Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.A horror trope which has become something of a Dead Horse Trope, as it's now almost always played for comedy. It involves a character seeing an ugly face and begin pulling at it, on the assumption that it's a mask. Of course, it's actually someone's face and the puller will typically be Horror Struck. Sometimes a purely comedic variation will occur with wigs if the joke is that a woman looks like a man. Also closely related to "I'm not pregnant, I'm just obese" jokes. Compare with Your Costume Needs Work and For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself. Can be a result of the monster being Mistaken for an Imposter.
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
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Anime and Manga
- Happens to the main character of Angel Densetsu where a new guidance counselor first scolds him for wearing a frightening mask and begins pulling on his face, and then accuses him of mutilating himself to scare people.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, most people assume that Alphonse Elric just really likes wearing armor, since he never even takes his helmet off. In fact, after Al lost his flesh-and-blood body, in order to keep him from dying completely, his soul was bound to the closest substitute in the immediate vicinity, meaning that empty suit of armor ''is'' his body.
- During the Water 7 arc in One Piece, a ban on masks is put into effect (since there was a carnival going on in a nearby town) after a failed assassination attempt on the mayor. An ugly looking woman out to board the sea train can be seen desperately tugging at her face in order to prove that it isn't a mask.
- A straight and kind of subtle example occurs with the villain of the first Tenchi Muyo! movie. Kain is a semi-amorphous black figure wearing what seems to be a white opera mask, though an unusually expressive one. Viewers might well assume it's an affectation that he uses to define where his head is. In the finale, when he gets serious and takes a form like a giant rat, the mask changes as well, illuminating that this is his actual face.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, one of Amon's first assignments involved a serial predator known as Applehead. She turned out to be a seemingly-kind old woman, and the horrific red "mask" turned out to be her real face. The normal face was actually Latex Perfection, allowing her to remain hidden among humans.
- A very creepy example turns up in an EC story: For years, maybe two, maybe three, this dude has seen this gal with a fabulous figure and a wonderful personality at a Halloween party (and only at that party). Only thing is, she's always wearing this horrible wrinkly witch mask. Finally, he proposes to her, they go get married right after the party- still in their costumes. They consummate their marriage in a hotel, but the kicker is, she turned out the light before they undressed. He dreams that she's still wearing the mask; pulling it off, she wears the same mask underneath. He wakes up, turns on the light, and yep, there she is, wearing the mask. So he pulls it off and... off comes her skin. It was her real face.
- The Joker sometimes likes to pretend he's wearing makeup, but that ain't makeup. Well, except... Depending on the Writer, he does sometimes wear lipstick. The bleached skin and the green hair are almost always the real deal, however. Sometimes the lipstick is just the Joker making a joke, putting the lipstick on over already-red lips. Other times, he's cut his face off and only raw flesh is beneath.
- On their second meeting, Batman tries to unmask Man-Bat.
- Done in a Firebreather comic, where half-dragon Duncan, while on a field trip goes to a mall, and escorted out by security after they insist on him "taking off his mask."
- In Original Sin, the Orb's associates ask him to take off his mask, and he explains he doesn't wear one, his head is actually a giant eyeball. They are understandably squicked.
- What looks like The Tick's costume is by all indications his actual body. The antenna even work. In The Tick (2016), someone asks which it is, and Tick (who in this version doesn't remember his own past) is mystified.
Am I never naked, or am I never not naked?
- Ghost Rider used to pull this occasionally. It freaked the hell out of Spider-Man upon their first meeting.
Films — Animated
- In the Disney adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo's deformed face is mistaken for a mask when he attends the Festival of Fools, leading to an awkward moment when Esmerelda tries to remove his "mask" on stage in front of the entire festival. Thanks to some hasty damage control from Clopin, the crowd gets over their initial horror and embraces Quasi as the King of the festival... until a couple of soldiers start throwing vegetables, after which the mood quickly turns ugly.
Films — Live-Action
- Used in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, although it was perhaps more a case of Not a Wig.
"I'm sorry, Basil. I thought your mother was a man."
- The Archbishop of Canterbury in Johnny English, though in this case it was because Johnny had discovered the villain planned to have a henchman impersonate the Archbishop with a fake rubber mask. The villain, realizing that he had been found out, wisely decided to forego this plan, leading an unaware Johnny to humiliate himself in his attempt to remove the "mask" from the Archbishop's face.
- The Joker in 1989's Batman wore flesh colored makeup to cover up his face, which toxic waste had earlier bleached white.
- Help! - after the cult members get rounded up in a snare knocking out who they think is Ringo (but is first Paul, then John in a latex mask) the Mad Scientist finds the real Ringo, first pulling at his face a few times before yanking him away by the nose.
I can't understand - they kept pullin' at me nose! And mine of all noses!
- Rocky from Mask is asked to take his mask off. It's his face.
- Gul'dan in WarCraft wears robes with Spikes of Villainy sprouting everywhere. However, when he removes his robes for the mak'gora, we see they're actually coming from inside his body due to his use of fel magic.
- In Galaxina, the titular protagonist is trying to relieve the Big Bad, Ordric, of the film's MacGuffin, the Blue Star. She proposes a little intimacy so they can discuss the disposition of the Blue Star, if he'll agree to remove his mask so she can see his face. At the revelation that she's looking at his face, she apologizes and he blows it off. Must happen a lot...
- In Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, The guy working for the Evil Masked Figure is Ned, whom Fred tries to unmask, only to find out that he is exactly as he is.
- Played straight in Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow, a short story collection that inspired H.P. Lovecraft and was a precursor of the Cosmic Horror Story. The quote used at the top purportedly comes from the titular play, of which we never get more than a few small excerpts, as it drives its readers insane (no actual performances are ever suggested). The King in Yellow character is implied to be some sort of Humanoid Abomination.
- In Beastly, Kyle goes to a Halloween party where he starts talking to a girl who asks to see him again but to do so she needs to know what he looks like and you know the rest.
- Parodied by Death in The Light Fantastic, explaining why he appeared at a summoning ritual with a cocktail and a sausage-on-a-stick. "The party's nice, but I expect it'll all go downhill after midnight. It's when they think I'll be taking my mask off."
- Terry Pratchett played a similar situation (almost) straight in his short story Turntables of the Night, with the catch that it's from the perspective of a guest at the party (who may or may not be drunk.)
- Maskerade features Death appearing to a recently-deceased man while dressed in a bright red suit and an extremely cheap skull mask. The man demands that Death removes his mask, to which he complies. The man then asks him, with rising panic, to remove his other mask...
- In I Shall Wear Midnight, Mrs. Proust sells stereotypical warty and hideous witch masks and gloves, and appears to be wearing a full set. Then Tiffany realizes that the masks she sells are copies of her own face.
- An interesting variation occurs in the Goosebumps volume "The Haunted Mask" and its sequel. Here, the titular mask and its siblings were real faces. The work of a Mad Scientist, the artificial (we hope!) faces started out beautiful, but became monstrous because the experiment was flawed.
- Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death" is certainly one of the oldest versions, if not the original. As a plague called the Red Death ravages the countryside, decadent nobles hide out in an abbey and decide to have a masquerade ball to help pass the time until all the peasants have gotten the disease and died, making it safe to go outside. One partygoer is dressed as the Red Death, which the nobles find to be in rather poor taste. Then they find out it's not a costume.
- May have been the case during the Bal Masque in Gaston Leroux's original The Phantom of the Opera. Justified example here: Erik's deformed features actually resembled a skull, so everyone thought he was wearing a skull-like mask with his Red Death costume.
- It's referenced directly when Christine unmasks him - Erik digs her fingers into his skin to prove his appearance is genuine, all the while mockingly asking if she thinks this isn't his real face.
- In Quozl, the Petting Zoo People aliens are wandering around Disneyland pretending to be people in suits. (The protagonist's sister had written them into her kids' TV show) Hilarity Ensues when the security guards confront them for being dressed up like characters from a rival company.
- The Reynard Cycle: In what is undoubtably a Shout-Out to Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow, the crew members of the Quicksilver encounter a rather disturbing mask-wearing, yellow shrouded merchant when passing through the lost city of Carcosa halfway through the course of Reynard the Fox. Shortly after this encounter, the clearly troubled captain of the ship claims that he encountered the same merchant at least fifty years previously.
Bruin: "How do you know it was the same merchant? Did he wear that weird mask?"Captain Roenel: "That was no mask. No mask."
- Shel Silverstein's poem "Best Mask?"
They just had a contest for scariest mask,
And I was the wild and daring one
Who won the contest for scariest mask—
And (sob) I'm not even wearing one.
Live Action TV
- Used in the first episode of Torchwood. The fact that the guy looks like an alien wearing a normal janitor's jumpsuit plays with you.
- The League of Gentlemen's Papa Lazarou is not normally wearing makeup.
- In the Tales from the Crypt episode "Only Skin Deep", the guy finds out the woman a deranged Serial Killer who murders men and cuts off their faces for her "art" he hooked up with during a Halloween party isn't wearing a mask when he scratches her and draws blood.
- Used in an episode of Angel when Fred's "very normal" parents first meet green-skinned demon Lorne, they refer to him as a man in a bathrobe wearing make-up. Lorne defensively replies that "it's just a little eyeliner."
- A meta example: when Rene Auberjonois first started playing Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he would eat lunch in the Paramount cafeteria and prank people by pretending that he wasn't wearing a mask. The makeup job gave him an unsettling resemblance to a burn victim.
- Cyrano de Bergerac: In Act I Scene I, Cyrano is described by one of his friends, Raguenau:
Above his Toby ruffhe carries a nose!—ah, good my lords, what a nose is his! When one sees itone is fain to cry aloud, 'Nay! 'tis too much! He plays a joke on us!' Thenone laughs, says He will anon take it off. But no!—Monsieur de Bergeracalways keeps it on.
- This happens in Persona 4 in the first meeting with Teddie. While Teddie's head isn't a mask at first, it is detachable, to Yosuke's shock when Teddie takes it off to reveal his hollow body.
- Fain of Lusternia. He used to be a handsome leader amongst the Elder Gods, but he partook of too much of the Soulless elixir and his trademark mask became fused to his face. His full title, incidentally, is "Fain of the Red Masque".
- Rendered even creepier by the fact he can still make expressions with it, the metal of the mask violently contorting to reflect his wrath.
- Played for laughs in the second Professor Layton game. When the professor and Luke first run into Inspector Chelmey, who Don Paolo had impersonated in the previous game, Luke immediately assumes it's him again. He has to be pried off the victim, who has no idea why Luke is trying to pull his face off.
- In the second Tales of Monkey Island episode, Guybrush can converse with LeChuck, who had been turned human at the start of the game, and accuse him of faking being human by trying to pull off his mask.
- Strong Bad's mask is his face in Homestar Runner.
- This didn't stop him from trying to take it off once, resulting in him gurgling and screaming in pain, all safely concealed behind his enormous executive chair. (Which then tried to smother him in sweatpants. LongStory.)
- In one video by CollegeHumor, which is a parody of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy immediately suspects that a security guard is the culprit. He grabs for the guard's face and pulls it off, revealing...the inside of the guard's face.
- Not a horror example, but in Fur Will Fly, when Brad first arrives in the Mirror Universe, he tries taking off Stewart's and Natalie's animal masks◊. Needless to say, it doesn't work.
- In the story "Tall Tales" in the Paradise setting, characters who began to see through the Weirdness Censor assume that the Funny Animals they see are humans wearing costumes. Of course, they are all attending a Furry Fandom convention at the time.
- In this creepypasta for The Fear Mythos, this trope is applied to the Plague Doctor:
"He had a funny beak face," the child said. "I asked him. I asked him why he was wearing such a funny mask. He told me that he wasn't wearing no mask."
- In the The Six Cats Parade, Manchinha, a black and white cat, apparently is wearing a mask, but it's just his fur color. this video shows it better.
- Spongebob Squarepants once pulled Squidward's face off, thinking it to be a disguise. (Hint: It wasn't.)
- Same thing happened with Mrs. Puffs and the prison guards after SpongeBob and Patrick tried to sneak into prison disguised as guards.
- Used in Scooby-Doo on multiple occasions.
- On The New Scooby-Doo Movies in "The Exterminator" episode Don Adams keeps removing masks off Lorne Chumley until by accident he pulls at his face. "Well I guess that really is Lorne Chumley".
- Another Scooby-Doo example is the Halloween 1976 episode of The Scooby-Doo Show, where Shaggy falsely thought Elwood Crane was wearing a mask.
- Later on in the Scooby-Doo Direct-to-Video Film Series, in 'Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island'' Freddy tries to pull the mask off a zombie but the head comes off.
- Then in Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase when they meet up with old monsters, Scooby and Cyber Scooby attempt to unmask the Gator Ghoul to end up learning this virtual one is real.
- Once on Magilla Gorilla, Magilla went to a costume party and saved the day. But when asked to remove his costume every one freaked out to learn he was really a gorilla.
- Loopy De Loop also played with this trope.
- Used on The Simpsons at the end of "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1":
Chief Wiggum: This isn't Mr. Burns' face at all! It's a mask! (pulls on his face) Oh wait, it is Burns. Heh — his wrinkly skin lo — looked like a mask.
- Also, Krusty to Homer in "Homer's Triple Bypass", telling him what heart disease has been like and pointing at his own face: "I got news for ya. This ain't makeup."
- Also inverted by Krusty. In "Bart the Fink", for a while Krusty went under the alias "Rory B. Bellows". The Rory persona looked like a "normal" Simpsons character, that is, with yellow skin, short brown hair and a normal nose. It turns out that it wasn't Krusty without his clown makeup, but Krusty with a disguise that covered his usual clown face... even his red nose was hidden under a fake yellow one!
- Inspector Gadget, in his usual fashion, did this. In "The Infiltration", which involved Master of Disguise Presto Change-o, Gadget tried to pull off a young woman's very pretty face; he believed she was Presto in disguise.
Gadget: All right, so perhaps I was mistaken. I assure you it won't happen again! But if I don't find Presto Change-o soon, the security of the free world could be in jeopardy.
- In one episode of Popeye, Bluto asks the Sea Hag to disguise him via a youth potion which makes him look handsome so he can charm Olive Oyl. Popeye somehow recognized Bluto via the latter's voice, then tries to "takes [sic] off that mask" (to quote Popeye directly) by clawing at Bluto's face, which obviously doesn't work, much to Olive's disconcertion.
- Played with by Drawn Together in a Scooby-Doo parody.
- In Over the Garden Wall, when Wirt and Greg arrive in Pottsfield, they see what appear to be pumpkin people and Wirt seems vaguely worried this trope is in effect. Once he talks to one, however, she explicitly explains they're just costumes. Beneath the costumes, however, they're walking skeletons.
- In the first episode of The Batman, Batman attempts to wipe the Joker's makeup off to identify him, but it doesn't work.
The Joker: Smear free. It's permaclown!