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Beware the Skull Base

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Skull Island? Sounds like a charming place.
Pooh: "Skull?" What sort of place is that?
Owl: Well, from the very sound of it one can tell, it is a most forbidden and far away place!
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You need a scary hideout or base for the villain that will look pretty intimidating to visitors. Something that will keep most people away. Or perhaps the location itself needs to be exotic and full of terror, appearing to be a death trap for the unprepared explorer.

As all adventurers discover, beware the skull base, the locale or hideout in which a skull, not necessarily a human one, is heavily tied to the layout or aesthetic of this setting. Though sometimes victim of Camp, these bases evoke a basic death motif and generally come across as lifeless settings where only the most evil of beings reside. The base can be intentionally carved to look like a skull, but it may just coincidentally look like one due to Poorly Lit Pareidolia.

Applicable to any setting, these bases are composed of or contain a crucial component of the layout that could be defined as "skull-like". If the setting does not appear to be skull-like, then this is averted. Can be inverted should the skull base in question be a hideout for good characters as opposed to evil ones. Subverts often consist of deconstructing the purpose of the base, how it functions or even dramatic changes for aesthetic purposes.

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A sub-trope of Skeleton Motif and Home Base. See also Super Villain Lair, Monster-Shaped Mountain, and Eldritch Location. Sometimes overlaps with Creepy Cave and Cave Mouth. Contrast Elephant Graveyard.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Samurai Pizza Cats: Those that anger Princess Vi are sent to Prisoner Island, which has a large skull-shaped rock on its central mountain and a dark foreboding atmosphere from the side facing Little Tokyo. The other side is a bright and cheery tropical paradise where the exiles live in comfort, unbeknownst to anyone living in Little Tokyo, including Vi herself.
  • One Piece introduces the island of Hachinosu (Pirate Island) where the most prominent feature is a huge rockformation in the shape of a skull, with a carving that makes it look like the skull is wearing a bandanna (including a knot). This is a subverted case however, as the island is a place of festivity and fun for pirates, described as their paradise. But it's also part of the Blackbeard pirate crews' territory which is one of the Yonko, the strongest crews in the One Piece world. It is however played absolutely straight when the islands' history is taken into account, as it was the place where the legendary pirate crew the Rocks Pirates were formed, which was so dangerous and destructive that it posed a legitimate threat to the World Government. For this reason, the crew was struck from all documents and their very existence hidden from the world.
    • Another subverted case from One Piece is the Island of Jaya, an island that used to be entirely skull shaped, but due to a natural disaster, Jaya lost most of its’ landmass and only the part that compromised the mouth remains. This part of Jaya however, has become a frequent gathering place for Pirates. Prior to the natural disaster, the island was largely avoided because it was inhabited by hostile natives that would attack anyone who dared to make landfall.
    • The Wano Arc gives us Onigashima, a small island in the Wano Country that is used as Kaido's base. Its main feature is a massive rock formation that looks like a horned skull, inside which Kaido's mansion is located.

    Comic Books 
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    Comic Strips 
  • The Phantom: Inverted. The comic features the Skull Cave, but this is a famous hideout for superheroes, not supervillains.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • The Lion King: The Elephant Graveyard has several massive skulls of elephants strewn about, which are used as shelters by the hyenas that reside here.
    • Peter Pan: Skull Rock, which becomes the hideout for Captain Hook and his gang of pirates when they take Tiger Lily.
    • Pooh's Grand Adventure: The heroes believe that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by the fearsome monster called the the Skullasaurus and that they have to reach the "Eye of the Skull" in order to succeed, which they interpret to mean that they must journey to the Skull, a skull-shaped rock in a land of grey crags where the Skullasaurus lives and has imprisoned Christopher Robin. In truth, they just rather drastically misread a letter when he was telling them he had to go to school.
  • Strange Magic: Downplayed. The Bog King's castle is in the trunk of a tree, with a large (to him) skull for a front door.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011): The villains stage a necromantic ceremony inside a rock formation shaped like a screaming skull.
  • The Devils Mirror: The lair of the Jiuxian witch is filled with skull motifs, including the doors leading to her inner sanctums which is a massive skull mouth.
  • The Goonies: features a skull-shaped cave entrance when the Goonies explore the catacombs as they try to escape the Fratellis.
  • King Kong: Noteworthy for Skull Island.
    • Though primarily an Island of Mystery, several fictional homages to the original King Kong (1933) have taken Skull Island's name literally, depicting either its central mountain peak or the actual shoreline as skull-shaped. One could also consider Skull Island to be the base of Kong himself.
    • In Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005), numerous rock outcroppings surrounding Skull Island are carved to resemble snarling ape-faces and the immense walls feature skull-shaped architecture.

    Literature 
  • TheCyberiad: The throne room of king Krool resembles the interior of a giant animal skull, with a roughly spherical shape, two eye-like windows at the opposite of the throne, and a death pit placed where the spine should be. One of two main characters remarks that due to king's Krool macabresque hobby the throne room may very well be a real skull of a real beast.
  • Tunnels: The Skull Gate to the Colony. There is even an enormous stone skull below to complete the appearance.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue: Skull Cavern was the base of the Demons and features a giant skull at the top of the pyramid structure.
  • Red Dwarf: In "Gunmen Of The Apocalypse", the Rogue Simulant Battle Cruiser was deliberately designed with a skull-like form. Originally this was going to be a human skull and then later a goat one, but the creators decided that a cow skull would fit better with the Western theme of the episode.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dragonlance: Skullcap, a cranium-shaped structure that served as an ancient evil wizard's stronghold.

    Toys 
  • Mighty Max: Several of the toys have been skull-shaped locations.
    • Mighty Max Escapes from Skull Dungeon took the shape of a rocky skull in its travel mode, which opens up to reveal a Frankenstein-inspired castle playset.
    • One of the large playsets was Skull Mountain, the home base of his arch-enemy Skull Master. The front of the mountain is shaped like a fanged skull, and even the back part has caves resembling a face.

    Video Games 
  • Adventure A: Planet of Death: The boxart of the 1982 release depicts a part of the planet as skull-shaped.
  • Black & White 2: On the final island, the capital city of the Aztecs, who are led by a genocidal Card-Carrying Villain, is flanked by skull-shaped mountains.
  • Brütal Legend: The entrance to the Sea of Black Tears is shaped like a giant skull.
  • The Curse of Monkey Island: Skull Island, the headquarters of King Andre the smuggler king. When Guybrush actually sees the island in person it turns out it looks like a duck, all while his guide emphatically insists it looks like a skull if you just squint and look at it from the right angle.
  • Injustice 2: Brainiac's mothership, which is a skull-shaped spacecraft that serves as the main hub for Brainiac's invasion fleet.
  • Kong The 8th Wonder Of The World: In addition to the name, Skull Island is revealed at the beginning of the game to have a skull shaped structure situated on its highest mountain.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Bases of this kind have appeared often in the series:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Level 9 uses a dungeon layout that is shaped as a skull, which is prominently displayed when the player finds the dungeon's map.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The Skull Woods features several large skull-shaped entrances to the underground dungeon beneath the forest.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: The entrance to the interior of Dodongo's Cavern features the skull of a dead Dodongo.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games:
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Averted, despite featuring pirates and many pirate themed hideouts. The closest it ever comes to this is the lookout outposts scattered across the Great Sea which have skulls on the rooftops but these are more decorative than anything.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: The Pirate Stronghold, located in the Lanayru Sand Sea, was built beneath the skull of a very large creature that died long ago, and was formerly the base of a group of now-deceased pirates. Opening the skull's jaws is necessary in order to find a clue that pinpoints the location of the Sandship, but to do so, Link has to navigate through the stronghold's interior and carry a Timeshift Orb with him.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Many of the monster encampments across Hyrule consist simply of giant, hollow stone skulls; others, consisting instead of stacked wooden platforms, are decorated with animal skulls and often surmounted by horned skull-shaped domes. There are also immense, dragon- and whale-like skeletons within which monsters sometimes build their camps. Particularly notable is the encampment in the Bottomless Swamp, consisting of an absolutely titanic horned skull surrounded by several of the smaller stone craniums half-buried in the mire.
  • Mega Man:
  • Paper Mario:
    • In Paper Mario: Color Splash, the purple Big Paint Star section revolves around sailing to Fortune Island, a giant skull-shaped cave on an island. Notably, the Toad pirates are afraid of it, although they do help Mario get inside and retrieve the treasure.
    • In Paper Mario: The Origami King, Bonehead Island is a Call-Back to Fortune Island from Color Splash. The key to dispelling the fog around the Great Sea is to solve a puzzle on Bonehead Island, inside a big skull-like rock.
  • Sea of Thieves: Deconstructed. The various fortresses that can be raided have looming skull-shaped clouds looming overhead to indicate whether or not they are occupied by enemies.
  • In Warcraft II, some of the advanced Orc buildings use this aesthetic:
    • A fully-upgraded fortress looks like a massive obsidian skull surrounded by black spires, complete with a volcanic glow from the eye sockets.
    • The Temple of the Damned is a colossal jeweled skull and partial ribcage where Death Knights are animated.

    Western Animation 
  • Birdman: In "Wings of FEAR", FEAR's secret base is inside a mountain called Death's Head Peak which has a giant skull at the apex.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): Inverted. Castle Grayskull, a skull-shaped fortress located on the planet Eternia, is coveted by the Big Bad Skeletor. Despite its foreboding name and design, Grayskull is unambiguously on the side of good, being the home of the benevolent Sorceress and the source of He-Man's powers.
  • Mega Man (Ruby-Spears): Like the video games, Dr. Wily's Skull Fortress is an ominous-looking castle with a prominent skull shape on the building.
  • Mighty Max: 5000 years ago, Main villain Skullmaster was banished to Skull Mountain, located deep deep underground. Now it is where he hatches his lots to escape his imprisonment and conquer the planet.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Grogar's lair is in a giant skull-shaped monolith rising from a putrid swamp covered in slime and moss, in the middle of a stretch of flat gray rock.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Played for Laughs. There's an island in Hawaii called "Skull Island", so named because it looks like a skull. Doofenshmirtz wanted to use it as a base when he was operating from Hawaii, but it was booked for some kid's Bar Mitzvah, so he had to use the island next door... which is Pink Unicorn Island. Not quite as threatening...
  • Scooby-Doo: The Ghost of Redbeard has his base on the aptly-named Skull Island.
  • The Venture Bros. features Spider-Skull Island as a semi-recurring location. True to its name, its prominent landmark looks like a skull with spider legs coming out of it
  • Wander over Yonder: Lord Hater has a skull-shaped Starship. It's Small on the outside but big on the inside.

 
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Skull Cave

Pooh and the gang realize they spent the night in Skull Cave, where Christopher Robin is waiting.

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