The Uncanny in “Scary” Media

Belanna Morales

Blog Post #2

As a part of psychoanalytical theory, Sigmund Freud writes about “The ‘Uncanny’”. While it is commonly used as a word that describes “dread and horror”, the concept is far more complicated (825). Freud summarizes this simply as a “class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (825). Like many psychological topics, this specific kind of fear has its roots in childhood but also stems from the deeper well of general, primal human fears.

Another word that encapsulates “uncanny” its German counterpart, unheimlich. This too, seems complicated, as it “means what is familiar and agreeable” and also “what is concealed and kept out of sight” (827). The feeling of unheimlich occurs when that which is concealed, usually behind the familiar, comes to light. Typically, what is concealed is within the unconscious, like wishes, fears, desires, and primal fears. Unheimlich is also translated to the English “unhomely”, which again relates back to the concealment of unconscious thoughts behind what is familiar.

Uncanniness is commonly found within the paranormal category of horror, or scary, media. In class, the example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was used as an example. While I did not watch that show as a child, I did watch Lost Tapes, which, as it sounds, is a show about cryptids shown through “real home tapes” about the creature. The episode “Vampire” scared me the most as a child. Watching it now, it is very clear that these are scripted tapes that are filmed with bad cameras, but even so, there is a sense of fear that can only be described as uncanny.

Image result for lost tapes vampire

In this scene, we see the vampire creeping up to the child’s bed. While it is clear that the vampire is a man wearing a costume, that is not what makes it scary. One primal human fear is to be attacked, and humans are most vulnerable to attack when sleeping. I’m sure many of us have woken up in the middle of the night, unsure why, knowing only that we are afraid of what could be in there with you. Watching the creature about to harm this child, in his own home, is uncanny.

This scene is demonstrative of the unheimlich. The vampire has its nest within the home of this family, making this situation unhomely. It is an unseen creature, coming to light although it should not have. It is uncanny to think that this family shares its familiar space with something unfamiliar and dangerous. The unknown is living among the known. Earlier in the episode, the vampire rips open and takes part of the boy’s stuffed teddy bear. In this scene here, we can see that it used some of the fluff to add to its nest. Again, the familiar and pleasant teddy bear is used in an unfamiliar, fearful situation.

In this final scene, the primal fear of helplessness is the unhidden that has come to life. It is common to have nightmares about something coming after you and being utterly helpless to stop it. Especially for this child, this fear is intensified because not even his parents can stop it from breaking down the door and chasing them.

These Lost Tapes, while clearly not scary in the conventional sense, produce real discomfort among viewers because of the uncanniness created by primal fears coming to light and the unhomely living space of the vampire.

Image result for lost tapes vampire

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1 Comment

  1. Michael K. Johnson

     /  March 14, 2017

    Good explanation of “The Uncanny”–and those are definitely creepy images.


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