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Surreal Symbolic Heads

A recurring motif in Surreal Horror, Surreal Humour, and, really, surreality in general, is an apparently human being whose head is something else entirely. In some cases, it's simply been replaced with the head of some species of animal; in others, it's actually an inanimate object walking about on an human body; in still others, it's neither a human with a strange head nor an object piloting a human body, but rather some other entity that looks mostly human. Whatever the reason, the result is often referred to as an "object head".

In any case, the effect ranges from unusual to sinister; they appear mainly in dreams, visions, hallucinations, and if they appear physically it's a good sign that Reality Is Out to Lunch. As a result, they are frequently subjects of the Rule of Symbolism.

Compare Malevolent Masked Men, which plays on much of the same imagery in a way compatible with a more mundane setting or situation. Compare and contrast Anthropomorphic Personification and Physical God - many take the form of a person with the head of something else, but unless they are used for surreality and metaphor they are not this trope. Also, not to be unnecessarily confused with TV Head Robot or Petting Zoo People.


Examples:

Advertising
  • Subverted in this Pepsi Max advert; towards the end, the boss sees one of the office workers with a horse's head and assumes that he's hallucinating. But that's just what the workers want him to think; the horse's head is fake and the workers are looking for an excuse to goof off.

Comics
  • Doom Patrol
    • Several of Dorothy Spinner's imaginary friends and enemies take this form. Damn All has a newspaper with multiple eyes and a broad smile, his 'wife' Darling-Come-Home's face is a portrait of a light bulb, and their ghost baby Flying Robert has the head of a balloon.
    • Many agents of the Cult of the Unwritten Book have such appearances as well. The Weeping Blades are flayed, beheaded corpses with the heads of blades. The assassin group Fear the Sky all have the heads of celestial objects.
  • Marvel Comics have a group of villains called The Headmen who have interchangeable heads and odd bodies. They're mostly joke characters but are every bit as surreal.
  • While DC's "Prez" was not usually that surreal, beyond the notion of a teenager (whose mother named him "President") being elected president, he had a few run-ins with Boss Smiley, the physical embodiment of political corruption, who had a smiley-face for a head. While there have occasionally been attempts at retconning Prez Rickard into the mainstream DC universe (at one point he was an AI Lex Luthor came up with to run the country), no explanation has ever been given for Smiley.

Film

Literature
  • Part of the mythos in The Stormlight Archive revolves around visions of strange creatures who are humanoid in shape, but have strange symbols for heads. Their presence and origin is as of yet unexplained.
  • In A Night in the Lonesome October, when a mass occult ritual starts to distort reality, the participants' heads all seem to shift places while their consciousness remains in place. As many of the participants are Familiar animals, this leaves many of the humans with animal heads.

Live-Action TV

Music
  • The cover of Minor Threat's Bottled Violence single depicts a man with the top of a beer bottle for a head, who is clad in a leather jacket and Sex Pistols shirt, and is also holding a beer in one hand and making a raised fist with the other. It Makes Sense In Context because the title song is an Ode To Sobriety dealing with those who get drunk as an excuse to pick fights.
  • The video for Surfing on a Rocket by Air has one of the people riding the rocket being a man with a nuclear explosion for a head.

Tabletop Games
  • Call of Cthulhu
    • Supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "Thoth's Dagger". One of the Investigators who touches the title magic item will fall under its curse. He sees visions of ancient Egypt that include a guard with the head of a baboon and a priest with the head of an ibis.
    • Supplement The Fungi from Yuggoth, adventure "Sands of Time". While the Investigators are trapped in an underground area they have a vision of two men with the heads of crocodiles.
  • Chaosium's supplement All the World's Monsters. The wind witch monster has a human body but the head of a crocodile.

Video Games
  • All the characters in Mondo Medicals have televisions for faces - with a blank screen, simple faces, or a gnashing mouth. Mondo Agency uses the same idea, only now the screens are four-sided and spin!
  • In Hotline Miami, the protagonist is visited by three strangers in animal masks, in dreamlike settings. (It was produced by cactus, who also made the aforementioned Mondo games.)
  • In Yume Nikki, the Medamaude effect allows Madotsuki to dream that her head has taken the form of a large hand with an eye in the palm. ('Blinking' allows her to return to the hub of her Dream World.)
    • Another effect replaces her head with a functioning street lamp (useful for illuminating dark areas, naturally).
    • There are also the Toriningen, the 'enemies' of the game, who resemble tall girls with eerily silly bird-like heads.
    • In the fan sequel Yume 2kki, Urotsuki can dream her head into a telephone, a box of tissues, or a bomb in the shape of an eyeball.
  • One of the first-person areas in Batman: Arkham Asylum contains a mannequin of the Joker, with a television head that plays a message. Actually, it's the Joker himself.
  • In Turgor, the brother called Whaler has his head replaced with a kind of ornate metal spire. (The head itself is strapped onto his back...)
  • Tele-evangelists in Civilization: Call To Power are shown as a business suit topped by a television.

Web Original
  • One of the unexplained screens in the NES Godzilla Creepypasta shows a figure in a pinstriped business suit, whose head is a dripping faucet.


Recursive RealityDream TropesTalking in Your Dreams
Surreal HumorAbsurdity AscendantSurreal Theme Tune
Supernatural Is PurpleSymbolismSwan Boats

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