Horns of Villainy

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One very noticeable way to show that a character either is evil or has turned evil is to give them prominent horns. While size, shape, and count don't always matter, when one or more of those factors is emphasized, it enhances the apparent nastiness of the character. This can also give the character a more beastly, animalistic, or demonic appearance and/or character.

With Evil Counterparts, this generally shows up in two ways. If the good character is divine or divinely-themed, the counterpart will have horns that give a devil- or demon-like aspect. If the good character already has one or more horns, then the counterpart's horns will be a deformed or mutated version of them.

Evil Horned Humanoids, Horny Vikings, and Big Red Devils can fall under this. Often a feature of Scary Impractical Armor. A Crown of Horns can fall into this depending on the design. Possibly a side effect of receiving a Mark of the Beast or being Claimed by the Supernatural if the latter is malevolent in nature. This is one possible way a Red Right Hand can manifest.

Cuckold Horns are something else entirely. A Horned Hairdo is a symbolic version of this.

Sister Trope to Spikes of Villainy. Note that the two do not necessarily have to coincide. Contrast Holy Halo.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Dragon Ball Z: Frieza's whole race have horns. Every member seen so far has been a sadistic conqueror.
  • The Evil Counterparts to the angels Panty and Stocking are the Demon sisters, Scanty and Kneesocks. Scanty has bilateral horns amid her tresses, while Kneesocks has a single horn amid her forelocks. Their horns go well with their spaded tails and red skin. In Daten City, however, this is an Unusually Uninteresting Sight, and their superior, Corset, has no horns.
  • Fallen Angel Shirogane Karen from My Monster Secret tries to invoke this trope by wearing a set of fake, detachable horns to make her look more evil. In actuality, she isn't any more evil than when she was a proper angel.

     Comic Books  

  • Subverted by Hellboy, who is a demon with two large horns on his forehead. However, he has sawn them off and keeps them filed down.
  • In The Mighty Thor, Loki invokes this imagery with the long, curved horn-like extensions on the brow of his helm. This carried over to the film adaptation.

     Film - Animated  

  • The Black Cauldron: The Horned King's most notable feature is the one he is named after. He's a terrifying lich Evil Overlord who tries to use a demonic artifact to conquer the world by killing the living. The animators felt that his appearance would make him a more distinctive villain than Arawn from the Prydain books.
  • Invoked and parodied in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. During the meeting of the towns' citizens in regard to how to deal with the creature that has been seen around their town, just before Lady Tottington makes an address, Lord Victor Quartermaine is shown with two pairs of spikes that are behind his head that gives him an appearance of having devilish horns. In addition, Tottington has an angel sculpture behind her which gives her the appearance of having wings.
  • Captain Smek from Home has appendages shaped like horns, which go perfectly which his devilish nature and status as the Big Bad to Tip and Oh. By comparison, other Boov have them curled up.
  • Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty plays this trope completely straight, in contrast to her portrayal in Maleficent, although it's never revealed if her horns are real or simply a part of her headdress. She even calls herself "The Mistress of All Evil" and curses Princess Aurora for no reason other than not being invited to a party. During the climactic battle, she turns into a horned dragon.

     Film - Live Action  

  • In Legend (1985), the demon Darkness has a massive pair of horns.
  • Mola Ram's Crown of Horns in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom invokes this. It's made from a cow's skull, which is blasphemous in Hinduism (a religion that reveres cattle), just to hammer home the point that Mola Ram "betrayed Shiva."
  • While its description in the books is rather vague, in The Lord of the Rings the balrog has a fiery devil-like appearance and massive ram-like horns.
  • Subverted in Maleficent. The early trailers and teasers revealed that Maleficent actually did have horns, but still portrayed her as sinister. The movie, however, portrays her as angry and vengeful instead of the outright evil of her original incarnation, and ultimately redeemed by the end.
  • In Star Wars, the distinguishing feature of the Zabrak race is short, curved horns on the head, usually at the temples and around the crown. In the case of Darth Maul, combined with his Sith tattoos, this makes his appearance even more sinister.

     Literature  

  • In Ape and Essence, horns are the unholy symbol of Hollywood Satanism. "May you never be impaled upon His Horns" is their good-luck proverb.
  • In The Chronicles of Prydain (the book series that The Black Cauldron was based on), the Horned King is a voiceless person who wears a skull with horns on it. He serves as The Dragon to Arawn Death-Lord.
  • In The Obsidian Trilogy, the demons have large, prominent horns. Subverted, however, with the half-demon character Vestakia, who has small horns but is very definitely one of the good guys.

     Live Action TV  

  • Though the villainous Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard has no horns on his head, his 1970 Cadillac de Ville has a pair of Texas longhorn horns as a hood ornament, suiting Hogg's ornery, bullish character perfectly.
  • In Series 3 of Sherlock, Mary's true past as an assassin is hinted at when she is positioned in front of an animal head mounted on the wall of Sherlock's apartment, giving her the appearance of being horned.
  • In Babylon 5, Ambassador Kosh has little stylised wings on the shoulders of his encounter suit. Rather than wings, his replacement has curved tubes that resemble horns — and, sure enough, turns out to be much less affable.

     Religion And Mythology  

  • The Bible:
    • The Trope Codifier is usually Satan, who is always depicted with horns unless masquerading as someone else. This image is derived from various goat/man hybrids in Classical Mythology, such as fauns, satyrs, and the god Pan, who were basically incarnations of lust; thus, in traditional art Satan is also shown with hooves and a tail, though this aspect is somewhat less common today. Over time Satan's horns have evolved in artwork from curly goat horns to longer cow- or ram-like horns, and these are so iconic that they are even now primary indicators of all demons (whether they be horny in another sense), or of a Satanic Archetype or a Big Red Devil.
    • Inverted in the case of many statues of Moses that have horns (a failed attempt to simulate light coming from his forehead), due to a mistranslation that turned "radiant" (after speaking with God) into "horned".
  • In Greek Mythology, the minotaur was a Half-Human Hybrid with the body of a muscular human and the head of a steer, complete with horns. The minotaur was temperamental and murderous, so King Minos of Crete hired Daedalus to construct a labyrinth around the creature.
  • As with the Greek god Pan, the image of Satan as horned was reinforced by adapting the Celtic fertility god Cernunnos (in his English aspect, Herne the Hunter) as an archetype for Satan. To Celts, stag's horns symbolised fertility and the male principle: to the supplanting Christians, they were a mark of evil. Herne the Hunter still walks in English folklore in aspects as varied as The Green Man of the Woods and as Odin, Lord of the Wild Hunt who ride the skies during thunderstorms.
  • Many Native American tribes had shamans who adopted horned headwear, such as the bison horns of the Sioux shamans or the antelope-horned ceremonial headgear of the Apache. For white people steeped in Christianity, it wasn't a stretch to demonise the Indians by claiming such accoutrements made them devil-worshippers.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Forgotten Realms:
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • A signature feature of Chaos:
      • The helmets of Chaos Space Marines often sport horns of various lengths and shapes, with Ahzek Ahriman of the Thousand Sons and Kranon the Relentless of the Crimson Slaughter bearing two of the most extravagant examples. While Ahriman's are simply ornamental, Kranon's are The Slaughterer's Horns, which give him several melee combat-specific rules in the game.
      • The helmets of Loyalist suits of Terminator armor already resemble the skulls of wild pigs or elephants, but Chaos Terminators like to step this up by mounting one or more pairs of long tusk-like horns on them.
      • Most daemons have horns, with the general exception being daemons of Tzeentch. Khornate and Slaaneshi daemons' horns are fairly typical in appearance, while Nurglite daemons' horns tend to be warped, heavily forked and antler-like.
      • Magnus the Red sported long horns on his armor, but after turning to Tzeentch and becoming a Daemon Primarch, he gained a pair of huge horns on his brow as well.
    • Ork Nobs and Warbosses love to decorate their Mega Armor with Big Horns, large horns, claws, or tusks taken from slain beasts. They're used as a status symbol, and the bigger, the Orkier. The horns on the shoulders of Ghazghkull mag Uruk Thraka's armor are almost as long as elephant tusks.
    • Subverted by the Black Dragons Space Marine chapter. A mutation in their Ossmodula organnote  causes them to not only develop their signature arm spikes, but gives some bony horn-like growths on their heads. Since the Imperium is very hostile toward body-distorting mutations like this, the Inquisition and many other Astartes chapters treat them with anything from suspicion to revulsion, but they are fiercely loyal to the Imperium.
  • Magic: The Gathering, in addition to the usual Horny Devils, has Nicol Bolas, a planeswalking elder dragon legend of tremendous power, with a focus on tyranny and cruelty. Not only does he have immense sinister horns, he uses them as his sigil, to the point where the plane he rules, Amonkhet, treats them as a religious icon.

     Video Games  

  • Demons in the Diablo series, being a race of random Hybrid Monsters, may or may not have horns, but the three Prime Evils that rule them always do; these are combined with other Spikes of Villainy that makes it difficult to count them. The most recent incarnation of Diablo has about six, which are also bifurcated.
  • The hellspawn seen in id Software's Doom series sport horns, and the bigger the horns, the more hurt they can put on the player's character. There are horns on the imps, the demons, the cacodemons, the Hell Knights, the Hell Barons, and the biggest horns of all are on the Cyberdemon, who'll gladly shoot rockets up your nose if you're not careful.
  • In Fable I, horns appear on your character's forehead when he reaches a certain level of evil.
  • Sorceress Ultimecia, the Big Bad of Final Fantasy VIII, has a pair of horns, though it's unclear whether they are real or fake (the sorceresses are known for both strange mutations and horrible fashion sense).
  • Illidan Stormrage in the Warcraft games is a night elf demon hunter, who took the He Who Fights Monsters path and became a demonic being himself, gaining horns and bat-like wings during the process.
  • Many demons in Dark Souls are horned, naturally. The guy with the biggest set of horns however is Manus, final boss of the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, who has an utterly massive set growing out of his head and upper back. Making it worse, they are covered in glowing red eyes. As if the guy needed to be any more Obviously Evil.
  • The Big Bad of the Super Mario Bros. franchise, Bowser, has two small ox-like horns, as he was originally intended to be an ox before Nintendo changed him into a beast with the features of a turtle, a dragon and an ox due to the Fridge Logic of an ox leading a kingdom of turtles. Bowser's son Bowser Jr. also has horns, but they are just starting to grow out. Bowser and his son are also notably the only koopa who have horns, which, in a sense, signifies their respective statuses as the King of the Koopas and Prince of the Koopas. In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Bowser can boost his Horn stat in order to improve his chances to earn critical hits and get a better scratch card, similar to the Mario Bros. Badass Mustaches.
  • Undertale:
    • Subverted by King Asgore, who has oversized demonic horns, looks intimidating when framed in shadow, and is first mentioned to you in all caps and blood-red letters, but is actually a really nice and friendly guy who loves gardening and is adored by all his subjects. While he ultimately does try to kill you, it's made clear that he really, really doesn't want to, and is only doing so because he believes he has no choice.
    • Played straight by his son Asriel, who after absorbing all of the monster souls in the Underground, ages himself up to a form that includes similarly demonic-looking horns.
  • In Evolve, the Meteor Goliath adaptation gains a pair of large horns to help distinguish it from the original version.
  • Most Demons in Nexus Clash do not have horns, except for the Dark Oppressors who have them as a mark of their rank and status in Stygia.

     Webcomics  

  • In Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, haruls who dabble in magic tend to grow horns as the magic's corrupting effect reveals their half-demon ancestry.
  • In Heartcore, all of the demons have horns and are evil by nature, but some demons like Ame subvert this by being not-entirely-evil.
  • In Sinfest, when someone is BOMF-ed into a devil character, they gain short conical horns on the forehead as part of the transformation. The devil girls have these all the time; Slick's devil side has them but he is only visible in the alternate realm where he exists.

     Western Animation  

  • In Gargoyles, most of the Gargoyles subvert the trope; their horns range from noticeable ones such as Brooklyn's to stubbier ones like Goliath's, but they are kind-hearted, altruistic figures despite their seemingly demonic appearance. There are some who are motivated by malevolent goals (e.g. Demona, Thailog, and Coldsteel), but they are shown to be a minority.
  • In The LEGO Movie, Lord Business, a rather deliberately Card-Carrying Evil Overlord, wears a big helmet adorned with such horns... which have coffee mugs on top.
  • While horns on unicorns in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic universe are common, the large, twisted horn on Queen Chrysalis signifies her monstrous nature and power-mad desire to overrun Equestria by force, guile or both.
    • Likewise, the wickedly-curved, almost scimitar-like horn of King Sombra reflects his merciless and warlike nature.
  • The Beast from Over the Garden Wall has branch-like antlers, and is a cruel being who lurks in the shadowy woods of the Unknown, waiting to prey on lost souls.

     Real Life  

  • There is a Persian legend that Alexander the Great had two horns because he was a devil.
  • The Horny Vikings trope is based on the mistaken belief that Vikings wore horned helmets to enhance their fearsome image as they went on raids or into battle as berserkers.


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