Devil in the Details YKTTW Discussion

Devil in the Details
Dark variation of Chekhovs Gun. A seemingly minor detail turns out to be something horrible.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-11-01 13:39:06 sponsor: Lyiofcycleprotector (last reply: 2012-11-12 10:36:54)

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"Not hear it? -yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long -long -long -many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it -yet I dared not -oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! -I dared not -I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb!
-Roderick Usher, The Fall of the House of Usher

When a Chekhov's Gun is pulled on something minor or easily overlooked to evoke a sense of fear, horror, or disgust. Often, but not always, a Horror Trope.

This is an example of when More Than Meets the Eye takes a dark turn— the Devil in the Details— where a seemingly minor or innocent detail gets over looked, and turns out to be far more significant and sinister than anyone would have imagined. Usually by the time it’s recognized for what it is, the damage has already been done. It’s almost always paired with a Reveal or Plot Twist, and usually comes with a heavy helping of Fridge Horror.

There are two varieties of this trope:

Type I: Where the audience is given enough clues that they are aware of the danger, but the characters are not, typically because the audience is Genre Savvy and the characters aren't. The reveal is more of a suprise in-story.

Type II: Neither the audience or the characters pick up on the hidden danger. Pulled off effectively, it comes as a complete shock that utterly horrifies both the characters and the audience, while also making perfect sense within the context of the story. If done ineffectively, it can come off as predictable, confusing, over the top, anticlimactic, or even Narm.

Not to be confused with Devil in Plain Sight or Devil in Disguise (although if the detail in question really is the devil, it can overlap with the latter). Also not to be confused with the Awful Truth, where unplesant information is intentionally being kept from the characters rather than simply being overlooked or misidentified.

The reverse of this trope would be The Dog Was the Mastermind, where the cause of something horrifying actually is something minor and silly. May overlap with Not-So-Imaginary Friend, Earth All Along and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. Also not to be confused with subliminal imagery or scary background elements.

Current unlisted Examples:
  • The Fall of the House of Usher, where the sounds in the night were not just the typical sounds of an old house, as the protagonist thinks, but actually the sounds of Roderick's assumed-to-be-dead sister desperately trying to free herself from the catacomb. This is a Type II example.
  • The Exorcist, where Regan's friend 'Captain Howdy' is not a harmless playmate that Regan made up, but an incredibly hostile demon. In this example it's more of a suprise to the characters than the audience, and would be labeled a Type I.
  • (?) In the movie Planet of the Apes, the planet that the hero's are trapped on is initially thought to be an alien world, and so they have some hope of escaping from it and returning home. It's later revealed that the planet is Earth thousands of years into an apocalyptic future where man is extinct. Type II.
  • When found in The Hobbit, the One Ring is initially assumed to be a lesser magic ring due to it's lack of a gemstone or any really remarkable features. By the time of the Lord of the Rings, it is revealed that this is not a just a minor magic ring, but the ancient and terribly powerful ring that contains part of Sauron's soul. Type II, but more suprising for the audience than horrifying.
  • In the popular urban legend, 'the Licked Hand', a woman is locked in the house with a killer, with only her dog for company. All through the night, she assumes the thing that's licking her hand from under the bed is her dog, but in the morning, when the police arrive, they find the dog's body in another room. It's then that everyone realizes that the thing that had been licking her hand from under her bed was not her pet dog, but the killer himself. A Type II example.
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