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Nothing Is Scarier

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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 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Jumanji, showing that Robin Williams can be pretty damn terrifying when need be. For example, there's Alan's description of the Eldritch Location Death World he was stuck in for 26 years:
    "You think that mosquitoes, monkeys, and lions are bad? That is just the beginning. I've seen things you've only seen in your nightmares. Things you can't even imagine. Things you can't even see. There are things that hunt you in the night. Then something screams. Then you hear them eating, and you hope to God you aren't dessert. Afraid? You don't know what afraid is. You will not last five minutes without me."
  • Ju-Rei is built around this trope, since it doesn't have the money to copy the nightmare imagery from its obvious inspiration. Notably, these are often exercises in pure suspense that don't always end with a Jump Scare the way they traditionally do, but instead with understated appearances of the ghosts.
  • Child's Play is remembered as being goofy and over the top, but Chucky is legitimately frightening before he begins mugging for the camera and cracking wise. People are murdered and things around the doll just happen, with no better excuse than a terrified child trying to explain that it was his "Good Guy" doll doing it. Aspects of the film seem to revel in this fact, suggesting it might have been intended to be playing with the child as a potential Enfant Terrible before Executive Meddling.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey with the introduction of the featureless black monoliths and the incredibly eerie music accompanying them.
  • Used chillingly and terrifyingly in No Country for Old Men - especially in the buildup to and including the hotel escape scene between Anton Chigurh and Llewynn Moss.
  • The various films based on Who Goes There?:
    • The Thing from Another World is heavily based on this trope.
    • Done to a lesser extent in John Carpenter's remake The Thing (1982), mostly in the first part, with the dog wandering around, which is doing an incredible performance.
    • The Thing (2011) does the same through much of the movie, with the buildup to the alien finally breaking free of its ice block built up several times, starting with the sample being taken. The inevitable scene of the monster smashing its way up and out of the building startles the audience about as much as it does the character in the room.
  • Mulholland Dr.:
    • The scene in which the two guys walk behind the diner.
    • The one after the Club Silencio scene where Betty goes off-camera for a second and really vanishes, leaving Rita alone and frightened.
    • The moment when the camera repeatedly lingers ominously on the mysterious blue box and...
    • The director's incredibly ominous conversation with the Cowboy.
  • Lost Highway: Everything about the Mystery Man, especially when he talks to Fred Madison at the party - even though he never actually does anything overtly violent.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • The opening scene with the cage for first time viewers. We hear what's in it, we see how wild and ferocious it is, but we're never shown exactly what it is.
    • The buildup to the T-Rex's first appearance also counts. The power has failed and the tour vehicles are immobilized, it's dark, and no one has seen any hint of a dinosaur inside the enclosure... until the ground starts to shake and someone wonders what happened to the goat that was staked out for the T-Rex, and everyone realizes that it's gone.
    • The eventual sequel Jurassic World gets in on this, too. The Indominus isn't seen until after it's escaped, and once or twice the characters only have an idea of its location based on its tracking device. The second time the tracking device is used to locate it provides a double subversion: it's clawed out the tracking device, meaning it could be anywhere. It's right in front of them, camouflaged.
    • The opening of Jurassic Park III takes this to its logical extreme: the incident which triggers the plot of the movie takes place when tourists Eric Kirby and Ben Hildebrand hire a parasailing service to take them close to Isla Sorna, and they have alot of fun as they glide near the island. Then, the boat towing them goes into a fog bank, they feel the line towing them being jerked around, and when the boat reemerges from the fog, all that's left of the men on it is blood spatters. We never see what kills them, and though it's implied that either Pteranodons or the Spinosaurus were responsible, (though that raises questions of its own) the writers themselves said that they wanted to leave it up to the viewers' imagination.
    • And in The Lost World Jurassic Park, too. Near the end of the movie, the ship carrying the adult tyrannosaur arrives earlier than expected and crashes into the docks, and it's revealed in short order that the entire crew has somehow been slaughtered with bits and pieces of them all over the place. Like in Jurassic Park III, the implication that the tyrannosaur was responsible is a bit obvious but also has some holes in it, leaving the real culprit up in the air.note 
  • Army of Darkness:
    • The movie, mostly a comedic masterpiece, has Ash being chased by... SOMETHING. We never see what it is, as we watch the chase from its perspective, and this monster is one of only a few things that seem to scare him after his experiences in the first two Evil Dead films.
    • After Ash finds safety in the windmill, a deleted scene builds up more tension by showing something going by the windows twice.
  • Nine tenths of the scary in the Saw movies come from the characters walking around in the abandoned, desolate locations. The first film in the series also has the scene where Doctor Gordon's daughter wakes up and notices there's something beside her... The audience knows just by the shot where the camera zooms into the black void. Zepp attacks her later, long after she tells mommy and has daddy help her fall asleep.
  • David Lynch movies in general. Especially Inland Empire which manages to be unsettling and frightening the whole way through with nothing nightmarish actually happening (well, until that one part....). Also if you look at Eraserhead from the right angle, minus the last half hour or so. True, the baby is grotesque and monstrous, but it never really DOES anything (other than incessantly cry, and later incessantly laugh) and still manages to terrify its audience.
  • Jaws is another classic example. There's a lot of conjecture about the decision not to show the shark in the first half of the movie, but it was actually intentional. The mechanical difficulties with the shark may have reduced its screen time in the second half, but Steven Spielberg always intended to hide it during the first.
  • The Alien series:
    • Ridley Scott's Alien is emblematic of this trope, using it in the most brilliant fashion to produce high levels of horror. Not that it is very difficult to see a monster designed by H. R. Giger let down on the scare factor, but it mostly remains unseen.
      • During one of the first screenings of the movie, in the infamous scene where Brett is looking for Jones The Cat, reportedly half of the audience left the room out of fear even before the monster showed up. This worked even when the audience saw the monster in full in the same scene, when it was just hanging from a chain, camouflaged from the audience with nothing more than its bio-mechanical appearance. The fact that it was able to hide in plain sight and still sneak up on both Brett and the audience is also pretty scary.
      • Lambert's death in Alien is possibly the most horrific, since the audience doesn't see it at all - we only hear what Ripley hears over the intercom.
      • Even the original trailer qualifies, showing nothing but a quick sequence of images with a chilling musical theme.
      • The fact that the Alien is so subtly and cunningly shown, seldom revealing all of it at one go, has led to the common belief that the thing keeps changing and growing all throughout the film, even though after the chestburster stage, it's the same suit on the same actor all the way.
    • Aliens contains some examples also:
      • You KNOW there is going to be xenomorphs when the marines are walking into the hive, the only thing is how they'll meet... wait, did the wall just move??
      • The dropship pilot Ferro takes off to collect the other marines and her attempts to hurry up her co-pliot are met with silence. That's not him entering the cockpit... Her blood subsequently splashing across the cockpit window can only suggest a particularly gruesome end.
      • When a pack of the xenomorphs is approaching inside the ceiling. Camera angles and Ripley's own dialogue (she guesses they might come through the floor) make it obvious where the creatures are, cranking up buckets of suspense until the Oh, Crap! moment when one of the marines looks up.
      • When Ripley goes through her One-Man Army rampage through the hive to retrieve Newt only to suddenly halt in her movements and slowly look around in pure terror. A second later, we see her standing in the midst of a hatchery, surrounded by eggs. And then she slowly turns around to see...
  • By the same director, as a rare non-horror film example, the final confrontation between Deckard and Roy Batty in Blade Runner, in the Bradbury Building, also uses this trope intensely and brilliantly.
  • Claude Chabrol's classic thriller Le Boucher relies almost entirely on this for its suspense-filled climax. It begins when the protagonist, Hélène, who knows that her friend Popaul knows that she knows he's a serial killer, is left alone at the schoolhouse where she lives, knowing that he is going to come for her. He doesn't actually show up for a few minutes, though, and all the suspense in the scene comes from wondering when he's going to show up, with both Hélène and the audience jumping at every shadow. It's almost a relief once he finally does come, a real testament to Chabrol's skill as a director.
  • Alfred Hitchcock's movies revolve generally more around pure suspense than fear, but examples of this trope can still be found in Psycho, North By Northwest, The Birds, and so on...
    • A great example is from Rear Window: Love interest Lisa has gone over to the murderer's apartment to collect a crucial piece of evidence while protagonist Jeff, who has broken his leg, can only watch with his camera's telephoto lens. He notices the murderer coming back down the hall; Lisa, obviously, does not, and cheerfully waves in the direction of the camera.
    • Psycho: When Vera Crane sneaks into the Bates house, into Norman's room, sees the child's toys, sees a Beethoven record on the gramophone, then pulls out a book, opens it up, and looks quite unsettled. We don't see the contents; we can only imagine. (In Robert Bloch's original novel, it's a work of pornography.) There's also the scene where Arbogast is killed. While the original storyboards had tense music and suspenseful camera angles cluing the audience in that a murder was about to happen, Hitchcock chose to shoot it with no music and a completely normal angle of Arbogast walking up the staircase before Norman suddenly pops out and stabs him. A similar technique is used in the infamous shower scene, which seems just like a standard bit of Eye Candy. Then you see the faint shadow appear in the background...
    • Frenzy: The murder of Babs by Bob Rusk happens offscreen. We see two people go up to the flat belonging to one of them, he escorts her inside and closes the door...and then the camera pans down the staircase, through the front entryway, and across the busy London street.
    • Allegedly, Hitchcock observed that the scariest thing one could put on the silver screen was a closed door. Roger Corman has asserted that one of the creepiest effects in a movie is a handheld camera slowly approaching a closed door; one of his "alumni", director Jonathan Demme, uses this to good effect in The Silence of the Lambs.
  • From The Other Wiki: on the filming of the early (nearly) silent horror movie Vampyr by Carl Dreyer, Dreyer reportedly told his cameraman, "Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because we have changed... This is the effect I want to get."
  • In the American The Ring movie there's a scene where Naomi Watts is talking to someone on the phone as she pours herself a glass of water from a plastic pitcher. Subconsciously we recognize the pitcher from the opening scene and become frightened even though nothing even remotely scary is happening to her... yet.
  • While being mostly remembered for its much gorier sequels and remakes, and despite its eye-catching title, the original installment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre makes very good use of this trope, particularly in the scene immediately before the first murder. An early teaser for the remake was nothing but a black screen and sound. The censors apparently didn't like due to how disturbing it was.
  • Prom Night (2008) uses this to considerable effect on the audience. We know who's been killed already; what keeps us in suspense is the next potential victim's wandering into the scene looking for the friend or girlfriend or such who's been killed. In one particularly memorable scene, the next potential victim is the boyfriend of the girl who's just been killed who's there to apologize after they had an argument and thinks she's just sullenly giving him the silent treatment as he pounds on the hotel bathroom's door and begs her to open up.

    What we see and he doesn't is that the killer is on the other side of that door along with the girl's corpse in that bathroom. After the boy spends several minutes trying to out-wait her, he gets impatient and goes to plead with her again. To his surprise, the door isn't locked this time, so he goes in. The music swells, we're anticipating his shock and horror at discovering his girlfriend has been murdered, and then he finds... nothing. The killer and the corpse are both gone; not even a trace of blood on the floor. Sure, the killer had plenty of time to slip out the bathroom's other door, but where did that body go!? Oh, don't worry, we'll find out where he took it eventually—after we've forgotten about it because the killer has already struck several more times, and this time suddenly and without the dramatic musical swell. The movie does this several times with several of the victims.
  • Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives: At one point, Jason kills a girl named Paula off-screen. Whatever he did to her, it was so brutal that the entire room was drenched in blood.
  • [REC]: the scenes during which we don't know where the zombies are hiding are scarier than the chase/fight scenes. The same can be said for the remake, Quarantine. Also used to excellent effect when it is very dark in the movie. Especially in the last scene, where the characters are in the attic with only the night vision on. You can't see what the creature is, or where it is.
  • The Others was much like this. Nine-tenths of the creepy in that movie came from the kids talking and the dark surroundings.
  • The Mist had the parts where people were fighting in the stores or arguing to go outside rather suspenseful.
  • Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow:
    Ichabod: What is it?
    Masbath: Listen.
    Ichabod: ...I hear nothing.
    Masbath: Nor do I. No crickets or cicadas calling, no bird songs...
  • M. Night Shyamalan:
    • Generally considered a failure, The Happening still features one scene (when Elliot wakes up in the isolated country-house) that was extremely unsettling, solely because of the way it is filmed (it may be an ordinary old country-house, but at that very moment it seems very, very creepy).
    • Signs: Nothing much out of the ordinary happens in some early scenes in the film, but there's a foreboding mood and a sense that things are subtly off, creating suspense long before the aliens show up (and making them a bit of a letdown when they do).
    • The Village: when our protagonist is in the forest, completely blind, not even realizing she's stumbling into a patch of bright, red berries, thinking about the stories of Those Of Which We Do Not Speak. (Red attracts Those Of Which We Do Not Speak.)
  • Identity uses this quite a bit as well, being a whodunnit slasher. One notable scene is when a couple are arguing and the wife locks herself in the bathroom. The husband starts banging really frantically on the door. It becomes unnerving when he stops.
  • The Blair Witch Project relies heavily on this technique. Parodied by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier in the one-off comic Blair Which?, where it's revealed that there really wasn't anything to be scared of after all (except the old house getting dynamited).
  • Pick about any moment after the first twenty minutes of the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. People wandering around an old hotel with things maybe-kinda-did-that-just-really happening never was so unnerving. The famous "Elevator of Blood" scene in the trailer. It's not particularly graphic, but the message comes across immediately.
  • Alone in the Dark (2005) uses it twice. One is where Edward Carnby is walking home down a dark alley. The camera moves around to make it seem like something is following him... and nothing is. The second case is at the end of the movie, where monsters have taken over New York City, leaving everyone dead and absolutely no sign of their existence. One attacks Edward and his girlfriend using the power of "Jaws" First-Person Perspective.]]
  • 28 Days Later:
    • The scene where Jim is walking through a completely abandoned London is made so eerie that one almost has a heart attack when the car alarm goes off. The scene has a soundtrack ("East Hastings" by Godspeed You Black Emperor!) that starts off quietly and slowly builds to a climax when Jim finds out what has happened. The DVD Commentary says it was added because after a few minutes of silence, the car alarm almost killed viewers.
    • About half way through the film, Jim has a nightmare about being alone again, and it's extremely effective at evoking that same dread as well as being heart-breaking.
  • The Descent. Watching it, and knowing something really bad is going to come out of the darkness at any second... The experience is perhaps best described as "Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit OH SHIT!"
    • And also masterful because the film never lets you be comfortable, long before the monsters show up. In addition to the claustrophobia and disorientation of the caves, our main character is suffering long-lasting PTSD.
    • Even the bloody DVD menu does this. It is not recommended to watch this, fall asleep drunk on someone else's sofa and be woken up in the dead of night by a sudden demonic howl.
    • The third variation of this trope is also used, and highlighted in one of the Special Features. In numerous scenes prior to the group actually seeing one of the monsters, they'd had one camouflaged in the background, stalking them.
  • I Am Legend:
    • Much of the suspense early in the movie comes from Robert Neville going about on his day-to-day business in a completely deserted New York city. It's incredibly eerie and unsettling, even though it's broad daylight and nothing overtly scary is going on, because all of this is happening in a completely deserted New York City.
    • The classic variation is used to excellent effect when a panicked Neville is searching for his lost dog through a pitch-black building that you just know is infested with the Darkseekers. There's even an excellent fakeout when Neville accidentally shines his flashlight on an entire group of them huddled together, with their backs to him, and manages to get away without being detected. When he finally finds Sam hiding under a table, he hears her whimpering and realizes it's not him she's whining at right as he turns around to get an angry Darkseeker in the face.
    • Even before anything scary is happening, the film subtly builds suspense by showing us the extreme precautions Neville takes in his day-to-day life, before we have any clue as to why. Stockpiling food is perfectly understandable, even having a bunch of sets of car keys for the various automobiles Neville has salvaged makes sense in a deserted New York city, but when we see the booby traps, blast shields on the windows, and the closet full of guns, that's right about the time we start to wonder just what the hell has actually happened to the city.
  • The Cave. While it somewhat lacks the paranoid claustrophobia of The Descent, it takes similar pleasure in concealing the appearance and abilities of it's main monsters until dramatically appropriate reveals. Notable because, at the time it was made, most monster movies couldn't wait to show their "awesome" CGI creature.
  • The most terrifying scene in The Silence of the Lambs comes, not when a young woman is kidnapped and held in a subterranean well or when Hannibal Lecter escapes from his prison in a veritable spray of blood, but when Clarice Starling stumbles through absolutely silent, pitch-black darkness, knowing the insane Serial Killer (who can conveniently see her just finenote ) is in the room with her, and fully expecting to be shot dead at any second. In the book it's specified he used to lure women down there, switch the lights off and watch them try to escape, before shooting them in the legs. He stopped because when he was done the pelts were useless.
  • This is the reason everything takes so long to happen in Nosferatu. Especially aboard the ship.
  • Attempted in "Manos" The Hands of Fate. The long periods of nothing, apart from the opening scene, are part of what make the movie so surreal and uncomfortable to watch.
  • The trailer for Buried is a solid minute of nothing but a black screen with a voiceover of a man panting and calling 911, not knowing where he is or what happened to him, until the very end where the flame of a lighter reveals that he's six feet under and very much alive.
  • Suspiria is made of this trope. It uses discordant and menacing music, a world intentionally designed to be slightly off, and constant buildup and anticipation to make truly frightening moments where absolutely nothing is happening... Yet. Unfortunately, as befits this trope, the tagline "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92" is woefully inaccurate.
  • The aftermath of Godzilla's attack on Tokyo in the original Gojira is full of this. Everything from the images of the destroyed buildings to the crowded hospitals to the haunting music makes the scene very creepy as well as very sad to watch. It's made even MORE terrifying when you realize that the filmmakers had the scene look eerily similar to the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • In Werner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man, Herzog listens (through headphones, on-camera) to the sound-only video recording of two people being attacked, killed, and eaten by a grizzly bear. (It was recorded accidentally while the lens cap was still on.) This is horrifying on multiple levels: not least because it is a real recording of two people being eaten alive. There's no video of course, and we don't hear any sound. Herzog's face remains grimly stoic, but loses all color. He tells the woman who owns the video — an old confidant of Timothy Treadwell, one of the victims — "You must never listen to this recording. You must destroy it, and never listen to it." Not only do we not see anything, we don't hear it either. Later it's seen what is believed (and noted in the film) to be Treadwell's actual video footage of the bear that would kill him and his girlfriend not long thereafter. It's quite unnerving to watch these scenes with that knowledge in mind, even though nothing frightening is actually happening.
    • The tone of his voice when he tells her to turn off the video - this is a man thoroughly rattled to the core, and the look on his face is enough to make her break out in tears. He doesn't just tell her to destroy the video, he practically begs her to.
    • Near the end of the film, Treadwell gives a monologue while standing in front of a thicket of bushes. It all looks normal... until the subtitle appears stating that the spot where Treadwell was killed is right behind him.
  • John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is a genuinely scary movie with creepy voices, the walking dead, cockroach swarms, Alice Cooper, ancient runes, and so on. But the creepiest moment in the film happens when Jamison Parker's character... an amateur magician who is constantly practicing a "make the card disappear behind the magician's hand" sleight of hand trick... suddenly, and quite accidentally makes the card disappear for real.
    • The same amateur magician is one of the few characters to survive to the end. The final shot of the movie is him reaching for a mirror, made more unnerving by the fact that it cuts to black just before he touches it.
  • Anthony Minghella's adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley is built on this. For the first act of the film, everything's going quite splendidly for all the main characters, but soon you feel deeply uncomfortable by this feeling of general unease that the situations the narrative is concocting are inexplicably giving you. Then someone's head gets smashed in, and the murderer must navigate his way through an endless series of exchanges and meetings in which his dirty little secrets are almost exposed. The almost farcical levels of suspenseful complications that occur during these exchanges is terrifying enough, but the most viscerally, nauseatingly scary aspect about them is that they are incredibly drawn-out and often do not have a violent payoff... which makes the instances where shit really does go down all the more unnerving. Worst of all, though, is that the film NEVER eases up on this tension.
  • Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) is a near-perfect (in every sense) example of this trope. We hear rhythmic thumping and pounding several times in the film, and one character realizes that something was holding her hand a moment ago, and there is a creepy moment where a door softens and bulges as something on the other side tries to get in. But it is never revealed who or what is stalking the characters — or even how much of it is actually real or just inside the main character's mind. The film is a guaranteed way to give yourself nightmares. (The book that serves as inspiration, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, does the exact same thing.)
  • In Dark City, there's the moment when John wakes up in the eerie hotel bathroom. Hell, the city's unreal, dark, gloomy atmosphere never gives anyone a moment of respite.
  • Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of people just by swinging the bedroom door about a foot. And in the ending, the period of silence before it happens is absolutely terrifying. The "music" played a big part in the ending too. You hear the footsteps getting louder as they climb the stairs and that sound in the background gets louder and louder too until the footsteps stop altogether and all there is left is this heavy, horrifying tension in the air.
  • This trope is what made The Exorcist III scary. The hallway scene is simply a nurse doing her rounds for the night including a nice fake-out before she's almost done, and is beheaded by a fast-moving cloaked figure with amputation shears, which we don't even see used since the scene is quickly cut away.
  • Tremors does this during the first part of the film. All that is seen of the Graboids are surface undulations as they move. Most of the time there is little hint at lurking danger, and the attack scenes are viscerally frightening because the subterranean monsters that are attacking can't be seen. When the Graboids eventually reveal themselves, though, it makes them only a little less scary.
  • The first Resident Evil builds atmosphere and suspense early on. As the lead and the soldiers are making their way into the facility, there are just few enough hints of how bad things are to keep it creepy. Then, the lasers and zombies show up and the movie turns into an action film.
  • Dead Silence relied quite a bit on the Quieter Than Silence version of this, as the title would indicate.
  • Ti West's The House of the Devil relies on this trope for nearly all but the last 10 minutes of the film. Its effectiveness is heavily debated.
  • Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques employs this extremely effectively during its climax, when Christina is walking in the empty school at night, looking for her (dead) husband.
  • There are differing opinions on Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon as to whether they should have shown the title demon at the beginning of the film - or at all - but the general consensus is that for or despite its spare appearances, it is a superb horror movie where nothing often lurks in the darkness.
  • The original Dawn of the Dead (1978) features a truly terrifying 20 seconds at the beginning, before someone taps the heroine on the shoulder in the TV studio. Nothing scary is happening, but it's unsettling as billy-o
  • In interviews, Clive Barker has spoke of his intent to avert this trope, due to its overuse in horror films growing up, and so the titular monster of Rawhead Rex was revealed early in the movie. All Hellraiser films have followed the convention of showing the Cenobites in their full, gruesome glory.
  • 1980's The Changeling is made completely on this concept: it's a ghost story where you never see the ghosts. Very scary.
  • AJ Annila's Surreal Horror film Sauna. Sure, there's a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl and a victim of The Corruption, but both are just remnants with the encounter with something in the dark of the cellar, the shed, and of course, the sauna. You are in the dark. You are not alone. You hope that the other doesn't turn its gaze on you. And then there's the burning question: is the person who walks out of the sauna the same person who walked in?
  • The first half of Pontypool is terrific, the audience and characters are being fed by information about the chaos happening outside through phone calls, and no one knows exactly what is happening.
  • In The Alfred Hitchcock movie The Trouble with Harry, which is for the most part a comedy, there is one scary part. It is never explained who or what keeps opening that closet door...
  • The horror film Absentia relies heavily on build-up and not showing anything for much of the film to horrifying results.
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene exists almost entirely on this trope, and does it masterfully. Nothing bad ever actually happens to Martha after she escapes the cult, and its not entirely clear whether or not she's actually in any real danger, and somehow that only makes it more frightening.
  • The movies Val Lewton produced for RKO had (as dictated by his bosses) low budgets and lurid titles such as Cat People, Bedlam, The Body Snatcher and I Walked with a Zombie, but he was able to work around those limitations to produce films that were subtle and thoughtful, and at the same time delivered the chills. He was a firm believer in the idea that what you can't see can be scarier than what you can see. The "chase" from '"Cat People'' is still taught in many Film Schools as a perfect example of the use of minimalism to create an amazing amount of terror with a horror movie.
  • Many horror films in the 1980s were modified for television, with particularly gruesome scenes radically shortened or cut out entirely to meet broadcasting standards. In some cases this enhanced the film by removing badly executed special effects, leaving the viewer's imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • Angel Heart has it's share of creepy surreal shots that include panoramic views of spiral staircases and fans spinning, which are somehow creepy on their own but take some horrific meanings with hindsight, especially the fan, which at first seems like nothing, until you realize after watching the film that it appears every time Harry Angel is about to commit a murder. Also, one of the creepiest scenes in the film is Robert De Niro eating a hard-boiled egg. Even once the real horror (as in the stuff that actually should be scary) comes along it's mostly psychological and Robert De Niro with the same beard he had in The Mission may very well be the creepiest depiction of Satan ever put on film. He even lampshades it in The Reveal when he remarks to a skeptical Johnny Favorite "if I had cloven hooves and a pointed tail would you be more convinced?.
  • Fans of The Cabin in the Woods often suspect that "Kevin" is the most terrifying and evil entity in the Cabin's arsenal, simply because we never find out what he is.
  • Zero Dark Thirty is an interesting example of a non-horror/thriller use of this trope. The scene in question is the raid on Bin Laden's compound: it's long, drawn-out and uncomfortable as Navy SEALS hunt down and kill four militants, with only a few shots actually being fired. And it's pulled off extremely well.
  • In the opening of Anaconda, the Anaconda attacks a nameless poacher (played by Danny Trejo) who was piloting a boat full of captured animals before he kills himself. When the expedition later runs into his boat, it's completely empty with not a sign of life. They investigate, only for nothing to happen until a guy who got lost is picked off without anyone but Sarone noticing.
  • A lot of the time in Godzilla (2014), the presence of the monsters are felt through the paths of destruction they leave in their wake rather than actual appearances on-screen. All in all, the movie is seen more through human perception than the monsters'.
  • This trope is most of the reason The Emperor is so terrifying in Return of the Jedi. He has just 14 minutes of screen time, most of which is spent simply sitting in his throne...waiting. Although he is very creepy-looking and speaks entirely in sinister threats, he cements himself as truly scary by the fact that everyone in the Empire is horrified by his mere presence despite the fact that he appears to be a feeble old man, and we have to wait until the film's climax to find out what exactly he's capable of that makes him so feared. After making it clear to Luke that he and everyone he loves is about to die, he fires bolts of lightning from his hands and starts electrocuting Luke to death, instantly making all of the buildup earlier totally justified.
  • In the original version of The Empire Strikes Back, the Wampa monster that abducts Luke isn't completely shown, with a couple shots of a makeshift head while Luke is being attacked and is only heard roaring throughout the cave before there's a shot of its middle as it approaches Luke. The reason this was done was because the original prototype for the monster didn't work so Lucas used a method similar to what Steven Speilberg did with Jaws. It was then subverted when Lucas redid the scene with a new version of the monster. Whether or not this is an improvement is up for debate.
  • Elevated: The monsters outside the elevator are never seen and all the horror is derived from the possibility that they might get into the elevator, though Hank compares them to various fictional monsters like Pumpkinhead and Alien to explain what they look like.
  • In Tim Burton's Batman, Jack Napier's transformation into The Joker is pulled off this way with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the format in which you're watching the movie. First we see Jack's clown-white hand coming out of the river, but it's partially covered by a glove. The later scene in the doctor's office shows nothing except the doctor's and Jack's reactions (frightened and mind-warping, respectively) to the removal of Jack's bandages after the surgery - but the effect is undercut by a blooper at the end (barely noticeable unless you're paying attention) in which a swinging light bulb briefly illuminates Jack as he's walking up the stairs, revealing Jack Nicholson without the makeup. The scene in the penthouse is the most effective of all, with the rooms so darkened by shadows that, if you look very closely into the distance when Jack opens the door, you can just barely make out the clown features of his face. The Jokerface slowly becomes more discernible as Jack walks closer to Carl Grissom, but you can't see anything truly terrifying yet; the worst of it is watching Grissom's Stepford Smiler reaction, trying to remain calm and "enjoying" a final drink of scotch, knowing full well he's about to die. The Creepy Circus Music heard at the climax of the scene, when the Joker finally reveals himself, is actually less scary than it would have been, since it breaks up the (mostly) silent tension that had preceded it. (Better yet is that trailers for the movie had already revealed what Nicholson would look like with the makeup; the concealment during the surgery scene is all the scarier because you know what's coming, but Burton won't give it to you!) The scene is perhaps best of all when watched on VHS or DVD, since the image can be graded darker than normal on some TV screens, making the clown face completely invisible until the movie blatantly reveals it.
  • The buildup to the Chief Scar’s raid (complete with murder and rape that can’t be shown onscreen) on the Edwards homestead in John Ford’s The Searchers turns a scene that otherwise would have qualified as Narm into something that is effectively scary indeed. We already know what’s coming, for that’s been established by the absent members of the Edwards family realizing that they’ve been drawn into setting out on a scouting mission by the Comanche war party so that the older, female and child members of the family would be unprotected. But the victims themselves at first give little indication that they know what will happen (even though they obviously do), at first trying (and failing) to let on that anything is wrong at all. The eerie silence of the prairie – except for the bizarre cry of a prairie chicken – also contributes to the atmosphere. There’s also the boy’s plaintively voiced fear: “I wish Uncle Ethan [John Wayne’s character] was here.” But worst of all is the slow emotional ungluing of the Edwards women – from nervous to frantic to terrified to hysterical to bitterly resigned to their fate – and all this before we see a single Comanche! The eventual violence is shown to us only as a smoking, charcoaled house, but we can imagine the rest vividly.
  • In Alien Abduction (2014), this is par for the course as a found footage film. The aliens attack at night, are only seen indistinctly if they are seen at all, and you never get a good look at the source of the blinding light or that horrible horn sound.
  • An unbelievably creepy example occurs in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. While on a hunting party in the forest, Jaguar Paw comes across a large band of wandering refugees who look very forlorn and fearful; they have obviously been driven from their home. When Jaguar Paw asks them what happened, the only answer he gets is "Our lands were ravaged." This disturbs Jaguar Paw so much that he cannot hide his fear as the hunting party heads back to their village, and his father tells him to banish the fear from his mind so that it will not "infect" the village community. What's key here is the refugee's use of the passive voice: he speaks of being attacked, but he doesn't say by what. This becomes truly frightening in the context of the rest of the film because, after all, these characters are pre-Christian Mayans who believe that their gods are not only all-powerful but bloodthirsty, demanding gruesome human sacrifices and even able to take the form of jaguars - and, of course, might decide to simply blot out the sun (the Mayans do not understand solar eclipses) and literally scare the daylights out of everyone. The horror show continues the next morning as Jaguar Paw awakes in his family's hut - and suddenly panics as he notices the flicker of torchlight between the trees in the distance. He finally realizes what it was that drove the refugees from their village - an army of warriors from the kingdom down the river who come into the jungle periodically to capture and enslave (and, in some cases, execute in human sacrifice) the relatively helpless villagers, and who are about to do the same to Jaguar Paw's people!
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture: "Enterprise, what we got back didn't live long... fortunately."
  • War Horse, set during WWI, has a scene where the British cavalry attacks a German camp, only to find out that they are terrible outmatched by the German machine guns. When Cpt. Nicholls, who is in possession of Joey the horse at this moment, gets shot, we don't actually see it on screen. The noises of the battle get turned down and get replaced by desolate music and the sound of Nicholls panicked breathing when he realises that he will not survive it. We see a shot of him staring forward in pure terror followed by a closeup of a machine gun being fired. And after that, we only see Joey running through the forest without an rider.
  • For most of It's Alive we do not see the killer mutant baby, most of the time when it is on screen it's hidden in the darkness and we hear it's shrieks, we only get a good look at it two or three times in brief instances.
  • Rogue One has the rebels making their way to the Tantive IV with the Death Star plans, with victorious music playing in the background, all while they try to open a door that's jammed. Then the music stops, they hear creaking noises and turn around, facing the darkness behind them, guns aimed at whatever is coming aboard. KHOHHHHH-CHOOOOO, KHOHHHHH-CHOOOOO. Cue a lightsaber igniting, revealing Darth Vader, and the beginning of a Mook Horror Show as Vader slaughters all the rebels in his path, with the plans just barely being given to Princess Leia.
  • Dunkirk lives and breathes this trope. The movie is set on the titular French beach in 1940 during WWII, with thousands upon thousands of soldiers trapped and awaiting certain death from the Germans. We never see a single German outside a plane, making the film's already glum and doomy atmosphere downright nerve-wracking, thus leaving one wanting a German to attack just for the damn tension to ease up. Worse, the movie never eases up on this tension until the last scene. In both the air force and land stories, everyone is basically just a sitting duck, with the horrible realization that they may never make it off that beach. The film is meant to put the viewer in the shoes of someone on that beach, and it is extremely effective in that regard.
  • Hell House LLC does this with mannequins showing up where they shouldn't be, sudden scene changes and the reactions of members of the haunted house crew to things the audience can't see. What really ratchets up the tension is now that these things have happened you're looking and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Sopranos:
    • There's an unsettling nightmare experimented by Tony in "Calling All Cars". In that dream, Tony arrives at a house where everything is dark inside, then an old lady with a dark silhouette resembling Livia Soprano (Tony's Abusive Mom, no less) goes down the stairs, stops and creepily stares at Tony. Just as Tony enters the house, he wakes up.
    • The series ended infamously with a Smash to Black. And all of its implications, for better and for worse, are absolutely haunting. But you probably already knew that.
  • In The Avengers, there is a fairly long scene in the middle of the episode "Don't Look Behind You" with Cathy Gale walking around in a large, spooky house in the countryside. It seems at first like no-one else is present in the house, but then things in rooms begin to get changed while she is out of the room. There is no BGM at all during this scene; just the sound of Gale's footsteps.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Many first episodes of serials in the Classic series rely on this, as it's natural to want to reveal the monster to the audience for the first time as the Cliffhanger:
      • "The Dead Planet", the first episode of the serial "The Daleks", where the TARDIS crew explore a strange petrified jungle where everything is dead, and yet they have the feeling that something is following them. They enter a deadly-beautiful ruined city with long corridors and proportions built uncomfortably for human bodies, and begin to be aware that something else is following them. We only get to see any monsters right at the very end of the story via a Shaky P.O.V. Cam shot as it suddenly ambushes Barbara at the end of a corridor, and even then, only its hand is visible. Or - well - its plunger.
      • "The Edge of Destruction" has no clear enemy for the first episode, with the malevolent presence represented by the TARDIS doors opening and closing and everyone on the ship going slightly mad thanks to its psychic influence. The second episode of the serial shows them actually puzzling through the problem and isn't half as scary, but the first episode is just horrifying.
      • "World's End", first episode of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", opens with a shot of a cyborg committing suicide in a Crapsack World version of London where a sign informs us "it is forbidden to dump bodies into the river". The crew spend the episode wondering around, trying to imagine who or what could be responsible for the total collapse of civilisation. Then something comes out of the Thames... with its eye stalk wobbling back and forth and its plunger waving.
      • Episode 1 of "The Space Museum" has the crew caught in a TARDIS technical fault in which they are unable to interact with or see anyone, can't leave footprints, and time occasionally flows backwards or skips ahead of events they have no recollection of doing. It is very spooky and atmospheric and especially stands out when the rest of the serial is a fairly light-hearted comedy story.
    • While the Silents in the series itself don't really count, series 6's advertisements talked a lot about them, and they've released a couple of few second long videos as an advertisement. These videos show... Well, absolutely nothing except for a couple of empty streets on CCTV footage. People have been pausing and going through them frame by frame but still seeing nothing unusual, except for the occasional flickering of the screen. And they are scaring the pants off of everyone. In one of them, you can see one of the Silents. It isn't doing anything, just standing there in plain sight. The thing about the Silents is that as soon as you lose sight of them you completely forget about them. So the characters took to marking on their arms when they had seen one and constantly checking. The moment that was nothing more than Amy glancing down to see her arm literally covered in tally marks was seriously scary.
    • The Vashta Nerada embody this trope. They can be seen under the right circumstances, but mostly the only sign of them is the room getting darker and darker, and the lights shorting out one by one...
    • There's a scene near the beginning of "The Eleventh Hour" where Amy has the Doctor handcuffed and he lets slip where Prisoner Zero is hiding. She starts walking towards the door, and he's screaming at her not to open it, but she walks through anyway... the appearance of the giant piranha-eel thing suspended from the ceiling directly behind Amy's head is actually a bit of a relief compared to the empty, dusty room that's always been in your house but you've never noticed it that the Doctor is yelling to get out of now.
    • In "The God Complex", a Hell Hotel has a room that contains each visitor's greatest fear. When the Doctor finds his room, the audience doesn't see it. All we get is a dark room with the sound of the Cloister Bell (which only goes off in big emergencies) and the Doctor remarking "Of course, who else would it be?" Knowing the Doctor, whatever is on the other side may be too much for humans to comprehend. In the 2013 Christmas special, we find out that it's the cracks in time from the fifth series.
    • Used effectively (and effects-savingly) in "Cold War": Immediately after Skaldak leaves his armor, all we see is something just out of frame rushing past; later, aside from a few closeups of his face in the shadows, all we see is a pair of very large claws. Also, when Clara realizes Skaldak has abandoned his armor, she's searching all over the room without finding anything, invoking this in spades.
  • While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is generally pretty up front with its monsters, there have been a few notable — and scary! — exceptions. Probably the most frightening is the Season 5 episode "Forever", where Dawn recruits Spike's assistance to bring Joyce back from the dead. The final scene of the episode is lifted directly from the short story "The Monkey's Paw," and is equally chilling.
    • In Faith's debut episode, she's arrived in Sunnydale on the run from the vampire Kakistos, whom she blinded in one eye in response to his killing her Watcher right in front of her. It's never revealed exactly what happened: all Faith says about it is "they don't have a word for what he did to her."
    • There's also the season four finale "Restless" in which Xander, Willow, Giles and Buffy are hunted in their dreams by a malevolent entity that is only ever seen as a shadowy shape or a blurred, fast-moving brown thing or a shimmering, indistinct object stalking back and forth in the heat-blasted distance...
    • In the notably nightmare-inducing season 4 episode "Hush", the villains-of-the-week are collecting 7 human hearts for something, but we're never told what it is - which of course only serves to make the whole thing that much creepier.
    • In a Season 7 episode, the Potentials are introduced to the pleasant, friendly, thoroughly non-evil demon Clem, who looks like a bald human with rather too much skin. Then he shows them his other face. All we see is various bits that fly out to the sides, from the back, and the girls all screaming, very much like a scene in Beetlejuice.
  • The ending of the Cold Case episode "Offender", where we find out who really molested and killed the boy. The killer lures the boy into the garage supposedly to fix his knee. Then, he shuts the garage and approaches the boy, whose expression changes to one of terror as the door shuts.
    • Cold Case is surprisingly good at this. Another fine example would be the rape/murder flashback in "Death Sentence: Final Appeal".
  • Burn Notice makes good use of this in Shot in the Dark when Michael has to scare the Douchebag of the Week into leaving town.
    Michael: The same things that scare people as kids scare them as adults: fear of the dark [lights go out around the bastich], fear of being alone [car won't start and cell phone is jammed], and fear of the unknown, [the gang peels rubber towards Mook, spitting bullets]. Granted, the last bit proves there's something after him, but it's not the something he thinks it is, so it still fits.
  • In the second season of Slings & Arrows, the portrayal of Banquo's ghost suffers greatly from Special Effect Failure up until someone points out that the director arguing with an empty chair is the scariest thing happening in the theater.
  • Done for comedy in an episode of M*A*S*H. BJ bets the gang that he can get every one of them with an epic prank inside of a week, which he does, except for Hawkeye, who thinks he has foiled him by sleeping outside in a bathtub surrounded by barbed wire and jumping at every sound. In the morning, BJ informs him that "The greatest joke . . . was the joke that never came."note 
  • The Max Headroom incident, more so with its successor: the voice is replaced by a screeching static sound, and nothing actually happens in the video; no Take Thats at politicians or corporations, no spanking, just a man in a creepy mask bopping his head around. In addition, the delay between the interruption of the news show and the actual video makes it all the more shocking. Needless to say, it comes as surprisingly as a screamer.
  • The Hub's Spooksville's teaser of a first-person view of a car driving down a lonely road as an automated GPS voice announces how close they are to Springville, interspersed with snippets of radio broadcasts from the city, as night gradually falls... and the GPS' voice starts telling the driver, "Stop" and "Turn back". In the last couple seconds, something flies into the camera and we see the car's occupants react. Then it fades to the titles on "Turn back... turn back... turn back..." and that's all she wrote.
  • Torchwood has an episode "They Keep Killing Suzie", Gwen's driving Suzie through the night. Suzie tells her that something evil is in the darkness, but it doesn't show up until a later episode.
  • The Netflix original series Bloodline has mutiple flash-forwards to a scene where The show's main character carries his unconscious brother through the mud during a rainstorm, dropping him in a boat, dousing him with gasoline and lighting him on fire. Then in episode 10, we get a scene where the characters are trying on suits for a sister's wedding, only for them to be wearing the same clothing from those flash-forwards, letting us know that moment is near.
  • In classic monster movie fashion, Legion establishes an atmosphere of pervasive, surreal menace that you'll be quivering all over just waiting for something creepy to happen, especially during the scenes taking place inside David's head where you just know the danger is never far away and even when it seems safe, you can't trust what we're seeing. And when you hear that frantic-sounding warbling trumpet noise that heralds the arrival of the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, that means it's time to run.
  • For the first few episodes of Daredevil, Wilson Fisk is barely seen or heard from at all, only hearing his voice in the first episode, and most of his interactions being conducted through James Wesley. Only in the last minutes of the third episode do we finally get to see Fisk on-camera. Everything is building up his threat level with even hardcore hitmen like Healy being terrified enough to take their own lives upon revealing the name. When we finally meet Fisk for real in "In the Blood," he comes across as friendly, socially awkward and a bit of a romantic with Vanessa, putting the viewer off guard...until the end of the episode when he kills Anatoly for interrupting Fisk and Vanessa's date, by beating him unconscious and decapitating him with a car door.
  • Jessica Jones: In the first episode, the only glimpses we get of Kilgrave are quick flashbacks to Jessica's time under his control, in which only his hand is visible. The lasting impact of his mind control is more prominent as demonstrated with Jessica and Hope. In the second episode, Kilgrave makes his first physical onscreen appearance, but he's always shot from behind or in shadow. This makes Kilgrave more menacing as said onscreen appearance involves him taking over an apartment, making the parents cook him dinner and forcing the kids to lock themselves up in the closet. It's not until the third episode when Jessica tracks Simpson to another apartment that Kilgrave has taken over that we get to see his face for the first time.
    • "AKA 99 Friends" is a notable case of this as despite Kilgrave being completely absent from the episode, we get more images of just how terrifying he is as conveyed through his various victims. At one point, off-camera, he even makes a little girl deliver Jessica a message.
  • Supernatural:
    • The pilot episode combines this with Adult Fear in its very first scene. Mary Winchester heads into her son Sam's room, and sees a man standing over his cradle. She assumes its John, her husband, and goes downstairs. She then sees that John has fallen asleep in front of the television. Cue Oh, Crap!, and her running up the stairs. When John wakes up, he heads into his son's room, and sees that baby Sam is seemingly alright. And then blood drips down from ceiling, causing John to find Mary's corpse on the ceiling, her stomach sliced open. We don't know who the man/creature was (at least, not until later on), but its clear that its something bad.
    • Continuing on, the final two episodes of Season 1 have this sense of dread to them, as John, Sam, and Dean have tracked down the demon that killed Mary. In the former episode, they arrive in a normal neighborhood, and after encountering a mother taking her six-month daughter out on a stroll, they realize she's the demon's next target. From there, the anticipation rises as night falls and Sam and Dean make their move on the demon. While they save the mother and her daughter, they don't manage to kill the demon. However, we do get a glimpse of the demon - or more specifically, his yellow eyes.
    • And then in the episode after, the finale of Season 1, the boys manage to rescue John from the captivity of demons. However, since the audience doesn't know what the demons did to John while he was captured, there's a constant sense of dread that something will happen. It turns out that the Yellow-Eyed Demon has possessed John.
    • Hellhounds. Completely invisible, which makes it all the more scarier when they come drag someone to Hell.
    • The Season 4 premiere plays with this trope, as the audience doesn't know who - or what - resurrected Dean. And all throughout the episode, things such as loud static noises, demons with their eyes burned out, and a psychic going blind upon glancing on the thing's true form, give us hints as to what, but it doesn't even remotely resemble anything the Winchesters encountered. Meet Castiel, Angel of the Lord.
    • The Season 4 finale ends with Lucifer being freed. We don't see Lucifer himself, though. All we see is a bright light emerging from the hole leading to his cage.
    • Season 13's episodes "The Bad Place" and "Wayward Sisters" have the inhabitants of the Bad Place, an alternate world filled with monsters. One of them is apparently of colossal size, but all we see of it is a footprint it leaves behind, and we only get to hear its roars. Its true face is shown at the end of "Wayward Sisters", and it appears to be Supernatural's answer to King Kong.

  • 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.

  • 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.


    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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire begins with this. Before we are introduced to any of the characters, there is a long shot of an empty London street with a man walking curiously through it. Through a Rewatch Bonus, we are led to believe the worst.
  • Used poorly in Monster a-Go Go, leading to the film's lame non-ending.
    Suddenly, there was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called Douglas to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage who suddenly found themselves alone with the shadows and darkness!
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock exemplifies this trope. The mystery at the crux of the film is never explained.
  • Andrei Tarkovsky uses this a lot, particularly in Stalker, particularly in the insanely creepy "meat grinder" scene.
  • David Lynch brought this to a science in Eraserhead.
    • Look up his short film Rabbits on YouTube, but please don't blame me for the possible mental trauma..
    • Same with Darkened Room.
  • The first part of Lost Highway, from the same director, notably the scene with the dark corridor that wasn't there before.
  • The short film There Are Monsters gets pretty far on this trope.
  • The original version of the "Stuck in the Middle with You" scene of Reservoir Dogs is much more graphic; you actually see Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear, with fairly realistic prostheses and fake blood. The version used in the movie does not include the gory visuals, but is much more horrific as you try to imagine exactly what is happening.
    • Just to show how well they use this trope - there are still LOTS of people who are convinced that you actually see Mr. Blonde cutting off the cop's ear. Despite there not being the actual gore on screen, there are still people who insist that it happened plain as day.
  • Tarantino does it again in Pulp Fiction. We don't see exactly what Maynard and Zed do to Marsellus Wallace in the back room of Maynard's gun shop — although, judging by the presence of the zip-masked "Gimp" note , it's heavily implied to be homosexual rape. In any case, the camera spends almost the entire time focusing on Butch as he fetches a samurai sword from Maynard's display before returning to the torture chamber, and we can just barely hear Marsellus's grunts and howls of agony over the "comical" bopping jazz music that plays throughout the entire scene for some reason.
  • The Orphanage lives and breathes this trope. Shall we cite the main character playing a game with ghost children? Or how about little Tomas?
  • Julia's Eyes. The movie is this trope, the fear of that which you cannot see. It's played particularly well In this trailer (It's in Spanish)
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the approach to The Monolith is fearsome simply because we do not know what will happen when the people touch the Monolith.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The movie has this with Judge Doom's true form. We see a glimpse of it with his glowing red eyes that are occasionally literal daggers and the shapeshifting weapons he uses, but the fact he remains hidden completely by his latex suit except for that enters this trope. Since the dip melted him while was still in the suit, we don't know what his true form is, if he even has one, and that just makes a villain who was already pure horrifying even more terrifying!
    • What really deepens the horror is that Judge Doom had been a Devil in Plain Sight for years. Nobody ever suspected he was not human, and in fact the Toons themselves had voted him into the position after he bribed them. Up until the climax he was always more forbidding than truly scary, a Knight Templar with Smug Snake undertones who was hated as well as feared. Eddie Valiant even calls him a "gargoyle" while he's in the same room, hushing his voice more out of feigned politeness than out of fear of retribution. It's actually a bit of relief when he's revealed to be a Toon himself, since now Eddie can destroy that murdering bastard without any qualms.
  • The short film "The Confession" by Tanel Toom uses the "disturbing lack of noise" part of this trope very well. There are numerous scenes in the films, such as right after the first car crash and after little Jacob's fall, when there is nothing but heavy, empty, silence, allowing the horror to REALLY sink in.
  • In The Sixth Sense, Cole (the boy who sees dead people) goes to a classmate's birthday party in an old Philadelphian house. Two mean classmates dare him to go up some stairs and peek into a closet. As he ascends the staircase, Cole and the audience hear a ghost's voice hissing "Let me out! I did not steal the master's horse!" coming from the closet; when Cole opens the door, this ghost pulls him inside and we hear his yelps. Finally, the adults and other children open the closet and get him out, but even then, the audience never sees this ghost. We see a dozen others in various states of gore throughout the film, but this one remains invisible, which makes it more frightening. Even more terrifying are the ghost's words, which imply that he was a slave and his spirit has been languishing in that closet for centuries.
  • Zodiac is already a very disturbing movie with the titular killer's murders staged in graphic detail, but the two scariest moments in the movie feature no violence whatsoever:
    • The interrogation of Arthur Leigh Allen is just a fairly non-descript, balding middle-aged man being interviewed by three detectives in a brightly lit room, and yet John Carroll Lynch's brilliant performance is so chilling that you can cut the tension in the scene with a knife.
    • Robert Graysmith talking with Bob Vaughn at his house, especially because Vaughn seems even more harmless than Vaughn - just a small, not particularly imposing old man, (played by the same guy who played Roger Rabbit, no less!) And yet you'll practically be screaming at your TV yelling at Gyllenhaal not to go down into the creepy dark basement with him. Especially when he hears footsteps upstairs even though Bob Vaughn lives alone. Made even worse because this exact scene happened in real life - so what was making those footsteps in the room above them? We never find out.
  • Much of the horror of the original The Wicker Man (1973) comes from this. There's no Jump Scares, no gore, no supernatural horror, not even any deaths until the final scene; just a persistent aura of weirdness and a vague, ever-pervading sense that there's something very, very wrong with the people of Summerisle.
  • Duel: The driver of the malicious truck is unseen, his motivations are unclear, and it all makes the his relentless pursuit of David Mann more frightening, especially in the truck stop scene, where Mann can't identify the truck driver among the patrons.
  • There are two sources of fear in The Mist. One is the horrible things that the surviving humans will do to themselves and each other to survive. The other is the giant monsters roaming through the titular weather phenomenon, but we never get a good look at them because it's so thick nobody can fucking see anything.
    • One poor bastard volunteers to leave the supermarket to find a shotgun in his car. They tie a rope around his waist so they can pull him back to the supermarket if necessary. Unsurprisingly, when they feel a tug on the rope, they pull back his corpse. Or rather, most of his corpse. And we never find out what did it.
  • Megan Is Missing has a scene where the titular character finishes talking with her boyfriend over the webcam, leaves the room... and the camera stays focused on the empty room for 15 seconds, suggesting he hasn't ended the video call yet. It's extremely unnerving.
  • Throughout The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug there is a sense of threat that an orc, or even worse, Smaug himself is nearby. The Mirkwood forest scene is scariest before a spider even shows up. Then there's a scene where Bilbo and the dwarves walk through a corridor, only for Smaug to pass over them nearly undetected.
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Scarlet Witch Mind Rapes everybody in the crew. We get to see everybody's vision... except for Bruce Banner's. Judging by his reaction, it isn't pretty.
  • This is part of what makes the Death Troopers in Rogue One so scary. Unlike regular stormtroopers, who we know are just guys in armor, the Death Troopers are a little more...unclear. All we know is they're really damned tall, they're fanatically loyal, and they've got creepy distorted voices. They just show up on the battlefield, gun down a major character or two, and leave. And that's all we ever learn.
  • Complex in-universe example on the Viral Marketing website for Jurassic World. Before release, "live video feeds" from different parts of the park showed various mundane goings-on. Post-release, visitors in the vicinity of the main plaza are being evacuated or running in panic, InGen employees are frantically rushing out of their break rooms, and attractions on the periphery are abandoned, but you don't see what's happening to cause all of it. Granted, real life viewers are expected to know anyway, but to anyone in-universe they most likely have no idea what might be happening.
  • There is an in-universe example that is Played for Laughs (albeit with some Black Comedy) in the 1967 sex comedy A Guide For the Married Man. A playboy spends most of the movie instructing his friend on how to commit a foolproof adultery, and his examples of both successful and unsuccessful adulteries are acted out throughout the film. One features a husband (actor Terry-Thomas) foolishly using his own bedroom for a tryst with a ditzy blonde (Jayne Mansfield, in her last film) while his wife is away. The next morning the girl finds that she has misplaced her bra, alarming the husband; no matter how thoroughly they search, neither of them can find it. The scene then shifts back to present day, with the main character (Walter Matthau) asking his playboy friend if he can see what became of this man - and at that moment an impossibly ancient man enters the building. The playboy explains that this is the husband from the story he's just told, and that despite appearances he's still young - but since the bra was never found by anyone, the husband lived in constant fear that his wife would eventually find the bra, realize it wasn't hers, and fly into a rage. The extreme worrying turned him old before his time. (Of course, it's entirely possible that the girl never put on a bra and then forgot that she hadn't, which just makes the entire scenario both funnier and darker.)
  • Adrift: Given the film's nature as a Dolled-Up Installment of Open Water, one might be expecting sharks or something similarly scary to show up and menace the protagonists. Nope, it's just them being trapped on the open sea and not being able to get back on their boat or get help in time. Although there's a false alarm at least once, the real threat isn't something trying to eat them but drowning.
  • The VVitch uses this to unbelievably good effect, the overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia and dread is so oppressive you're almost begging for a Jump Scare to break up the tension.
    • Black Philip in human form at the end. The camera stays fixed on Thomasin's face the entire time, and the room is so dark it's impossible to make out any detail, but as soon as we hear the line "What dost thou want?" it's very clear who we're dealing with.
    • The ultimate fate of the Twins, there's never any clear answer but whatever it was can't be good.
  • The ending of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas manages to make incredibly smart use of its PG-13 rating for this effect. When Bruno and Shmuel wind up in a gas chamber, the actual event of the gassing has a chilling lack of detail; all we see is the gas being poured in, and all of the lights in the chamber turning off before it cuts away. The film's final shot is arguably the scariest part of the movie; it's a zooming-away shot of the chamber Bruno and Shmuel were in, and it's completely silent.
  • "The Box," the first segment of the anthology film XX, runs on this. A curious little boy asks an elderly man on a train what he is carrying inside of a box, and the old man lets him take a peek inside of it. After seeing it, the boy stops eating, and despite a pediatrician outright telling him that he'll die if he keeps starving himself, he doesn't care. Eventually, he shares what he saw in the box with both his sister and his father, who stop eating as well, leaving the mother the only survivor of the event. And we never find out what was in the box. What on Earth could be so horrible that it would do that to someone?
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming makes an unbelievably chilling use of this when we find out that Adrian Toomes, the Vulture himself, is Liz's father. Rather than cheaping out, the scene wisely puts the viewers in Peter's shoes, as all he can do is stunnedly fake smile his way through their meeting at the house- making this even better is that Adrian doesn't know Peter is Spider-Man... yet, thus making Peter's reaction to this even more intense. Things get even more intense when Toomes drives Liz and Peter to the Homecoming dance, and Liz gets foot in mouth, inadvertently revealing that Peter is Spider-Man (indirectly, of course, but still giving away enough detail for Adrian to do the math). At one point, Adrian's reaction grows more and more tense, thinking he's going to snap at Peter, but instead he just gives a condescending comment and drives on. Over yet? Nope. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, Adrian tells Liz to go inside the school and makes Peter stay behind to give him the "dad talk". At this point you're just begging for a fight to break out so the damn tension can ease up. Instead, Adrian pulls a gun on Peter and gives him a speech about how he'd literally kill Peter, a teenager if that's what it took to keep his family safe. Worse, he doesn't even raise his voice, he says it in a completely casual tone, as if to talk about the weather. Peter then goes inside the school, too shaken by what he's just experienced to enjoy himself. So he leaps into action and grabs a homemade suit, finally satisfying us after sitting through such a tense 10-minute stretch
    • Speaking of Spider-Man, he himself is an in-universe example of this in Captain America: Civil War. Only Tony Stark knows who he is; to everyone else, he just shows up to whoop Team Cap's asses and leave. Only Cap sorta gets to know him and that's being kind. Everyone who he squares off against is deeply unsettled by his freaky fast reflexes and wisecracking persona, even more unsettled by the fact that he takes this all lightly. He even makes Bucky Barnes HIMSELF a tad creeped out when he throws a punch his way and the only way Spidey reacts is to be awestruck at his metal arm.
  • The scene from Grizzly Man where we see Werner Herzog listening to the audio of Timothy Treadwell's violent death. He's wearing noise-cancelling headphones, so the audience is thankfully not privy to the sounds and it is instead left up to our imagination. The normally-unflappable Herzog is noticeably disturbed by it, and tells Timothy's friend Jewel that she should never listen to the tape and should in fact destroy it, because otherwise it would hang over her head for the rest of her life.

  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Midnight," there is...something... that torments the Doctor and the people he's traveling with. We never find out anything about it, other than that it utterly deconstructs an ordinary Doctor Who episode and brings all of the Doctor's flaws to the forefront. Oh and the clearest "description" of the monster is from one of the characters before he is immediately killed.
    Claude: Look, look! There it is! There it is! Look there!
    The Doctor: Where? What was it?
    Claude: Like, just something shifting. Something sort of… Dark. Like it was… running.
    The Doctor: Running which way?
    Claude: Towards us.
    • From "The Pandorica Opens": never have the words "silence will fall" been more scary. Even the background music stops. Earlier in the same episode, we suddenly hear "silence will fall" spoken by a hideous, rasping voice out of goddamn nowhere, just before the TARDIS is hijacked. The source of the sound, and hence the source of the tampering, is never shown (and only vaguely alluded to in a much later episode).
    • Played with more famously in "Blink", when every time you see the Weeping Angels, people are safe. It's between these moments that they're lethal, but the audience is most frightened when everything is, for the moment, clearly fine by the story's rules.
    • Waaaaaaaay way back in the classic series (in the second serial!), Ian drinks from a river and the camera shows his face reacting in horror to something underwater. He has no idea what it was he saw and later on a secondary character in the same place is heard screaming in fear as he is dragged under the surface. What exactly it was is never revealed.
    • In the serial after that one, the Doctor and his companions are trapped inside the TARDIS, which is stalled in the Void, while everything is both broken and working at the same time...while Susan screams about something having gotten inside the TARDIS and trying to kill one of the other companions with a pair of scissors.
    • The concept of "the Void" as the gap which separates universes, according to the Tenth Doctor's explanation in "Army of Ghosts".
      The Doctor: There's all sorts of realities around using different dimensions. Billions of parallel universes all stacked up against each other. The Void is in between, containing absolutely nothing. Imagine that no light, no dark, no up, no down. No life. No time. Without end. My people called it the Void, the Eternals called it the Howling. But some people call it Hell.
    • The central premise of the episode "Listen": The Doctor tries to find out why "nothing" is so unnerving, and concludes that there is a race so effective at hiding that no-one has ever seen them. In his investigation, he finds himself in several situations where he confronts a scary "nothing", but never actually sees them. Because they probably don't exist. Sometimes your imagination playing tricks on you is just your imagination playing tricks on you, even in Doctor Who.
    • There are many fans who find Missing Episodes scarier than surviving episodes thanks to this trope. Fans are occasionally forced to reevaluate a story thought of as a masterpiece of horror after the visuals are rediscovered and shown to be rather dull or poorly executed compared to a terrifying central concept. "Fury from the Deep", in which the seaweed monster is represented by a terrifying electronic pounding that appears in the background of scenes, is one episode that probably benefits from an audio-only reconstruction rather than viewing a slideshow of dreadful seaweed costumes and foam.
  • Used very effectively in the Torchwood episode "Countrycide" where it seems as if aliens are kidnapping and skinning people. Made even more creepy when we learn the danger is the local villagers, who kidnap strangers in order to eat them. Just because it "makes them happy". It's the only episode in the entire Whoniverse that doesn't feature anything supernatural, which is completely Played for Drama. Gwen suffers a full-on breakdown from the realization that humans can be worse than any alien threat she'll ever face.
  • Parodied in an episode of The Weird Al Show that aired shortly after The Blair Witch Project became a hit. Al announced that they would show a clip of the upcoming Blair Witch 2 (years before the film was actually made), which will be "the first film done entirely with the lens cap on." Cut to a solid black screen and a woman's voice screaming, "oh no, it's coming, it's so big and so horrible! AAAAAH!" Cut back to Al, who says "now isn't it scarier when they leave it to your imagination?"
  • The red bag in Ideal, which apparently contains something terrifying enough to reduce Ax-Crazy gangsters to tears. What is actually in it is never revealed.
  • Stranger Things uses this to excellent effect in a Shout-Out to The Mist as seen above. One of the Red Shirt military gets a cable tied to a harness around his waist and sent through the portal in the Hawkins research lab. The scientists on our side of the Upside-Down lose radio contact with him, hear the Demogorgon snarling and screeching, and pull back only the harness, covered in blood and goo. We don't even to see his corpse.]
  • The Twilight Zone:
    • The episode "The Eye of the Beholder." A doctor and a nurse discuss the patient of their experimental reconstructive surgery - a woman whose face is so deformed that other people have hated and reviled her all her life. And they're preparing to take off the bandages to see if the surgery has worked. The set-up to The Reveal is so effective that it strips the rest of the episode of any possible Narm-itude.
    • In "Death's Head Revisited," Gunther Lutze tortured his prisoners in a manner that one of his victims, Becker, described as "unspeakable". He is forced to undergo it. It's unknown what exactly he did (though the fact that he was clutching at his eyes and groin gives us a few ideas), but the agony is so great that it causes his final descent into insanity.
    • In "And When the Sky Was Opened," three astronauts return from a space mission and begin to disappear one by one—that is, their names are stricken from reports, and everyone but the astronauts, including their own parents, lose all memory of them. We never find out why this is happening. One of the astronauts briefly muses that they were supposed to die in the mission, but survived, causing the universe to begin to balance itself, but this fails to explain why they're outright vanishing from the fabric of reality itself.
  • This one's not so much scary as extremely tense, but in the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos the family is in a diner, waiting for the daughter, Meadow, to show up. The scene is shot using slightly odd angles with slightly jumpy cuts, and the camera keeps focusing on people sitting nearby. The whole effect is rather unsettling, as though something big and terrible is about to happen, especially given that in the previous few episodes most of the show's characters have been shot dead by a rival 'family'. The tension builds as Meadow approaches the diner, then she opens the door... and the series ends.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Body" - in which Joyce's body is found - has very little actually happening, making it that much more depressing. And of course, since this is Buffy, nobody is safe from further abuse, even the fans. So it also eliminates the background soundtrack to remove the possible relief of tension it could provide. The effect is, shall we say, powerful. What makes it even scarier is when Dawn tries to use a spell to bring Joyce back to life. We see a pair of legs staggering from the cemetery, a shadow pass by the window, and the front doorknob rattling...but Dawn stops the spell just as Buffy is about to open the door, so we never see Joyce's face or upper body. Fans have pointed out the Fridge Brilliance that arises after Buffy herself comes back from the dead in a later season; she's just fine, and presumably, Joyce would have been too, which makes it all the sadder.
  • Another Diner scene, from the episode "Two Minutes to Midnight" in Supernatural, when Dean catches up to Death. It's basically just two guys talking and eating pizza, albeit with a bunch of dead bodies lying around, but you could cut the tension with a knife. For just a hint of why he was so nervous: Dean's faced monsters, demons, even angels. Death, on the other hand, is possibly the oldest being in the universe and will one day reap God. All he wants is to have a nice chat and a slice of pizza though, but it is still unnerving as hell.
  • In an episode of Bones, the characters are investigating the dead body found in the middle of nowhere by a UFO hunter. The episode is known for several creepy moments, unusual for the crime drama. However, the scariest moment happens at the end, after the murder is solved. Booth and Brennan are in a field, lying on a car hood, stargazing and talking about the possibility of alien life. Suddenly, all sounds stop, even the crickets and the wind don't make a sound. Both characters are suddenly very uncomfortable. End of the episode. Made worse as, right after this happens, Booth asks "Did you hear that?" The viewers NEVER FIND OUT WHAT THEY HEARD.
  • Parodied in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of "Manos" The Hands of Fate, a movie where nothing happens for long periods of time. As the Manos characters stare at each other uncomfortably for a few minutes as scare chords play, one of the riffers responds by saying "Ambiguity is scary!"
  • The Outer Limits (1963) had an episode called "Cry of Silence" that was intended to work off this trope. Unfortunately, the first half of the episode involves possessed killer tumbleweeds, and a later scene features possessed Frogs and Toads; both of these tend to invoke giggles rather than shudders.
  • An episode of Millennium has this occur. The group is aware of a serial killer whose motive is proving nobody is safe, and part of his MO is casing out "high security" suburban homes during their open house showings. They know him well enough to set up a sting for him on the "right" night, and they've got a strong suspect and a picture, just no proof prior to the sting. When the sting goes off, however, nothing happens... until they realize they're in a suburban housing tract, and every house for blocks around them has the exact design plan as the one they assumed he was in. This being the "right" night, he's somewhere in one of these identical houses, killing again, and they won't find him until he's done. They get to spend the rest of the night dwelling on that as a family dies.
  • Twin Peaks, already a somewhat creepy and unsettling series, also had a vibe throughout it that there was something beyond the town, just watching. Many viewers think that it was a Wendigo, never seen but felt.
  • In the Firefly episode "Bushwacked," the entire derelict ship is one long example of this: nothing but empty corridors, signs of habitation, and a crewman's log that interrupts right in the middle. But you know something's wrong, because River is acting very odd. This is also one of those cases where the crew discovering what caused the disaster is in fact as scary as the nothing preceding it, made even scarier when one survivor of derelict ship is dangerously affected by whatever the hell happened to him.
  • Legion uses this quite often to truly excellent effect, to the extent where it makes a morbidly obsese man slowly walking forwards absolutely terrifying. In a manner not unlike the Slender Man examples listed elsewhere on this page, half the time he appears the Devil with the Yellow Eyes isn't even doing anything, he's just hanging out in the background, watching the characters. Watching closely.
    • The show does a truly masterful job of replicating the feeling of a nightmare, where things feel indescribably wrong but it's hard to say why. The scene in the psychiatrist's office, where a mass of disembodied hands are breaking through the walls, lit by eerie blood-red lighting, and nobody but Syd can see them, nor do we get to see what's on the other side of the wall, is an excellent example.
    • A visibly terrified David singing "The Rainbow Connection" to Syd in his dreamworld, trying desperately to warn her of the danger but totally unable to move or do anything about it. Way to make the fucking Muppets scary, guys.
  • Sherlock:
    • In the episode "The Hounds of Baskerville", after accidentally inhaling a hallucinogenic that induces fear, John gets locked in a lab where he hears the growls of the titular hound and desperately tries to hide by locking himself in a cage. He eventually claims he can see the hound, but the audience never does.
    • During Moriarty's trial, said character looks up to where John is sitting and smirks, with John looking visibly uncomfortable. The former had kidnapped John for hours, leaving him unarmed and unable to defend himself with a bomb strapped onto him. We never find out what exactly happened during the time John had left for Sarah's apartment and Sherlock arriving at the pool. Only that John - who was described by Sherlock of having Nerves of Steel and developed a hand tremor because he missed being in danger - was extremely pale, haggard and seconds away from collapsing.
    • In the series 3 finale, after Sherlock gets John out of a bonfire, we don't know who threw him in the bonfire, and neither does Sherlock. But who wants to bet that he was basically willing to find out who almost killed his friend?
  • Babylon 5 uses this for a Discussed Trope: Ivanova hates it when nothing is going wrong. In her experience, something is always going wrong. Thus, if nothing seems to be going wrong, it simply means that she hasn't yet discovered what huge problem has developed for her to deal with.
  • Despite True Detective usually keeping everything pretty graphic, the directors chose to leave the horror to the imagination when Cohle makes Hart watch the videotape of the Fontenot murder.
  • During the climactic fight in episode 9 of Daredevil, Matt manages to deflect Nobu's weapon up to a flood light, breaking it, sending sparks flying downward which ignite the gasoline surrounding Nobu and set him on fire. Instead of screaming in pain like anyone on fire would, he makes a run for Matt letting out a "kick" yell. Matt knocks him out, but instead of screaming and crying, he's just... silent. Which is even more disturbing.
  • An interesting instance of this trope being Played for Laughs is the Friends episode "The One Where Heckles Dies". Near the beginning, the titular Heckles comes up to the Monica's apartment telling them to stop stomping, which they aren't. They then decide to mockingly stomp to make fun of him, only for him to drop dead. Later in the episode, they go down to his apartment to clean it... and then they hear the exact same stomping he was hearing. You get one guess as to whether or not we ever find out where that stomping was coming from. Hint: the answer is two letters.

  • 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"...

  • 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 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 Original 
  • 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.
  • In Zero Punctuation's review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Yahtzee states that the form of terror Nothing is Scarier invokes (although he does not refer to the trope by name, instead using a humorous example), "is best, because your imagination is doing all the work. All a good horror game needs to do is hand you a piece of sandpaper and shout encouragement as you vigorously massage your own undercarriage."
  • Towards the end of this video from The Onion. The narrator says "Somehow the fear of spiders is even worse than the spiders themselves."
  • Often used in Welcome to Night Vale, something which the purely audio-format makes particularly effective. We don't know what exactly re-education, Valentines Day or Street Cleaning entails, but we can imagine that it is terrible.
    Cecil: Listeners, the only thing more terrifying than seeing the devil is no longer being able to see the devil.
  • In The 99 Rooms, except for one or two rooms, there's never anything really in-your-face terrifying. Maybe in-your-face would be for the better...
  • In the Creepypasta Suicide Mouse, the majority of the titular episode is just Mickey Mouse walking past some buildings while odd noises play. It somehow managed to make an employee who was watching it commit suicide.
  • 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 
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: "SB-129":
  • 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 AI 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!

  • 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.

  • 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 for a 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 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lake Mungo: While you see images of a ghost in photos and videos throughout the movie, most of these are later revealed to be fake. But during the credits, you see the ghost is actually in some of the fake photos, just very well hidden.
  • In Signs, Mel Gibson's character is in his corn field at night. He hears a noise behind him and whirls around, shining his light between some rows to reveal... nothing. Then the alien moves.
  • At the end of Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is chasing after the Beast, following it across the roof, running past a row of gargoyles in the darkness. Then one of the gargoyles moves...
  • In another example from Alien, near the very end, Ripley escapes the Xenomorph by abandoning ship to a shuttle. The soundtrack ceases, she removes her EVA gear and starts preparing for suspended animation over a couple of minutes of near-silence. Slowly and simultaneously, Ripley and the audience both realize that the metallic-colored Xenomorph has been sleeping in the wall of the shuttle for the entire scene, feet away from Ripley. Then it wakes up.
    • Even earlier, before the Alien grabs Brett, a shot showing the chains hanging from the ceiling of the compartment he's in shows the Alien. But since it's all folded up and looks nothing like the tiny little flesh-colored snake it was the last time you saw it, you won't realize that the first time you watch the film. Maybe not even the second, third, fourth, or fifth time. . .
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a brilliant use of this, where Radagast makes his way into the ruined castle where the Necromancer lives. He gazes at a statue in wonder for a few seconds before walking away from it. Then the camera pans to the statue... and it clenches its fist.
  • The Japanese One Missed Call series love this. The scene looks completely normal as the character exchange dialogue until something moves slightly in the background and you realise the ghost has been onscreen the whole time.
  • In Megan Is Missing, there is a scene where Amy, the titular Megan's best friend, videotapes herself talking under her "secret" overpass hiding spot. Later on, after Amy is abducted by the same man who kidnapped and killed Megan, the police find the video Amy made in her hiding spot. After watching it, they realize that the abductor was in the background the entire time, camouflaged by the trees in the background. If you go back and rewatch that scene, you'll be able to spot him spying on Amy.
  • The Hunt uses this in one scene in a similar manner to Alien, to a brilliant effect. Lucas and his son Marcus are making dinner together, and the audience notices the scene is really long and drawn out. It isn't until a shot of the windowpane later that the audience realizes the director did this to distract the audience from the fact that something is about to happen. From there on, the audience knows that someone was outside the house the entire time, and a Jump Scare occurs where a brick goes flying through the window, leading the audience to be every bit as shocked as the characters.
  • Combined with the "wait for it" variation to terrifying effect in Rogue One. After escaping with the Death Star plans, the Rebel crew frantically flee as their ship is boarded by Imperial troops, but find themselves trapped at a jammed door, and then the lights go off. And then they realize they're not alone in the darkness, with the only sounds being the creaking of the ship, the wailing of the alarm, and their own labored breathing. And then we hear someone else breathing, and a blood-red lightsaber beam extends, and then it's all over.
  • A couple of times in Hot Fuzz your focus will be on a character interaction in the foreground of a shot - only to realise when those characters leave that the killer is in the background.
  • The 2013 short film "Lights Out" by David F. Sandberg, especially the first 36 seconds. It's a bit more conventional after that.
  • Much of the first half of The Babadook is heavy on this. Lots of scenes appear to be normal until a character moves and you realize the terrorizing force has been in plain sight the whole time. The film gets more psychological after that.
  • Angels & Demons has a lot of scenes where the characters are investigating, only for The Assassin have been revealed to be in the same room with them the whole time.
  • Jurassic World does this twice with the Indominus rex. The first time, it's presumed to have escaped, and some characters enter the paddock to investigate. But meanwhile, a separate group of characters locate her tracking implant, and she's in the paddock still, within striking distance of the protagonists. The second time, her tracking implant is already being traced and the characters can't seem to find her at the indicated location. We expect her to be hiding in plain sight as before, but then they find the implant embedded in a chunk of flesh; she's clawed it out. She could be anywhere right now...and she's right in front of them, camouflaged against the jungle foliage.
  • If you watch Copycat all the way through, and then start the movie from the beginning and watch carefully a second time, you'll be amazed at how many times the serial killer in question is right there all along, watching the heroes try to find him.
  • In Justice League, Dr. Silas Stone comes home from work one night to find everything in the apartment ransacked, thinking Cyborg destroyed everything in a fit of rage. And then the camera pans to reveal a Parademon that has been in the room with him the whole time...

  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • The first and third series had this in a unique form. Bad Wolf is strewn heavily throughout the season, but you don't even notice until they point it out. You think to yourself, "That won't catch me off guard again" until you realise that "Mr Saxon" and "Vote Saxon" thread of series 3 connect to a newspaper article in "Love & Monsters" and the order to shoot the Monster of the Week in "The Runaway Bride". The first appearance of the "Vote Saxon" posters actually appears in series 1 of Torchwood.
    • There's the Empty Child. We hear a recording of the Child saying "Are you my mummy?" over and over again. Then we find out that the tape has already run out.
    • As well as the Weeping Angels in "The Time of Angels". The first half of the episode is spent hunting a Weeping Angel that's hiding among a mausoleum of stone statues of an extinct two-headed species. The characters venture deep into the mausoleum in search of it, until that thing that was bothering them comes into focus—the stone statues only have one head, meaning all the statues are Weeping Angels.
    • The Silence of series 6 are an excellent example of this. They're almost an opposite of the Angels in that they only seem to exist when you are looking at them. As soon as you look away, you forget they were even there. This can get really creepy when the viewer knows where they are and what they are doing but the characters act like everything is normal. It is especially creepy when the scene is progressing as normal and all of a sudden a character turns around and there are tally marks all over their arms (each tally mark means they have seen a monster) or their palm glows red (the Doctor put a device in their palms which lets them record messages. It then glows red until the message is played back). Amy and Canton Delaware visit a creepy orphanage. At night. During a thunderstorm. They split up so Amy can explore on her own. She enters a room, doesn't see anything (and neither do we). She walks over to a window, looks out, and sees her reflection in the window revealing that she's seen dozens of Silence in the room that we haven't.
    • "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" — one of the explorers is repeatedly urging the Doctor to get a move on... and then you (and the Doctor) realize that he's repeating because Vashta Nerada ate him without anyone noticing, and his suit is repeating his last words.
  • In one episode of Psych, a killer is stalking a woman in a cabin, but only the viewer sees him. This leads to the extremely creepy shot of the woman talking on the phone, the killer nowhere in sight...and then he moves away from the window in the background.
  • In an episode of Sherlock, the titular detective is inside the house of a missing person, and he's trying to find out how the burglar was able to get out, despite all doors and windows being locked, and all other exits being sealed. "Oh, stupid. Stupid. Obvious. He's still here.

    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.
  • Edensphere had an event based around Silent Hill. Basically, Sam Vimes, there called Stoneface, and Cecil Harvey, there called Paladin, ended up there, and, after various monsters and creepy children happened came this part. Note that "nothing" is always struck out.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.

    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...