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Transformation Horror
Transformation Horror is a subtrope of Body Horror involving graphic and unsettling Transformation Sequences or continuous random mutation.

This can occur in the process of both involuntary and Voluntary Shape Shifting, and the final form, if there is one, doesn't have to be horrific. Even turning a person into a Ridiculously Cute Critter can involve Transformation Horror along the way. What matters is that the process of the transformation is unpleasant to witness, and horrifying just to imagine experiencing.

There are several standard forms of Transformation Horror:

There are several layers of reasons why people find this trope disturbing. The most obvious is that transformation can be very Squicky: even in the case of one human becoming another human, facial features and major bone structures have to distort and rearrange. The fear of transformation is the fear of losing control of one's own body or having it turn against you, and also metaphorically reflects the fears of slowly losing one's own identity or worse, having a loved one turn against you. In more extreme cases such as Mutation Horror or Terminal Mutation, it invokes our fears of disease and decay; in a sense, this trope is why we find diseases like cancer, rabies, leprosy, and the bubonic plaguenote  exceptionally terrifying. Thus Transformation Horror is unusual among the fantastical forms of horror in being just as much an Adult Fear as a childhood fear, because it has so many parallels and examples in Real Life. All it takes to make horror from them is exaggeration.

Not all transformations are necessarily horrific; this trope can be averted in any number of ways. Lighter and Softer universes tend to have relatively tame transformations leaving any disturbing elements to the imagination. On the other hand, in Darker and Edgier universes, even Voluntary Transformations tend be traumatic for everyone involved, and depicted in all their disturbing glory. The medium can have a huge bearing as well: distortions that would be Nausea and/or Nightmare Fuel in live action can be fairly innocuous in a cartoon.

The causes and circumstances of the transformation can make a difference as well. A character slowly turning to stone can be fairly mild visually, but played for Psychological Horror; an otherwise disturbing transformation can be mitigated when it's the result of a character Cursed with Awesome activating their Lovecraftian Superpower or receiving a Power-Upgrading Deformation.

An example of how this trope can be intentionally both invoked and averted is the Transformation Comic genera, with various comics averting this trope for fanservice or comedy, playing the trope straight as Fan Disservice to maintain a serious tone, or even alternating between the two.

Compare Clone by Conversion, Viral Transformation, Painful Transformation, Slow Transformation, Transformation Sequence, Transformation Of The Possessed, and Transformation At The Speed Of Plot which often overlap.

Compare and contrast Baleful Polymorph, which sometimes overlaps with Transformation Horror. The distinction is that the victim of a Baleful Polymorph has become something else against their will, while Transformation Horror is about becoming something else in a disturbing way.

Contrast Nothing Is Scarier and Fridge Horror for transformations that aren't actually shown/described, and Teleporter Accident for similar things happening instantaneously. Bit-by-Bit Transformation can be used both to subvert this trope by spacing out the squick into tolerable doses, and to exaggerate it by combining Horrifying Metamorphosis and Mix And Match Mutation.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Naruto, this happens when Naruto goes into four-tails mode, especially when his skin peels off.
  • This happens to Tetsuo in AKIRA after being wounded by Kaneda during their fight at the stadium, as Kaneda tries to finish him off he starts twitching and moaning in pain when suddenly his mechanical arm bursts open and sprouts tentacles, he becomes gigantic and bursts out of his clothes, and he mutates into a massive blob creature that consumes everything in his path including his girlfriend Kaori and he is unable to control himself.

    Film 
  • An American Werewolf in London almost single-handedly popularised this tropes' connection to werewolves.
  • In District 9, Wikus slowly transforms into a prawn.
  • The Howling. Another particularly graphic example werewolf transformation, with the squick factor turned Up to Eleven thanks to effects artist Rob Bottin. His next gig would be The Thing (1982), widely considered a crowning achievement in body horror effects.
  • In The Matrix, any human possessed by an Agent transforms into that Agent's appearance in a Silly Putty–style rearrangement of anatomy. Taken Up to Eleven by Agent Smith's Clone by Conversion ability in the later films, as the process takes place much more slowly and the victim appears to be fully aware of the fact that they are being overwritten by the Agent as it happens.
  • Played for Laughs on A Goofy Movie, where Max dreams that he's turning into... his father.

    Literature 
  • Invoked and inverted in Animal Farm: The other animals are horrified to watch the pigs, who were satirical allegories of Communist dictators, gradually become indistinguishable from the humans they overthrew.
  • Animorphs. Many, many examples throughout the series, played straight to the point of Lampshade Hanging as a Black Humor Running Gag. Shining examples include:
    • Fish: You lose all your limbs and frequently spend a few moments either underwater with lungs or out of it with gills, and on at least one occasion a character spent several seconds with neither.
    • The undiluted Transformation Horror of insect morphs. One has to become a Giant Insect/Human hybrid for the duration of changing from a human to an insect. (See The Fly if it hasn't hit you why that's horrifying yet.) Also, note that insects don't have eyelids, and frequently do have panoramic vision, so you have to watch it happen.
  • In Black Bullet, this happens whenever some poor sap transforms into a Gastrea. His body bulges unnaturally as he transforms.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The hybrids become more and more like their Humanoid Abomination relatives as they age.
  • Invoked in the Discworld novels: Angua absolutely forbids anyone to watch her while she is transforming from human to werewolf and vice-versa. Especially her lover Carrot, on the grounds that what he may see could put him off her for life. One man who did watch ran away, and went to sea to put the terrible sight behind him.
  • Thinner by Stephen King: An obese lawyer begins losing weight after hitting a gypsy's daughter with his car. The friends who help him cover it up develop their own body issues.

    Video Games 
  • Traumatic Transformation happens when you put on the Deku, Goron, Zora, or Fierce Deity masks in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Thank goodness it's possible to skip them after you see it for the first time.
  • The Dead Space franchise is largely built around this trope: all of the Nightmare Fuel that's trying to kill you is the result of a mutagenic plague commandeering recently dead bodies for arts and crafts projects. The kicker is that we learn in Dead Space 2 and 3 that you just have to be mostly dead.
  • Final Fantasy VII's resident Mad Scientist Dr. Hojo, and what happens to him when he downs one of his serums when Cloud and Co face him. Back in the day when FF 7's graphics was top of the line, this looked horrifying.
  • Many Sorceresses in Final Fantasy VIII appear to slowly mutate into no particular end form. One unnamed Sorceress boss looks less like a human being and more like a giant grub. Ultimecia's (quickly changing) One-Winged Angel forms deserve a honorable mention: first she fuses herself with a giant lion-like beast, and later turns into a form no less repulsive than the aforementioned grub woman.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Danny Phantom has the main character trying to duplicate himself, only to horribly, horribly mutate himself: little heads on individual fingers, mouths for eyes, eyeballs sticking out and so forth. On the other hand, it is Played for Laughs.
  • Men In Black: Alpha collects useful anatomy and additional limbs from alien species as he descends farther and farther into evil and madness. By his last appearance, he's pretty grotesque, and an excellent example of Mix and Match mutation.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Poor Spider-Man underwent quite the horrifying metamorphosis into ManSpider several times in the "Neogenic Nightmare" arc, with each iteration being more severe than the last, eventually developed into full blown Mutation Horror. Later on, the Vulture absorbed Spidey's youth and powers... and also his unstable mutating DNA, meaning he sporadically changed fully or partly into the same creature.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man has Connors' transformation into The Lizard, especially the part where instead of compressing slowly, his head partially implodes to form his new lizard head.

    Real Life 
  • Insects change form or size by shedding their skin and growing when their flesh is still supple. Sometimes this process fails. The results range from a bit odd to grotesque to downright Lovecraftian. And the insect's still alive...

Town with a Dark SecretHorror TropesTraumatic C-Section
Transformation ConventionsShapeshiftingTransformation Trinket
Transformation At The Speed Of PlotPages Needing WicksTranslate the Loanwords Too

alternative title(s): Transformation Trauma
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