Michael Myers suddenly appears in the background, silently stalking Laurie Strode as she walks home. As he stands there quietly, we feel a sense of dread and foreboding.
What exactly is it about him that sends shivers up and down our spines? It’s the fact his iconic mask makes him look almost like you and me, but not quite human. Coupled with its blank, set expression, it’s enough to put primordial fear in our hearts.
This phenomenon is referred to as the uncanny valley. Primarily used in horror movies to generate an authentic creep factor, it pops up in other media as well. For instance, have you ever seen those silly Father’s Day ecards that go viral? The weird way the faces look when superimposed on moving cartoon characters is an example of the uncanny valley effect. Other examples include robots that look like humans, clones, and, of course, zombies.
Why is the uncanny valley such an effective technique for inducing terror in horror films? Let’s break down the terrifying impact and influence of the uncanny valley in horror movies and other movie genres:
Loss of Identity
We like to think that we as humans are special and unique. When we come across something like a robot who looks like us, we get the idea that we can all just be replaced with these machines. We also see that on the inside, we might be nothing more than a mindless robot going through the motions. It’s a reminder of the fragility of our very own identity as an individual and even as a human. Scary indeed.
Reminder of Death
When we see Michael Myers die at the end of every movie, we know that he is going to come back. He never seems to die. All this does is remind us of how unrealistic that is. We as humans would be dead if we went through the things he went through. It’s a reminder of how easily we could end up in a morgue. He looks just like us, so we can’t help but apply his experience to ourselves.
Immune to Disease
The uncanny valley is a space filled with things that look kinda like us but with something wrong or skewed. However, many of these creatures don’t seem to be affected by the same diseases we must worry about every day. Zombies, for example, are already dead. How is a disease going to hurt them any more? We, however, could still die from that disease.
People don’t like change. Creatures from the uncanny valley look different. This makes us skeptical from the very beginning. These creatures may also not follow the same rules of society that we do. They may not have cultural norms the way we do or family structure the way we do.
Clones and robots and zombies don’t seem to show concern for any laws at all. The idea of living in a lawless society where anyone can do whatever they want, including murder, is scary. I’m pretty sure they made a movie about it. People feel more comfortable when there is order.
There are certain reasons why certain horror movie characters and tropes scare us. In the case of the terrifying impact of the uncanny valley, it’s close enough for us to relate but different enough to scare us. It’s a terrifying combination.