What I mean by this rather odd term is the recognition that an act or movement is partly natural and partly unnatural. Things move in ways they just aren't supposed to--whether doing physically impossible actions, or--much more subtly--keeping some things moving naturally while others stay unnaturally still.
But I can ramble on about this all day with no one getting any closer to understanding me. So, let's move on to the examples, shall we?
This is a video from How To Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor's (of Nine Inch Nails fame) new band with his wife, who does double duty here as a singer and as a dead body. (Reznor is, however, pictured without his legendary nails.) We've got a pretty uncanny start in this video, displaying some of the methods I discussed above. The video begins with a number of quick shots of enigmatic objects, and slowly we piece together the idea that two people have been quite thoroughly murdered here. We've got some signs already that something weird is going on, though--there's the shot of the sink overflowing, the cigarette slowly burning down unsmoked, the shot of someone apparently having quite a pleasant conversation on the phone, and then there's... there's... oh god, is that corpse...
|Yup, that's definitely a singing corpse. May I express my feelings with an "Auuuuaaauugh."|
Yup. Hooboy. This is where the video takes a turn into the realm of horror. It is totally decontextualized horror, of course: we have absolutely no idea what's going on, or what happened directly before we poked our heads into the video. And it's all the more disturbing because of it.
There are some subtleties to how this disturbance works, though. This corpse isn't Helena, getting up and doing a jerky ballet down the aisle of the First Church of Our Lord And Savior Gerard Way. No, this corpse is staying right where she fell, not even getting up to put out the fire that is consuming her. The key to the creep factor of this video is the way only her lips move, the rest of her body, including her cold, dead eyes, remaining perfectly still. I mean, take a good look at her when she mouths the line "Still remain, the things we couldn't kill":
|This picture took me a whole two minutes to create! You smucks had better appreciate it!|
What, you don't believe me? Try talking without moving your eyes and nose. You can do it, sure, but it doesn't seem particularly natural, does it? There's something weird about talking without even slight changes of facial expression. And, of course, I doubt you can sing without your throat moving a little bit. This is part of where the uncannyness comes from. It's not just that we've got a corpse here that's singing, it's the fact that the corpse is singing in a materially impossible way.
Er, impossible beyond the obvious. Of course.
And, because Trent Reznor is not one to go halfway on things, she keeps singing even as she is consumed by flames.
|Fire in the disco! Fire in the... Taco B--oh, wait, wrong song.|
The same effect is at work in the beginning of the second of the seventh Harry Potter movies. Yes, we're back to that again. Check out this cobbled together version of the intro sequence:
What stands out to me is the shot beginning at roughly 0:35--the Dementors hovering around Hogwarts. You're all smart people, so you probably have a good idea of what I'm going to say now--these creatures are particularly disturbing to look at because they should be in motion and they aren't. Hell, they even look like they're moving when you pull out a still frame:
|Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's OH GOD THEY'RE EATING MY SOUL|
I think I'll leave you with that cheery image (They're Coming To Get You, Dear Reader! HAHAHA), but before I flit off I think I'll leave you with one final example of the kind of uncannyness I've described here. Check out this Korean comic. Turn on your speakers. And scroll downward nice and slow. Don't worry if you don't know Korean.
Trust me... you'll understand it just fine.
After all, if these examples are any indication, some things just go completely beyond words and into realms where the mind can do little but quake. I think, perhaps, that this effect is particularly potent when applied to us modern, rational, technology-besotted folk. We have been raised to view the world as a concrete, relatively consistent, comprehensible place. When the rules of that ordered world begin to slowly unscrew themselves, and the seams of things rattle apart, is it any surprise when the goosebumps rise on our arms, almost of their own accord?
As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days. Oh, and I'm looking for guest entries this month, so if you have something interesting to say about things that generally fit the theme, send them my way.