Well, while I can appreciate your classic look, I don't think anyone has been scared of the 'bedsheet phantasm' ensemble for a long time.
Our Ghosts Are Different
, and they look like refugees from the linens aisle.
If ghosts in Western media aren't dressed as the deceased did in life
, then chances are they're dressed as the deceased did in death. Originally, this meant grave clothes and a long, white
, flowing burial shroud. If the same reasoning were applied to modern burial customs, it would mean that most ghosts would dress in their Sunday best, but the trope is seen as too cheesy in the present day
to be updated in such a logical manner.
Like many images common to modern culture, the Bed Sheet Ghost began as a theatrical convention that has long lost its context. In Shakespeare's day, it was common to portray ghosts in armor on stage (for example, Hamlet's father is often depicted in a full suit of armor in historical depictions.) In Elizabethan England, armor was no longer worn in combat, and the costuming convention at the time was to dress characters in contemporary (Renaissance) clothing. So, by dressing a character in armor, the character was given an out of date look, and recognized as a ghost. However, as special effects became more elaborate, it became common to lower the actor playing the ghost onto stage with a pulley. Of course, the heavy armor clanked loudly, and by the 19th century, the sight of an armored ghost on stage was more likely to bring laughter than fear.
Because of this, by the 1800s, theatres realized they had to create a new, recognizable look for ghost characters, one that would allow the actor to enter and leave silently. Perhaps inspired by traditional burial shrouds or depictions of ghosts as ethereal, misty creatures (both attributes predating the Bed Sheet Ghost), actors began to appear draped in white cloth to portray ghosts.
Over time, as the shroud became emblematic of the ghost, ghosts were depicted as less corporeal by showing the shroud without a body underneath it. Some stories even go one step further by showing the ghost as a wispy blob of ectoplasm, vaguely shroud-like in appearance, ŕ la Casper the Friendly Ghost
As a result, the white sheet has become pop culture's visual shorthand for spirits of the dead, and a bedsheet with eye holes is the standard costume for fictional characters trying to dress like ghosts. This idea dates back at least to the Post-U.S. Civil War period—the white robes and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan
were intended to look ghostly. (This Klan connection, in turn, is why the pointy-headed Bedsheet Ghost is no longer a popular design.)
aside, dressing up as a Bedsheet Ghost is usually indicative of an ill-conceived or apathetic scare attempt, because on their own, a person in a white sheet really isn't that scary
to anyone over 6 years old. Like the armored ghost before it, the Bedsheet Ghost has long lost its fright appeal, and is mostly comical today. This in turn has led to a common subversion: The characters see what seems to be a person in a white sheet and laugh at the obvious costume
. Then they lift the sheet and see there's no one underneath it
. Cue running and screaming
. However some have managed to make it somewhat less funny looking and more intimidating, such as putting red paint on the sheet to make it look bloody.
While the Bedsheet Ghost is rarely played straight as an attempt to scare
the audience, he can still work as a mournful, sympathetic figure.
Definitely Truth in Television
for anyone who's celebrated Halloween
: If you haven't dressed as a bedsheet ghost at some point, you know someone who has. Unless you're from the Deep South
Sub-trope of Stock Costume Traits
. Compare Jacob Marley Apparel
. The Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl
is the rather violent Japanese parallel. Not to be confused with a scene wherein a ghost crawls up from underneath the bedsheet and gets you while you lie on the bed
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Anime and Manga
- A filler episode of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had Yuuri setting up shop in a haunted house. In the end, the mermaids scare her out with bedsheet ghosts.
- Kaworu Nagisa starts out as one of these in Petit Eva.
- Used in an episode of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!. Dedede actually falls for it and thinks it's a real ghost.
- Featured in some Pokémon episodes:
- One episode in the "Advanced Generation" series, has Ash and the gang explore an abandoned mine where Ash gets the idea to have his Corphish go through a test of courage. May and Max wear a white cloth over themselves to scare Corphish which works. Corphish freaked out, hits the "ghost" causing the cloth to come off and have May and Max fall into a nearby mine cart. Upon seeing that it was them, Corphish becomes pissed and tackles the minecart as its sent flying off, while Corphish who is still angry, heads off in another direction.
- One episode set during the early seasons has Ash and his friends explore a ghost ship. Two ghost pokemon, Haunter and Gastly appeared wearing sheets until they were taken off.
- Another episode set in the early seasons features Ash and the others flying in a blimp that is supposedly haunted. A Jigglypuff gets caught underneath a table cloth and starts to wander around with it on. When Team Rocket encounters it, they believe it is a real ghost and they run away from it.
- In a episode of Tenchi Universe, Sasami and her friend Mirei who is an actual ghost, do this to scare her friends as a prank.
- Near the end of a episode of Suzy's Zoo Daisuki! Witzy, Suzy and her friends are shown playing around as Bedsheet Ghosts.
- Makoto in Kanon tries this on Yuichi. It fails, and Yuichi chastises her for taking down a curtain to do so.
- In Di Gi Charat Nyo!, one of Dejiko's friends is allergic to the sun and has to wear a protective suit to go outside. Said protective suit looks like a ghost costume
- One episode of Little Lulu and Her Little Friends does this. In the episode Lulu babysits Tubby and he plays various tricks to get her to leave. One of these tricks is dressing up as a ghost and scaring her away. However Lulu does the same thing to him and succeeds in scaring him. Tubby becomes annoyed as she scared him using his own trick.
- In Non Non Biyori, Koma is given one to wear as the scarer for a Test Of Courage. Only Natsumi forgot to cut the eyes out and just drew them on with marker.
- In a episode of Shin Koihime Musou has the main characters disguise themselves as ghosts in order to scare a rich person into giving money to the poor.
- Parodied in a comic strip (title unknown). In it, a girl tries scaring off her brother by using the old Bedsheet Ghost trick but fails as the brother replies, "What's so scary about a bedsheet on your head?" Then she walks out from the room. Next thing you know, she finally gets to scare her brother... by putting a pillow over her head.
- Brazilian character Penadinho/Bug-a-booo and other ghosts from Monica's Gang (though they just look like white humanoids).
- In the graphic novel Odd Is on Our Side (a tie-in to the Odd Thomas novels) a young girl killed by poisoned candy appears to Odd still wearing her bedsheet Halloween costume.
- The Dark Horse character Ghost has a cape/hood ensemble for her costume that evokes shades of this.
- German detective Nick Knatterton once disguised himself as one - but there are also real ones looking like this!
- In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin disguises himself and Snowy as these to scare off the villains. Unfortunately, he can't see where he's going after that and falls into a manhole.
- In Destination Moon, Captain Haddock dresses as one in one of several unsuccessful attempts to frighten Calculus out of his amnesia.
- This was Dave's halloween costume one year in Knights of the Dinner Table, continuing his run of putting almost no thought or effort into his costume.
- In the first issue of Excalibur, Shadowcat dons a sheet to scare some thieves holding people hostage. They believe she is a real ghost beacause their bullets go through her due to her intangible powers.
- One of Sergio Aragonés Drawn Out Dramas in Mad Magazine had a Halloween party where, amongst all the costumes someone in a Bedsheet Ghost costume was hanging out. One woman in the crowd was just noticing said costume had no legs beneath it.
- Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost originally popularized this trope.
- It's Older Than Feudalism: Julius Caesar: "The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."
- Bear in mind that coffins hadn't caught on yet; Bedsheet Ghosts were in their burial shrouds.
- The Montague Rhodes James story "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad" has... something that manifests itself in the sheets of the unused bed in the hero's hotel room. It's implied that the thing has next to no physical form of its own.
- The TV adaptation plays it straight and makes it work.
- There's something darkly comical about it all. The hero, Parkins, is a po-faced academic who has very definite views on ghosts, so it's deliciously ironic that the thing that terrorizes him chooses to manifest itself in a bedsheet. Not that it makes the story any less terrifying.
- Gus the Ghost in the Thayer Gus series is a basic bedsheet ghost. Most people barely notice him, nor get scared if they do.
- Clive Barker's "Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud" uses this as an intentionally ridiculous core premise for what can either be read as a fairly serious horror story or a black comedy. The main character manages to come back as a ghost by transferring his spirit from his body to the shroud used to cover him at the morgue.
- In Clifford D. Simak's The Goblin Reservation, the character of Ghost (yes, that's how he's called) is depicted this way.
- One of the solve-it-yourself mysteries of the Clue books features Mr. Boddy's six guests all dressing up as ghosts to try to scare each other, which makes them all feel a little silly— until they notice there are seven ghosts in the room, and one of them doesn't have feet.
- This is Johnny's costume for the Halloween party in Johnny and the Dead. Unfortunately, the only sheet his mum would let him cut eyeholes in is a pink floral one, leading to inevitable comments like "What are you, a gay ghost?"
- In Wyrd Sisters, Lord Felmet has finally suffered enough Sanity Slippage throughout the events of the novel to go completely mad, and believes he is a ghost. He dons a sheet and goes on about how he plans to rattle chains and frighten people...while Death stands there and politely insists he is not dead. Felmet ends up slipping off a parapet and falling to his death. His actual ghost, still wearing the sheet, is now allowed to haunt the place for real.
- In the Father Ted series 3 episode "The Mainland", Father Noel Furlong wears a bedsheet when he confronts Father Ted and Dougal in the caves.
Father Noel (in bed sheet): Ooooo! Oooooo!
Ted and Dougal: *scream*
Father Noel (throws off bed sheet): Ted!
Ted and Dougal: *scream louder*
- In the British kids' show The Ghosts Of Motley Hall, the ghosts want to scare off some people who've been hanging around their house, but the problem is they're invisible to most humans. Solution: One of the ghosts covers himself with an old bedsheet. In other words, a ghost dressing up as a ghost.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow was originally going to go out on Halloween in a sexy outfit that she and Buffy made. She chickened out and, mostly to cover up, went as a Bedsheet Ghost instead. Then all of their costumes were enchanted to turn them into the things they were dressed as. Cue scantily clad ghost Willow.
Willow: I'm a ghost!
Giles: Yes. Um... the ghost of what, exactly?
- On one episode of Gilligan's Island, a foreign spy arrived on the island and took this up to try and scare the castaways off the island. They later decide to fight back doing the same thing.
- In Big Bad Beetleborgs, the girl turned invisible in one episode, she tried convincing someone she was a ghost by donning one of these and watching them laugh at her... till it was pulled off and there was no one underneath.
- Referenced in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Cave Dwellers: when The Hero is fighting an invisible enemy, he tosses his cloak over the foe to reveal his location. Cue Crow: "Ah! Now they're really scary! Booga booga booga!"
- Subverted in Pushing Daisies where in a flashback, young Ned is shown on Halloween in a sheet with fire engines on it.
- However, Chuck shows up in a white sheet later that episode.
- The Janitor on Scrubs dresses up as one of these to haunt pediatrics.
- Subverted in Malcolm in the Middle: Dewey appears to be dressed up as a bedsheet ghost, but he claims to actually be a marshmallow.
- Ace Lightning plays this trope absolutely straight in one episode - and the bad guys are terrified by a kid stuck under a bedsheet.
- Low-budget sci-fi serial Rocky Jones, Space Ranger brings us one of the stupidest examples. A Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit IN SPACE! is trying to steal the land rights to some sort of space gold-mine, and is thwarted not by the Space Rangers, but by a couple of kids throwing a sheet over their remote-control airplane so he thinks it's a ghost. Keep in mind, this is hundreds of years in the future, in a civilization on par with Star Trek...
- One turns up in The Two Ronnies serial "Stop! You're killing me!", haunting the graveyard at dead of night. Charley's response is to build a device to blow the bedsheet off it from below. The first person to trigger it is a young woman in a short skirt, the second is the local vicar, and the third is their landlord in a nightshirt.
- Seen in the Special Edition Title of "Changing Channels" when the Winchesters are Trapped in TV Land, including a sitcom version of Supernatural showing Sam frightened by a bedsheet ghost he finds in a cupboard.
- The Halloween Episode of Duck Dynasty features Uncle Si dressing up as one (complete with his hunting cap and blue Tupperware tea cup) and acting like he's a ghost when the Duck Commander crew is busy turning the warehouse into a "haunted house" attraction for the kids. However, he ends up breaking character (and the sheet gets pulled off) once Jep, who earlier in the episode considered Ghost to be the scariest film of all time, brings up that film again.
- In one episode of Chelmsford 123, Wolfbane attempts to persuade Aulus to pardon Badvoc by using this trope in combination with a Jacob Marley Warning; needless to say it doesn't work.
- Played with in the Yet Another Christmas Carol episode of Roseanne. One of the ghosts is a Bedsheet Ghost. When Roseanne says he must be someone dressed up, he tells her to lift the sheet. All that's underneath is a beating heart.
- Jason does this in FoxTrot and gets an appropriately horrified reaction from his mother, but only because he has cut holes in her new Ralph Lauren sheets.
- Peanuts - Charlie Brown's ghost costume in the cartoon special made its debut in the comic strip some years earlier - he explains "I had a little trouble with the scissors."
- Garfield: Featured in these two comics.
Recorded And Stand-Up Comedy
- As mentioned in the Head Injury Theater quote above, Dungeons & Dragons has the Sheet Phantom, which is an actual Bedsheet Ghost. As with some of the other actual Bedsheet Ghosts, the explanation given is that the being's spirit is imbued into his bedclothes as he dies.
- Undead cloakers from the Ravenloft setting somewhat resemble this trope, although they were never human, but ghosts of creatures that resemble flying manta rays.
- One of enemies in second Painkiller in wonderfully creepy orphanage level is child playing as bedsheet ghost. Do not let them to get close to you.
- A certain variety of mook in the Donkey Kong 64 world "Creepy Castle". The game doesn't even pretend that they're really ghosts; they're officially called "Kritters-in-a-sheet."
- The ghosts from Pac-Man are even further abstracted. They look like jellyfish with eyeballs. The second and third cutscenes in the original game demonstrate this: in the second, Blinky chases Pac only to catch his ghost suit on a nail, and in the third, he chases Pac again, but his crappy repair job didn't stay. In both instances, we see part of the creature under the costume.
- The boy who controls Spectre in Twisted Metal: Small Brawl appears dressed as this.
- In Geist, this strategy actually works on someone, scaring her enough to allow you to possess her. Not that there aren't considerably more effective methods used throughout the game...
- To be honest, it's a bit scarier than usual, although the accountant literally sees the sheet rise up off the bed. Raimi-as-a-bedsheet-ghost has an empty dark hood and dives after her, after all.
- You actually get to play as one of these in the Self Explanatory Adventure Game Ghost In The Sheet. Justified in that his "boss" tells him that if the sheet's taken off, what's left of him will scatter away and be lost forever (He died under an incoming bus, which was "very messy"). Actually, the "boss" put the sheet on his definitely-not-fragmented body in order to prevent him from phasing through objects and getting too much information. It doesn't work, of course, as he still manages to get said info...
- Many games feature an approximately spherical version, such as the Boos from Super Mario Bros..
- The series also has literal Bedsheet Ghosts in Yoshis Island.
- One thing that's never made clear about Boos is whether they're actual ghosts who are the remaining spirits of people who are dead, or just a species of ghostlike spirit-beings. Which may or may not be relevant to this trope, but it's worth thinking about; does it count as a bedsheet ghost if it's not actually a ghost?
- Special mention to the Duplighosts in Paper Mario, who are literal bedsheet ghosts who can transform into dopplegangers of your partners. In the sequel Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, there's a unique one known as Doopliss, who transforms the citizens of Twilight Town into pigs. He is more humorous than scary, but he's a lot more dangerous than he seems. Partway through the fight with him, he copies Mario and turns into a shadow of the hero. Upon defeat, Mario and company leave, and you then discover you're the shadow now. You encounter the "real" Mario on your way back to Twilight Town, and he reveals that he is the creature you fought and has stolen your name and body. Only upon discovering his real name and defeating him once more is the curse broken.
- One of the puzzles from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis had Indy dressing up as a bedsheet ghost to try to scare another character. It didn't work very well until the bed sheet was supplemented with some other items.
- In Sonic and Knuckles, Sandopolis Zone Act II featured bedsheet ghosts that appeared as the torches burned down. To start with would be one small one, floating at the top of the screen in a less-than-threatening manner. Then a second one appears and they grow in size and their eyes gain an angry look. When the torches go out completely a third one appears, and all three get bigger and grow horns. If the torches are left off for too long they start swooping down and menacing Sonic. Since the level contains a section where it's very easy to get stuck in a loop and remain stuck well after you've realized you're IN a loop (or even if you were prepared for the loop), these guys can get a little distressing.
- The Sega Genesis version of Ghostbusters uses this in the form of white tablecloth ghosts. As in: the tablecloth floats off the table, comes toward you, and "ties you up" if you don't eliminate it.
- Wario Land:
- The ghost enemies in Wario Land II that turn Wario into a zombie if he touches them.
- The Axe Ghosts in Wario Land 4 are pretty much this... with the pointy hood style that's gone out of fashion for most other media.
- The True Final Boss of Aero Fighters 2 is a tablecloth ghost.
- RuneScape does this twice. Once with a green bedsheet (to fit in with green ghosts) and once with regular bedsheets for a Christmas Carol parody.
- Uninvited specifically invokes this, with a ghost who, according to the narration, "looks like the classic spectre" that comes out of the sky and kills you.
- A sort of one-time deal so far: Kirby can get a "Ghost" ability in Kirby Squeak Squad (it has to be unlocked though). He basically takes on this kind of appearance and can possess enemies. It looks silly on him but also cute.
- In Jumper Three, a ghost bedsheet is one of the buyable clothes for Ogmo in stage 2-5.
- One of the minigames in Rhythm Tengoku has you shooting at bedsheet ghosts with a bow and arrow. The DS sequel has them playing in a rock band.
- Zepheniah Mann of Team Fortress 2 haunts the map Harvest in this form, with a jaunty little ghostly...er, Ghastly Gibus on his incorporeal head. As part of a Running Gag (Valve's attempts at injecting horror into TF2 are all Stylistic Suck), the player characters are absolutely terrified of him, screaming and dropping their weapons for five seconds if he gets too close.
- In the 2013 Halloween Event, all players have the potential to become bedsheet ghosts (who can only move around and moan "Boo!") should they die in Helltower once Redmond or Blutarch reaches the end of the payload race and open the portal to the afterlife.
- The pet sites Celestial Vale and Valley Of Unicorns have a unicorn in a bedsheet ghost costume as a limited-edition pet.
- Most depictions of the Poe enemy in the The Legend of Zelda consist of a Bedsheet Ghost with glowing eyes and spindly arms carrying a lantern.
- In Homestar Runner, Strong Mad once dressed up as this for Halloween.
- In Bear Shark, both the bear and shark disguise themselves like this to escape from a real ghost.