Of all the horror topics I cover, I think the Uncanny Valley fascinates me the most, because it’s what hits me the hardest when it comes to fear. This is odd for me to say, as dolls don’t scare me, nor do clowns. Distorted faces do the trick for me, like the momo debacle. The whole hoax thing itself isn’t what interested me, however the basis, or the harpy statue, is what really freaked me out. Bulging eyes and jaws way too long will get me really well. The jaw thing is represented well by SCP 96, which has among the most frightening looks to me (granted, not anymore due to overexposure, but the design itself will get me.)
Plushies with human teeth, animals with human eyes that shouldn’t have them, the list goes on and on. It’s on the edge of what we should fear, and it encompasses our lack of understanding. In this article, I want to explore my personal thoughts on the uncanny valley, and why I think it’s both super fascinating and super interesting.
Before I dive in, however, VSauce explains this notion extremely well, so I wanted to share this video:
I’m a huge fan of short horror films on youtube, as I’ve covered in my other article, and wanted to share some for this article as well. VSauce dives deeply into what makes things creepy, and the uncanny valley encompasses that really well. Many people, for example, are afraid of clowns. While I do not share the fear, it might have something to do with the paint exaggerating features.
Mannequins do get to the creepy side for me, as do androids that move in an unusual fashion. I think, in my case, one of the scary factors is jerky, unnatural movement. That always throws me off when I am watching some sort of short horror, or horror in general. The slight off-ness of everything in the valley is what makes it intriguing, and the threshold is different for everyone, too.
I find it interesting how human teeth somewhere it’s not supposed to be is especially frightening to some people, and can even throw me off. Why is this? Our teeth are dull and boring. There’s no fangs, there’s no blades, yet putting human teeth somewhere they shouldn’t be is generally more creepy than something with bladed teeth. Is it because we know what to expect from the bladed-toothed-monsters, that their bite will hurt? But we have no idea what to expect from the human-toothed thing, which looks to have human teeth at least based on the jaw? I would say that likely is the case.
Here is an example of the teeth thing:
That picture is a real life example of the uncanny valley. Now, this doesn’t creep me out particularly, but those teeth are definitely human-like. The odd additional double sets of teeth are also a tad bit off-putting. Hm, you know what, I take that back, it is at least a little bit terrifying. I’m sure that thing has a pretty wicked bite too, which isn’t very fun. But the uncanny valley can exist out of manmade things, which some might not realize.
I want to delve into the use of the uncanny valley in short films. This first one isn’t meant to be horror, I think, though Omeleto does release a variety of really creepy creatures in their short films that can throw some people off. In this case, however, it’s all about telling a story, where the viewer is likely uncomfortable at first due to the design, but their attention is caught and they can really immerse into a story.
This short definitely took me off guard when I first saw it, given the design of the humanoid things. They look like a bunch of unaesthetically-pleasing (in my personal opinion) old men with questionable flat heads (which is explained later in the story.) They are tree-men, so dryads, I believe, given their root-legs and how they grow.
Well, despite the odd design and uncanny valley here, the story is on the nose about not letting general society keep you in a box, and to keep trying to crawl out of the situation despite how hard it might be. I also like how the reddish eye glow isn’t a bad thing in this situation. In this way, they uncanny valley actually works as an art piece because despite them looking somewhat creepy and not being totally human, they have human emotions in their faces and we can really connect with the odd-one-out.
While that deviates from true horror, the next video certainly does not. Warning, there are some extremely dark themes in this, self-harm, bloodshed, and this is not for an audience who can be easily frightened.
Welcome to here if you got through the video, and if not, we can still talk about it, because the subject matter is the imagined monster in this case. We see bulging eyes and an expressionless face, a head entirely absent of hair, and ears that just seem retracted into the head. The eyes alone are the things that frighten me the most here. I don’t think this would be scary without the oversized eyes, to be honest.
But that goes to show that one feature combined with other ‘unusual’ ones (even though being bald isn’t unusual, though the ears thing I’ve never seen in life before but I’m sure can happen) can really make something super creepy. This reminds me of SCP 96, something I spoke about earlier, if the exaggerated feature were the eyes as opposed to the unhinged jaw.
Take a look at this:
The ONLY different feature on both the chicken and person is the eyes, yet it rushes right into uncanny valley for most people, including me. It’s simply creepy as hell. Therefore, be mindful that uncanny valley doesn’t need a ton of bells and whistles. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing one feature on a human to look… off, in this case with chicken eyes, or one feature of an animal having ‘generally human like’ properties.
With that, hopefully I gave you more insight on uncanny valley, and how to utilize it in a variety of ways! Consider swapping certain features, and how some things might not be creepy at all applied to a human (example: Cat ears) but the reversal is (Cat with human ears). How would you play with this creep factor in horror writing, or dark fantasy, to get attention of your audience? How creeped out do you want them? It’s up to you to determine the levels here, and it’s different for everyone!
My magical college book did just come out, so if you’re interested, please give my book a look!