"If you're running from something, you get to a car, and a corpse falls out of it, the car probably still works. Shove the body aside and start driving."The heroine has just escaped from the Serial Killer or the gruesome corporeal manifestation of the Cosmic Horror and is running through the Haunted House, desperately trying to find a means of escape. She's managed to avoid tripping over her own feet and falling like an idiot, and if she can just make it through this next upcoming door, she may just be able to make it to the outside world and sweet, sweet freedom! She opens the door... only to find herself standing nose to nose with a decayed, maggoty, slack-jawed corpse... Cue Scare Chord. Cue also a huge scream from the heroine and from any traumatized 8-year olds who may have the misfortune to be watching this show. Yes. Once again, the Peek-a-Boo Corpse — the bane of squeamish horror movie watchers everywhere — has made an appearance, rearing its ugly, eyeless, wormy head and worming its way into the nightmares of kids and adults alike. If you're a naive moviewatcher (e.g., a child), there is no defense from the Peek-a-Boo Corpse, for there is no way to see it coming. Even if you've had some experience watching horror movies (and you can pretty much tell if a desperate Damsel in Distress is going to run into trouble), there are still times and places when the Peek-a-Boo Corpse will pop out unexpectedly, scaring the bejeezus out of even the most hardened of horror fans, especially if it's a particularly hideous one. Most Peek-a-Boo Corpses like to hang around haunted houses and cemeteries, but occasionally they'll turn up in clean and innocuous environments where you'd least expect them (and where they'll have maximum shock value). A common way to find out if an ordinary, non-suspicious character is actually a villain is to have the heroine stumble upon a Peek-a-Boo Corpse hidden in their closet or basement. (Unfortunately, for the heroine, the villain is usually close by, watching this development, if they're not actively chasing her already.) You can expect the identity of the Peek-a-Boo Corpse to be:
— Tip #6, Horror Survival Guide
- An anonymous female victim of the villain, if he's a Serial Killer, or possibly his wife (or wives) if he has a history of marrying women who mysteriously disappear.
- A non-main character who, up until the discovery of his body, was considered the prime suspect in the Murder of the Week ("Hunh. Guess he didn't do it after all...")
- A Jerkass non-main character whose Karmic Death would have been very satisfying if his corpse hadn't turned up in such a horrible, trauma-inducing way.
- The leftover lunch of the monster or Eldritch Abomination.
- Just some random, hapless ghoul.
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- Go and check out the promotional website for the remake of Prom Night. There's a pretty underwhelming version of the trope if you click for long enough.
Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, Usopp receives a face full of it when the Going Merry is rained on (and quite nearly destroyed) by the remains of a ship that fell from Skypiea. Needless to say, the Straw Hat Crew is shook up by the abuse of both logic and gravity. Usopp attempts to calm himself by closing his eyes and meditating himself into believing the whole ordeal is a dream. He slowly opens his eyes and the first thing he sees is... The skeletal remains of one of the ships crew. Poor bastard.
- Not quite corpses, but in the early Pokémon episode Pokemon Shipwreck, when Misty's Goldeen finds Team Rocket drowning, it rescues them. The first thing that appears where Ash, Misty, and Brock are waiting is James, who is unconscious and blue. It freaks them out. The Japanese version emphasizes it by adding a Scare Chord.
Films — Animation
- In The Incredibles, while Mr. Incredible is on Nomanisan island he discovers the skeletal remains of a previous superhero called Gazerbeam in a cavern. The sight of the bones makes Mr. Incredible recoil in horror, before he discovers that Gazerbeam carved into the walls the password for Syndrome's database.
Films — Live-Action
- Steven Spielberg is probably the Puppet Master of Peek-A-Boo Corpse.
- In Jaws, the hapless Richard Dreyfuss happens upon a particularly nasty example in an underwater wreck. (This one Spielberg reshot specifically to be as much of a Jump Scare).
- In Jurassic Park, Ellie Sattler has just escaped the raptors when she feels an arm on her shoulder. Nope, just his arm.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark features a scene at the beginning where Indiana Jones, rushing to escape a Collapsing Lair, runs straight into his traitorous — and now karmically impaled — former guide, Satipo, who forgot about the trap they discovered moments earlier. Another scene later when Marion attempts to escape from a crumbling Egyptian tomb only to find herself with mummies with snakes coming out of their faces.
- Poltergeist featured, among other things, the mother of the family being assaulted by corpses in the unfinished backyard pool. Later on, the entire family had to escape from a house where corpses in coffins were literally popping themselves up out of the floor and blocking their way. One even tossed itself onto the windshield of their departing car for good measure.
- Subverted in The Machinist. At the start of the movie the main character is shown in an attempt to dump a body, and later his fridge starts leaking blood after he fails to pay his electric bill. When opened, it only contains a large fish he caught.
- Friday the 13th
- The Ring has plenty. If the one in the closet doesn't get you, the one in the chair will.
- Accepted, when the lead characters begin cleaning up the mental hospital, a corpse falls from the ceiling with a hilarious result.
- Subverted in Beetlejuice, where the ghosts of the main characters attempt to pull Peek-A-Boo Corpses on the new tenants of their house. Since the living can't see them, they are totally ignored while the obnoxious new people complain about the size of the closets. They get the hang of it once Beetlejuice teaches them how to do it, though.
- Norman Bates's, ah, mummy in Psycho.
- The Orphanage gives us plenty of warning that Benigna is going to look pretty messed-up after being hit by a bus, so why is this revelation so disturbing?
- Evil Dead 2. Ever get attacked by the Peek-A-Boo Corpse?
- Blade has a variant - we know the "corpse" (a burned but still alive vampire) is there, but it attacks all of a sudden.
- One of these very briefly (ahem) pops up in The Wicker Man (1973) when Sgt. Howie is searching the mortuary. Then again, what do you expect to find in a coffin? Of far more interest is the fact that it's only got one hand.
- That hideously mutated corpse from The Thing (1982) gives us the slow-motion version of this trope when the camera finally focuses on it.
- Grindhouse: The trailer Thanksgiving parodies this trope, with two kills in a row resulting from a sudden beheading that's suddenly revealed when a character looks up.
- Halloween (1978) of course did this multiple times where Laurie is exploring a house, she find one body then walks into something which prompts another peek a boo corpse to pop out.
- Done in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers when the nine-year old main character finds the body of her adopted sister Rachel.
- Iin Halloween: Resurrection a reality TV show is held inside the Myers house, and the TV crew have set up a number of fake peek a boo corpses to scare the contestants. Then real peek a boo corpses start turning up to the disbelief of everybody.
- In the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Sudden Death, JCVD opens a closet door to find the corpse of a woman hanging on the door, with a bullet in her brain.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman impostor, Brian, is killed by the Joker, and his corpse is mercilessly hung outside the mayor of Gotham's office. What with the sudden appearance of his body slamming into the window, accompanied by creepy, startling music, it tends to make people jump.
- There's a great scene in American Psycho when a young woman is attempting to escape the lethally insane Patrick Bateman and she runs into several corpses all over his apartment.
- Max Shreck's final appearance (as a black-charred skeleton after taking a direct tazer shot to the lips) in Batman Returns may partially qualify, as it is something of a "Gotcha!" moment. (Full credit denied since Batman was technically looking for him/his remains during the preceding moments.)
- In The Goonies, Chunk finds a freezer full of ice cream in the basement of the Fratellis' hideout. Gradually the others notice something behind him, or rather someone who happens to be dead and promptly falls on the heroes. "It's a stiff!"
- This happens with a plague victim in The Seventh Seal.
- In Ghost Ship, the heroine opens a closet door to find the hanged, desiccated corpse of Katie, the young ghost girl. Mind, Katie was revealing what had happened on the ship (mass murder in a variety of gruesome and cruel ways).
- The Mummy (1999):
- In the beginning of the movie, the Heroine's brother pulled this trick on her.
- Played with when the three protagonists finally open up the sarcophagus, cue the explosion of dust, momentary scare chord, and the corpse snapping out at the trio. The Heroine screams for a second, before sighing, "Oh, I hate it when they do that!"
- Invoked in-universe in National Lampoon's Class Reunion, where the killer sets a Peek-A Boo Corpse on a rope swinging across the auditorium's stage like a pendulum, thus freaking out the attendees en masse.
- In the "Black Hair" segment of the Japanese horror film Kaidan, the samurai makes an unfortunate discovery after a passionate night with the wife he had abandoned.
- Done a couple of times in Disturbia first when Kale's friend Ronnie plays back a video he shot of the inside of his creepy neighbor's house and discovers a dead woman inside the vent, later when said neighbor pushes Kale into an underground pool he discovers several dead women inside.
- The bug-eyed corpse with the music box in hand, which topples out of the semi in the beginning of The Road Warrior.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan McCoy's making his way through the Regula I station when he bumps into a Rat Scare. Relieved after the initial shock, he turns around - slap-bang into a corpse, hung upside down.
- The second victim of the giant octopus in Tentacoli is discovered when it pops out of the water and scares a guy trying pick up the fishing rod he dropped.
- There is one in Gravity when Ryan investigates the abandoned shuttlewreck.
- In Wait Until Dark, when the baddies are first searching the apartment, Roat tells Talman to check the closet. He opens it and is startled to find the corpse of the sexy woman who was carrying the doll, in a plastic bag hanging from a hook.
- One of the victims in Prom Night gets killed after hiding from the killer in a storage closet and running into one of these.
- Screamers. When trying to sneak into a base that's been overrun by Screamers, someone pulls down an overhead grating as a ladder to the next level, only to have a decaying corpse that was lying on it fall down as well. There aren't any other bodies however as the Screamers salvage them for Human Resources.
- Used in Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. novel Sweet Silver Blues, when a dried-up corpse falls out of a catacomb niche and spooks the heroes. Subverted in that it fell out because a vampire-spawn was hiding behind the corpse, and had pushed it aside in order to attack!
- Uniquely employed in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which a ghost is shocked to discover its OWN corpse in a cupboard. At the sight, the ghost faints.
- Ann Radcliffe's Gothic romance The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), when Emily, our innocent heroine, opens the wrong door and AAARRRGGGH! Actually, it's a waxwork, thereby subverting the trope. It's still an extremely creepy waxwork, though.
- This mostly seems to happen to the Bursar in Discworld, who has found unexpected corpses in his wardrobe (in Hogfather) and lying in his bed wearing a nightcap (implied in The Discworld Companion). Granted, the latter incident was a student prank rather than a crime scene (and the corpse itself was long-dead, embalmed and a well-known feature of the university- possibly a parody of Jeremy Benthem, whose preserved corpse really is on public display- as per his own will- at University College, London).
- Subverted in Maskerade, when a suspicious-looking double bass case is anxiously opened by the opera house's manager, and found to contain the mutilated, broken-necked remains of ... a double bass.
- Older Than Steam: This happens memorably to Bluebeard's wife in the 1697 Fairy Tale. Well, he did tell her not to look....
- An episode of the detective series Simon & Simon featured a scene where the Girl of the Week opened a closet in a nice, clean, unassuming house to find herself staring at a decaying, socket-eyed female corpse. Since the stench of decomposition would probably have been fairly noticeable, one might wonder why the woman wasn't more cautious about opening the door. (Yes... one might wonder... if one hadn't been so traumatized by the scene that they ducked under their bed and started to cry like this then-9-year-old editor did... Damn you, Simon & Simon...)
- Doctor Who:
- Parodied when the Doctor and his friends split up to search a school for evidence of the villains' evil plot. One character opens a door, we hear a high, terrified scream...and (eventually) see that he has discovered a closet full of vacuum-packed rats. Quoth the Doctor: "You decided to scream? Like a little girl? Nine, maybe ten years old. Pigtails, frilly skirt..."
- Mind you, the show isn't immune from this in itself; it used it straight in an earlier episode. Fortunately, the exact shot of the Peek-A-Boo Corpse had been used in the trailer, so everyone was expecting it.
- A notable example in the Classic series is an episode Cliffhanger in "The Ark in Space", when the Doctor's companion opens a door and an alien Wirrn appears to lunge out at our heroes. The following night the audience discovered it's a dessicated corpse.
- Heroes, twice in the second episode. First, the frozen corpse of Molly's partially decapitated father is sitting at the dinner table. Then again, Hiro finds the partially decapitated corpse of Isaac Mendez. This is the first hint that Hiro isn't in the present, since we just saw Isaac Mendez, and he was perfectly fine.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In the episode "Ted", Xander opens a closet to find...skeletons. The audience doesn't see the bodies, though.
- There was also the extreme dead guy in Aura's locker from the first episode.
- Played with in "Dead Things", where Buffy (thanks to a spell) doesn't realize that Katrina is a Peek-A-Boo Corpse and thinks she's killed her.
- Often how the dead body is found. You're just going about your day, minding your own business, opening your safe or dumping your old pizza boxes down the garbage chute and bang.
- It happens to the leads during the Halloween episode in a closet in an attic. It's Played for Laughs.
- This happens a few times, firstly when the group find Gary's hacked-up corpse in a locker. It also happens when Sally finds her fiance's body in her car boot, although Curtis ultimately manages to avert this with his time-turning ability. Plus, in episode 6, even though the audience already knows that Sally is dead, it still comes as a bit of a shock to see that Simon has propped her up in a giant freezer and is nonchalantly eating his lunch while gazing at her mangled corpse.
- This happens again in season 2, but the scene quickly takes a comedic turn when Nathan starts frantically screaming at the corpse: "Help! What should I do?"
- Happens all the time in Psych. Then Gus vanishes if not stopped first.
- A fairly common way to open an episode in NCIS. One prime example is the opening scene of episode 10 of season 4, "Smoked." Workmen at the Quantico Marine Military Base are replacing a furnace when the well-preserved (smoked) body of a dead man falls out of the chimney, which scares the bejeebus out of them.
- An episode of The Greatest American Hero pulls a PG-rated version of this on the viewer, having a murder victim literally spring back to "life" as a white-faced zombie.
- Bones: The opening to nearly every single episode. A corpse in the mail, in a garbage truck, scattered amongst the tree branches... Take your pick.
- Jonathan Creek had a few of these. Maddie opens a new wardrobe, that she checked inside before it was brought up to her flat and was with all the way upstairs... and the body of a woman she met the day before almost falls on her. She also nearly steps on a dead body in the dark in Mother Redcap.
- In Love/Hate, Fran planned to dig up Noelie Hughes' mother's corpse (three months dead) and put her sitting in Noelie's home, waiting for him when he came out of prison. Thankfully, the smell from the coffin puts them off and they abandon this plan.
- In the Supernatural episode "What Is and What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), Dean opens his bedroom closet door to find the decaying bodies of two women hanging by their wrists.
- As described in Castle above, many crime drama shows, including Law & Order, SVU, and Elementary, use this trope to open episodes. Characters will be going about their day, or doing some kind of mundane chore, only to discover a body (either freshly killed or possibly decades old). SVU has even done a Bait-and-Switch variant at least once: one episode opened with a young man staring at a girl from the shadows as she waited for an elevator. He then emerged and moved toward her...and greeted her as a friend, as they live in the same building! As they share a laugh about the situation, the elevator doors open—and surprise, there's a corpse inside.
- The overuse of this trope was parodied in a Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Jake Gyllenhaal. In one sketch, Jake plays an actor who's at the "Law and Order School of Acting"; the end goal is to win the role of the person (including an obnoxious jogger or loudmouthed fisherman) who discovers the body in each show.
- A comedic variation in "Sitting up with the Dead" by Ray Stevens: Family and friends are at a wake for a dead uncle (in the middle of a dark and stormy night, of course), when the uncle's severe arthritis overcomes the restraints that were holding him down in the casket, to the great surprise of everyone present.
That lightning flashed and that thunder clapped, and that chain 'round old Uncle Fred went "snap", rattled and fell to the floor with a thump, and Uncle Fred just sat right up! *Ahh!*
- The Ur-Example is probably the corpse of lawyer Robert Crosby found in a secret passage in The Cat and the Canary (play, later film).
- In Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, the closet door opens by itself and Albert Edward Robinson Rosepettle III tumbles out in full rigor mortis at the most embarrassing time for Jonathan and Rosalie.
- The one-act Black Comedy Busy Bodies by Pat Wood is centered around this trope. A couple hire a hitman to kill their wealthy aunt, but he's killed in an accident just before she arrives so they have to hide the corpse in various places, which she keeps discovering (and promptly fainting, giving them an opportunity to move the corpse again).
- Eternal Darkness: Examining the bathtub while you're Alex is a prime example.
- Halo: Combat Evolved: One example occurs on the level 343 Guilty Spark during the cutscene before you first encounter the Flood, complete with a Scare Chord in the music.
- First Encounter Assault Recon LOVES to do this. And it's one of the lesser kind of the many scares in the game.
- Doom 3 regularly does this. In addition to falling out of closets and vent shafts, they are occasionally seen being levitated or otherwise manipulated by the demonic forces.
- Half-Life 2 occasionally pulls this trope, but in one particularly harsh instance while indulging in some equipment-seeking vandalism, smashing a particular wooden beam to get at the health behind it will cause FOUR dead poison headcrabs to drop on you from above, totally unexpectedly.
- The very first thing you see in the Ravenholm segment is a faraway corpse hanging from what looks like a gallows. As you get closer to the body, you gradually realize that it's only the lower half of the corpse—a bloody, jean-clad pelvis and pair of legs hanging from a hook, with the upper body nowhere to be seen.
- THE PANTS WERE DEAD
- It's also occasionally subverted, particularly with Headcrab Zombie "corpses" that get up and attack you the moment you approach them. Valve really wanted to get as much mileage out of this trope as they could.
- The game Police Quest: Open Season has one of these right at the start. While you're checking out the crime scene, you open a not-too-special looking dumpster and bam, you get a Scare Chord and a corpse closeup thrown in your face.
- Near the end of the game, there's a severed head in the Big Bad's refrigerator.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did this with the skeleton of the knight in the Venice catacombs, complete with crappy Adlib Scare Chord.
- Silent Hill:
- Silent Hill has a corpse fall out of a locker moments after a subverted Cat Scare.
- Silent Hill 3, meanwhile, has a peek-a-boo corpse as part of a haunted house attraction that Heather finds herself getting stuck in. And despite the fact that you are bracing for some kind of scare, when "Danny" makes his appearance it's still Nightmare Fuel.
- Silent Hill: Homecoming springs one on you early in the game moments after you've passed through what you thought was a perfectly safe hallway.
- In Clock Tower, Jennifer can find Laura's corpse either in a shower (complete with Scissorman) or in a suit of armor. She can also find a corpse in a cupboard, which can come to life and attack her in the PSX version.
- Kuon loves this trope. Bits of half-eaten corpses (or whole zombies if you're lucky) seem to appear everywhere, round corners, in boxes and closets, or sometimes falling out of the air to land right on top of you.
- The disturbing suffocation-based end sequence of Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand employs this trope to frightening effect. It's not the discovery of the corpse, which is somewhat expected, so much as the fact that Nancy is quite unexpectedly immediately shoved into it.
- Happens twice in Metal Gear Solid 2, though the first is optional. During the Tanker chapter, opening one of the lockers later on reveals the corpse of a dead crew member which promptly falls in front of Snake. The second time happens during the flooded Shell 2 Core section when Raiden opens the second-to-last door and the corpse of Peter Stillman floats past him, as a nice little Call-Back to his death at the hands of Fatman.
- Dead Space 2 is full of walking dead but Isaac still freaks out when a body falls out of a vent..and lands on him.
- Doom 3 enjoyed this heavily, having bodies fall out of vents or fly across rooms with no warning, often designed to spook the player and make them waste ammo on a non-threatening body. The most prominent is towards the beginning where after grabbing a PDA, a body on a rope swings from the ceiling in front of the player.
- In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a player searching through desk cabinets for a quest item may instead have a small stockpile of human skulls spill out.
- In Metroid Prime 3, at one point Samus opens a door on the wrecked and abandoned GFS Valhalla, at which point a the corpse of a deceased soldier is standing on the opposite side to greet her, then immediately crumbles to dust.
- Mad Father: When Aya learns the Awful Truth in the True Ending, she backs into a tank covered in a sheet, and accidentally pulls the sheet off, to reveal her mother's corpse. She already knew her mother was dead, but she sees this literally moments after learning that her father murdered her, rather than passing away from a fit of illness.
- Pretty much all of the Jump Scare moments not involving a certain chainsaw-wielding father are this.
- Haunting Starring Polterguy: Poltergeist Polterguy can summon a lot of them in various spots (e.g. the shower), they come with a surprising level of blood.
- 4chan board /x/ plays this for laughs. A common way to criticize the predictability or otherwise show contempt for a story is to simply post "and then a skeleton popped out."
- Looney Tunes:
- The Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hot Cross Bunny" has Bugs attempting to hide from his pursuer inside a closet. Unfortunately, he opens the door and backs into it without seeing there's literally a skeleton in that closet. Seconds later, Bugs emerges, white from head to toe, and spouting insane gibberish (an entirely reasonable reaction to have, under the circumstances...)
- Robert McKimson reused the gag in "The Prize Pest", with Bugs replaced by Porky Pig.
- In The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, "Duck Twacy" (Daffy) sprays gunfire through the door of a closet containing a mob of Dick Tracy-esque villains, causing their bullet-riddled corpses to come tumbling out one after the other.
- Subverted when Daffy is Sherlock Holmes. He opens the door to 221B Baker Street only for a body to fall at his feet, which he immediately diagnoses as being assassinated by curare poisoning. The 'corpse' then complains that he tripped over the step.
- Tex Avery's MGM short Who Killed Who? has the detective open a random door, only to see the bound and gagged body of a butler fall out...and then another...and then another...and then another...the cascading domino of bodies only stops for a moment for one of the corpses to stop and remark on how many of them there are, and the bodies just keep on falling. Another random door in the house contains a genuine ghost, which terrifies the detective so much he physically shrinks. This actually gets a shoutout in an episode of Bounty Hamster, with robots in place of corpses.
- An episode of The Simpsons revolves around Homer having a repressed memory of this happening when he was a teenager.
- In The Transformers, Daniel Witwicky experiences this in the Autobot crypt when he's running away from an undead Optimus Prime.
- In the Batman Beyond episode "Joyride", the Jokerz conduct an initiation that involves taking the new member to a mineshaft containing a skeleton... which is dressed in the remnants of a purple suit and boutonniere, suggesting that it is the corpse of the original Jokernote
- Reported on the BBC website July 5, 2007: A Belgian man has been arrested after a dinner guest helping to clear up after the meal opened a freezer and found the bodies of the host's wife and stepson. The 42-year-old host had invited guests for dinner at his home in the city of Verviers, 125km (78 miles) east of Brussels, prosecutors said. Ms Wilwerth said: "It was a lady who at the end of the meal at a friend's house, and after washing the dishes... decided to take the leftovers of the meal down to the basement to store in the deep freeze. "Once she opened the deep freeze, she discovered the bodies." Guests then alerted police but refrained from telling the host.
- When preparing a funhouse in Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach California for an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, a worker was moving a "hanged man" prop when its arm came off—revealing that it was an actual human corpse—that of 19th century criminal Elmer McCurdy, to be exact. When the body was buried, cement was poured on the grave to keep the body from being stolen.
- Police learned that two girls had been murdered shortly after their mother had taken in a troubled boy to help him get back on his feet. Police initially suspected this young man, and when they found that the basement door was jammed, they figured he was in there. Upon forcing the door open, they found him all right—as Victim #3. His body was holding the door closed.
- In a case which reverses the above, a grandmother in Pennsylvania investigated a strange sudden thump in her home in 2016, only to find a mummified body in her attic which had fallen against the door. It turned out to be the body of her grandson who had disappeared two years before. Although police are still investigating, and both she and the rest of the family do not believe it, the current prevailing theory based on his Facebook posts before he disappeared is that troubles in his life had led him to suicide, and that after the search of the house, he had returned secretly some time later (the body was wearing different clothes than he'd last been seen in) and hanged himself in the attic. What exactly caused the body to fall (the rafter breaking, the rope he used to hang himself wearing through and breaking) is unknown.