There is something about the light of a lamp held lower than someone's face. The shadows are wrong. They fall in unfortunate places. Teeth seem more prominent. Anges came to realise that she was alone in a room in suspicious circumstances with a man whose face suddenly looked a lot more unpleasant than it had before.
When a character (typically a young one) wishes to scare their friends (ideally after reaching the end of a scary story) they'll shine a torch or other source of illumination upwards across their face. This will often be accompanied with a scare cord and have a dramatic musical buildup
but it's almost always Played for Laughs
The effect works in Real Life
(as long as the room's relatively dark), as the light casts a shadow across parts of the face eyes and highlights others, making it look distorted (and skull-like). Despite this, the ubiquity of the trope means that no one's likely to be fooled
Sometimes a character might just have their face lit that way to make them look creepy. This isn't quite as dead, but there's a significant risk of this trope being pointed out, leading to narm
Often delivered by a character giving the Cruel Twist Ending
or Karmic Twist Ending
to a Ghost Story
. It serves as a Jump Scare
in universe but is rarely expected to scare the audience. Compare Demon Head
, for a similar prosopic source of shock. Compare Ghostly Gape
, which this can resemble.
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- Jell-O Pudding used this in a commercial — the kids were camping on the lawn, Mom told a scary story about a creature that hunted down kids who stole pudding snacks (kicker being Mom was getting back at the kids for stealing her pudding snacks).
Anime and Manga
- In One Piece: while telling the crew about the stories of the "ghosts" of the Florian Triangle, Sanji used a lit match to do this.
- Azumanga Daioh did this- Osaka shone a flashlight under her face, and told a scary story.
- Naruto does this repeatedly during the "what's under Kakashi's mask" episode. Sakura is unamused.
- Yamato manages to create the effect without a flashlight in the middle of the day to scare Naruto several times.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Juudai does this to the Ojama Trio while rescuing them from the abandoned well in the second season.
- Played with in Septimus Heap, where Jenna is spooked by Septimus's face being illuminated by his Dragon Ring he's holding below his chin.
- Sir Percy Pelham is recounting a local ghost legend to his guests over dinner in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, and the lights go out just after he recounts a creepy detail. Before the lights come back on, he illuminates his own face this way with a lighted match.
- The Rachel Maddow Show
- It has been used (more than once to reference uses of fear in politics.
- A good example is from the 2/16/2012 show, opening a story on the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination campaign. Specifically both critiquing Rick Santorum's poor lighting at a campaign event and alluding to his rival Mitt Romney's worries about the former's underfunded yet oddly popular support.
- Referenced in Svengoolie's makeup.
- On Conan O'Brien's Late Night show, he would sometimes do a segment about predicting the future called "In the year 2000". (even well after the year 2000) To enhance the mood, the studio lights would be dimmed and he and his band leader would light up their faces.
- Done by Mulder to Scully in the "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" episode of The X-Files.
- Stephen Colbert has done this at least once.
- An iconic image of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
- Dexter does it once while talking to Doakes... warning him to be careful, as there are psychos on the streets.
- Frank Black on Millennium does it to a bunch of kids who have broken into his house (empty because he's separated from wife Catherine) and are telling spooky stories about him.
- Seen in the Special Edition Title of "Changing Channels" when the Winchesters are Trapped in TV Land, including a sitcom version of Supernatural which puts a light comedy spin on the brothers' ghost-hunting antics.
- Persona 3: Junpei does this when telling a ghost story.
- Metal Slug 5, on the character selecting screen.
- Mass Effect: the Geth.
- At nighttime in the Kai Tak Resort in Jazzpunk, one of the hotel clerks does this while wearing a tiki mask every time the player faces near him.
- Should you ever run out of power in Five Nights at Freddy's, you'll be treated to a horrifyingly twinkly and serene rendition of Toreador while Freddy stands in the corner for up to a minute flashing his eyes before he jumps and kills you.
- In Sluggy Freelance, one bad guy took advantage of his "Dramatic Lighting Shoes" to create this effect while monologuing. He was quite proud of them.
- The Simpsons: Bart tells a scary story to Homer. "...and that is how much college will cost for Maggie."
- Baljeet tries this while the kids sit around the campfire in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Get That Bigfoot Outa My Face!" His story is less than terrifying.
- Lampshaded in the ''Star Wars'' crossover, when Darthinschmirtz reaches for his light saber... and it's just a flashlight. He does this trope for a second, before abandoning the gag.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The creepy usher does it in "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!"
- South Park: Cartman shines a flashlight under his face to tell the story of Scuzzlebutt in "Volcano".
- Pinkie Pie does this in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Bridle Gossip" accidentally.
- Near the end of Tom and Jerry: The Movie, the villain does this after revealing her presence.
- In Fairly OddParents, Vicky does this once.
- In the 3-2-1 Penguins! episode, "Wise Guys" Kevin does this.
- Angelica does this a couple of times after telling scary stories to the babies in "Rugrats.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "New Student Starfish" has Mrs. Puff do this when she sends SpongeBob and Patrick to detention. Lampshaded in that she turns the flashlight off afterward.
- Kim Possible: Professor Dementor once tried to make himself look ominous by illuminating his face from below with a red flashlight.