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Unheimlich

8 March 2012

Not here.

Put the word “unheimlich” into Google Translate, and you’ll get a result that’s something along the lines of “creepy” or “scary.” That’s not exactly accurate.

The literal translation from German is “not-at-home-ness,” the feeling that something is very wrong, but you don’t know what or why. It’s a creeping kind of feeling, to be sure, but it’s not simply “creepy.” It’s one of the reasons I like other languages — often, they have a much better way of describing things than we do in English.

It’s tough to get that unheimlich feeling across in writing. It’s easier in film, I think, if only slightly — David Lynch has managed to do it rather well. (OK, we’ll pretend I didn’t just say that anything David Lynch has done was “easy.”) But done correctly, it can be quite a powerful experience for a reader.

I haven’t managed to do it yet, though I don’t know if I’ve ever tried. But what books, stories, films have done this kind of creeping wrongness in a way that really connected with you? Which ones have tried and failed?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 March 2012 1250

    The biggest creepy movie to me is “Prince of Darkeness” where they have the Devil trapped (so they think) in an old abandoned church.

    • 9 March 2012 1443

      I love that movie. It’s the only one ever to creep me out as an adult.

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