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Creepy Cleanliness

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When a scene of absolute tidiness and polish is portrayed as unnerving. Possibly also related to the creepiness of sterile settings, like hospitals, laboratories, or all those white, sterile, futuristic/sci-fi corridors. The reasons may vary. It can be relied to the fear of dehumanization, or germophobia if you feel that something rotten is hiding behind that smooth surface. If played well, it might lead to Mind Screw.

Can be related to a Neat Freak, especially if Affably Evil, or to a Depraved Dentist. May happen if Cthulhu invites you to have tea with him and you find out its lair is actually too clean.

Sister trope of Room Full of Crazy and Straight Edge Evil. See also Spring Cleaning Fever and Ascetic Aesthetic when this is a building or even setting motif. Compare Nothing Is Scarier, for the suspicious emptiness of a clean room, and Order Is Not Good for where something arranged in an orderly fashion hides something sinister.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The replacements for women in The Stepford Wives have an unhealthy obsession with being the perfect housewife and making sure their homes and gardens are pristine and perfect.
  • American Beauty: Ricky's disturbed mother apologizes for the state of her spotless home.
  • Some of Stanley Kubrick's movies contain unsettling scenes set in futuristic, aseptic spaces.
  • Also the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho could fit this trope.
  • The whole Paris/Tativille from Jacques Tati's 1967 movie Playtime. It doesn't create fear, but a great sense of distress.
  • The alienating yet spotless scenery of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
  • Nazi architecture shown in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, mainly because it is Harsher in Hindsight.
  • The protagonist's apartment in Nanni Moretti's Bianca is a good example. Especially if you consider that he has sterilized the sink, the toilet and the bathtub by setting little fires into them.
  • Dr. Alan Feinstone's study in both The Dentist and its sequel. The opening credits are a great example.
  • Star Wars: The Empire's ships are always spotless and shiny, emphasizing their coldness and sterility. The Alliance's are always used and lived-in. (George Lucas had fights with the unionized cleaning staff, who kept trying to clean the Alliance sets up for contractual reasons after he had them deliberately dirtied.)

  • In Black Tide Rising, Sergeant Decker's obsessive (even for a military man) fixation on being neat, clean and properly groomed is one of the more visible signs of his Sanity Slippage.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • The watchmaker in Thief of Time has a characteristic watchmaker's love of precision, which extends to an immaculately clean-living space. He's also a rather sad, lonely sort who organizes his life meticulously to compensate for how empty it is.
    • Stanley Howler in Going Postal is a young post office worker whose half of his dorm room is perfectly clean — he snips off the corner of a paper that crosses onto his turf. While he's a good man at heart, he's obsessive in his interests to the point of concern, and has occasional "little moments" that sometimes involve threatening his boss's life with an iron kettle.
  • Mr. Duffy's room in Dubliners is dominated by order, cleanliness and symmetry, however it becomes creepier as you keep on reading. It stands for the protagonist's paralysis, as well as the sterility of his own life.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger novel The Day Of The Dissonance. An extremely neat and clean orphanage appears to be on the up and up until Mudge points out that with so many orphans present it should be more dirty. The protagonists investigate and discover that the operators are puritanical religious fanatics who regularly beat the orphans.
    • Neuter them, too. Just to make them more docile and less likely to make messes.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross, much of the inherent wrongness of the protagonists' prison cells in connected with the fact that they are kept antiseptically clean by periodic automated cleansing.
  • Applies to Margaret's house in Stephen King's novel Carrie.
  • Used in Flowers for Algernon, where clean, stark settings are associated with the dehumanizing scientists, while Faye, the artist character who is in touch with her emotions, lives in a disorderly apartment.
  • In A House With Good Bones by Ursula Vernon, the protagonist's terrible emotionally abusive grandmother kept a rose garden, which is still there. The garden is beautiful and perfect, to the point of absolute sterility—and contains not a single insect, which should be impossible, and deeply unnerves our entomologist heroine. By contrast, the grandmother's gardening nemesis, who is a kind and helpful person, has a messy, bug-filled garden. Turns out not only was Grandma a real piece of work, she was also a sorcerer who anchored her dark magic using the roses.
  • In Letting Ana Go, the main character begins acting obsessive-compulsively cleanly while she succumbs to anorexia. As her anorexia gets worse, her cleanliness also gets worse.
  • In The Gods Are Bastards, the upper layers of the dungeon known as the Crawl are disconcertingly absent of dust and cobwebs. Probably has something to do with the Crawl being an Eldritch Location.
  • The Wheel of Time's preeminent Torture Technician Semirhage prefers to use Agony Beams on Shamefully Stripped victims in brightly-lit, stark, sterile laboratories.
  • Played for Black Comedy in the short story "A Clean Sweep" in the anthology Superheroes, when one of the police at the end comments on how the house where they found dozens of skeleton was the cleanest they'd ever seen, bones included.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor: Imperial buildings are preternaturally clean, perhaps most unsettlingly in the sterile deadly prison Cassian ends up in while everything else is lived in worn used dusty and otherwise realistically imperfect. Even Mon Mothma's clean high class senator apartment is an emblem of the Empire as it is state property and she has no say over decor and how it is maintained.
  • The beginning of the Criminal Minds episode "The Big Wheel" depicts the Obsessively Organized killer going through his eerily over-sanitized morning routine, including wearing different slippers in different parts of the house to avoid cross-contamination. It's very, very effective.
  • Bree and Orson Hodge's house in Desperate Housewives is always neat and clean. However, Bree cried her heart out after polishing the silverware when she found out her first husband Rex had passed away and, in her spotless bathroom, she was almost killed by Gloria Hodge, who had already murdered Orson's father that way. So, does it still look so welcoming?
    • And don't forget Orson is an expert in removing stains, probably because he had to wash away his mistress's blood after his mother had murdered her.
    • As a child, Bree cleaned the blood of her mother up (when she was hit by a drunk driver and was rushed of to the hospital) off the drive.
  • Superhoodie's lair on Misfits is the most spotlessly sterile Room Full of Crazy ever. Not surprising, as he is revealed to be Simon, who has learned to harness his creepily obsessive and stalkerish tendencies in order to become a pretty efficient superhero.
  • Moon Knight (2022): After being killed by Arthur Harrow, Marc Spector wakes up in a pure white clean mental hospital that is populated with the faces of people he's seen before.
  • On a flashback episode of The Odd Couple (1970), little Felix is so neat that his grandfather (played by Tony Randall) tells him: "There are two things people don't like — a dirty old man and a clean young boy!"
  • Daredevil (2015): Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter keeps his apartment very clean and organized.

  • Bath Haus of Gaga in the Bad Romance video.
  • The Garden by Rudimentary Peni sounds eerie enough until the lyrics kick in, describing how perfect the garden is ending with the last word being screamed in a gut wrenching manner. Also the song is only a minute and a half long.
    In the garden where the roses have no thorns
    The growth is steady and quite natural (No parasites, no harm)
    Immortal existence, perpetual existence, forever peace and charm
    Forever peace and charm
    Forever peace and charm
    Forever peace and cha-ARM!!!

  • In The Magnus Archives episode 'Contaminant,' the statement giver Lester Chang's father in law Greg, already a very clean man, goes off the deep end after losing his wife and his daughter in the same year, obsessively cleaning his house until the smell of bleach is overpowering and he starts to damage fixtures from the repeated scrubbing. Lester initially thinks the problem is entirely in his head, until Greg says he has mold in his drains. Greg's cleanliness doesn't save him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One evil Nazi scientist NPC in Delta Green is described as keeping his lab exceptionally clean. Lampshaded, in that the book points out this is usually the sign of a proportionally unclean mind.
  • Vampire: The Requiem has the Melissiadae bloodline, who are known for keeping everything so clean that you can smell the cleaning fluids. As their sanity (and Humanity) decays, they slowly act more and more like insects, starting with this OCD-like behavior. The "something rotten" is the large number of mind-wiped slave "drones" they keep around.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout 3 hits you with this when you visit Vault 112 in the course of the main plot — compared to most of the other abandoned and dilapidated locations you've been to, 112 is even more pristine than the protagonist's home vault; perfectly maintained, locked rooms full of supplies, etc. It seems more like a tomb than a shelter... because it's a virtual hell that exists for the pleasure of a single megalomaniac, who tortures the other inhabitants for his own amusement in an environment where no-one can die.
  • Mirror's Edge, a dystopia where even the rooftops are kept clean and shining.
  • Portal:
    • The first part can be considered this, making the "rat man"'s dens a sharp contrast. You eventually get to personally see the "something rotten" hiding behind the smooth surface when you go Off the Rails later in the game.
    • The ruined test chambers at the start of Portal 2 might be considered a deconstruction of these.
  • The Pokémon Pheromosa from Pokémon Sun and Moon is an Eldritch Abomination that takes the form of an ethereally white, Statuesque Stunner, humanoid cockroach. As an inversion of Creepy Cockroach, it's said to be disgusted by our world with an adamant refusal to touch anything in order to maintain its said beauty.
  • Most of the white chamber takes place on a space station that appears to have gone halfway into the Warp, tooth-lined walls, staring eyes, and whirling blades. At the very end it reverts to normal, a pristine, white environment that's just as creepy as the previous version.
  • Ashes 2063: Certain parts of the old world's ruins, mostly underground structures, can sometimes be found untouched by post-apocalypse dwellers and in as pristine condition as can be after 70-odd years. The problem is, most of these places are intact for a reason: a few such clean spots visited in Afterglow house a strange phenomenon called 'background despair', with odd paranormal effects and closely tied to Haunts.
  • After traveling through the squalid city streets and industrial areas of Stray, the protagonists eventually make their way into the Control Room which sticks out like a sore thumb due to being clean to the point of sterility. Even the robots found therein are still unquestioningly obedient to their long-deceased human masters, compared to all the others below who have since developed their own minds and souls.

  • Issue #5 (The Complex) of Particle Fiction.
  • Trevor (2020): Given that the story takes place in a location where medical experiments preformed, the facility is spotless at the start of the story. This makes the location seem all the more unnatural, and highlights the ensuing carnage.