The intersection of fear and unknowing is precisely the point at which the notion of the 'uncanny', at least in its theoretically manifestations in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, has most often been located. Ernst Jentsch, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century (1906), saw the notion of the unheimlich (literally in German, "the un-homely") as precisely a product of a cognitive uncertainty - is this being before me alive, or an automaton; is this inanimate thing I see actually not inanimate at all, but stirring with life Freud too, despite building upon a number of Jentsch's conclusions, retained the twin notions central to the his theoretical understanding of the '…
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For Freud, then, this is the origin of the terror that has come to be associated with things that are 'uncanny'.
It should be clear from the above that, if we are to apply the notions of the uncanny to the horror film genre, then we must be quite precise about which theoretical formulation of the uncanny we are to apply. If we are to follow Jentsch's lead, and suppose that the uncanny arises purely from a cognitive lacuna, an absence knowledge, then we could say that the uncanny is utilized by almost every example of horror film. Horror relies on the unknown to create its atmosphere of terror; for example, it relies on the audience not knowing precisely when the ax-wielding murderer is about to leap out from behind the sofa. But surely this kind of scare is not precisely the same as a feeling we can call 'uncanny'. Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street may be very effective in making us scream (as too, I suppose is Scream), but we do not exit the cinema with a residual feeling of uneasiness that one might call 'uncanny.' As such we must come to the same conclusion that Schneider does in his study of the uncanny in film horror: "since not every monster that successfully instills in us a sense of horror or uncanniness is 'categorically interstitial,...incomplete, or formless,' cognitive threat could not be a necessary condition of uncanny feelings." In other words, we should turn to Freud's work and accept that the concept of the uncanny includes an element of repression, that this particular type of fear arises only when something we have repressed begins to make its influence felt once more in the forefront of our consciousness. If we do so, then the examples available to us from film history become much less common, and we must narrow our field down to the few that display a more subtle talent for terror. Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now and Robert Hardy's The Wicker Man, are two such works and, something that is hardly coincidental, are both considered cinematic greats of the horror genre. Their critical acclaim stems, in part, from their ability to create unease, as well as outright terror. They work on the level not just of film aesthetics, but of psychical processes.
Before I begin our discussion of the two films in question, it may be helpful to orientate them in relation to Freud's seminal 1919 work, "The Uncanny". As we have already discussed, the point where Freud parts company with Jentsch is on the origin of the feeling of the uncanny. After an exhaustive study of the definition of the word un-heimlich in German, Freud comes to the conclusion that its meaning has evolved in such a way that, as well as meaning something that is un-homely (i.e. something untamed, frightening), it is also something that "ought to has remained hidden but has come to light" (156). It is also (and here Freud analyzes
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