With an honourable mention to Jaws.
With an honourable mention to Jaws.
The monsters not quite seen have always seemed the scariest to me. But, according to my five year old grand nephew the two scariest monsters are the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz and the dog from The Mask (when it wears the mask).
The shark in Jaws. To this day I still scan the ocean when I go swimming.
If we're speaking of strictly non-human monsters, then there are a couple of candidates. The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, for one. Don't EVER watch their episodes alone, in the dark, at 12:30 at night. It' the whole concept of something moving in the corner of your eye, and finding, when you turn around, that a statue has moved just a little bit. And that it suddenly has fangs and claws. **shudder** The Un-Man from Lewis' Perelandra also creeped me the hell out. I'm sure there are other examples of that sort of possession principle, but that's the one that had the biggest impression on me.
And then the human monsters. Ooooohhhhhhh brother, the human monsters. I think one of the most freaky things one can see in fiction is to look at a character and see just enough of oneself in the character to think, "Crap, that could be me." Excellent example is Dr. Lecter. The contrast between the cold manipulations he performs on all the characters and the visceral, inhuman glee he shows when escaping from that cage is just chilling. He switches between the two seamlessly in the part when he mauls the guard's face and then calmly beats the other one to a pulp. Creepy as all hell.
Then there's Milady, from The Three Musketeers. I think the movies focused too much on Richelieu as the villain and ignored Milady de Winter completely. She, IMO, is the actual villain of the book. Richelieu is just a political schemer most of the time. Granted, he's a ruthless bastard, but he's not vicious or malicious. But Milady is both, in that cold uncaring way that reminds you of a snake. I think one of the most horrifying things in the world is to see a human intellect act on such an animal level that they lose their... well, for lack of a better word, their soul. It cuts too close to home.
I wonder if y'all would do me the honor of evaluating this one:
"It resembled a dragon: its long body, somewhat snake-like, was supported by short, thick legs. Along its tail there were long, sharp spikes protruding in all directions. The wide mouth sported wicked teeth sixteen inches long and fangs twice that, dripping with a yellow viscous slime that smoked when it splattered on the floor. Its thick, green, leather-like skin looked nearly impenetrable. ...gnashing its maw and spewing both the viscous material and the green ooze that was its blood. The combination of the fluids began eating through the stones it dripped on..."
Excerpt from "Barbarian Tales" by John T. M. Herres, c.2011, unpublished.
I think it needs more personality. For all we know at this moment, its temperament could be as placid as a hamster's.
This is all before and during a fight scene. I figured it may be too long to insert the whole scene, and it is in the fifth chapter. I could post the entire scene if you think it may clarify the image...
In a lot of these cases, there is an activating agent, but a lot of these answers--Jaws, the Shining, Hannible, etc., the really scary thing is actually human nature. What we can do to each other (in print and otherwise) is far more frightening than flat out evil. We know humans aren't absolute evil at birth. We are pretty sure dragons don't exist. What we or those we love or those we trust could do given the right push--that's what's scary when you take away the trappings.
Okay, so it seems everyone's saying is that it's not the big Cthulhupoid planet-devouring beasties that frighten people. It's the monsters who are human, the monsters who are close enough to us that we can see ourselves in them.
Like, for example, the Nazgūl. They're scary and well designed, with their black cloaks and horses and crowns and swords and sniffing. But the fact that they were once human it makes us think, "That could be me!" It's what makes the Nazgūl so much more iconic and frightening than, say, the Dementors from Harry Potter. The Dementors don't have any backstory. If Rowling had said that they were (for example) souls of those who had killed others through Dark Magic, then they'd be far more frightening. But they're not, because they don't have that human element. Because the Nazgūl are close to us and yet so far away, a "dark mirror of humanity" as Gaiman puts it, they're that scarier.
Good to know! Thanks for your replies, everyone. And make sure you keep talking.
you radiate cold shafts of broken glass
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