Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Enter Freudstein: Fulci, Freud and the Uncanny

It's true that, as we have discussed in class, Fulci's House By the Cemetery is possibly a pastiche of every horror film ever made, but perhaps we should take a more direct cue from the obvious references to Freud (Freudstein is the name of the monster) and his discussion of the uncanny. Freud's essay does not give any definitive answer to the problem of the uncanny, but instead explores many possibilities of what the uncanny can mean and how it manifests itself both in literature and in the lives of individuals. I would argue that House by the Cemetery is in keeping with Freud's discussion and can be read as Fulci's own exploration of the uncanny. We may even be able to argue that the film mirrors (or acts as the double of) Freud's essay.

What I think is at the heart of the uncanny for Freud is the sense of familiarity that is tied so closely to uncanniness, and that it is the emergence of what we have repressed that defines the uncanny.  He argues that the uncanny "is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-- established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression. This reference to the factor of repression enables understand Schelling's definition of the uncanny as something which ought to have been kept concealed but which has nevertheless come to light" (12-13). Because the uncanny is the emergence of what has been repressed, or paraphrasing Kristeva in regards to the similar notion of abjection, what has been thrust aside in order to create the subjective "I", some patterns may be seen, but ultimately the uncanny is different for every individual. Simply stated, the uncanny is when the rational way of seeing the world breaks down and the superstitions and magic beliefs once held by "primitive" societies and repressed through rational subjectivity, which could be seen as a product of the Renaissance, break through in various ways.  Freud briefly touches on some of these patterns, as does Fulci. They include doubling, and on a related note, the automaton. This is evident in House by the Cemetery when May has the vision of the mannequin's head falling off, who we then see is a double of Anna the baby sitter. The doll May gives to Bob can be seen in a similar way as a double for May or even for Bob.  We also have the creepy sound of a child crying when Freudstein is nearby, thus creating another strange doubling effect.

Freud also points out that "One of the most uncanny and wide-spread forms of superstition is the dread of the evil eye" and indeed eyes play a significant role in both Freud's understanding of the uncanny and in Fulci's demonstration of it. Freud chooses to discuss Hoffman's story "The Sandman" in which eyes play a prominent role as the fairytale of the sandman who plucks out the eyes of children is doubled by the evil optometrist. Freud argues that the destruction of the eyes is similar to castration and is therefore especially uncanny. In House by the Cemetery the monster Freudstein has no eyes, and yet Bob sees several pairs of eyes in the basement.

Could Freudstein be a reconfiguration of the Sandman? I say yes. Especially because Fulci not only chooses to show the disembodied eyes in the basement, but cinematically he also focuses on the eyes, and the film contains several extreme close-ups of eyes. At one point the husband even tells the wife that maybe she needs glasses.  I'm not sure if we can say that Fulci agrees with Freud and the whole castration thing, but clearly Freudstein's lack of eyes in contrast with the abundance of eyes references Freud's discussion of the Sandman and the uncanny and may perhaps reveal Fulci's own fear of castration? At the very least I would call the film an homage to Freud. 

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