On Supernatural

What's Supernatural About Supernatural?

By Randall M. Jensen

Supernatural begins like any number of horror stories. Once upon a time, not too long ago, an ordinary family lived in an ordinary house on an ordinary street somewhere in Kansas. John and Mary and their two boys, Dean and Sam. Very ordinary names. But then, one night, something extraordinary happens. In the dark, with the lights flickering, and with building tension and slightly spooky music playing in the background, we glimpse a shadowy figure, we hear a bloodcurdling scream, and then, as we watch with John, we see something impossible: Mary sprawls on the ceiling, bleeding, and she spontaneously bursts into flames. The ordinary is gone forever and life for the Winchesters will never be the same.

Although it would be difficult (and pointless) to try to give a precise and universal definition of horror, it’s worth recalling Freud’s observation in his essay “The Uncanny” that “the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.”

If we make the plausible assumption that Freud’s notion of the uncanny lies somewhere near the heart of horror fiction, we may think of horror as what happens when the familiar meets or becomes the unfamiliar. Horror stories involve something strange, out of place, unseen or unknown, something that makes our skin crawl and our spines tingle. We all know the delicious dread good horror can provoke in us. But it’s also significant that this thing, this disturbing anomaly, is an unexpected intrusion into our  …

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