Created By: Lyiofcycleprotector on November 1, 2012 Last Edited By: Lyiofcycleprotector on November 12, 2012

Devil in the Details

Dark variation of Chekhovs Gun. A seemingly minor detail turns out to be something horrible.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
"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.
Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • November 1, 2012
    mjcabooseblu
    The picture. Why THAT picture?
  • November 1, 2012
    spyergirl4
    I second that sentiment. I'm going to have nightmares now.
  • November 2, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    Okay, it's definitely not a good thing if the picture freaks people out. Can you recomend another picture?
  • November 2, 2012
    perrynator
    If that picture is so bad, then how the hell did the picture on Body Horror get through? (the Parasyte one, at least)
  • November 2, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    If it's distracting people, I'll change it if someone can suggest an alternative.. I just wanted something to exemplify that this is a horror trope... Actually, should I just call this Trope 'Tomato Horror'? Either way, I need more examples.
  • November 2, 2012
    perrynator
    The T Ks in [[Film/Looper]] are just some sort of side detail "bunch of assholes floating coins" until they reveal that the Rainmaker is one.
  • November 2, 2012
    TheHandle
    ^^ Just look for something along the lines of "once you see it you will shit bricks". There's tons of pictures like that.
  • November 2, 2012
    KarjamP
    The picture seems like Just A Face And A Caption to me.
  • November 2, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    Like I said, please suggest an alternative. I can't seem to find anything good under the 'you will shit bricks' search, so a specific example of a good picture would be great. Especially considering most of the people here seem vastly more interested in the picture than the article.
  • November 2, 2012
    ladygem
    ^ I don't think "you will shit bricks" is a good search criteria for this. If you are going to have a page image at all, I think it should be something subtle, something that maybe looks a bit off at first sight and then gets scary the more you notice it. Anything that falls under the uncanny valley might work.
  • November 2, 2012
    ladygem
  • November 2, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    That one might be TOO subtle. Also, it goes against the trope in that the detail isn't really sinister, just spooky. If one more person suggests it, I'll just remove the Captain howdy image all together.
  • November 3, 2012
    FunSunnyDayz
    I think that this trope is a little more different from the Tomato Suprise than you think. It seems that this trope includes details that were hidden from the characters, not just the audience. I think that this trope is more closely related to Chekovs Gun than the Tomato Suprise. Please elaborate in your explanation and definition of the trope.
  • November 3, 2012
    tardigrade
    I like "The Devil In The Details" (though maybe "Devil In The Details" is snappier). It links nicely with the key The Exorcist example. "Tomato Horror" isn't right for The Exorcist, because the audience knew about Captain Howdy all along, rather than this being a reveal towards the end. I think it makes sense to highlight The Exorcist in particular -- it makes the trope title nicely literal -- and for that reason I think the Captain Howdy image is very appropriate.
  • November 3, 2012
    tardigrade
    I wonder if another example is provided by the One Ring, which appears relatively innocuous when first introduced in The Hobbit but turns out to be very very important and very very sinister in The Lord of the Rings.
  • November 3, 2012
    tardigrade
    And perhaps the film Old Boy. The titular encounter has a romantic encounter that is more than it seems. I won't say more, because I don't know how to spoiler-out the text -- I will leave it to someone else to elaborate.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    Thanks for the example recommendations so far. I'll look into them to see how well they fit.
  • November 3, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Yeah, I have to call JAFAAC on the current image. Doesn't appear to illustrate any trope at all, well, beyond giving the viewer a generic Jump Scare anyway.
  • November 3, 2012
    Solipsi
    Question:

    I wonder, I saw you referred this trope to overlap with Fridge Horror; so I wonder how much does the following instance matches : In Saya No Uta: Saya is basically an Eldritch Abomination, after she eats a human being she tells the protagonist that she does not usually eat food of this size, rather; she eats smaller things. Which she gets from The park . The "Detail" here would be the correlation being made, she hunted an adult human; thus the reader is lead to believe the "smaller" beings would be Children. If one puts oneself to think about it, that's quite a Devil in the detail. Although that thought is being negated afterwards when it is revealed she actually ate animals, so basically my question is : Does the "Devil in the detail" is also relevant to the information being conveyed to the audience rather specifically the characters? Because this "Horrible" can be greater for the audience than it would be to the cast.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    Alright, that's another person calling foul on the Captain Howdy image, so I'll take it down. For the time being, I'll replace it with a quote from The Fall of the House of Usher, but I need something more succient than that. Picture or quote recommendations welcome
  • November 3, 2012
    Lophotrochozoa
    Are you sure Chekovrolling in the wiki is a good idea?
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    The example of Saya No Uta is an interesting one. I'd say since it might count, because both the characters and audience are taken by suprise in a horrifying way, but I'm not sure. Can we get some more opinions on this example?
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    If your refering to the image as 'rickrolling' Lophotrophazoa, I didn't know it would freak people out this much. I used that image because 1: it actually shows the devil, 2: it's an example of the trope itself. But people clearly do not like having to open a page and see Captain Howdy glaring at them, so I've already replaced it.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lophotrochozoa
    I don't see any image. I'm referring to the first paragraph after the quote, which links to the Just For Fun page Chekovs Gun.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    My bad. I didn't know there two Chekhovs gun pages.
  • November 3, 2012
    Stratadrake
    "1: it actually shows the devil, 2: it's an example of the trope itself."

    But the example-ness is not illustrated by the image in question == Textbook JAFAAC.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    ... It's gone. I'm not interested in wether it was JAFAAC. I'm looking for possible examples, critiques of content and accessibility, suggestions on how the article should be written, and the like.
  • November 4, 2012
    Solipsi

    I want to add that in Saya No Uta the characters were not taken by surprise; the cast could not give two shits about how she gets food, only the audience is left to analyze the situation; Which is why I entered that example in the first place : Does that detail which Fridge Horror the audience, rather the cast, counts as well? If it does, better elaborate in the main page.
  • November 4, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    I just wanted to add that the Looper example further up is a good one but to make it clearer, TK stands for telekinetics, a phenomenon that is treated as a novelty at first because all the "T Ks" we meet are only able to do silly tricks like levitating coins. That is, until we learn that the mysterious villain "The Rainmaker" is one.
  • November 4, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • In the fifth Harry Potter book, while the characters are clearing out an old house, there is a passing reference to "a heavy locket none of them could open" among the junk. A couple of books later, they realise that this was one of Voldemort's horcruxes, and if they had managed to open it, the result would likely have been Very Bad.
  • November 4, 2012
    Lyiofcycleprotector
    Okay, there a couple more good examples here. I've never seen Looper and Oldboy, so if someone wants to save me the trouble and write those up in a reply, I'd be very greatful. Even if no one does, I'll try to have them up as soon as possible. The Saya No Uta example does sound more like standard fridge horror than devil in the details, because it's supposed to be at least horrifying to the main characters. That's actually a good point , though: I need to differentiate the two more. As for the Harry Potter example, it's not really horrifying to know that the locket was a horcrux as much as the fact that it had been stolen, so I'd say that's more a standard Chekhov's Gun. Thanks for the recommendations so far. I put planet of the Apes as an example, but I'm not sure if it fits, so second opinions would be great.
  • November 5, 2012
    TBeholder
  • November 5, 2012
    KevinKlawitter
    ^The Same But More Specific is always a vast oversimplification. It can be applied to pretty much any trope on this site. Try coming up with a real reason instead.
  • November 5, 2012
    TBeholder
    Every reason that gets into rules is a vast oversimplification. Not going to argue with "No True Scotsman".
  • November 6, 2012
    Folamh3
    One way or another, the description is far too long. Trim it down substantially.

    Secondly, I'm not entirely convinced there's really a need for this trope. It's probably adequately covered by Chekhovs Gun and Fridge Horror. I mean, we're hardly going to create a separate sub-trope of Chekhovs Gun for every different kind of emotional reaction the audience might have to the particular gun in question. I don't really see why "Chekhovs Gun - but scary" necessitates its own trope.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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