I knew I should have gone with the dogs playing poker.
Paintings, before the advent of the humble photograph
, were the best thing to hang on your wall to provide a little culture, beauty and we swear that one just moved!
This is where a painting isn't normal. Maybe it's trapping something
, maybe it's developed a life of its own
, maybe it's a gateway to another dimension
, maybe it's the source of power
for an evil wizard, maybe it's just a cursed heirloom that brings misfortune... Or maybe it's actually the covering for a window with the "eyes" being the guy looking through it.
The Genre Blind
, upon hearing of this menace, may try to come up with an excuse that renders it harmless, or otherwise just brush it off
Creepy Changing Painting
is a subtrope.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- A 1940s Justice Society story featured the menace of The Paintings That Walked the Earth.
- There was that time the Doom Patrol's foes the Brotherhood of Dada used a magic painting to steal the city of Paris. But then that's the Doom Patrol for you.
- In Green Lantern, Sinestro Corps member Feena Sik had the flowering reputation of an artist revered across space sectors. Then she became so determined to bring her art to life she completed a ritual involving her husband's blood to do just that. At her next show, the paintings immediately came to life and massacred the audience. All of her previous works have been blacklisted and banned from reprinting out of fear that they'll come alive.
- In the Mouth of Madness has an hotel with one very interesting painting. Very, very interesting.
- Candyman Day Of The Dead. The said Candyman's good side is held within a set of paintings, notably his own, and as everybody knows evil can't exist without good, so the girl had to destroy the paintings to kill(?) him.
- Deathbed The Bed That Eats (1977) features a painting haunted by its artist.
- The painting above Laura's bed in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: the painting is a portal to the netherworld, and when the angel leaves the painting Laura is about to die.
- Ghostbusters II has the Big Bad using a painting to generate a portal into the real world. After his defeat, it's transformed into a mock Christian painting (with Bill Murray's girlfriend and new baby son as Madonna and Child, and the Ghostbusters as the four Gospel writers).
- In the Roger Corman film The Haunted Palace, Curwen's portrait is the main way he insinuates his spirit into the consciousness of his unwitting descendant. (In the original story, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, the portrait had no supernatural qualities; it served only to show the similarity of appearance between Curwen and Ward.)
- In the remake of The Haunting (1999), Hugh Crain's ghost manifests through his portrait.
- The 1945's adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, mentioned below in the Literature section. For full effect, the movie was shot in black and white, while the shots of the portrait (seen at the top of that entry's page) was filmed in color.
- Fourteen Oh Eight features several framed pieces of drab hotel art (an ocean fishing scene, a fox hunt, a woman and a baby) that suddenly change to become menacing as the hotel room subjects the main character to more and greater horrors.
- Played with in Shanghai Knights. Chon thinks that he sees the eyes in a painting move, while Roy, engrossed in a book about the Kama Sutra, dismisses him. It turns out that Chon's sister had been hiding "inside" the painting, and she bursts out of it to save Roy and Chon.
- Black Swan has Nina's mother painting dozens of them, one of which moves slightly the first time Nina sees them. Later on during Nina's breakdown, they all come alive moaning and shrieking at her.
- The portrait of the Master and his dog in "Manos" The Hands of Fate. "It's a Frank Frazetta of Music/FrankZappa!"
- Holden's room in The Cabin in the Woods has a painting that is...grisly and visceral, to put it mildly. Made even more creepy that removing the painting reveals an interrogation mirror/window straight into Dana's room.
- The room in E. F. Benson's "The Room in the Tower" contains a self-portrait by a woman who committed suicide. Unfortunately for the protagonist, the portrait now houses a vampire.
- M. R. James' "The Mezzotint", is about a mezzotint engraving which depicts a supernatural creature gradually making off with the family residing at an English manor.
- Simon R. Green's Hawk and Fisher story "The Bones of Haven" introduces Messerschmann's Portrait, a painting which, if you look at it too long, will trap you in the hellish landscape it depicts.
- In the Stephen King story "The Road Virus Heads North", found in the collection Everything's Eventual, a writer buys a painting of a car, but the background keeps changing...
- There's the painting in Rose Madder by Stephen King. The content of the picture changing is not its most unusual feature...
- The ghost of the Hanging Judge in J. S. Le Fanu's "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street" manifests as a creepy painting, among other things.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray is a good example where the painting reveals the true evil of Dorian's actions as his soul becomes more and more corrupted.
- Trumps in The Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny: You can reach out to the subject of the painting, step through a Trump to join them, wherever they are, or you can draw them to your side through their trump, even stab them through the painted card.
- In Roald Dahl's The Witches, a witch traps a little girl inside a painting. She ages normally, and eventually disappears altogether.
- In HP Lovecraft's The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward the plot is kicked in by the discovery of the protagonist's ancestor's portrait that's almost identical in appearance to him. It often appears to be watching on young Charles as he works, but although it loses its menace for awhile, it later gets worse, surrounded by a miasma of undefinable dread. As it turns out, the latter is due to the fact that the said ancestor is resurrected, and he kills Charles and stuffs his body behind the painting, presumably after first destroying it with acid, resulting in unpleasant smell that people interpret subconsciously as evil presence.
- Lovecraft had the stories The Picture In The House and Medusa's Coil. In the latter, an artist ends up painting a picture of a strange woman, and the picture happens to capture such horrors that another character immediately makes it his mission to kill her. It doesn't help that she flees the scene after seeing it herself, and that she attacks him in a rage so he is forced to kill her anyways. In a maddened rant afterwards - and after her severed hair has coiled up and murdered the artist in front of him, her killer tries to explain:
Denis: "'God, but Frank is an artist! That thing is the greatest piece any living soul has produced since Rembrandt! It's a crime to burn it - but it would be a greater crime to let it exist - just as it would have been an abhorrent sin to let - that she-daemon - exist any longer." (...) She thought we couldn't see through - that the false front would hold till we had bartered away our immortal souls. And she was half right - she'd have got me in the end. She was only - waiting. But Frank - good old Frank - was too much for me. He knew what it all meant, and painted it. I don't wonder she shrieked and ran off when she saw it. It wasn't quite done, but God knows enough was there."
- When the protagonist ends up seeing the picture himself, after having being told the story behind it, he describes it as a gruesome imagery of witchcraft and decaying nature. He draws his gun and shots it asunder, only to have the man that showed it to him freak out. Apparently the painting had talked to him and forced him to keep it safe. A few minutes later, the house is on fire and an undead witch drags the poor guy to his doom. The protagonist high-tails it out of there.
- Everything Laurent does after the murder in Thérèse Raquin. He wasn't much of a talented painter before the murder, but he keeps unconsciously painting his victim's face in variation. Once he realizes that, he gets scared and stops painting.
- Bram Stoker's The Judge's House contains a picture of Hanging Judge Jeffreys.
- Leonard of Quirm's painting of the Mona Ogg, hanging in the Royal Art Gallery in Ankh-Morpork, does this to people on the Discworld. People swear the teeth don't just follow you around the room, they stalk you around the rest of the gallery and then down the street outside....
- The Fighting Fantasy gamebook House of Hell has three Spooky Paintings you encounter early in the story; each is an optional encounter, and you can only interact with one. The first is a portrait of a man, and all it does is move its eyes. The second is a portrait of a beautiful young woman, who speaks to you in a sad voice, warns you not to drink white wine in the house (very useful advice) and advises you to try to flee (you cannot do that). The third painting is an old woman who encourages you to fight the evil in the house, telling you there is an ally you can find called the Man in Grey. (She's telling the truth, but the Man in Grey is a Red Herring - he can't help you much. In any case, any of these encounters will cause you to gain a Fear Point.
- In That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, the villains lock Mark in "the Objective Room," containing, among other things, surreal paintings that quietly eat away at his sanity.
- In All Hallows' Eve by Charles Williams, a young artist paints a picture of a cult leader preaching to his congregation, and is disconcerted to find that it is the best thing he's ever done "and" reveals the spiritual emptiness of the cult leader and his followers. The leader himself is very pleased with it.
- Supernatural featured at least one of these.
- The pilot episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery includes "The Cemetery", a story about a greedy nephew who murders his rich old uncle for the inheritance. Soon afterward, he begins to notice odd changes in a painting of the manor and its adjoining cemetery. One day there's a fresh mound in the cemetery. The next day, the mound's unearthed to reveal a casket. And the next, the casket's open to reveal his uncle's dead body. And then one night the painting shows the corpse walking through the cemetery gates towards the mansion. After the panicked nephew accidentally breaks his neck, the whole thing turns out to have been an elaborate scheme by the family butler using a set of custom paintings he'd been swapping out each day, both to avenge his old master and to claim the estate for himself. But the next night, the butler notices that the painting on the wall's changed, and now it's the nephew's grave that's opening...
- Chiana brings one of these back to Moya in Farscape. It appears to forecast the future, but in reality, it's the Soul Jar of Maldis, one of Zhaan's old enemies- leading to a bizzare sequence in which the crew are killed off one by one and their souls trapped inside the painting.
- One episode of The Twilight Zone featured a series of people's disappearances in a cave, at the end of the episode a woman is the last person to vanish and the people searching for her enter the cave following her screams, and then they see a crude painting of her on a wall and several moving prehistoric cave paintings stabbing her with spears.
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter Mona Lisa's Revenge, the picture comes to life.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Fear Her" the girl's drawings both come to life, and draw people into them.
- The Haunting Hour features an episode called "The Girl in the Painting", in which the girl Becky, played by Bailee Madison, finds a beautiful portrait of a girl in a bedroom and takes it home. She develops an obsession with, especially after noticing the girl changes position and the clock showing different times. she discovers the painting leads to another world, where the girl is forced by her mother to trick people into coming in, thinking it's a paradise, when in fact they are to be eaten by a monster, which Becky learns the hard way.
- In Friends, Phoebe painted a creepy picture of Gladys, and part of her body was crafted, so it appeared as if she was coming from the picture. When Mike, her boyfriend, was moving in, he insisted she get rid of it. She gave it to Monica who tried to give it to Rachel who made fun of her. They didn't want to hurt Phoebe's feelings, but the painting caused them nightmares, particularly to Joey. Phobe, thinking they both want it, made another even scarier picture.
- David Bowie's 1979 video "Look Back in Anger", in an Homage to The Picture of Dorian Gray, has him as an artist who has just completed a painting of an angel — which was clearly modeled on himself. Examining his work and finding something...intriguing about it, he runs his hand over its surface. The face of the portrait doesn't change. The artist's face winds up disfigured.
- Inversion: There's an Eastern tale about boy who (unknowingly) spends the night in a cursed deserted monastery in which every night a Giant Demon Rat appeared and killed whoever slept inside; Since he loved to paint cats, he had spent all day painting them all over the walls of the monastery before going to sleep, that night, he wakes up hearing terrible screeching noises that are suddenly silenced, the next morning he finds the Giant Demon Rat dead in a pool of blood, the shock of the finding prevents him from realizing right away that the paws of the cats he painted the day before were also stained with blood...
- Used in Disney's Haunted Mansion attractions around the world. Several paintings depict seemingly innocent scenes - a woman reclining on a couch, a ship at sea, a knight on a horse, to name a few - that change to horrific versions when lightning flashes outside nearby windows - the woman becomes a snarling tiger, the ship rides through a storm with tattered sails, and the knight and horse become skeletons. There are also a few that were originally installed at Walt Disney World that had eyes that would follow the riders, but the moving-eye effect (as well as most of the portraits) seems to have been removed during a 2007 overhaul of the ride, leaving the paintings static (although still suitably creepy in their design).
- Subverted in an urban legend where a woman is alone in a cabin that she thinks has paintings of creepy-looking people and can't sleep. When the sun comes up, she finds out that there were no paintings. Only windows.
- As a playground for classic horror tropes, the Ravenloft D&D setting uses this one a lot. The darklord of Ghastria has a lifeforce-sucking portrait, Souragne's darklord has a collection of etchings that imprison the souls of his enemies, there's a spellcasting sentient painting in Castle Ravenloft, et cetera. Even tapestries and stained-glass windows get in on the act.
- A monster book for Vampire: The Requiem features the idea of "ghoul portraits," paintings created using a vampire's enhanced Vitae that have a measure of sentience and access to vampiric Disciplines.
- Warhammer40000 has one in Fulgrim's painting. Not only is it made from bodily fluids by a mad artist, it contains either a daemon or Fulgrim's soul.
- In Ruddigore, the ghosts of the former Bad Baronets emerge from their paintings to torment the current inheritor of the family curse.
- In a much more benign example, the ancestor portraits in Me and My Girl step out of their frames to instruct the new Earl of Hereford in Noblesse Oblige.
- Super Mario 64 had Mario jumping through paintings to other worlds, and sometimes not even paintings but portals hidden in walls.
- The entire plot of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin revolved around the villain's creation of evil pocket dimensions within paintings.
- The Stage 5 Haunted Ship of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and its remake The Dracula X Chronicles has a painting that, if allowed to come close to Richter, will suck him into the artwork and then split itself apart, killing him instantly.
- In stage 15 of Vampire Killer, the corridor leading to Death has many full-body portraits of Count Dracula. The Final Boss room is dominated by an enormous painting of a demonic face which turns out to be Dracula's second form.
- Earthbound has the city of Moonside, which featured extremely bizarre enemies, including Abstract Art, which were literal living paintings.
- In Final Fantasy VI, there are several paintings containing enemies during the Relm sidequest in the World of Ruin. There is also a boss monster in a painting at the end, which is an Esper possessed by evil.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had Phantom Ganon charge out of a set of paintings in the middle of a temple, as well as Poes possessing the paintings throughout the dungeon.
- Super Mario Sunshine there is a beach painting in the hotel that gives the guest in that room "strange vibes." If Mario sprays it with water, the shape of a boo appears and Mario can jump through the painting.
- There's an actual enemy in Wario World that is called the Terrible Portrait. It's literally a living painting that shoots fire, ice and boulders at Wario, and takes the appearance of three photo frames with a face in the middle one.
- Zack And Wiki had a section in a castle with paintings that were out to get you. One you had to blind to get past and another had a fish that would eat you if you got on its nerves.
- Eternal Darkness had a painting that would change from lush fields to a hellish landscape depending on the character's sanity. Never sure whether it was due to the characters going insane or the ancients casting magick to make them insane.
- In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the apparently haunted Old Chateau has a room with some kind of painting in it. You can't really tell what the painting is of, but there are glowing red eyes on it that disappear when you get too close, then come back when you turn your back.
- Clive Barker's Undying has quite a few of these that masquerade as normal paintings, but reveal the true horror when the Scrye spell is used on them.
- Several examples, including the one shown at the top of this page, hang in the upstairs hallway in Scratches.
- A very creepy example appears prominently in The Lost Crown, both directly and in dream sequences.
- Luigis Mansion. Obvious example is the painting of Mario (who's still screaming for help and banging on the front of the painting), but also the portraits of the various ghosts (well, they are the actual ghosts turned to paintings), anything in Vincent Van Gore's art studio (See Art Initiates Life) and various paintings in the mansion itself which can be pulled off the wall to reveal a creepy Big Boo picture (and various smaller ones which can't really be identified).
- Anchorhead has a whole gallery of creepy paintings done by one of the delightful members of the Verlac family. They get even creepier if you look at them closely...
- The 7th Guest has several eerie paintings hanging around the Stauf mansion, and some of them get even worse when you examine them more closely.
- In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you will often run into paintings of the castle's owner throughout your exploration. However, should your sanity start to slip (due to looking at monsters or staying in the dark too long), the face will change into something grotesque. What makes it especially creepy is how nonchalant it can appear as you're exploring, until you realize something's wrong...
- Silent Hill has a long and rich history of freaking gamers out with wall paintings. The original has a funny/frightening lounge in the elementary school which holds a giant framed painting of gore and corpses. The hero comments on the poor taste of the picture. When the Otherworld takes hold, the lounge is replaced by the room depicted in the painting.
- Silent Hill 2's prison has an Infinite Canvas showing the cafeteria you're standing in. Which would be weird enough, except that there's a slumped corpse on the table beside you — and in the painting itself.
- Hitman: Contract features an asylum with portraits of a toddler wearing a three-piece suit. Note that the suit is identical to Agent 47's, echoing the Evil Plan of the head doctor to breed superhumans.
- Ib features paintings made by a Mad Artist that come to life in the Dark World. Including portraits of women who follow you and will CRASH RIGHT THROUGH WINDOWS to do so.
- Kirby: Canvas Curse has an entire plot based around this. The bosses are pictures of old Kirby villains brought to life, and the villain herself was born from a painting, and wants to turn the whole world into one of paint.
- The Witch's House features a Mona Lisa-esque painting that will, at one point, come alive and try to turn you into a painting.
- You collect more spooky paintings in the Ghostbusters game; although they're just there for 100% Completion.
- Dark Souls II: Everything Trying to Kill You: The Game now adds a painting to its arsenal. Specifically a painting of Queen Nashandra. Seems she's so cosmically wrong that even a simple painting of her is dangerous. Eat your hearts out, Weeping Angels...
- Terranigma has realistically drawn portraits of four people on a wall in Sylvain Castle. Each person is missing one eye, which you have to replace with a gemstone.
- Beatrice's portrait in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Spooky for various reasons - most notably frequent deaths in front of it. Portraits. Most of the witches have a portrait that shows up at some point. How exactly the portraits are connected to the witches themselves hasn't been explained yet.
- Homestar Runner:
- Strong Mad keeps in his closet a painting of a creepy goblin with a torch (officially known as the Horrible Painting) that can apparently move and talk to a degree, which usually does nothing except creep people out (or, in Homestar-ese, give them the "jibblies"). Come on in heeere...
- Homestar actually managed to walk into the painting, where it turned out that the goblin just wanted someone to come in so he could entertain them. For eternity.
- One episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated features an auctioneer trying to sell off what he dubs a "spooooooooky painting". No one seems interested in it but the monster of the week.
- The Simpsons: In "Treehouse Of Horror IV" Homer is literally creeped out by "Dogs Playing Poker" by Cassius Marsellus Coolidge.
- There are some paintings that appear to follow you with their eyes.
- Specifically, this is an optical illusion created when the subject is looking directly at the camera/painter. Because a painting is two dimensional, no matter what angle you look at the painting, the eyes appear to be directed at the observer.
- Even without the obligatory "curse" backstory, "The Hands Resist Him" (above) is pretty damn creepy. note The inspiration for the painting makes it less creepy. The boy is the artist, and the girl is meant to protect him from the hands outside.
- For more spooky paintings, see Nightmare Fuel: Art.