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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, December 10, 2010


Back in this essay I criticized a fantasy-film reference-work, R.G. Young's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC FILM for holding fuzzy standards in terms of what the author counted as a "fantastic film." There's no introduction in the volume, so there's no way to tell how Young justified calling some of his cited works "fantastic." I assume that this author suffered from a tendency seen in many such compilers: the tendency to place a film's presentation of a mundane emotion, such as physical fear, alongside the fear suggested by the extra-mundane as if all were covalent.

To further illustrate the problems with this problematic categorizing, I decided to see how broadly my categories "atypical, uncanny and marvelous" applies to Young's choices. I picked one letter with a smallish number of entries, namely the letter "Y," and broke down all the films Young included into what I deemed their proper categories.

I won't bother detailing how many films fell into each category, but instead I'll comment on three examples therefrom. First and easiest were the films along the line of the Japanese monster-flick YOG MONSTER FROM SPACE. Clearly no one would question that a film about a giant space amoeba is a film belonging to the category of the marvelous.

A film like this presents more of a challenge. YOU'LL FIND OUT is a comedy starring bandleader Kay Kyser but slanted toward the horror-audience by its inclusion of three horror-actor icons: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre. But even had these characters been played by actors with no horror-associations, the script propels the film into the category of the uncanny. Readers of my Todorov essays should recall that Todorov thought that any work in which the supernatural was suggested but not proven to be real should be considered "uncanny," and that holds true even without my revisions of Todorov's theory. YOU'LL FIND OUT concerns in part a phony spiritualism racket, and while it's true that the audience is never really beguiled into thinking ghosts really exist, the film's flirtation with the marvelous also makes it a "fantastic film" (albeit not in the way Todorov would have used the term).

Finally, we have YOUNG AND INNOCENT, a film Young apparently included because it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a director who usually did thrillers in the "atypical" mode but dabbled in the world of the uncanny with films like PSYCHO and THE BIRDS. But in this film the only fear presented is that of those mundane "tigers" called the police, as this imdb summation makes clear:

A film actress is murdered by her estranged husband who is jealous of all her young boyfriends. The next day, writer Robert Tisdall (who happens to be one such boyfriend) discovers her body on the beach. He runs to call the police, however, two witnesses think that he is the escaping murderer. Robert is arrested, but owing to a mix up at the courthouse, he escapes and goes on the run with a police constable's daughter Erica, determined to prove his innocence.

Of course, not all films in the shadow-area between *the atypical* and *the uncanny* are so easy to dismiss. Is any film with a serial killer *uncanny* because a lot of them, like PSYCHO, carry the uncanny's emotional tonality? Or can one dismiss only those that seem to treat the concept of the serial killer in a mundane fashion, which for me would include both Richard Fleischer's BOSTON STRANGLER and Hitchcock's own FRENZY?

These are questions whose answers I can only suggest in the space of a blogpost. In part 2 I'll deal with how all three categories can be viewed, not as three separate works, but in terms of entries in an ongoing serial.

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