I love old horror movies, those cinematic scares crafted before the use of realistic gore and explicit anatomical details hit celluloid. There’s something about these older tales that make them more frightening. Perhaps because the filmmakers could not shock with pictures alone, the menace embedded in each one had to be more viral, more layered, to alarm the viewer. The frights were anchored to stories.
I thrilled to Godzilla, The Crawling Hand, The Blob. Creeping fingers on a bedspread made me jump out of my chair. I still watch Jell-o with a wary eye. Well-written suspense novels also scare me—a hint is far more frightening than a blow-by-blow vivisection. When you tease the reader, he can imagine the killer himself. This is why a burlesque show is far more enticing than a stage full of naked women. Gypsy Rose Lee left something for the imagination, for the anticipation. The viewer could envision his own custom goddess.
The hint of mystery, that sense of promise—I crave that. We all do. I try to remember this as I write. It’s part of that old writer’s dictum: “Show, don’t tell”. If I give you every detail, you won’t be pulled into my work. I want you lost in the middle of my stories, groping your way along the walls with your hands. Run your fingers through the shag carpet—taste the margaritas. If I tell you everything, you will be a mere voyeur. You may decide to wander out for some popcorn and not come back.
I watched a movie last night that was all about a compromising photograph. They never showed it, but I could see every last detail in my head. I once cowered in my room late at night because a metal button on a pair of jeans was scraping a dryer drum. It sounded like someone was trying to break open my lock. Imagination is the scariest beast you can put in any story.
I’d love to tell you more, but there’s a screeching howl coming from the attic, and a couple of damp green stains are spreading on the ceiling. It’s probably nothing, but. . . .
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
20. Tell a story through words or art, omitting some details. Share it with someone and try to intrigue them. This can be as simple as a love note or as long as a novel.