passage on the left led downwards while the passage on the right leads upward and the passage in the middle stays level, but is narrower than the other two. Gandalf does not recognize the fork at all, having had travelled only in the opposite direction through Moria before. They retire to the nearby guardroom to rest as Gandalf contemplated the path to take. Finally, he says, "I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide." Gandalf goes with the right passageway that leads upwards. One figures the left passageway probably was home to Orcs or something because of the odor, but what awaited errant travellers in that middle passageway that caused Gandalf to have such an intuition, such consternation? It's even worse in the movie adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring: When the drums start beating, there's a cut to the three paths...and torchlight appears in the middle.
  • In Bird Box, there is something outside whose appearance drives people into insanity. A mother and her two children flee to a safe place but to do so they have to cross a river while completely blindfolded. Much of the book is spent in complete darkness with the protagonist having to rely on her other senses and not knowing if something is out there or not.
  • An in-universe example in The Guns of the South. Nate Caudell witnesses a black mulatto slave on the run from her master, one of the AWB men. Later in the story the slave hangs herself which he learns about from a letter from Mollie. Nate wonders what could have driven the slave to escape and later kill herself. He is so shaken by the possibilities of the latter he tears up the letter from Mollie.
  • In the Imperial Radch series, Ghaon's solar system is surrounded by an invisible, undetectable, inexplicable phenomenon called the Crawl. All the characters or readers know is that any ship that tries to bypass it with Gate travel, open communications within it, or stray from very secret safe paths through will be destroyed — or left floating, dead and derelict, with no signs of distress.
  • In Aftermath: Empire's End, it is revealed that Palpatine claimed to have sensed a powerful signal through the Force from the Unknown Regions, one that not even Darth Vader could sense. He had theories about it, but it's never revealed what it is exactly. But whatever it could be, it tempted Palpatine so much that he tried to map out the Unknown Regions (an area of the galaxy on the map but largely unexplored), sending probes so he could create hyperspace routes for his Contingency Plan (a backup plan in the event of his death). But as for the Dark Side presence lurking out there, nothing is revealed about it — though it could very well be Supreme Leader Snoke, the leader of the First Order in the sequel trilogy, considering that the Imperials who escaped to the Unknown Regions after the Battle of Jakku eventually formed the First Order, and that Starkiller Base's origin point is located somewhere in the Unknown Regions. However, groups like the Acolytes of the Beyond also sensed this signal. Grand Admiral Thrawn might also know what's lurking out there, based on his knowledge of the Unknown Regions.
  • This is a main theme of the works of the Kyoto School of Buddhist Existentialism. According to them, every type of fear is based on the feeling that there is nothing and that this feeling of nothingness causes fear. One of the strongest sensation of "nothingness" is the idea of death. To live free, people have to confront their fears of nothingness.

    Music 
  • 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 David 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 similar design appears on the cover of Harvey Danger's album Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?
  • Possibly referenced in "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" by They Might Be Giants.
    Should you worry when the skullhead is in front of you
    Or is it worse because it's always waiting where your eyes don't go?
  • The Bad Plus and Wendy's Lewis's cover of Pink Floyd's famous "Comfortably Numb" replaces the "Aaaaaa-aa-aaaahhh!" that follows "there'll be no more" with several beats of complete silence. Considering most TBP fans probably expected the often bombastic trio to exaggerate that moment, it makes the silence all the more unsettling.
  • Steve Roden, and moreover the entire lowercase genre, make surprisingly good use out of this. With their songs being so minimal and abstract it gives the feeling of being lost and isolated.
  • Iron Maiden:
    • This appears to be what "Fear of the Dark" is getting at: it doesn't matter whether or not something is there, because the mere fact that it could be there is terrifying enough.
    • The cover of Maiden's upcoming 16th album, The Book of Souls. All there is is just Eddie... staring at you. Not making a crazy face, nothing in the background. Just Eddie staring right into your soul.
  • "Still Grey" by Pendulum makes use of this. The song isn't discordant, but it keeps picking up, being cheerful, but still not giving a drop or building up to anything. Then it just fades as it ends, giving an empty feeling.
  • Similarly, "The 2nd Law: Isolated System" by Muse is a song that never picks up completely. Much of the first half is just piano, soft guitar, a creepy voice repeating the phrase, "In an isolated system, the entropy can only increase.", with sound clips from radio broadcasts and a soft, distant trance beat. In the second half, after a short piano and string break, the song resumes the trance beat and Dom comes in with a pounding drumbeat, almost teasing the listener into thinking it's going to explode into something big and epic... and then it just winds down and closes, never taking off, leaving a fade out with said repeated voice repeating over and over. It's very unnerving.
  • "Mer Girl" from Madonna's album Ray of Light 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.
  • Norwegian satirist Odd Børretzen commented on this in his "musical monologue" called Redd (Scared), telling why it was necessary to remain in bed, and not, for any reason in the world, to leave it before morning:
    If I hear a man walking around in the attic with a wooden leg during the night, I will not go up to the attic to turn on the light, assuring myself that there is no man with a wooden leg there. I rather hide under my sheets until morning comes and removes the abomination. Because: If I go to the attic and confirms that there is nothing there, return to my bed, and still hear the man walking around in the attic with a wooden leg, then I know there is an invisible man walking around up there with a wooden leg. And does that actually make things better?
  • The Vocaloid song "Pilom-san"/"Mr. Pilom". The only lyrics of the song are "Pilom-san!" with the occasional droning "aaaaaaah". The accompanying video consists solely of "Pilom-san", a stick figure that appears to have crawled from the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley, standing there, staring off into space and occasionally acknowledging the lyrics, briefly looking at YOU and smiling the single most horrifying smile imaginable. The song and PV never once explain who or what Pilom-san is. He just seems to be...there.
  • David Bowie never revealed why exactly Major Tom's communication cut out at the end of "Space Oddity"...

    Podcasts 
  • Often used in Welcome to Night Vale, something which the purely audio-format makes particularly effective. We don't know what exactly re-education, Valentines Day or Street Cleaning entails, but we can imagine that it is terrible.
    Cecil: Listeners, the only thing more terrifying than seeing the devil is no longer being able to see the devil.

    Theatre 
  • 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 variant of Macbeth is going on around you.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eclipse Phase: the Gatecrashing sourcebook gets a lot of mileage out of alien worlds that are uninhabited but have the ruins of a lost civilization on them; extinction is a major theme in the game, and as a result a lot of areas are left completely depopulated. Some of them go the extra mile, like the planet where there's a massive, self-repairing virtual reality network, with easily enough storage space for the minds of an entire planetary populace...but the network seems to be empty, with simple programs and predesigned environments but no actually intelligent beings, and no-one is quite sure why.
    • Note that there is one known living sentient alien race, the Factors, who for some reason they haven't explained do not use Pandora Gates and strongly advise transhumanity against using them either.
    • There is also the belief that the Solar System's Gates were built by the TITANS, those hyper-advance AIs who almost wiped out transhumanity, which makes one wonder who built the others systems' Gates. The GM-only section confirms that it was the TITANS, and that they were infected by a virus of extraterrestrial origin, which has infected many other civilizations before transhumanity's. Whether any of those civilizations survived is left up to the GM, as well as other things like the Factors' true motivations (are they survivors, witnesses, agents of the Viruses creators?), or if the Virus was intended to exterminate or assimilate seeing how the TITANS forcibly uploaded or mutated many of their victims.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! does this with the monsters 'The Thing in the Crater', where all we see is a deep crater filled with lava, and 'Dweller in the Depths', where all we see is a dark cave with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere, aside from very vague silhouettes of something in each.
  • Warhammer 40,000 is host to plenty of theories that thrive off of this concept. However, one of the most troubling involves the Tyranids. They're a truly massive Horde of Alien Locusts who come from outside the Milky Way, have an incredible Adaptive Ability, feast on absolutely every available resource on the planets they land on (right down the bedrock), wield very bizarre Organic Technology, and acquire the traits of any organisms they feed on. One theory as to why they've chosen to come to the Milky Way is that they're not really invading. Instead, they're fleeing from something worse. For the record, the biggest threat in the Milky Way is Chaos, which consists of four incredibly powerful Chaos Gods and their legions of Daemons that torture souls, break minds with ease, and are capable of doing things so unspeakably horrifying that your head would explode if you even attempted to comprehend them. The Tyranids are completely unaffected by them, so much so that they project a shadow in the Warp wherever they go. So if literal Gods of evil and Legions of Hell are no threat to the Tyranids, what the hell is?

    Web Animation 
  • 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."
  • In the Creepypasta Suicide Mouse, the majority of the titular episode is just Mickey Mouse walking past some buildings while odd noises play. It somehow managed to make an employee who was watching it commit suicide.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 xkcd, Black Hat Guy hires Rick Astley to show up at a party... and just stand there.
  • 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.

    Web Videos 
  • 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. 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 see 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.
  • Towards the end of this video from The Onion. The narrator says "Somehow the fear of spiders is even worse than the spiders themselves."
  • In Mokey's Show - Slunder, choosing no results in Mokey doing a Death Glare with horrifying music. 4 seconds in, everything goes dead silent as you get a black screen with a message saying "HELP ME". Nothing else happens for the rest of that video.
  • This horrifying video, which takes the form of a fictional "extreme emergency" meteorological report about...something to do with the moon, and the helpful "advice" it gives keep getting worse and worse. The whole thing is nothing but white text on a black screen with heavy glitching, but the horrible white noise in the background and the increasingly disturbing warnings to the viewer ("Switch off all lights", "Do not look out any windows", "Do not look at the ceiling", "Do not attempt to investigate any figures you might see out the corner of your eye") will have you sleeping with the lights on for days.
  • In this episode of Frame by Frame, Kyle takes on three horror movie classics (The Innkeepers, The Changeling and Let the Right One In) to explore how directors oftentimes make what you DON'T see scarier than what you DO. The threat is outside the frame but it is very very real!
  • Both shown and discussed throughout Two Best Friends Play's playthrough of the indie-horror game Phobia. Most of the video is just Pat stumbling around a big, dark, creepy old house and, aside from the looming threat that there is something horrible locked up in the basement trying to get out, nothing really happens. However the ambiance is set up so well that Pat (and the viewer) is genuinely terrified. At the end of the video Pat heads down to the basement to confront the monster, the basement door bursts open and we never find out what the monster looks like or what happens next because the game immediately crashes, which Pat uses as an excuse to end the video before he has a heart attack.
    Matt: See, that's what horror games bring to the table: doing something with absolutely nothing.
    Pat: Yeah, the absence of "thing" is what's scary.
    Matt: The absence of a threat is the biggest threat.
  • Petscop:
    • As of now at least, nothing seen in a typical horror game or creepypasta is present, aside from darkness and text that seems to indicate child abuse. Most of the horror and uneasiness of the series comes from how bleak the game is, how silent the commentary can be sometimes and how little interactivity is seen in levels. Because of this, you're constantly waiting for something to pop out, which in turn is arguably the most scary part of the whole thing.
    • We don't know what the black boxes were covering in Episode 7 and 9. All we know is that it might be related to the children and it managed to shock Paul somewhat given how much time he spends on the screen and the noticeable shakiness in his voice afterwards (the one in Petscop 9 even causes him to give a Precision F-Strike.)

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
    • The ending of "The Princess and the Bounty Hunters" uses this in an unusual Villain Protagonist variation. Two-thirds of the episode is the titular bounty hunters setting up their plan to capture Jack. The climax of the episode features a full agonizingly suspenseful minute of nothing but silence, birdsong, and cuts between the wind blowing through the trees, birds sitting in the branches, and a drop of water falling from an icicle as the bounty hunters wait for Jack to appear.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. Lisa reads Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, causing Bart to comment "You know what would be scarier than nothing? ANYTHING!"
  • In an episode of the second 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 the closet.
    (Ape opens the closet to reveal a monster with silverware and a bib)
    George: What does Ape see?
    Ape: (deadpan) A large, hungry monster wearing a bib and holding a knife and fork.
    George: (relieved) Phew. Well, better than nothing. Well, goodnight!
    (Monster happily waves "goodnight" to George)
  • 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.
    Dr. Destiny: And now that I'm a doctor, I think I'll perform some surgery.
    • Then there's the rather chilling scene end, with Dee himself lying on his cot with his eyes wide open, mumbling the tune to "Frère Jacques" to himself. One can only imagine what he's seeing.
  • In Code Lyoko the main antagonist is XANA, an A.I. without a body. While there have been plenty of crazy computers in fiction, XANA stands out because he not only lacks an avatar, he rarely communicates with the heroes at all. The only real representation of him is the symbol he spams everywhere. The whole effect is surprisingly creepy, especially since its clear XANA's strategies and motives are constantly evolving.
  • 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...
  • The Season 5 finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "The Cutie Re-Mark" uses this. Starlight Glimmer tries to take her revenge on Twilight by traveling back to Rainbow Dash's first Sonic Rainboom in order to prevent the Mane Six from meeting, causing a Bad Future since the Mane Six weren't around to save Equestria. And each time Twilight fails to stop Starlight, the future gets worse and worse. Eventually, when Twilight takes Starlight to see the Bad Future for herself, the only thing there is a barren wasteland, devoid of anything but rocks and dead trees. They never elaborate on how this could have happened, and it's implied that if Starlight continued to change the past, then there would be something even worse.
  • Pooh's Grand Adventure features Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Rabbit on a quest to find Christopher Robin, and the primary threat on their journey is the Skullasaurus, a beast Owl warns lurks in the "Great Unknown" beyond the Hundred Acre Wood that they know. Sure enough, not long into their journey, the gang is haunted by hellish roars off in the distance, and some very close. We don't see the Skullasaurus during these encounters, but that's what makes it so scary. It turns out that there was never a Skullasaurus; the roars were actually the roars of Pooh's hungry tummy.

There all along!

    Advertising 
  • In this video, if you follow the instructions of the video, you don't notice the moonwalking bear.
  • One Spanish PSA campaign against child abuse used lenticular lenses on its posters to achieve this effect. From an adult's point-of-view, they only see the picture of a sad child and the words "Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it." Children, however, see bruises on the boy's face and a hidden message urging them to call the listed number if they're being abused. Empowering for survivors of child abuse, an eye-opener for everyone else. In a more meta case of this trope, the linked article brings up the possibility of toy companies exploiting this discovery to market directly at children, without the knowledge of parents.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the manga adaptation of Yume Nikki, notice how the eye on Madotsuki's sweatshirt logo keeps shifting positions. What purpose this serves is seen in Chapter 4, which it carries Madotsuki's effects with her.
  • A good examples from Tiger Mask: when telling of Mr. Chi's first appearance intruding in a battle royal to choose the challenger for a wrestling world championship and crushing everyone, Baba relates that Mr. Chi didn't run and jump in, he just walked on the ring and looked the match for a while before anyone noticed him. Between this and the Curb-Stomp Battle he inflicted on two dozens wrestlers three or four times his size, Baba is comprensibly terrified of him.

    Comic Books 
  • In the graphic novel Blankets, Craig Thompson mentioned a story about a babysitter who did something horrible to him and his little brother. (It's not hard to figure out just what it was...) However, the Babysitter's eyes are never shown. It's a very powerful method to inspire fear - the viewer never sees the full image of the babysitter, making some wonder what the babysitter's gender was, until later.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • The Elements of Friendship: In Book II, Celestia and Selena infodump a lot of information on Discord to the Main 6, Spike, and Paper Mache. Then Discord suddenly speaks up, running a claw across Celestia's cheek. It turns out he's been floating in plain sight the whole time and nopony noticed him.

    Folklore 
  • The ever-popular campfire story "The Hook" tells of a couple making out in a car. They hear over the radio that an escaped killer with a Hook Hand has been seen in the area. After they leave and arrive at the girl's house, they find a hook hanging from the handle of the car door.
  • "The Boyfriend's Death" similarly starts with a couple making out in the car. The boy steps outside to investigate some noises but 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. When the sun comes back up, a local sheriff arrives and tells her to walk over to his car without looking back — but of course she does look back. In some versions, she sees 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. In other variations, the tapping is the boyfriend's foot tapping against the car roof, as he's been hanged on a tree, or a scraping sound in a similar scenario — only this time he's upside down, so the noise is coming from his fingernails. But the scariest version of all has the killer himself standing outside the car and beating the boyfriend's head against it like a drum, meaning that he could have gotten into the vehicle at any time.
  • The urban legend "Aren't You Glad You Didn't Turn on the Light?" and its variants.
    • In the most popular version, a girl on a university campus picks up some books from her dorm. Knowing her roommate is asleep, she leaves the light off and grabs 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: "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?"
    • Another variant involves a woman being woken up at night by an odd sound. She reaches toward the foot of the bed, where the sound originated, 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: "People can lick too."
  • The story "High Beams" has a young girl driving home when she notices a large truck following her. She tries to shake it, but it won't go away; occasionally, the truck driver turns on his high-beam headlights for no apparent reason. When the girl gets home and her parents call the police, the truck driver—a huge, bearded man—emerges from his vehicle with a gun and refuses to move from the driveway. The cops show up to arrest him...at which point he says "Not me. Him," pointing to the girl's car. They open the back doors and find a man hiding there with a rope and a knife. It turns out that the attacker was hiding in the car the whole time, and the truck driver was only following her to protect her. Whenever the high beams turned on, the attacker had risen up behind the girl and was preparing to strike; he dropped down and hid again when the beams shone.
  • Another famous example that named a trope—"The Babysitter." The titular character is taking care of her charges or, in other versions, has put them to bed, when the phone starts ringing. Every time she answers, a man either laughs insanely or gives a message like "I'll be there soon," "Have you checked the children?", or "I'm getting closer." The babysitter calls the police, who tell her to keep the guy on the line for as long as possible so they can trace the call. After he calls back and the girl (because it's always a girl) talks to him, the police call back and scream at her to get out of the house—the mysterious calls are coming from an upstairs extension! The girl runs from the house, at which point the killer begins to head down the stairs for her. In some versions, the girl escapes with the children; in others, he's already killed the kids and wants the babysitter to come upstairs so he can murder her, too.
  • A lesser-known but still-creepy story has a woman returning home from work to discover her beloved dog choking on something. She immediately rushes the animal to the vet, who tells her to go back to her place while they perform the operation. Upon getting back, she sees the phone ringing off the hook. It's the vet, who tells her to run—the obstruction was a pair of fingers. A burglar is in the house; the dog bit off his fingers and sent the man hiding somewhere, probably hiding in a closet at that moment.

    Film — Animated 
  • At the end of Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is chasing after the Beast, following him across the roof, running past a row of gargoyles in the darkness. Then one of the gargoyles moves...

    Literature 
  • 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 super-zombies via parasites. Nine pages later, Bernard complains that the Vord have scared away every animal within a half-mile, including the rats.

    Podcasts 
  • 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, and his mother hiding from him and covering all the mirrors in the house. 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. The mirrors are uncovered in the last scene, and Cecil doesn't know who did that, and the flickering movement is most visible in the reflection. And then the listener might remember a bit from a previous episode... "Or better yet, destroy all of your mirrors. As my mother used to tell me, 'Someone’s going to kill you one day, Cecil, and it will involve a mirror. Mark my words, child!' And then she would stare absently through my eyes until I giggled."

    Roleplay 

    Web Comics 
  • Author of Stand Still, Stay Silent turned it into form of (creeeepy) art. It's not that the troll was there all along — that's clearly visible. It's when you look closer and then you start seeing just why the trolls are so creepy... They're made of people... And there are still human faces on them... Full of terror...

    Web Original 
  • Most photos from The Slender Man Mythos. You'll see, say, a creepy, foggy forest. 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.
  • This is the entire point of those infamous "shitbrix" pictures; they show what looks to be a normal picture, with the caption "when you see it, you'll shit bricks". You look and look and after a whole you'll give up and think there's nothing there... but when "it" appears, it jumps out at you, and you wonder how you didn't notice it almost immediately. A few examples.
  • The previous image for this page. At first, it appears to be only a black screen staring at you; look at the screen from an angle (and by that we mean, from above) and you'll discover that there's something else in that image...It's a cat's eye.
  • The famous Creepypasta "Masterpiece" uses this to great effect. A teenager hears noises in the middle of the night, goes to the bathroom before investigating, and sees blood all over the carpet near their parent's room. The teen runs back to their bed and hides under the sheets, pretending to be asleep, then sees a strange monster (the lack of description/awareness of what the damn thing is makes it another example of this trope) drag the corpses of their parents into the room. The creature uses blood to draw a pentagram on the wall, writes a message in the middle, then hides under the bed, waiting. The teen lies awake for hours, knowing that death is imminent. As their eyes finally adjust to the light, they make out the words on the wall — "I KNOW YOU'RE AWAKE." Brrrr.

    Web Videos 
  • Creep from minds at Fewdio Horror shows a woman talking on her cell phone while driving down the freeway at night, the rest of the car shrouded in darkness. As a car passes her by (or she's passing under a streetlight), the viewers get to see the eyes of a humanoid creature sitting in the back seat, its face between the driver and passenger seats. After hanging up the phone, a beat happens before the woman gasps and turns around... and the video ends.

    Western Animation 
  • 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  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.
  • In a fourth-season episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic ends with this. The entire episode has five of the Mane Six dealing with the notion that there is a Pony of Shadows haunting the Castle of the Two Sisters, but when they find a dark figure playing an organ, it turns out to be a cloaked Pinkie Pie. At the very end, Spike dismisses the idea of a pony of shadows as silly, but we see a long shadow stretch across the library next door. Upon push-in, yellow glowing eyes open. And they don't look too inviting...

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