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Deer in the Headlights
A specific variant of the Heroic BSOD (or its villainous counterpart) in which the victim sees the danger coming right at them, but is in so much shock that (s)he cannot move. (S)He just sort of stands there, like...

Well, a deer in headlights.

The causes for this vary. Maybe the victim has just seen a big monster charging right at him, ready to gore him with its giant horns. Maybe his best friend has a gun pointed at their head and he has just realized that a Face-Heel Turn has just occured. Or maybe the crafter of The Plan just realized that a Spanner in the Works has just ruined everything.

May overlap with Oh Crap. Didn't See That Coming may lead to this in a villain.

Examples:

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     Anime  

  • In the opening of Princess Mononoke, Yakul does this as the demon that curses Ashitaka rushes at him. Despite Ashitake shouting at him to run, he just stands there, staring and trembling slightly—finally running away when Ashitaka shoots an arrow in his direction.
  • Happens in Puella Magi Madoka Magica when Mami thinks she's gotten Charlotte (who takes the form of a tiny plushie) beat, when suddenly Charlotte pukes out a giant carnivorous worm towards Mami. Mami freezes, and loses her head.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Gohan is frozen with fear when Freeza No Sells his vicious attack. Vegeta yells, "Don't just stand there kid! Look out!" Too late, Freeza beats the shit out of him.
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Tsuzuri Tessou does this when she is attacked by the AIM Burst. Mikoto pulls her out of the way and berates her for freezing up.
  • Early on Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse are warned by a soldier that a serial killer known as Scar is targeting state alchemists. The soldier is promptly blown up right in front of them and the brothers are paralyzed by shock. Thankfully they're literally saved by a clock's loud bell, which gets them to return to their senses and flee.
  • Arachnid begins with heroine Alice finding her abusive uncle being hanged by a assassin, who then moves to kill her. She freezes at the sight, but concludes that she must kill to survive and jumps at his neck. She later becomes feared for being able to remain concentrated even in such dire situations.
    • One flashback shows antagonist Dinoponera in a similar situation during her childhood, cornered by a bunch of mercenaries and without the concentration disorder Alice was born with. She miraculously develops a form of Hyper Awareness to kill them all and breaks down crying with relief.
  • Happens a few times to various characters in Attack on Titan, such as Petra just before she is crushed underfoot by the Female Titan.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Thor shows off his newly acquired Teleport Spam ability and beats the shit out of Touma, with the hero helpless to fight him. Eventually, Touma gets an idea and stands in a certain spot. Thor appears behind him to deal the final blow... then finds that he's materialized in the path of a train. He becomes so shocked that he just stands there and gets run over (though this doesn't kill him).
  • In Soul Eater, Maka freezes in this way after Soul takes an attack meant for her. Only a well-timed Big Damn Heroes moment saves her from Crona.

     Comics  

  • Happens in the the Batgirl 2011 comic book series. Since in the new continuity the paraplegic Barbara Gordon had a complete recovery over a three years period, when she gets a gun pointed at, at the exact spot where she had been shot by the Joker, in the first issue Batgirl froze in terror and could not prevent the bad guy from killing the man he was there to kill. Actually, the sheer risk of accumulating new, unhealable spinal damage seems to lock Barbara into an instant Heroic BSOD.
  • One Calvin and Hobbes arc had Calvin making a safety poster for a contest at school. When asking Hobbes for advice on a slogan, Hobbes suggest, "Don't look into car headlights and freeze, because you'll either get run over or shot!" Calvin points out that doesn't happen to most people, to which Hobbes responds that there's more to this world than people.
  • Lampshaded in The Far Side.

     Film  

  • Parodied in Austin Powers with the guard who gets run over by a steamroller, too terrified to get out the way even though the steamroller is coming at him veeeery slowly from a looong ways away. What makes it even worse is a cut scene that can be played later on the DVD, where the Mook is shown to have friends who hear about the accident and mourn his death. They probably never realize that the guard's demise was, in a way, largely his fault!
  • Occurs in the film Gojira. A crowd of humans can only watch as Godzilla first shows up and looms over the hills before he starts to make his way towards Tokyo.
  • In the infamous 1977 PIF Apaches, Danny, the posthumous narrator, just stands there with a dumb look on his face each time one of his friends falls victim to another completely avoidable farm-equipment-related accident. Mocked mercilessly here and here.
  • In Spider-Man, Green Goblin knocks over a giant globe and the crowd scatters out of the way except for a boy who stares at it blankly. Spidey goes, "Come on kid, move!" but is forced to dive in and carry the boy out of the way.
  • Withnail and I: Marwood is unable to move and just stares for a few very, very long seconds when he realizes that Withnail's uncle Monty has come to his room. Monty is gay and thinks that Marwood is too, and he wants to have him, even if it must be a burglary. Poor Marwood.

     Literature  

  • In Watership Down, the rabbits have a term in their Fictionary for this: tharn.
  • The Stand by Stephen King: A character was in a quarantine with one particular guard who, he somehow sensed, would be the one to kill him if things went bad. The character had read Watership Down and was so scared of this guard he compared it to the "tharn" concept.
  • Naturally played with in Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!. While Vimes is being shot at, his mind goes into this state. His legs act of their own volition and throw him out of danger.
  • The Animorphs can only stare in horror when Visser Three devours Elfangor alive in the first book.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, Lavan Firestorm's mentor has to be physically dragged away when Lavan gives full rein to his powers (killing himself and an entire army in the process) after his Companion dies.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: This trope pops up a few times. Sweet Revenge has Isabelle Flanders freeze up when reporter Ted Robinson asks her questions about Rosemary Hershey and apparently is getting too close to finding out Isabelle's intentions towards Rosemary. Razor Sharp has lawyer Cosmo Cricket meet a client who has this sort of reaction upon seeing him, but that could be because she is afraid for her life.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after chasing Bellatrix through the Ministry of Magic because she killed Sirius and having Voldemort appear, Harry goes into a state of shock.
    'I have nothing more to say to you, Potter,' he [Voldemort] said quietly. 'You have irked me too often, for too long. AVADA KEDAVRA!'
    Harry had not even opened his mouth to resist. His mind was blank, his wand pointing uselessly at the floor.
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
    The sun of Kakrafoon loomed terrifyingly large on the vision screen, its blazing white inferno of fusing hydrogen nuclei growing moment by moment as the ship plunged onwards, unheeding the thumping and banging of Zaphod's hands on the control panel. Arthur and Trillian had the fixed expressions of rabbits on a night road who think that the best way of dealing with approaching headlights is to stare them out.
  • In Blindsight, it's claimed that to look into the eyes of a vampire triggers evolutionary ingrained responses to predation in humans that causes them to freak out and stand paralysed. This is why Sarasti wears sunglasses at all times.

     Live Action TV  

  • Happens to Roy in an episode of The IT Crowd, when he figures out the robot Moss is fangirling is actually a bomb-disposal robot. He's stuck there for hours, until it's finally confirms to be a balloon. It gives him "a small fright".
  • Smallville:
    • In "Commencement", the town is bombarded by a kryptonite meteor shower. As everything is being destroyed, a boy stares at a meteor coming right at him. Clark Kent runs up and carries him to safety.
    • In "Bizarro", a boy stares at a Giant Wall of Watery Doom coming at him. Clark Kent runs up and vaporizes it with his heat vision.
  • In the Haven episode "Sparks and Recreation", a boy stares at a lamppost falling at him, until Audrey pulls him out of the way.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Obsession," both Capt. Kirk in his younger days and a young officer spend some time kicking themselves for doing this instead of instantly shooting a vampire cloud attacking their comrades. As it turns out, phaser fire has no effect on the creature so even if they did, it wouldn't have made a difference.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Stolen Earth," Jack Harkness just stands there shaking and holding his (remaining) team members tight when he first hears the Daleks' EX-TER-MIN-ATE. It takes a Get a Hold of Yourself, Man! from an authority figure to snap him out of it. Sarah Jane Smith isn't much better off.
  • Michael Emerson is very good at this, the most prominent examples of this are during his roles of Ben Linus and Harold Finch (especially when Locke or another character surprises Ben or when Finch sees a gun).
  • Horatio Hornblower mini-series:
    • "The Even Chance": Midshipman Archie Kennedy is alone, grabbing his hat and preparing for a night raid, when his tormentor Simpson comes in, and says ominously and sleazily: "Jack's missed you, boy." Archie just freezes and goes pale, unable to move or talk. The menace is palpable, and this scene is frequently cited as a proof of implied sexual abuse.
    • In "Mutiny", Mr Midshipman Wellard got beaten unjustly as Crazy Captain Sawyer simply didn't appreciate Wellard's doing his duty. Sawyer later concludes that Wellard is conspiring against him and orders to have Wellard beaten once again. Poor Wellard has a pure Deer in the Headlights stare when he hears it as the beatings hurt like hell.

     Music  

     Video Games  

  • This happens to Samus in Metroid: Other M when she encounters Ridley. Many fans were not pleased.
  • In The Fool's Errand, The Grim Reaper grudgingly spares The Fool after mistaking his "deer in the headlights" reaction for a fearless, unflinching one.
  • In a somewhat unusual example resulting from Artificial Stupidity, we have XCOM: Enemy Unknown, in which enemies will typically end their turns without taking any actions when Suppressed, which is a near guaranteed death sentence if said enemy is flanked or out of cover, compared to the possibility of taking damage from the reaction shot attempting to move under suppression triggers. This is particularly bad with enemies who have abilities that can be used without penalty under suppression–such as Mutons' grenades or blood call, thin men's poison spit, or any of a sectoid commander's psionic abilities–but don't bother to use them.
  • In Yoshi's Island and Yoshi's New Island, the stork, tasked with delivering Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, stops in midair when Kamek finds and ambushes him.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, as the Bulblins who invaded Link's home and kidnapped the children there arrive in Kakariko Village, Beth is too scared to move, unlike her friends. Colin notices it just in time, grows a backbone, and pushes her out of the way just in time, leading to him getting kidnapped instead. Beth is quite grateful for it after Link saves Colin.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • Played with during an Invader Zim episode where a cute Godzilla-sized hamster is terrorizing the city; rather than stare in terror, the townspeople stare in awe at the monster's cuteness until they're crushed.
  • Parodied in an issue of Radioactive Man with the innocent bystander saying, "That wall is falling towards me! No time to get out of the way, only to talk about it!"
  • Happens regularly to Wile E. Coyote, who is often too flabbergasted or exhausted to move out of the way when his plans backfire on him badly. That little umbrella he often pulls out as a shield doesn't help things at all.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen", when Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Spike run away from the Hydra in the Froggy Bottom Bog, Pinkie is almost paralyzed in fear. Twilight pulls her tail to get her out of it.
  • Regular Show has a half-deer half-human do this just before he gets run over by a truck in "Camping Can Be Cool".

     Real Life  

  • Deer exhibit this behavior because of the internal defense mechanism the species has developed to deal with predators. Most predators try to sneak up as close as possible to potential prey, saving their energy for that last bit of distance to overpower it and chow down. If a deer picks up on an unknown approaching, it will focus on it as it approaches. If said entity gets within some defensive radius of the deer, it will then flee - this will work against natural predators because, contrary to what the Super-Persistent Predator trope suggests, most do not have the stamina or desire to chase prey over long distances. This method fails, however, when it comes to cars, since cars (and the humans operating them) A) usually don't have deer high enough on the list of concerns to avoid them from far off (i.e., going off the asphalt pavement - in many cases this would be impossible anyway, like in wooded areas), and B) are already moving at high speeds (25-50 MPH) when they get close, so by the time the deer's defensive circle is broken, there's too little time for the deer to get out of the way and avoid a collision. The "deer in the headlights" look comes when the deer picks up the approaching car but has yet to get close enough for its internal GTFO alarm to trip.
  • Many Curb-Stomp Battle defeats in sports happen because once the team suffers the first blow, they get so lost the adversary takes full advantage to raise the score.

Daylight HorrorFear TropesDefanged Horrors

alternative title(s): Oh Crap Roadkill Edition
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