Let's give him all he'll EVER need!
really do not like kids seeing things like violence, torture, death, or creepy transformations straight up. So Animated Series
tend to get around that by alluding to them. A shadow thrown by the events the Moral Guardians
would not want showed directly is all the viewer gets to see. Sometimes there's a witness standing in the shadow looking shocked
, horrified, disgusted, etc.
Sometimes it is a dodge for a live-action or other movie, because the imagination of the audience/viewer will do all the real work. Also, it is sometimes better to imply through shadowplay than to use an actual shot because the special effects will not be sufficient to uphold the Willing Suspension of Disbelief
... or it is simply too difficult to render safely with real actors. In Crime and Punishment Series
, it is also useful as a way to keep the murderer's identity hidden.
Least frequently, it is a cue to the viewer and characters within the work that something is off about the person whose shadow we are viewing; a Living Shadow
Compare and contrast with Gory Discretion Shot
and Sound-Only Death
. Played for laughs or deception, you end up with Big Shadow, Little Creature
. See also The Shadow Knows
. Not to be confused with Censor Shadow
(in which the scene is viewed directly with key portions hidden in shadow). Related to Vomit Discretion Shot
but obviously less horrifying.
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Anime and Manga
- Used in Yu-Gi-Oh! during the flashback showing Malik receiving his tattoos. (That sounds less dark than it should—said "tattoos" are actually scars carved in with a white-hot knife and he was ten years old at the time.) The dub version cut the scene entirely.
- A Shadow Discretion Shot of Pegasus gaining the Millennium Eye, complete with his screams of agony, however, was not cut from the dub, though the blood was removed when we looked back at his face.
- Also used in a flashback episode showing how Yuugi's grandfather found the Millenium Puzzle, when his companion betrays Yuugi's grandfather, shooting him and attempting to steal the Puzzle, the tomb's curses summon up an insect monster that dismembers and eats him, showing only the shadow of this happening (though we still get to hear it just fine).
- We also get to see the shadows of everybody at Kul Elna being boiled alive in molten gold, while Bakura looks on in horror.
- The Movie opts for a black-on-red silhouette when Kaiba launches his first attack on Yami and his monster appears behind him - and drives its dagger right through him. The only other thing that can be seen is the life energy flowing out of him afterwards.
- Played with (like everything else) in an episode of Excel♥Saga, where Excel is driven to distraction by the silhouette of a Visual Kei artist, Key, playing a guitar on the other side of a curtain. Due to the positioning of the instrument and the enthusiasm of his playing, the resulting shadow makes him look like he's stroking a very large phallus.
- Dante does this to Patty in the first episode of Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, using a theatre backdrop while taking on the demons trying to kill her.
- Elsa Maria's barrier in Puella Magi Madoka Magica naturally induces this, by making everyone look like silhouettes. Were it not for the effect, the battle against her would be easily the most brutal fight in the series. This doubles as symbolism for Sayaka's Black and White Morality, which is horribly broken over the course of the episode.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist in a flashback scene where Colonel Mustang is about to immolate a Child Soldier with his flame alchemy, the camera suddenly pans off to the side at the critical moment, showing the wall behind them lighting up and his shadow stretching.
- In the finale of The Dresden Files: Welcome To The Jungle, we get to see the shadow of Moe the gorilla as he dismembers the hag who had been hurting Will. And what the shadow shows is still a little graphic.
- In the Batman Detective Comics June 1942 issue #64, "The Joker Walks the Last Mile", there is a shadow of the Joker strapped to an electric chair in the death chamber as the warden pulls the switch and shocks him to death. Not a pretty sight on page 4. Don't worry, though, he gets better.
Films — Animated
- Particularly common in Disney films, as a way of dramatically portraying the Disney Villain Death.
- When the hyenas turn on Scar in The Lion King, the implied pack leaping on him to tear him apart is rendered in shadow, with a quick pan upwards and a roaring curtain of flame to hide the scene.
- The Little Mermaid: When Ursula undertook her transformation to her Giant Monster form, we got a silhouette of her laughing with her head thrown back and her tentacles waving. However, with Ariel's painful transformation from mermaid to human, in which her tail is literally torn in two, they only darkened the lighting a bit. If you lighten the screen on your monitor during her transformation, you can see plenty.
- Tarzan: In the final battle between Tarzan and Clayton, the latter is more interested in killing Tarzan with a machete than paying attention to the vines and their fall from the treetops, despite Tarzan's efforts to warn him. Tarzan lands safely on the ground and looks away. Then there's a lightning flash and the audience gets to see, rendered in shadow, that Clayton accidentally hanged himself on the vines.
Though it just may be a blink and you'll miss it sort of deal. The shadow itself appears for only a brief second right on a tree in a dark background, and you'll more likely to be focused on Tarzan himself rather than the background where the shadow appears.
- The Emperor's New Groove: The trope is spoofed. You hear Yzma's evil laughter, see her glowing eyes and a roiling mass of smoke, which clears to reveal she's a tiny little kitten.
- Mickey Mouse hacking the enchanted broom to bits in Fantasia is done this way. As originally planned, we were to have seen this moment played out right in front of the camera. It was restaged in silhouette specifically to make it less scary.
- Bambi during the fight scene.
- Beauty and the Beast: for the first third of the movie, the Beast is seen only in shadows, saving his big reveal to when Belle first sees him. The scene of him taking Maurice away to the dungeon is done with his shadow over the servants.
- The Great Mouse Detective's opening scene of Fidget kidnapping Hiram Flavesham in which Fidget fights Hiram, while his daughter Olivia watches in fear and confusion, hidden in the closet. The scene is quite violent, where Fidget is showed great brutality toward Hiram beating and throwing him senselessly over the room, that Hiram's toy shop was left in total chaos like it was struck by a hurricane after the fight was over. In the scene of Ratigan kidnaping the Queen, there is a similar scene, but no shadow play, of two mouse guards outside a glass door, that are beaten and dragged away by two of Ratigan's men in guard clothes-this scene was quicker than previous but also humiliating toward its victims)
- Dumbo: The ringmaster explaining the Pyramid of Pachyderms act and the clowns celebrating after the show are both shown as shadows seen from inside the tents. Also, the DeliveryStorks at the opening and the roustabouts setting up the big top in the rain.
- The nightmare-inducing donkey transformation scene in Pinocchio.
- Aladdin has one as the genie-empowered Jafar turns from banishing Aladdin to advance on Jasmine and her father.
- Mushu uses the Shadow Discretion Shot in Mulan to pull off the image of an intimidating fierce dragon, until we see he's just a little guy.
- In The Princess and the Frog, Big Daddy is scolding young Charlotte, and it looks like she's about to get a spanking for being so spoiled — but he inverts the trope by producing a then-puppy Stella.
- The Prince of Egypt uses this when Moses' snake devours the two produced by Huy and Hotep, cutting back just in time to see their tails vanish into its mouth.
- In Chicken Run. the scene where Edwina is beheaded was originally. However, Nick Park cut the shot of the axe coming down, and only the axe being raised, making it a Sound-Only Death.
- The Land Before Time has one where Littlefoot's mother is fighting the Sharptooth. The Sharptooth leaps onto her back and the camera cuts away to Littlefoot and Cera watching on with the shadow of the ongoing fight on the cliff-face behind them, showing the Sharptooth violently ripping chunks of flesh out of her. It's pretty horrific, especially for a kid's film.
- There was originally an uncensored version of the scene. Reportedly, Don Bluth ordered the footage to be burned after seeing it. However, there is an urban legend that a handful of VHS copies include the scene.
- An American Tail 3: Treasure of Manhattan Island has a scene where one of main villains, NYPD chief Chief Mc Brusque, and one of his men beat a mouse that is smaller than either of them because he was protesting. To be even more brutal, the protestor had big glasses that after the beating were broken.
Films — Live-Action
- Disney gives us a live action example in The Three Musketeers (1993), when Captain Rochefort skewers a hapless thief in the Bastille's dungeons.
- Used in Nosferatu, for the relatively subtle scene of Orlok ascending a staircase. Still, creepy as hell. Shortly after that, there's a somewhat less famous use of it when the shadow of his hand clutches Ellen's heart, causing her to pass out.
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) has a scene where a jail warden makes an example of an inmate who "didn't give us a good day's work" by taking him to a side room and whipping his bare back. The whipping is shown in shadow on a wall.
- The Zombie Apocalypse film Land of the Dead has a particularly grisly scene wherein a zombie tears a victim's head off with such force that the spinal cord comes out of the body with it. This is only visible in shadow, presumably because it is difficult to render such an effect believably with special effects, and the film does not otherwise shy away from extremely gory shots.
- The original Night of the Living Dead has one of these, when zombified Karen hacks her mother with a garden trowel in the basement.
- The transformation of Kalibos from man to monster in Clash of the Titans is done with only his shadow. This was in the days before morphing, so the only way to show it inexpensively was to do an animated shadow.
- Spoofed in Tank Girl. The Rippers are known to be vicious, violent monsters. And the first time Tank and Jet lay eyes on them, the audience gets to see nothing more than their shadows. They turn out to be Kangaroo Men, basically gentle (if horny) unless they need to be vicious in a fight, or are provoked.
- Used in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, to save the bride's lover's identity, although it's pretty obvious anyway.
- The murder scene from the 1945 horror film The Body Snatcher.
- Subverted in Beowulf. We see Wealthow's reaction as Grendel's shadow appears to be tearing a man in half. Then we see the real thing, and yes, he's definitely tearing a man in half.
- Subverted for comic effect in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. As Robin woos Maid Marian, their shadows fall on a screen which the Merry Men are all watching. At a high point in the action, Robin's sword tilts at a suggestive angle on his belt, causing the company to break into spontaneous applause.
- In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Cesare knifes Allan to death, completely in shadow. This has got to be the first ever use in a movie.
- Kung Fu Hustle features an excellent shadow discretion shot for the Musical Assassin. We see various things getting mysteriously sliced in half in time with the music, first little things seen directly, then shadow discretion shots, leading up to a character being suddenly beheaded.
- In The Last Emperor, a character's the Empress's chauffeur brains were blown out in silhouette. The same thing happened to an Israeli soldier in an Israeli movie about the '80s Lebanon war (I forget the name, but it was made around 1992).
- In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, when Jason kills a construction worker by smashing a wrench over his head, this is shown in shadows but not his blood splattering all over the wall.
- Several times in The Mummy 1999, Anck Su Bamun and Imnotep killing the Pharaoh starts with us seeing it, but then changes to this. Anck Su Namun's suicide is done this way, so we just see the silhouette lifting the knife and striking. Likewise, the Mummy's absorption of one of the doomed Americans is done with shadows only. And the destruction of Anck Su Namun's animated corpse is shown entirely in shadow. The same way the Pharaoh was killed in fact.
- Used in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Zaphod's second head is cut off behind a curtain, and the viewer just sees silhouettes and hears the sound of the surgical instruments and Zaphod pleading and...
- Subverted in The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the mop shoutout scene. The camera cuts back to reveal that he keeps missing, despite what you saw in the shadow.
- This is how Gone with the Wind got around strict Hays Code prohibitions on pregnancy references, by staging the childbirth scene entirely in silhouettes.
- Parodied in Hot Shots! Part Deux, where President Benson and Saddam Hussein's shadows are shown fencing against each other, and then Benson and Saddam walk by in the foreground, drinking Gatorade and toweling off their foreheads.
- In the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Fawkes uses his claws to tear out the Basilisk's eyes, they only show the shadows. Justified because the Basilisk kills by looking people in the eye, so it's likely that that was all that Harry saw as well.
- At the conclusion of the 2003 Willard, a limping Ben's shadow comes into view on the shade of an upstairs window, only to be attacked by the shadow of an enraged Willard.
- Inverted in the second and third Austin Powers movies where perfectly innocuous actions seen in silhouette are mistaken for something horrifyingly perverse.
- In The Amazing Spider-Man, the Lizard's first transformation back into a human is shown as a shadow, the silhouette's right arm falling off in clunks.
- Used at the end of Switchblade Sisters, with the fight between Maggie and Lace.
- In Cat People, the climaxing fight between the therapist and the panther is depicted as a shadow play against a wall.
- The Adventures of Superman: In "The Evil Three", Jimmy struggling with one of the bad guys and the other knocking him out with a blow to the head is shown in the shadows thrown on the wall.
- In Red Dwarf the despair squid is showed only in shadow. Of course, this was almost certainly shown because they couldn't afford a squid special effect.
- In the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life", Dan's transformation into a jack-in-the-box by Anthony is depicted with a shadow.
- In the Granada TV version of The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, the fight between Holmes and Joseph Harrison (where Holmes gets knifed across the knuckles) is shown in distorted shadows.
- Used in Kamen Rider OOO for Maki's One-Winged Angel transformation into Giru. Said shadow still shows quite a bit of Body Horror.
- In Supernatural the daeva are seen only as shadows attacking their victims in the episode "Shadow", and the death of the first victim is depicted using her shadow, which is covered by a spray of blood.
- In Labyrinth, the Goblin King's transformation from owl to man is rendered in shadow.
- In the video for the Vocaloid song Circle You, Circle You, this trope comes into play when some scientists cut off a little girl's head.
- In Warcraft 3, Arthas stabbing his father was shown this way.
- The company logo for Darkling Room shows a bare-headed man's silhouette standing in a doorway; his shadow, cast on the floor by the light from the door, is wearing a hat. Similar hats are worn by the evil ghosts of the Ager brothers in Darkling's game, The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure.
- Breath of Fire IV (or more properly, the Japanese Playstation release) provides a rare example that can also be considered to be a Gory Discretion Shot—specifically, the depiction of Fou-lu decapitating Soniel. The scene was depicted entirely via a fade to black-on-red silhouette (with normal scenes before and after; the Gory Discretion Shot bit involves "shadow blood" being shown in the decapitation.
- Dragon Quest VIII - Dhoulmagus repeatedly murders people by running them through with a long magical staff, and this trope comes into play each time this happens.
- Call of Duty World at War: The opening scene shows a Japanese officer torturing an American POW, but if you turn on the mature content filter the camera will be fixed on their shadows, the scene actually becomes a lot more scary when you can't tell what he's doing.
- Happens several times in the horror-sci-fi Adventure Game I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, when a particularly awful event is happening, such as a merciless stabbing, a rape or a wolf attack.
- This happens in the cutscene before your first terror mission in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A man is cornered by Chryssalids in an alleyway, and his brutal death is shown in silhouette.
- In Syphon Filter 2, Stevens executes an innocent police officer, with shadows and the bright muzzle flash showing the act.
- Classic Disney Shorts uses this trope.
- In "The Cactus Kid," a relatively serious gunfight between Mickey and Pegleg Pete takes place in the dark, with flashes of light illuminating their silhouettes.
- In "The Gorilla Mystery," Beppo the Gorilla is often seen only in shadow, though here the effect makes him more menacing rather than less.
- Lampshaded in "The Mad Doctor," when Dr. XXX approaches Pluto with a scary-looking knife. Their shadows on the wall mimic the action... until Dr. XXX attacks Pluto's shadow, cutting it rather than the actual Pluto in half.
- Batman: The Animated Series uses this trope liberally:
- There is a sequence wherein a Mad Scientist is experimenting on/torturing Selina Kyle's cat, Isis. All we see is the shadow of the man with the needle, and the shadow of Isis attempting to escape.
- "Robin's Reckoning" part one. The deaths of Dick Grayson's parents, the Flying Graysons. The viewer sees their shadows reaching for each other, then the shot changes to the severed rope, and finally Bruce Wayne's horrified face. The original take was more graphic, but the Moral Guardians objected. The producers have since admitted this way was much more powerful.
- The page image comes from "Feat of Clay". Matt Hagen's desperate attempt to steal Roland Daggett's Renuyu (a salve that temporarily turns a person's skin into something malleable like clay) after his supply was cut ends poorly when Daggett catches him in the act. His goons attempt to drown Hagen in Renuyu. This backfires when the overdose transforms Hagen into the shapeshifting menace Clayface.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man subverts this; we get Gwen and Martha staring in horror at the shadow indicating Dr. Curt Connors is turning into the Lizard, but then they bring the camera around to show the rest of the transformation.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- An ominous shadow falls across the floor. Aang, Katara and Sokka hide, fearing that it's an enemy firebender. It turns out to be the first appearance of Momo the lemur.
- They also quite literally invert the trope in "The Storm". We get a bright light discretion shot, due to Ozai's firebending move to scar Zuko at the Agni Kai. The viewer sees the firelight playing on the faces of the crowd, plus Iroh's reaction of horror and dismay between the smiles of Zhao and some kid we've never seen before. What the viewer hears is another story.
- El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera: White Pantera and Puma Loco turn into monsters after eating fake Guacamole De Los Angeles and we only see their shadows deforming. It's a couple shots later when Manny and Frida return when we see what they've turned into.
- Yin Yang Yo: Coop the chicken transforms into Evil!Coop, and we see the shadow of the scrawny chicken falling across the titular siblings before the transformation completes.
- Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In "Frenchfry", the titular creature cooks addictively tasty meals. Lilo, Stitch and Pleakley partake so much that they become literally big and round. Pleakley continues consuming, and when Lilo returns home, we get a shot of his shadow on the door they're trying to come in through. Then we see he's ballooned four or five times his normal size, as part of the Anvilicious lesson about eating right.
- The 7th life of Garfield: His 9 Lives has this during the final shots of a Painful Transformation (though doesn't reduce the horror considering what is shown and the overall tension of the segment).
- This is used in the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Song of the Night 'n Dale" when Dale pokes Su Lin's rear end.
- Used in The Land Before Time when Sharptooth bites a chunk of flesh off of Littlefoot's mom's back.
- Used in Danny Phantom where in an alternate future, Danny's last image is that of his killer, seen in shadows to the viewers.
- American Dragon Jake Long plays it for laughs, as Principal Rotwood makes the horrifying announcement to the class that there will now be mid-midterms. He leans into the shot and onto Jake's desk at the end of it.
- In Invader Zim when he used a robotic hand to rip out his former friend Keef's eyes and replace them with robotic ones.
- Justice League Unlimited - In the episode wherein Batman is dreaming a different life courtesy of the Lotus-Eater Machine plant, we get direct shots of Thomas Wayne kicking Joe Chill's ass. When the mercy gets pulled loose by Wonder Woman and the fantasy gives way to reality, Bruce's mind remembers how this scene really ended, and the view changes to just shadows as Chill overtakes Thomas and fires on him, returning Batman to the agonized reality that he lost his parents as a small boy.
- In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, when The Joker attacks Arthur Reeves and injects him with Joker Venom with a needle, the injection is shown in shadows.
- Parodied in Rocko's Modern Life when Rocko with an insane look on his face appears to murder Heffer with a hammer, as it turns out he's using it to hit his vacuum cleaner, and another episode when Beverly Bighead appears to murder Ed, as it turns out it was a clay sculpture.
- ReBoot: Kilobyte kills a guardian, and we see her shadow fade in and out as she is drained of energy.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Last Exit to Springfield", when Lisa sees herself in the mirror after having the orthodontic appliance put on and laughs maniacally (spoofing the Joker's scene in the 1989 Batman movie), her shadow is shown on the wall.
- Also parodied at the end of "Two Dozen and One Greyhounds"; Mr. Burns makes millions off the dogs he got from Homer turning them into racing dogs. Marge come down into the basement as we see a silhouette that appears to be Homer who has hung himself. Turns out he's clinging from the rafters batting the light-on-a-string to make himself feel better.
- In "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge", Marge suspects that Becky is going to kill her. When she can't get to sleep one night, she is startled by the door opening. She sees Becky's shadow holding a gun, but she's only returning Marge's hairdryer. She also returns her brush, which casts a shadow of a knife.
- In "Cape Feare" when Bart is trying to sleep in the boat house he sees a menacing shadowy figure holding a knife, it turns out to be Homer offering him a brownie while shouting.
- The Teen Titans episode "Crash" uses one Played for Laughs. Gizmo refuses to help the virus-infected Cyborg until Raven pulls off her hood...the shadow implies what Gizmo sees is some sort of Lovecraftian horror. A completely terrified Gizmo agrees to help rather than be subjected to it again.
- In the King of the Hill episode "Ser-punt" when Dale and the two "exterminators" beat Joshua the snake to death is rendered in shadows.
- The ending of the Porky Pig cartoon "One Meat Brawl" has shadow figures of Porky, his dog and the groundhog they're hunting in a massive fight. Turns out, they're casting shadows with their hands so nobody actually gets hurt.
- Done in Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 when Krytus impales Zemerik.
- Series/MADTV parody Pokemon Park has a shadow discretion shot of a Pikachu eating one of the hapless workers.
- In Ed Eddn Eddys Big Picture Show, Edd and Eddy fight in silhouette as Ed looks on sadly.
- In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, we get a shadowed shot of Wolverine slicing apart some time-displaced velociraptors, while Spider-Man looks on, cringing. Doubles as a Gory Discretion Shot, as we see the shadow of some blood and guts spraying out, (though everything is clean when they show them in full).
- In Courage the Cowardly Dog, there's an episode, "Heads of Beef," where Courage sees Jambon's wife bite off a man's head, but the scene is rendered in shadow. It's actually just a meat sculpture, although the audience discovers it later, Courage never realizes this, and he runs out of the restaurant screaming when Jambon's wife wants to eat him - or, rather, a meat sculpture of him..
- Total Drama Island: Jo's naked workout. Played for Laughs, because of a bird vomiting. This is one of the moments on the show that got past the television censors.
- Moral Orel: In "Alone", when Agnes Sculptham is listening to Reverend Putty on the radio while remembering when Mr. Creepler raped her. We see her imagining Creepler climb out of the window and approach her, they hold hands and "become one," but in shadows. She ''enjoys'' this fantasy.
- In Family Guy's Very Special Episode "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", there is a scene of Quagmire, Peter and Joe witnessing Jeff beat Brenda in Quagmire's window, the beating being rendered in silhouette.
- At the end of the Merrie Melodies cartoon One Meat Brawl (1947), the final brawl between Porky, his pet dog, and a pesky groundhog is shown as shadows. Cut to the three characters watching the shadows fight!
- The HBO Series of Spawn uses this trope frequently. One prime example comes from the very first episode, just a couple of minutes in. Spawn bends a mob enforcer's arm back at an impossible angle and makes him shoot himself with his own gun. But, perhaps the best example comes from episode 11 (Season 2, Episode 5); after protecting Wanda from one of Jason Wynn's assassins, Spawn finishes the guy off by lifting him into the air with his chains and snapping him in half! While both of these deaths are shown only in shadow, Wanda witnesses the latter firsthand, and is justifiably horrified at the sight.
- Prince's performance◊ at Super Bowl XLI was intentionally done behind a curtain or sheet. The Moral Guardians still took umbrage over how phallic the performance appeared. This was, however, a Prince performance, and therefore rather watered down. In addition, the man is playing a guitar. It's difficult to impossible to avoid a phallic representation in such an instance. This could be considered an inversion of the trope, because the shadow made the phallic imagery more blatant.