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They Look Just Like Everyone Else
"Well, what else is there to do when life turns on you and you've retreated into some small room? You look out your window. You see people come in and out of this phone booth. The same ones every day. You make up names for them. You imagine their stories. But eventually, you get tired of imagining and follow one of them. And you hear all of his lies. And you decide that his sins should be punished. Some guy shouting into a cell phone full of self-importance isn't gonna notice me."
The Caller, Phone Booth

This is when a villain doesn't look like a villain, and is even more terrifying because of it. This does not apply to particularly handsome or charming villains - that goes under Evil Is Sexy. Characters following this trope look completely ordinary. You could pass them on the street and never notice them, let alone suspect that murdered someone just the other day.

In fantasy and science fiction shows, this is often what makes Mundanger villains so terrifying. While the normal beasties the protagonists hunt down and slay are obviously fantastic monsters that don't exist in our world, these monsters could be living right next door.

Please note: The identity of many of these villains may be part of a reveal, so please use spoilers wisely.

An Enfant Terrible is usually one of these. Contrast Obviously Evil and Devil in Plain Sight. Related with but not to be confused for They Look Like Us Now, where previously inhuman beasties learn to pass for human. The Nondescript is when their "normalness" is taken so far that people can't even remember what they're like.

This is Truth in Television. Who knows? Maybe one of the tropers could just be this.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Monster: While the Big Bad is an exception, the most evil and dangerous characters are often the most ordinary-looking: Hartmann and Franz Bonaparta come to mind.
  • In the "Greenback Jane" arc of Black Lagoon, Jane and the protagonists are pursued by a band of bounty hunters. One of them eschews the series' Cluster F-Bomb style and speaks in Gosh Dang It to Heck! terms and at face value is a wholesome, Mr. Rogers-ish guy. It turns out, he's a pyromaniac who previously torched his wife so that he could smell her flesh burn.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure villain Yoshikage Kira actively cultivates this image, making himself as nondescript as possible to disguise his Serial Killer activities.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Krillin is surprised to find that Androids 17 and 18 (immensely powerful cyborgs that caused a Bad Future in an alternate timeline) look just look like regular people you'd see walking down the street. This is justified as they were once human, although even then they both happened to be juvenile delinquents.
  • The Titan Shifters in Attack on Titan. The revelation that they exist becomes a source of extreme paranoia for the military, since there is absolutely no way to detect them.
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami being the smart, charming, supposedly kindhearted honor-student son of the Chief of Police makes it difficult for many of the characters to take L's accusations seriously. L seems to be the only one who really believes that Light is Kira until very close to the series' end.
  • This is a common theme in Hell Girl. The evil person during most episodes are often seen as ordinary or even respectful by other people, leaving the victim no choice but to summon Ai Enma (Hell Girl) for revenge, knowing they're damning their souls too.
  • InuYasha: Sango reflects at one point that, according to her father, the most dangerous kinds of youkai are those that can assume human form.

    Comicbooks 
  • Thessaly the witch in The Sandman. She appears to be a mild-mannered glasses-wearing citizen - like Clark Kent in a way. Except for the part where Superman doesn't obsessively hunt down and kill anyone who attempts to hurt him.
    • This is one of the nightmare-fueling qualities of the Collectors story as well. On one end of the spectrum, you have cereal fans who look like sweaty, loserish sexual predators you'd steer clear of at any costs. On the other, you have those who are ordinary-looking in the extreme... and just as vicious.
  • Mr Fun from the Batman mini-series Batman Family.
  • Kevin from Sin City is just a guy in a sweater and glasses. You wouldn't believe that he is a martial arts master, to say nothing of his knack for eating people. For extra uncanny points, it's a Charlie Brown sweater.
  • Most Batman villains, even if they start out as relatively normal criminals, wind up disfigured and/or embracing some kind of super-villain gimmick. But not James Gordon Jr., an ordinary, bookish-looking lad who happens to also be a sociopath and serial killer.

    Film 
  • Trope Namer: The scene at the end of the first The Addams Family movie where Wednesday and Pugsley are showing off their Halloween costumes to their family. When asked by Margaret why she's not wearing a costume like her brother, Wednesday announces that she IS in costume as a "homicidal maniac" because "they look just like everybody else."
  • Norman Bates in Psycho. In the book, he's written as middle-aged, homely at best, and a bit creepy (much like his inspiration, Ed Gein), but Hitchcock thought it would be more interesting to make him look wholesome.
  • Jigsaw in the Saw movies. Extra points because he's dying of brain cancer.
  • John Doe in Se7en. Combine a very subdued performance by Kevin Spacey with a name like "John Doe" (the default name assigned to unidentified male corpses) and you've got a killer who is both chilling and credible.
  • Robin Williams has also played a couple of very troubling antagonists in One Hour Photo and Insomnia as well. While this borders on Playing Against Type here, his character in One Hour Photo was scary because he could have been any random photomat clerk, and he nearly faded into the background anyway.
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Bateman is apparently such a cookie-cutter yuppie that people keep mistaking him for other yuppies.
  • Garland Greene in Con Air, played by Steve Buscemi. The other cons comment on how he doesn't look like an infamous mass-murderer.
  • Virtually all of the people Bruce Willis' character has psychic flashes about in Unbreakable are seemingly ordinary people who have done or are looking to do bad things. The biggest case being a janitor who is a Serial Killer (who also doubles as a rapist).
  • Devil, which is about five average people trapped in an elevator, one of whom is Satan.
  • The Beast from Kung Fu Hustle turns out to be a dumpy old guy in his underwear. Much of the appeal in general of Kung Fu Hustle is how the martial arts masters turn out to be the most regular, unflattering-looking people in the movie, while the suave, Hollywood-ish Axe Gang are a pathetic joke.
  • The Night of the Hunter: Harry Powell is either this or a Devil in Plain Sight, depending on how sensitive your Evildar is. To all appearances, a charming and folksy preacher and the best stepfather a Kid Hero could ever want. Actually a Knife Nut Bluebeard Serial Killer.
    • A TV-remake of The Night of the Hunter had Harry played by Gerald McRaney, who is possibly best known for appearing in the Touched by an Angel spinoff Promised Land. He played a dad. A dad possibly a lot like yours. Put some role association together, and you have prime Paranoia Fuel.
  • In the comedy film The Man Who Knew Too Little, the main character (Bill Murray) thinks he's in a Tuxedo and Martini simulation game and, when informed about The Baroness, thinks that she is this elderly woman dressed as a dominatrix ("It was our anniversary!"). The Baroness is a real person, a Torture Technician / Mad Doctor. She is a middle aged woman of average appearance, maybe even pretty, and she acts completely calm and normal. The film sends the message that unlike in the world of James Bond, villains in the real world aren't always Obviously Evil with a convenient Red Right Hand.
  • Mr. Baek of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. After a very emotional buildup, a parent of one of a serial killer's victims says, "But you look just like a normal person."
  • Lampshaded in 8 MM when Nicolas Cage's character tracks down and unmasks the Snuff Film performer "The Machine" to reveal some ordinary bald guy with glasses.
    Machine/ George Higgins: "What did you expect? A monster?"
  • Dylan Baker's serial killing school principal in Trick 'r Treat.
  • In Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the slasher killer of the title is, while out of his costume, a normal-looking guy.
  • The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, where the antagonist's true intentions are made incredibly clear to the audience and the protagonist, but the latter has to spend the whole movie trying to prove it.
  • Ben from Man Bites Dog. Sure, he's a hitman and serial killer, but other than that there's absolutely nothing weird about him.
  • Terminator:
    • This was supposed to happen in The Terminator. Lance Henriksen was James Cameron's first choice to play the Terminator and had already appeared in-character at a fundraising event. Arnie originally auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese before switching roles to make the Terminator look much more imposing and threatening.
    • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the default appearance of the shape-shifting villain is a fairly nondescript man (Robert Patrick), as opposed to the lantern-jawed Schwarzenegger. This really brings out the tension in the first part of the movie, before the audience knows that Arnold is the good guy this time around.
      • Or would have, if every single trailer and commercial hadn't capitalized on the awesome T-1000 effects and the line "How do you terminate a Terminator?" thus spoiling the surprise.
  • Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace. According to director Marc Forster, Greene was deliberately styled without make-up, in order to symbolise the 'hidden evils in society'.
  • A nice one in the Bruce Willis movie Red. The operatives bump into a thoroughly ordinary middle-aged woman at the airport, with the most paranoid among them insisting she's a killer, while the others assume he's just crazy. Then after she's released, she turns up again - with a rocket launcher.
  • From Halloween in the final minutes of the original film, Laurie manages to rip off Michael's mask. For a few seconds his face is clearly visible and he appears to be just a completely ordinary man.
  • When the cops in Theres Something About Mary mistakenly think that Ted is a serial murderer, they remark that they never look like how you expect them upon seeing Ted.
  • In The World's End, the alien replacements all look like regular humans... until they attack.
  • Implied to have been the case with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, who - in life - was the janitor at the local elementary school and wore a crumpled brown fedora and a tacky Christmassy sweater, and was secretly murdering (and possibly molesting) kids for years. Of course, by the time we meet him, he's an undead monster with burns all over his body, so his appearance is a bit more striking.

    Literature 
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Tickler is a brutally efficient Torture Technician, but Arya notes that he's a completely unexceptional and ordinary-looking man while not plying his trade.
    • Later in the series we meet Qyburn, who combines this with Affably Evil to give him a "fatherly" appearance, masking his true colours as an Evilutionary Biologist and Torture Technician extraordinaire.
    • Davos is described as having an "ordinary face", which helps in Wyman Manderly's plan to fake Davos' execution.
  • Dexter goes to a lot of trouble to seem like just an average guy.
  • Hater, a book by David Moody, and the movie of the same name.
  • Though not a villain (just a conman), Moist Von Lipwig from Discworld is blessed with an unmemorable face and always wears some attention-grabbing but easily removed articles to ensure he can disappear whenever he wishes.
  • In the Gentleman Bastard series, Locke Lamora is occasionally described as skinnier than average, but otherwise he has a particularly unexceptional appearance that helps him blend into his disguises.
  • Dr. Impossible from Soon I Will Be Invincible is a short guy just this side of middle aged. When he walks down the street in his civvies, he's completely unremarkable. With his costume on, however...
    • He may not count, though, since he's not particularly 'terrifying'.
  • The Yeerks from the Animorphs are aliens that control sentient beings by tunneling into their heads through their ear canals and spreading themselves around the brain, sinking into the cracks, etc. So the protagonists are aware that anyone they know could be a 'Controller.' Like Jake's brother Tom, their Vice Principal Chapman, and many more throughout the series.
    • To really drive the paranoia home, it's not at all uncommon for the Animorphs to cause a public spectacle... and start getting attacked by random members of the crowd.
  • In the Tamora Pierce Circle of Magic novel Shatterglass, the serial killer turns out to be one of the Hindu Untouchable/Dalit Expy characters who have been constantly on the outskirts of the protagonists' radar, cleaning, being abused, and biding their time.
  • The Discworld novel Snuff has Stratford the Professional Killer, who looks pretty indescribably normal until you take a good look in his eyes or he gets angry.
    And that, sir, is when he looks like Stratford.
  • In Around the World in Eighty Days, the Bank of England has been robbed by a man who unfortunately resembles protagonist Phileas Fogg. The British consul in Suez remarks that the description given is that of an honest man, to which the detective Fix declares that great robbers always look like honest men; the ones who look like rascals are too easily caught.
  • In Take A Thief, the Big Bad has what Skif's mentor calls "a face-shaped face."
  • In the Provost's Dog novel Terrier, Beka and her mentors search for the Shadow Snake, a kidnapper and child murderer named after the local Boogeyman. They are shocked to learn the Shadow Snake's true identity: the grandmotherly proprietor of the local pastry shop.
  • In Perdido Street Station the city of New Crobuzon's militia forces are basically this trope. The majority of the militia is made up of agents that walk around the city like any normal person. This is used as a in great effect when a strike breaks out and eventually leads to fighting between two crowds. The militia have people in both. Even the crowd that's on strike. They could be anywhere at anytime and you would only know when it's already too late.
  • The Silencers in The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. Used to chilling effect early in the novel when Cassie finds an injured soldier dying in an abandoned convenience store, but doesn't know if he's a Silencer or not and so shoots him out of fear. It turns out he was perfectly human.
  • Enforced by the Grey Men in The Wheel of Time, assassins who are cloaked in a supernatural glamour that makes them look ordinary and forgettable... so ordinary and forgettable that you almost forget seeing them at all when they were the only person you passed in an otherwise empty hallway just before coming across a dead body.
  • Agatha Christie loves this trope.
  • Red Dragon spends a lot of time dealing with the day-to-day working life of its eponymous Serial Killer, the sheer mundane nature of which make his horrific murder sprees all the more unsettling. In a twist, the killer thinks of himself as hideous and disfigured, because of a harelip he had as a child... except that it's barely noticeable after all the surgery he got for it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Supernatural. The fact that the demons and monsters can and will look like anyone else is very heavily used on the show.
  • Not often used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this quote deserves mention.
    Willow: (in reference to a murderer) It could be anyone. It could be me! ...it's not, though.
  • Two of Cold Case's most notorious killers embodied this trope to a T. One, George Marks, was overweight, balding—and a rabid misogynist who kidnapped women by disguising himself as a cop, then forced them to strip to their underwear and run through the woods for hours before finally finishing them off with a gunshot to the chest. The other, John Smith, was incredibly average looking and well-mannered, easily tempting his victims to walk away with him. And, you know, his name was John Smith, which is probably the blandest name in human history.
  • The villain of the pilot episode of Grimm is a mailman who wears loafers and cardigans, collects porcelain figurines, does needlepoint, makes homemade chicken pot pies, and eats people. note 
    • All wessen, since most of the time humans cannot see their true form.
  • The defendant in the Law & Order episode "Hubris" is a mild-mannered real estate salesman and a regular Casanova with the ladies. As it turns out, he also murdered his girlfriend, the old couple who were employing her, and her 6-year-old daughter, all to cover up a fifth murder that he had already committed years before. And while the detectives know he did it because they see security camera footage of the crime (suppressed at trial, natch), the audience never sees him doing anything criminal or sinister at all. To the very end of the episode, this mass murdering scumbag just looks like everyone else.
    • The Big Bad of the Law & Order: SVU season 13 finale/season 14 opener is a frumpy, average-looking woman who is first introduced tending to the animals on her farm. She looks more like an elementary school teacher than someone who's engaged in sex trafficking, arranged a string of murders, and is using her prostitution business to blackmail half the cops and prosecutors in the state of New York.
  • On LOST, a show filled with so many pretty yet stupid people, it's mild-mannered ferret-faced chartered-accountant-lookalike Benjamin Linus who really runs the table.
  • The Yin Yang Killer from Psych. Turns out she was standing right there among the crowd in the background of nearly every scene.
  • The killer in "A Study In Pink", the first episode of Sherlock. Moriarty looks snazzy in a suit, but he also has no problem blending in and convincing others that he's just a normal guy on several occasions. When he's wearing his baseball cap and jacket, you wouldn't give him a second glance on the street.
  • This trope happens a lot on The X-Files, since the villains usually take pains to blend into society and are only outed when unnatural things start to happen:
    • Eugene Tooms in the episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms".
    • Also Donnie Pfaster of "Irresistible".
    • John Lee Roche, the serial-killer-of-girls on "Paper Hearts", looks and talks like a balding salesman, which he was before he got caught.
    • The vampire town in "Bad Blood."
    • The villain in "Folie a Deux" was a giant monster, disguised as a human being in a normal company.
    • Though not a villain, the alien in "The Unnatural" lived convincingly as a human baseball player.
    • The brain-eating man in "Hungry" took pains to disguise himself. Undisguised, he resembled a cross between a bald man and a shark.
    • The Alien Bounty Hunter can shape-shift into anyone he wants.
    • The Super Soldier human/alien hybrids are indistinguishable from humans until you look at the back of their neck. Or they kill you. Whichever comes first.
  • Heroic variant: The Regents in Warehouse 13 are not at all what Artie expected. However, they all look a little too ordinary...
    • Some artifacts are a non-human version of this. Who would have suspected that the tip jar at a food truck was behind a mini-Zombie Apocalypse?
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Intersections In Real Time," Sheridan has been captured and is being tortured in a prison cell somewhere. The Torture Technician is a mild-looking bureaucrat who administers Electric Torture and poisoned food likes it's just another day on the job. Word of God is that this was all intentional, as he wanted to remind his fans that not all evil men act evil. At the end of the episode, we discover that the government has a seemingly unlimited supply of these guys and will simply swap them out until the prisoner breaks.
  • Breaking Bad contrasts the over the top antics of the Ax-Crazy Salamanca clan with the ordinary looking members of Gus's criminal organization. The Salamancas rely on intimidation and crazy violence for their reputation. Gus prefers to blend in and appear to be extremely boring and affable. He also goes to great lengths to make sure that his underlings do not attract any unnecessary attention. Walt strides the line between these two extremes as he knows that he has to be as nondescript as possible but his pride and ego constantly prompt him to do things that will get him noticed. Further, Todd is a heartless, casual sociopath who looks like one of the show's more boring or typical characters. While he looks like an ordinary man, after killing an innocent little boy his reaction is, "Shit happens."
  • To an extent, BOB from Twin Peaks. He basically looks an extra from a bar scene - a denim-clad old man with stringy grey hair who smells like burnt motor oil. In fact, given that his entire presence in the show is basically a case of Throw It In, his appearance is mostly modeled on what the set dresser happened to be wearing the day he got accidentally caught in the shot. On the other hand, you probably couldn't have a conversation with him, since he mostly runs around snarling at people and hiding in the woods.
    • This also applies to Leland Palmer, seemingly a perfectly normal family man and lawyer... who is actually a Serial Killer who has been raping his own daughter for years, under the Demonic Possession of the above BOB.
  • American Horror Story: Asylum: Dr. Oliver Thredson, a compassionate and upstanding psychiatrist who is actually the infamous serial killer, Bloody Face.
  • In the series Adam-12, Reed and Malloy were helping a female officer conduct a rape-resistance class at a local college. When one of the attendees asked what would a rapist look like, the lady cop pointed to the pair of heroes and said, "Just like them. A man."
  • Most of the accused on Canadian courtroom series This Is Wonderland. Since most of the show was set in small claims courts or mental health court, most of them were normal people who had just made terrible mistakes or had been put in a terrible situation. This made the rare appearance of a genuine monster all the more startling.
  • In the Masters Of Horror episode "Pick Me Up", the dueling serial killers Walker and Wheeler both look fairly inconspicuous as a young drifter and a middle-aged trucker, respectively. Walker discusses the trope proper:
    Walker: Your genuinely dangerous individuals — they almost never look crazy. They don't have any weird tattoos, they don't have any weird stitches on their face, funny-shaped heads. They are NOT predictable.
  • In Graceland, FBI Agent Paul Briggs has a confrontation with the always masked cartel hitman who years earlier forcibly addicted Briggs to heroin and killed a bunch of his fellow agents. In the aftermath of a Gun Struggle, Briggs pulls the hood off the dead assassin... and sees the ordinary face of some guy he doesn't know. Briggs goes as far as to lampshade this trope and berate himself for having expected anything else. (Unknown to Briggs, the real assassin is still out there... and he's also a guy who Briggs doesn't know and looks just like everyone else.)

    Videogames 
  • Dahlia Hawthorne from Ace Attorney looks just like an ordinary human being, but she's actually one of the most vicious villains in the series.
  • Adachi from Persona 4
  • From Last Window, we have the incredibly ordinary-looking Dylan Fitchar, who we discover is a mole for Nile, the crime syndicate that is behind every terrible thing that happens to people in both this game and Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
  • There are tons of examples from western RPGs that feature many different NPCs. Often the character models of some of the most evil characters, such as Bann Vaughan from Dragon Age: Origins or Nassana Dantius from Mass Effect 2 don't really look that much different or more sinister than the character models of any of the other NPCs of their race.
  • In Mitadake High, every sprite looking the same except for their hair and gender can easily provide you with this trope, as one out of the players has to be the killer. Subverted (at least for the characters) if the killer is the "Creepy Red-Haired Guy".

    Web Originals 
  • Terrence from KateModern.
  • The majority of characters in Survival of the Fittest are Ordinary High School Students, meaning that oftentimes people who choose to play the game fit this trope in some way or another. This is particularly true in regards to v4, where there has been an increased focus on realism. Many, many characters in pre-game come off as people who you could easily find at your school in real life, but once you get to in-game... well, it brings out the worst in people. Danya himself can fit as well, as aside from bearing scars from attempts on his life he's described as someone who wouldn't particularly stand out in a crowd; Bryan Calvert even says Danya looks like his father.

     Western Animation 
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, the Clock King is the only self-created supervillain in the series to avoid the tropes in the Evil Makeover index. Aside from his gadgets, he's just a guy in a nice suit.
  • This was used to great effect with the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender. You only ever get to see his silhouette against a wall of flames for most of the show's run, and when his face is finally revealed he looks like a completely normal and even fairly handsome man.

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