Alfred Hitchcock’s most-loved movies are nearing their 50th birthdays. And while the years since classics like “Rear Window” and “The Birds” have seen hundreds of horror films, few even begin to approach the visceral terror that Sir Alfred could stir. How could that be, given that today’s movies offer new levels of blood, gore and special effects?
Simple. He knew that the most effective horror wasn’t what played out on the screen. It was what happened inside the viewer’s mind. Take Janet Leigh’s demise in “Psycho.” Today’s director would spare no expense in giving us a colorful glimpse into Miss Leigh’s innards as Anthony Perkins performed his crude dissection. Blood, bile, and the occasional organ would splatter on the lens, leading us to rethink the gallon of Coke and pound of Raisinets we downed during the coming attractions.
All Sir Alfred gave us was a shower curtain, some water, shadows, and a shrill soundtrack. We had to imagine the rest – and therein lies the key. You see, human imagination is more powerful than any word, any visual, any piece of music. And the wise advertiser (or any other skilled propagandist) knows that. It’s a concept called “discovery,” in which the consumer of the message is presented with the dots and then must connect them on his or her own. Beyond the power of imagination itself, the fact that the consumer has to be actively involved with the message makes it even more meaningful and memorable.
So the next time some “expert” tells you that advertising must be straightforward and no-nonsense to be effective, think of the shower at the Bates Motel. You’ll see the shadows, hear the music, and know that Mr. Expert is dead … wrong.