Unknown, unnerving

sky storm (6)While watching a military movie, that was unexpectedly full of death in gory detail (i.e. multiple flying body parts) my mind decided I had seen enough gruesomeness I started laughing. Unable to squelch the giggles, I told my husband that I had to use the toilet and left long enough for me to regain composure, and for the film to move onto something less horrifying. Months later I was describing this slightly embarrassing moment at work, giving it as a rational for not having seen but a handful of scary movies. One of my co-workers, a former helicopter pilot in Vietnam, told me that my reaction was normal in real war. He had seen some overwhelmed soldiers start laughing in the midst of the most terrifying situations.

Writers often wonder how they can achieve the heart-pounding, hair raising effects that the sounds and sights of cinema are able to produce. One of the ways to do this is by lightening up. Provide space to breath, so that the impact of horror is more horrible. Passages can continue the move the plot (yes, plot is still a necessity in horror)  that resonate with everyday  concerns and even provide brief humorous moments. The change in intensity is what heightens  the feeling of it. Shakespeare employed this technique of comic relief in his tragedies, carrying on the plot through the humorous conversation of unimportant palace guards, minor officials and grave diggers. And so did Hitchcock, from 39 Steps to Rear Window, he places his hero’s in somewhat embarrassing situations when it comes to the opposite sex that adds humor in between suspense. 

The images and nuances of sound in movies play on the viewers emotions.  But viewers become used to these effects and  their impact is lessened each time they see them again. So the search for the next special effect is never-ending. Watching a 1940’s noir film I sometimes felt like I was trying to peer through a rain of ink wash.  But I was intrigued how the use of the unknown, something lingering just beyond the edge of the grain film, kept my pulse high.  The unknown plays on one’s imagination and is probably as frightening as any concrete scene that a writer, or filmmaker, can conjure up. The difficulty with using the unknown is the inevitable need to provide some sort of the explanation (rational or not) for events. Otherwise the reader/audience tend to be fairly unsatisfied with the work.  But whoever said this kind of writing was easy to do, and still do it well?

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