The Monster is coming for you, but you can't see it. What you do see is the floorboards splitting as it pushes through the ground underneath them towards the camera, or just dust being kicked up if it's outside. It's not always played for scares though; sometimes it's just a convenient visual shorthand for indicating where something moving underground happens to be. It can be used a a legitimate tension-building device to hint a monster the audience hasn't seen yet (or hasn't seen much of) or as a way for lower-budget films to get the monster in without actually spending money on the generally more expensive effects shot.
See also Sand Worm
, Nothing Is Scarier
, Traveling-Pipe Bulge
. Compare Bad Vibrations
Nothing whatsoever to do with Movie Sign
(although that is named after Dune
's worm sign), Wormtongue
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Anime and Manga
- In the fourth episode of the original Bubblegum Crisis OVA, Sylia and Linna travel through subway tunnels at high speed and the road above them splits as they pass.
- Occurs in One Piece when Miss Merry Christmas travels underground.
- This also happens when Captain Kuro moves faster than the eye can see–scratch marks appear on the walls where he's running.
- 3×3 Eyes features at one point an invisible creature with three clawed legs; when it attacks, all you could see is three rows of claw-marks being rapidly carved to the floor.
- In the 23rd episode of Petite Princess Yucie, Diabolos' evil roots attack in this manner.
Comics and Graphic Novels
- A series of cryptic illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg includes a picture of a terrified man cornered in a room, rearing a wooden chair up to strike an unseen thing moving toward him beneath the carpet. The title and caption read "Under The Rug - Two weeks passed, and it happened again."
- Batman villain the Mole would leave a trail of bulging ground behind him as he tunneled; it is strong enough to crack pavement.
- The Dune film, obviously. A Sand Worm makes a pretty distinct shape underground.
- Towards the end of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), the thing races underground towards McReady, splitting floorboards as it goes.
- The monsters in Tremors give these.
- Western horror film The Burrowers. The titular creatures attack from under the earth, and then drag their prey down into it. They do this because, like vampires, they are vulnerable to the sun.
- Subverted in Aliens. You don't see the floorboards move till it's too late, you just hear the beeping of the motion detectors.
- The first American Godzilla does this when Godzilla arrives from the ocean. The pier splits most satisfyingly.
- Godzilla (2014) has Godzilla once again doing this when swimming through the seas. And he displaces so much water that his approach toward the U.S. West Coast causes massive tsunamis.
- In The Frighteners the Big Bad evil ghost does this to various surfaces (wallpapers, rugs) in a haunted house.
- Scorponok in Transformers.
- He Who Walks Behind the Rows in Children of the Corn (1984). He doesn't walk, and He's between the rows, not behind them.
- Freddy's worm-form pulls this off in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
- Wormsign on the moon marks the approach of the Kelium, ancient, burrowing robots with probing tentacles intent on cutting humans to pieces and using them for spare parts in the Walter Koenig/Bruce Campbell vehicle Moontrap
- The emergence of the first tripod in the 2005 The War of the Worlds is preceded by splitting roads, collapsing buildings and bursting water pipes.
- Screamers, are a type of subterranean killing machines.
- At the end of The Incredibles, a giant wormsign appears in the parking lot right before the Underminer's giant Drill Tank pops up and he starts ranting.
- The gopher from Caddyshack left ridges of disturbed earth all over the golf course.
- Floor flies away as the monsters hunt the protagonists in Deep Rising.
- The moles in Bambi do this.
- Dune, the Trope Namer
- In Stephen King's IT, Pennywise once approaches one of its victims in this way.
- In Nightworld some friends of Repairman Jack have evacuated to a nuclear bunker out in the boondocks to escape the Eldritch Abominations erupting out of a portal in New York's Central Park. Then another portal opens nearby, but everyone thinks they'll still be safe in the bunker...until they see what appear to be giant mole tracks running out from the portal, then curving around to make a beeline for their bunker. Sure enough they end up having to defend against worm-like creatures who start gnawing away at the bunker from all sides until they break through.
Live Action TV
- A good Buffy example may be the giant worm which leaves tunnel patterns in "Beneath You".
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "The Scourge" has the flesh-eating insect plague do this.
- The Silurian scorpions in Primeval.
- In 4.4, Becker tracks a creature in a cafeteria by how it knocks over chairs.
- One episode of Sliders had them sliding to a universe inhabited with a beast that did this.
- The Dune miniseries.
- Happens in the Fringe episode "Night of Desirable Objects".
- The Mongolian death worms in Lost Tapes.
- The Rattlers from Deadlands are named so because when they make wormsign, people's teeth rattle from vibration.
- Mostly averted in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy; you barely see a puff of dust to denote the movement of the Sand Worms. You can see exactly where they are with Force Sense, though, but you have to be close, because that power is at its lowest level that early in the game.
- The tunneling power in Champions Online leaves a Bugs Bunny-esque burrow trail to show your position.
- The Thresher Maw in Mass Effect 2 uses this to confuse you as to where it will pop up next.
- And the epic Thresher Maw in Mass Effect 3 demonstrates this while chasing Wrex's convoy.
- The giant green wormoids from Zombies Ate My Neighbors! do this as an obvious tell for when they will attack, as a direct nod to Tremors.
- World of Warcraft has tunneling worms who do precisely this. They're slightly more annoying than most enemies because while you can see them, you can't damage them until they burst out of the ground.
- Various enemies in The Legend of Zelda series do this.
- In The Suffering, the embodiment of death by live burial does this when it chases after you. However, it leaves behind no permanent trail, and when it digs out of the ground to attack you the hole it creates will vanish.
- However, if you're quick, you can throw a bomb down the hole.
- In Sonic and Knuckles, Sandopolis Zone, there are disturbances on the surface of the quicksand, marking the location of the wormlike robots. The disturbances stop right before they leap out.
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl does this with Rayquaza, the second boss of its Subspace Emissary mode. When Rayquaza uses Dig, the ground gets cracked and pushed upward to show where it will attack from.
- TimeSplitters: Future Perfect; Tremors-like worms at the beginning of the Big Boo's Haunt level.
- Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness has a class of undead that burrow in this manner before leaping out of the ground to strike at you.
- The Dune computer games, including Dune II. The first Dune game ups the ante by including static discharge from the sand, meaning the worms are followed by bolts of lightning.
- Actually true to the movie, and I believe the book. The explanation being that the worms build up large amounts of static electricity moving through the sand, and when they start to surface, the electricity discharges into the sky.
- The moles in Game & Watch game Vermin.
- You can do this in Golden Sun: The Lost Age with the Sand Psynergy, which turns you into a big pulsating mound of sand, free to move around, but incapable of attacking. Played straight with the Scorpion King boss, who swims around underground leaving a wake, and one Venus Djinni, who will seemingly teleport around while under the sand.
- Armageddon 2, a map-pack for Skulltag, has this done by its twin bosses in the "Sand Worm Trench" level. They pop up occasionally from under the sand to breathe fire at you, and spend the rest of the time under the ground, raising one hell of a dust cloud.
- Among others, Blos-type monsters in Monster Hunter do this. Usually, by the time you see the dust clouds being kicked up, it's a bit too late to react - the real purpose of the dust clouds is to let you figure out exactly what the monster's attack pattern is, so you can avoid it from then on.
- In Shadow of the Colossus, Dirge, the "Sand tiger" has this when approaching the player character from a distance.
- The Mechworm boss in Heavy Weapon. If you see sand being thrown up under you, get out of the way or face a One-Hit Kill.
- Metroid Prime 2: Echoes features this with the boss Amorbis.
- Both the Driller and Mole enemies from Mini Robot Wars have this when under the ground.
- Giant worms and other burrowing enemies in Terraria leave a trail of little bits of dirt flying around as they're digging. They also have a very characteristic sound which can be somewhat unnerving if you can't easily defeat them yet. It does give a good indication of what side they'll be coming from next, though.
- Sand whales in Serious Sam 3: BFE kick up a ton of dust when chasing players that attempt to leave the borders of the more open levels.
- Burrowed Zerg units in Starcraft II can be spotted by a savvy player by spotting the "wormsign". In a more direct vein, a Nydus worm will produce wormsign in the area where it's about to pop out of the ground.
- Threshers in Borderlands 2 create these both when they move and, in the case of Feeler and Turf Threshers, they send their tentacles through the ground to attack.
- You can do this in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back in certain types of ground. This protects you from the bees that often swarm about said levels while you pick them off.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum Batman is forced to walk along a floating wooden boardwalk in Killer Croc's lair while Croc moves around somewhere beneath the water. Occasionally some of the rafts that serve as the walkway will be kicked up or outright destroyed behind Batman, forcing the player to outrun Croc as he chases them down from beneath the surface.
- Hunters in Desert Moon will give off one when they're under the sand, invulnerable to attacks.
- In Pokémon X and Y, the wild Pokémon of the Lumiose Badlands give one of these to mark their location in lieu of Random Encounters.
- In Goblins, a network of cracks spreads across a wall towards an enemy who's attacking Dies Horribly. As the attacker pauses to notice this, two spiky, burrowing outgrowths from Dies' shape-changing arm burst out of the cracking wall and stab him.
- Gophers sometimes make their tunnels quite near the surface, leaving a raised "ridge" of dirt that's been disturbed by their passage. They don't tunnel nearly as swiftly as they do in cartoons, but a gopher moving through a previously dug tunnel of this type can produce a "lump" along the ridge that moves at an appreciable rate of speed.
- Some insects, and other small critters like moles and sidewinders, can hold their breath and "swim" under the surface of soft sand for a short time.
- Small crocodiles and large snakes in muddy lakes.
- Any homeowner can tell you that moles really do leave trails like this on the surface over their burrows.
- In South America, if you see hundreds of insects and other small creatures come out of their hiding places in plain daylight, it means that Army Ants or - worse - Driver Ants are coming.
This trope can also be seen in Dune.