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has been upgraded to a sub-supertrope of Evil Is Visceral
covering "any form of Horror or Squickiness involving body parts, parasitism, disfigurement, mutation, or unsettling bodily configuration, not induced by immediate violence.", following a trope repair shop discussion.
In the process it was realized that there is not a trope for "transformation played for Body Horror
", and one was needed, so here we are:
Transformation Horror is a subtrope of Body Horror
involving graphic and unsettling TransformationSequences
or continuous random mutation
This can happen in the process of both Involuntary
and Voluntary Shape Shifting
, and the final form, if there is one, doesn't have to be horrific- but the process of the transformation is unpleasant to experience and/or to witness. It can also be caused by, and is usually a required part of, a Lovecraftian Superpower
in some form or fashion, and is sometimes a Power-Upgrading Deformation
There are several standard forms of Transformation Horror:
- Mutation Horror-slowly accumulating chaotic mutations The victim gradually becomes increasingly twisted and deformed due to the growing influence of The Corruption, exposure to nuclear waste, Mutagenic Goo, or The Virus. There is no "end form", only ever-increasing levels of Body Horror usually involving asymmetric and chaotic changes and tumorous growths. This variety tends to end in either death, Face Monster Turn, or And I Must Scream.
- Horrifying Metamorphosis-Slow Transformation into a known end form- often part of the Viral Transformation Process or a particularly unpleasant form of Metamorphosis or Baleful Polymorph. The victim experiences a disturbing slow change into their new form. The end result does not have to be body horror, but the process of adopting an entirely new body plan is likely to involve quite a bit of body horror.
- Traumatic Transformation Rapid Transformation into a known end form- Some transformations condense all the horror of a targeted slow transformation into a brief, squicktastic Transformation Sequence. Often emphasizes the face and visibly reshaping skeletal structures, and is usually accompanied by the sounds of popping bones and rearranging organs. Nearly always Painful or disorienting. Common in Darker and Edgier Animorphism. The transformation of a Werewolf, for instance, when portrayed realistically.
- Terminal Mutation Targetless and Fast- A particularly nasty Cruel and Unusual Death involving rapid degeneration or mutation until death. See: Rapid Aging, I'm Melting, and Shapeshifter Swan Song for just a few of the possible causes. Examples of this form should be placed on their respective pages unless they are particularly noteworthy as transformation horror as well.
- Mix And Match Mutation- Sprouting Combat Tentacles or a Shapeshifter Weapon can be disturbing enough, but when more and more are added to the mix you have the recipe for a Shapeshifter Mashup. Even more horrifying if its involuntary, such as in the case of Power Degeneration, or an Adaptive Ability going totally haywire.
There are several layers of reasons why people find this trope disturbing. The most obvious is that transformation can be very Squicky
- even in the case of one human becoming another human, facial features and major bone structures have to distort and rearrange. In more extreme cases such as Mutation Horror or Terminal Mutation, it invokes our fears of disease and decay; in a sense, this trope is why we find diseases like cancer, rabies, leprosy, and the Bubonic plaguenote
exceptionally terrifying. This trope also metaphorically reflects the fears of slowly loosing ones own identity
or worse, having a loved one turn against you
Not all transformations are necessarily horrific; this trope can be averted in any number of ways. Lighter and Softer
universes tend to have relatively tame transformations leaving any disturbing elements to the imagination
, while in Darker and Edgier
universes even Voluntary Transformations
tend be disturbing for everyone involved, and depicted in all their traumatic glory
. The medium can have a huge bearing as well- distortions that would be Nausea
and/or Nightmare Fuel
in live action can be fairly innocuous in a cartoon.
The causes and circumstances of the transformation can also make a difference: a character slow turning to stone
can be fairly mild visually, but played for Psychological Horror
; an otherwise disturbing transformation can be mitigated
when its the result of a character Cursed with Awesome
activating their Superpowered Evil Side
. An excellent example of how this trope can be intentionally both invoked and averted is the Transformation Comic
genera, with various comics playing this trope straight, averting it to invoke Rule36
, or even alternating between the two
Compare Clone by Conversion
, Viral Transformation
, Painful Transformation
, Slow Transformation
, Transformation Sequence
, Transformation Of The Possessed
, and Transformation At The Speed Of Plot
which often overlap.
Compare and Contrast Baleful Polymorph
, which sometimes overlaps with Transformation Horror. The distinction is that the horror of a Baleful Polymorph
something else against their will, while Transformation Horror is about someone becoming
something else in a disturbing way.
Contrast Nothing Is Scarier
and Fridge Horror
for transformations that aren't actually shown/described, and Teleporter Accident
for similar things happening instantaneously. Bit-by-Bit Transformation
can be used both to subvert this trope by spacing out the squick into tolerable doses, and to exaggerate it by combining Horrifying Metamorphosis and Mix And Match Mutation.
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Anime and Manga
- In Naruto, when Naruto went into 4-tails mode, especially when his skin peels off.
- An American Werewolf in London. Almost single-pawedly popularised this tropes connection to werewolves
- In District9, Wikus slowly transforms into a prawn.
- The Howling. Another particularly graphic example werewolf transformation, with the squick factor turned Up to Eleven thanks to effects artist Rob Bottin. His next gig would be The Thing (1982), widely considered a crowning achievement in body horror effects.
- The Matrix any human possessed by an Agent transforms into that Agent's appearance in a silly-putty style rearrangement of anatomy. Taken Up to Eleven by Agent Smith's Clone by Conversion ability in the later films, as the process takes place much more slowly and the victim appears to be fully aware of the fact that they are being overwritten by the Agent as it happens.
- Invoked and inverted in Animal Farm: the other animals are horrified to watch the pigs, who were satirical allegories of communist dictators, gradually become indistinguishable from the humans they overthrew.
- Animorphs. Many, many examples throughout the series, played straight to the point of Lampshade Hanging as a Black Humor Running Gag. Shining examples include:
- Fish- You loose all your limbs and frequently spend a few moments either underwater with lungs or out of it with gills- and on at least one occasion a character spent several seconds with neither.
- The undiluted Transformation Horror of insect morphs. One has to become a Giant Insect/Human hybrid for the duration of changing from a human to an insect.(See The Fly if it hasn't hit you why that's horrifying yet.). Also, note that insects don't have eyelids, and frequently do have panoramic vision, so you have to watch it happen.
- In Black Bullet, whenever some poor sap transforms into a Gastrea. Their bodies bulges unnaturally as they transform.
- H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The hybrids become more and more like their Humanoid Abomination relatives as they age.
- Invoked in the Discworld novels: Angua absolutely forbids anyone to watch her while she is transforming from human to werewolf and vice-versa. Especially her lover Carrot, on the grounds that what he may see could put him off her for life. One man who did watch ran away, and went to sea to put the terrible sight behind him.
- Thinner by Stephen King- An obese lawyer begins loosing weight after hitting a gypsy's daughter with his car. The friends who help him cover it up develop their own body issues.
- Traumatic Transformation happens when you put on the Deku, Goron, Zora, or Fierce Deity masks in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Thank goodness it's possible to skip them after you see it for the first time.
- The Dead Space franchise is largely built around this trope: all of the Nightmare Fuel that's trying to kill you is the result of a mutagenic plague commandeering recently dead bodies for arts and crafts projects. The kicker is that we learn in Dead Space 2 and 3 that you just have to be mostly dead.
- One episode of Danny Phantom has the main character trying to duplicate himself, only to horribly, horribly mutate himself: Little heads on individual fingers, mouths for eyes, eyeballs sticking out and so forth. On the other hand, it was Played for Laughs.
- Men In Black: Alpha collects useful anatomy and additional limbs from alien species as he descends farther and farther into evil and madness. By his last appearance, he's pretty grotesque, and an excellent example of Mix and Match mutation.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Poor Spider-Man underwent quite the Horrifying Metamorphsis into ManSpider several times in the "Neogenic Nightmare" arc, with each iteration being more severe than the last. Eventually developed into full blown Mutation Horror. Later on, the Vulture absorbed Spidey's youth and powers... and also his unstable mutating DNA, meaning he sporadically changed fully or partly into the same creature.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man has Connors' transformation into The Lizard, especially the part where instead of compressing slowly, his head partially implodes to form his new lizard head.