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Creepy Changing Painting
aka: Creepy Changing Portrait

"I'm not being funny or nothing, but that picture just moved!"
Council worker, Doctor Who, "Fear Her"

Sometimes, an inanimate object such as a painting or statue might inexplicably change off camera. For example, in one shot a statue of a man may be smiling, and in another shot the statue will be frowning. This can be used as a Funny Background Event, but is often used in horror, and can possibly be a source of Paranoia Fuel.

Sub-trope of Spooky Painting, possibly a Sister Trope to Offscreen Reality Warp. May overlap with Expressive Accessory. See also Portrait Painting Peephole.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of the Comic Book Adaptation of Rocky and Bullwinkle had a pawn shop in whose window was displayed a bust that seemed to grin one moment and scowl the next. It turned out to be connected to the auction in that story.
  • The Don Rosa Donald Duck story The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros features a statue who is quite affronted at the thought of sharing Junior Woodchuck information with a non-woodchuck. Don Rosa quite likes these sorts of bonuses.
  • In an issue of The Vault of Horror, a story called "Southern Hospitality" features a painting of an old Southern gentleman who stabs the antagonist through the eye with the sword he's holding.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami features this in an interesting way. When her dungeon is under direct attack by the dark god Crowned Death things start falling apart or warp in eerie ways as his rot-everything power infects them. Strangely, it is noted that parts of her Dungeon under observation are more reluctant to seccumb to the effect.

    Films 
  • In Airplane!, the inflatable "Otto" pilot doll changes expression several times.
    • As well as the Angel on the dashboard when they're about to land covers her eyes in fear.
  • Played for Laughs in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights with the sheriff's cardboard cutout.
  • In MouseHunt, the portrait of the old owner of the string factory subtly changes expressions, most notable when the main character has sex in the office with the portrait watching in surprise/disgust.
  • A very minor case in Young Frankenstein. A scowling portrait of Victor Frankenstein is highly visible in Fredrick's room. When Frederick finds his grandfather's instructions and decides to continue his work, a lightning-illuminated close-up shows the portrait looking very pleased. Related is the joke of Igor's hump moving from one shoulder to another.
  • Mild case: A point in the Harry Potter universe is that people in paintings, photographs and the like can actually move, even out of frame. So it's not inexplicable or off camera, but it still gets creepy when you see Umbridge's office hanging full with pictures of cats, miaowing and moving.
  • Mrs. Munson talks to her dead husband's portrait in the 2004 remake of The Ladykillers, and while the portrait never talks back, it does react to the events around it (most obviously with an expression of surprise at an explosion, and a satisfied smirk at a Karmic Death).
  • The film version of Catch-22 has a scene in Major Major's office, which has a photograph of FDR on a wall. As Major Major talks with Sgt. Towser, he paces in circles around the room, causing the photo to disappear from view and then reappear, replaced in succession with pictures of Churchill and Stalin.
  • Ghostbusters II: Vigo's painting does this a couple of times in addition to his more over-the-top stuff.
  • The painting in the hotel foyer from In the Mouth of Madness does this, showing a couple going for a romantic walk along the river degenerating into tentacled beasts.
  • The old man's headstone portrait in Cemetery Man changes expression from serious (at first) to smug (when Francesco realizes that She is the old guy's widow) to anger (when She and Francesco are having sex on his grave).
  • Played for Laughs in Hopscotch. Kendrig is being hunted by the CIA because he's writing a book exposing their dirty tricks. In a Refuge in Audacity, he hides out in the summer house rented by his CIA boss. A scene has Kendrig typing out the manuscript and addressing a photograph of his boss on the desk, which changes from a smile to a frown.
  • In "The Man With Two Brains", Steve Martin asks his late wife (by talking to her portrait) for her approval to marry an incredibly hot new wife. The painting starts spinning while you hear her moaning "No. No. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO". When it stops, Martin says "Anything. Any little sign at all." He really wants Turner.
  • In "One, Two, Three", Jimmy Cagney is throwing a wild bash for three Russian commissars in the Russian zone in Berlin. While the music is playing, his hot secretary/mistress is dancing on a table and people are stomping, a giant picture of Khrushchev slips out of its frame revealing the picture of Stalin it is covering.
  • In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, an Occult Detective examines a photo of four figures at a campsite for evidence of paganism. The campsite photo first appears simply examined in detail, then the camera zooms in to a degree and angle impossible to achieve if the photograph remains two-dimensional, craning to reveal the reflection in a car's sideview mirror as though the viewer had stepped inside the photo rather than looked at it. From that point onward, elements change through the course of various dizzying zooms, with facial expressions altered, limbs positioned differently and other figures revealed in reflected surfaces and hidden behind trees. The film is vague as to how much the changes represent the investigator piecing the story together, and how much is the explicit manifestation of the paranormal.
  • Laura Palmer is given a painting by a mysterious old woman in Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me that shows an angel and some kids. Laura hangs it in her bedroom before going to sleep, and then dreams she goes through the door in the painting. When she wakes up, the angel is gone. (This is significant for the plot.)

    Literature 
  • An iconic example is The Picture of Dorian Gray. The eponymous portrait changes when no one looks at it, and its first change is a subtle alteration in the expression. Most of the remaining changes are more obvious. The character depicted by the portrait doesn't change at all—in appearance, anyway.
  • In The Witches, one of the children is cursed to live in a painting. No one ever sees her move, but she lives her entire life in the painting, even aging gradually into an old woman, and then disappearing altogether.
  • The Mezzotint, by M. R. James, is about a mezzotint engraving which depicts a supernatural creature gradually making off with the family residing at an English manor.
  • There's one in Jane Deverill's house in Raven's Gate. It's supposedly of her distant ancestor...
  • The portrait of Julia Stone in E. F. Benson's "The Room in the Tower" is creepy even before the reader discovers that the whole painting can move around, and it houses the now-undead Julia Stone.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Supernatural episode "Provenance", things in a haunted painting move and change, although events in real life evoke a reaction in the painting.
  • In Doctor Who:
    • The Weeping Angels are creepy moving statues.
    • Some of the drawings in "Fear Her" do this.
  • One of the pranks in an episode of Trigger Happy TV featured a person disguised as a statue in a park who would sneeze every so often when people came near.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone features a ventriloquist who notices while shaving in front of a mirror that his Demonic Dummy keeps on changing the tilt of its head every time he glances at it in the mirror. Then he looks directly at the dummy, and it winks at him. He responds by throwing something at it, causing its face to seemingly break.
  • An episode of Mysterious Ways had a crying stained glass window as its miracle of the week.
  • In one episode of Warehouse 13, Pete, Myka and Claudia were stuck in a house where the changes they made in the room changed the painting of that same room. And vice-versa
  • In the pilot episode of Night Gallery, the first segment "The Cemetary" features one. After murdering his ailing uncle, the nephew realizes that his uncle's painting of the family cemetary (where the uncle is buried) is changing every time he sees it, and it's showing his uncle rising from the grave...The butler, who both wants to avenge his old master and take the inheritance from the nephew, is gaslighting him with multiple paintings to drive him crazy. It works, and the nephew falls down the stairs to his death in the grip of insanity. As the butler gloats in triumph some time later, he watches in horror as the painting starts changing on its own right before his eyes. It's showing the nephew rising from the grave...
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray was parodied in one sketch on Spitting Image: as Tony Blair moved his party to the right, his portrait changed to show him wearing a red tie and taking advice from trade union leaders.

    Video Games 
  • In Five Days A Stranger:
    • There is a painting in the dining room of Roderick Defoe. Each day, the man in the painting gets older and older. By day four, it's a corpse. By day five, the painting is blank except for a blood splatter.
    • Another example is the landscape painting in a different room. Every so often, a dark, vaguely-human figure appears on the horizon. It's subtle enough that most people don't notice. The painting was done by Matthew Defoe, one of the first deaths linked with the manor's past. Its origin is explored further in Trilby's Notes.
  • Hamtaro Ham Ham Heartbreak, a children's game for the Game Boy Advance system features one of these on the entrance wall of Boo Mansion.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: Paintings found in Castle Brennenburg change depending on the player character's sanity. Under normal conditions, the portrait of Baron Alexander depicts him as an old long-haired gentleman; if the player's sanity is low, then the portrait's face becomes melted and monstrous - possibly revealing Alexander's true face. The castle's other paintings also appear to change depending on your sanity level; this usually manifests as distortion in the figures' faces and the addition of skeletons in the scene. This makes for excellent Paranoia Fuel, just like everything else in the game. Ditto paintings seen in Eternal Darkness.
  • Pretty much all of the paintings in Ib, considering it's all about a Creepy Changing Artist.
  • Played for horror in Clive Barker's Undying where, near the beginning of the game is a large painting of all the Covenant children. Using the Scrye spell on it makes everyone except Jeremiah turn into their demonic forms on the picture, the exact same forms you have to bossfight one-by-one later in the game. As for Jeremiah, he's simply decapitated in the picture... foreshadowing the exact manner in which he dies. Both times.
  • In Ai To Yuuki To Kashiwamochi, the opening game screen changes slightly every time you play the game. At first it's just Yuki, Ai's boyfriend, inching closer to take her hand. Then the sweets on the screen begin changing into medical supplies. Then Ai gets a frightened look on her face as Yuki begins gradually dragging her off the screen. Then Yuki's human appearance changes to that of a skeleton. Then the screen goes completely blank with both Yuki and Ai gone...
  • In the Old Chateau in ''Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, there is a room with a painting that looks normal if you look at it up close, but stares at you with glowing red eyes if you look away from it.
  • In The Sims 3, with the "Supernatural Expansion" you can buy paintings that change during nighttime. Such as a young woman turning into an old hag, a face of a man which turns into a skull, and so on.
  • In Super Castlevania 4 in the gallery level there are two types of paintings that are notable. Both of similar looking old woman. One if you pass it, it will mumble something inaudible which summons bats to attack you. The other will reach down and try to grab you. Unless you try to pass them they both seem like perfectly normal paintings.
  • A game on the official website for Garfield called Scary Scavenger Hunt had a painting in one of the early rooms that depicted a man sitting in a chair, but the picture shows too little to know who it is. Upon revisiting the screen you may notice that the painting was reversed, mirrored, or flipped upside down, or eventually, simply an empty chair.
  • In Paranormal, paintings and murals around Mattel's haunted house swap positions or transform into much scarier images between one night and the next.
  • In one of the demo trailers for BioShock Infinite, one of the paintings in a bar that Booker DeWitt goes into to escape Saltonstall's barrage of cannon fire inexplicably changes. In the final release of the game, one of the statues in Columbia changes appearance right in broad daylight.
  • Antichamber: The entire game. Many things change ever-so-subtly (or perhaps not-so-subtly) when you look at them a certain number of times, when you look at them for a certain period of time, when you're looking at them from a certain angle, or even when you're not looking at them at all!
  • In the King's Quest III AGD remake, if you talk to the painting of Manannan...
    Narrator: If it could talk, it would likely be politer than the real thing.
    Painting: Don't count on it!
Keep in mind, the painting isn't saying this to the hero, but the player. A minor creepy version of Breaking the Fourth Wall. Even more of a jump scare, is the fact that in the original version it was just a regular painting, catching fans of the original off guard.

    Web Original 
  • SCP-1891 of the SCP Foundation does this to other paintings. Specifically, it's a painting of a stooped human. The painted human somehow moves to other paintings and gradually transforms everything depicted into machinery.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of VeggieTales, Larry the Cucumber has a paper bag mask which changes expressions based on the wearer's expression. Bob the Tomato notices it, and is very freaked out by it. It is later hinted that the mask doesn't change because of the wearer's emotions, but the wearer's emotions change because of the mask.
  • As a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Lilo & Stitch, a poster in Nani's room has a surprised expression for a few frames after Stitch hits Jumba with a VW Beetle.
  • In the Tex Avery cartoon Who Killed Who?, a police detective looks inside a dark room with a flashlight. The light passes a picture of a woman in a swimsuit and fur coat. He quickly returns to it for a second look, but now the woman has covered herself up with the coat.
  • Early villainess Hexadecimal in ReBoot had a drama mask for a face, which could change expressions, but only when offscreen. Hex could invoke this by passing her hand in front of her face.
  • Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: While the transforming door knocker is par the course, after the ghostly visitations end and Scrooge!Magoo leaves to visit the Cratchit house, the door knocker winks at the audience.
  • When Coconuts goes to fight Sonic in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, he briefly kisses a portrait of Robotnik. Once he's done the portrait has an expression of disgust.
  • in The Great Mouse Detective Basil has a painting of Ratigan on his wall. When Basil explains who Ratigan is, he finishes by announcing his name loudly, in which lightning strikes and the painting then has a large grin.

    Other 
  • The queue of The Haunted Mansion has something like this. In the queue, there is a headstone with the engraving of a woman's face. Every so often, the woman's eyes will open, dart around for a few seconds, and then close. The queue also contains several paintings that morph into a different painting, such as a painting of a woman morphing into a tiger.
  • The allegedly cursed painting "The Hands Resist Him" allegedly had the people in the paintings frown, and one person even allegedly pulled out a gun.
  • Religious figurines and paintings are often accused of crying or bleeding when no one is looking.
  • Party City, Walgreen's, and other stores sell these at Halloween, thanks to the magic of lenticular printing.
  • An '80s issue of National Geographic (the December 1988 issue, to be exact) had a variation on this. Its holographic cover had a whole globe on it, but when you tilted it slightly, the globe had bits broken out of it, symbolizing the Earth as fragile and in need of protection. Not exactly creepy, but definitely deeply unsettling.
  • On this very site In the forums for Halloween 2012, a system was implemented for the forum avatars that had this effect. When first viewed the avatar pictures are normal, but when you scroll offscreen then return to them, the picture is replaced with a random picture of something scary. Among these include a Weeping Angel, demonic Regan, the Slender Man, and Cthulhu. There were also a few humorous ones like a sprite of Cofagrigus and a Weeping Angel with a "ಠ_ಠ" smiley for a face. It was popular enough to inspire the special image for this very page.
  • Played for Laughs in the Miiverse trailer for the Wii U, where the Basement-Dweller's "Non-Specific Action Figure" has a painted-on expression of disapproval when first seen, but after the nerd beats Zombi U, he suddenly shows a thumbs-up gesture with a painted-on expression of approval without being moved.


That's it, scroll right down. You need to go to the very bottom of the page. Got it? Now then, back up. Good. Look closely at the Mona Lisa. Notice anything?
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alternative title(s): Weeping Angel Artwork; Creepy Changing Portrait
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