The mass version of a Cat Scare
, a Bat Scare is when characters who are exploring an apparently-deserted location — a cave, vacant house, abandoned barn, etc — unexpectedly disturb a colony of winged animals. As startled by the characters' presence as vice versa, the whole flock explodes into flight, fluttering en masse
from their roosting-place and right at the explorers' faces. Both the characters and the audience get to jump out of their skins
, but the animals don't actually hurt anyone, flying away as quickly as they'd emerged.
Moreso than a Cat Scare
, this trope is often used to emphasize the forsaken and/or unexplored nature of the site itself. While a lone cat won't hesitate to wander around near people, a whole colony of bats (or birds, moths, pterosaurs, whatever) is unlikely to settle for long in a place where humans regularly venture. Sometimes combined with Hand in the Hole
for added tension. Versions in which the animals turn out to be fleeing from something much
more dangerous are common.
Variants with non-winged creatures also occur, but tend to lack the same in-your-face impact of flying ones, so usually rely on animals (rats, spiders) that audiences would find creepy in any case.
Compare Disturbed Doves
, in which doves take flight to symbolize a dramatic event. Contrast Wallet Moths
, which also indicates a vacancy (of money), but isn't played for scares.
Films -- Animated
- Generally associated with Batman 1989, and clouds of bats often appear when he enters the Batcave. On at least a few occasions he has weaponized this, using bat-influencing ultrasound to set up a Bat Scare which distracts an opponent.
- In Gotham By Gaslight, Victorian-era Bruce Wayne survived his parents' fatal run-in with a bandit on the road because the shots the man fired stirred up a flock of bats, which came bursting out of the nearby treetops and scared the robber off.
- In Batman: Year One, Batman uses this as a bookend to teaching Branden's squad their services are no longer wanted.
Films — Live-Action
- How to Train Your Dragon: When the vikings approach the dragons' nest, they go inside expecting to fight hordes of dragons. All the dragons fly out, fly past the vikings, and flee, without a single one attacking. Of course this only leads up to something even worse coming out of the cave.
- Beauty and the Beast: While lost in the woods, Maurice wakes up a flock of bats, which spooks his horse and leads to him being left behind.
- Happens to MK in Epic.
- In The Emperor's New Groove, Kuzco and Pacha disturb a flock of bats when trying to save themselves from falling off a cliff.
- Done by Goofy and Max in A Goofy Movie while exploring "Carl's Butt Caverns" during a travel montage.
- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a flock of birds emerges from the mouth of a statue in the jungle, scaring one of Indy's porters.
- Subverted in Pitch Black, in which the flock of small flying aliens that gets disturbed and flies around frantically actually turns out to be very dangerous.
- Used as a plot point in Batman Begins, when a young Bruce Wayne falls into a disused well and disturbs a colony of bats that live there. This causes him to develop a phobia of bats that he conquers when he becomes Batman.
- Non-winged example: In Cloverfield, a horde of rats runs toward, then right past, the main characters when they venture into the subway tunnels. The rodents don't attack, but they are running from something else...
- 28 Days Later uses a similar event, with the added gross-out factor that one of the characters is lying down checking a broken-down car's undercarriage at the time, so the rats run right over their face and body.
- Occurs in the climax of Big Bully where David flees from Roscoe.
- A few of the Disturbed Doves in the 1980s James Bond films are this (such as in For Your Eyes Only, where Bond is climbing the mountain and the doves come out of a hole).
- While in The Birds the evil avians are a recurrent threat, their final attack, as Melanie enters a room and finds it's filled with them, must fit.
- In The Goonies, when Brand removes a rock blocking further passage into the tunnel leading to One-Eyed Willy's hideout, he calls out to see if anybody's there, and a swarm of bats come flying out of the hole, scaring the Goonies.
- Non-flying example: A swarm of rats in Daylight frightens the collapse survivors when it invades the chapel. Subverted when the rats actually lead them to a route to safety.
- Rare multispecies example in H. G. Wells' The Chronic Argonauts, in which a vast swarm of swallows, owls, bats, moths, and other creatures explodes from the attic of a creepy house.
- Non-flying example: Huge crawling masses of spiders flee from Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. They do no harm, but badly frighten Ron, an arachnophobe.
- In a Nancy Drew book, as Nancy is enjoying a picnic with a new friend, a flock of birds abruptly take off from a tree. Nancy suddenly remembers something that the friend told her—that the birds get spooked by people—and realizing that someone is in the tree, watching them. Sure enough, seconds later, someone starts shooting at them.
- Solomon Kane disturbs a swarm of bats while exploring a tunnel in "The Moon of Skulls". Normally this wouldn't have phased him, but it happens in complete darkness, so it takes him a moment to realize they're harmless.
- On The Walking Dead, a flock of birds bursts out of a bush when Tyreese investigates a rustling sound, scaring Mika who runs deeper into the forest.
- In the Classic Doctor Who story "The Chase", this trope is invoked with animatronic bats in the haunted house.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, swarms of bats are scripted to fly at the player character in response to certain triggers, such as when they enter the final chamber of Bleak Falls Barrow.
- It is possible to kick up a handful of bats in Minecraft whenever you start lighting up a cave with torches. Normally they're pretty harmless, unless they distract you while hostile mobs are nearby.
- Occasionally used as a barrier in hidden object casual games, in which the flock can be dispersed by sound or bait.
- Early on in Metroid Prime 2, as soon as Samus walks into the Great Temple for the first time, she is immediately greeted by a swarm of sand bats right to the face. While it does come as a shock at first since the player would be lulled into a false sense of security, the bats do signal where the next Save Point is by flying out of the crack where it's hidden.
- In the second online point-and-click Ghostscape game, clicking on the caves or the crates hidden inside them will cause bats to fly out.
- A swarm of bats explodes out of the abandoned well in Escape From Ravenhearst when you lean over to retrieve its bucket.
- Several examples in the Last Half of Darkness games, often involving cockroaches.
- Happens with a flock of birds and a flock of bats in Surface: the Pantheon.
- Several times in the Haunted House level in CarnEvil, swarms of bats will appear from different places.
- Aside from the risk of zoonotic diseases that all animals carry, a swarm of bats is more scary than dangerous. They'll bite if handled but if you remain still, they'll fly past and away from you. Roosting bats have much more to fear from spelunkers than the other way around: rousing them in winter can needlessly use up their fat stores and cause them to starve before spring.