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Exorcist Head

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"You just turned your head around, like, 360 degrees like an owl, that was fucking cool! That scared the shit outta me, don’t do that again."
Black Doom/Actual Satan, Real-Time Fandub - Shadow the Hedgehog

A character is shown to have the ability to dislocate their bones in very bizarre places. The most popular way is turning your head 360 degrees before facing the front again. Can fall into either Squick and/or Nightmare Fuel for some people, since it doesn't look natural.

See here for a compilation of this trope.

Often done as a Shout-Out to the Trope Namer, The Exorcist—for example, in cases of Demonic Possession.

Subtrope of Abnormal Limb Rotation Range, Compare Body Horror, Losing Your Head, Demonic Head Shake.


    open/close all folders 

  • An Emerald Nuts commercial featured an "Evil Navigator" who spun his head a full 360 degrees before eating an Emerald Nuts pistachio.
  • The Vive Sin Drogas ads feature a decidedly less horror-based variant. In one ad, after the boy overdoses on drugs, his head does a full 360-degree spin several times before he collapses and dies.
  • A Jello commercial, from the 1990's, is presented as a horror movie. At the end of the commercial, the bus driver spins his head while laughing, maniacally. [1]

    Anime & Manga 
  • A rather gross and unsettling example of this trope shows up in Boogiepop Phantom.
  • Morga was shown to do this in the first episode of Sailor Moon, but part of her scene was exicised from the original DiC English dub.
  • In an anime-only episode of Rosario + Vampire, Koko pulls this off while under the influence of mind-altering curry.
  • In Digimon Tamers, Makuramon is capable of this in his human guise.
  • In the Tokyo Ghoul anime, Noro turns his head almost completely around to look at someone behind him. The popping noises his neck makes in the process only make it more horrifying.
  • In an instance of Limited Animation in Dragon Ball, Goku as a Great Ape performs this at the climax of the Pilaf episode when the villain and his minions fly past in their escape plane, rather than actually turning around.
    • Also in Dragon Ball Z, Kid Buu is known for this especially in the anime where Vegeta starts a speech taunting the pink universe-destroying demon during their final battle. Kid Buu twists its head around to look at him before growling.
  • In SD Gundam Force, Captain Gundam, being a robot, can rotate his limbs all the way around. When Genkimaru first sees Captain's head turned around, he freaks out and asks if the ship is haunted.

    Comic Books 
  • The Owl, a Daredevil villain, can rotate his neck 360 degrees like his namesakenote .

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Pinocchio does this in Pinocchio (1940). Justified in that he's still a wooden puppet.
  • Pinocchio from Shrek does this sometimes.
  • Phantasma does this on Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School.
  • Woody does this in the first Toy Story film as a Shout-Out to Exorcist and to scare Sid.
  • The LEGO Movie:
    • Several characters do this, since it's trivial for Lego minifigures. This actually comes up at one point where Emmet uses his spinning head to act as a wheel's axle.
    • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: During the Orbital Shot at the start of "Catchy Song", Wyldstyle's head rotate on her shoulders to keep her face in front of the camera.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas has the Mayor of Halloweentown, who is literally two-faced, and can rotate his head depending on his mood to show his happy or worried face.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Trope Namer is the 1973 Horror film The Exorcist, where it happens twice to the possessed Regan MacNeil. The first time, the demon spins her head 180 degrees backward while using the voice of a family friend it pushed out a window, with the spun head visually replicating what happened to him after the fall—all this as a way to torment Regan's mother with what happened, and confirming to her that the possessed Regan was responsible. The second time her head spins is during the first exorcism attempt, where the demon spins Regan's head 360 degrees to unsettle the priests.
  • Played for Laughs in Little Nicky when Nicky (son of Satan) performs this again to his buddies.
  • In Beetlejuice, apparently this happens to the titular ghost at random.
  • Done as a parody to The Exorcist by the magical cartoon physics baby in Son of the Mask, when his worn-out and nearly out of his mind father suggests he take him to a doctor, and then an exorcist.
  • As the prologue to Scary Movie II parodies The Exorcist, this trope shows up.
  • Death Becomes Her, one of a pair of Alpha Bitches, Madeline, (now made immortal by a magic potion) falls down the stairs and cracks her neck. Not only does she survive (or un-survive) the fall, she gets back up with her head twisted completely backwards, facing her backside. Although her head is reoriented to its proper position, it leaves her with a bone protrusion on her neck. The doctor exclaims it's a dislocated neck.
  • Pops up naturally in the Exorcist parody Repossessed.
  • In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the T-X's head does a 360 spin after the T-800 hits her full-on with a fire extinguisher. Her response is a Quizzical Tilt. In fact, the T-X can also rotate her arms, torso, and legs a full 360 degrees thanks to artificial liquid steel lubrication in her actuators, something that even older Terminator units can't do. Being a highly advanced Terminator robot, her chassis is capable of Abnormal Limb Rotation Range.
  • Another Exorcist parody in Stay Tuned, in the exercise show called "The Exorcisist".
  • Navin Johnson does this in The Jerk, when he goes to deposit what he thinks is a $250 check and learns that it's actually for $250,000.
  • Johnny Depp does this as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2010) as part of his strange dance.

  • In Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead, the talking imp rotates its head around to face Fly as it lays dying.
  • Discussed in Good Omens, when Aziraphale (an angel) has to possess Madame Tracy to talk to Shadwell.
    Aziraphale: Now, I know what you're thinking, Sergeant Shadwell. You're thinking that any second now this head is going to go round and round, and I'm going to start vomiting pea soup. Well, I'm not. I'm not a demon.
  • In The Girl from the Well, Okiku broke her neck when she was thrown down a well, and as a ghost sometimes manifests with her head tilted at a grotesque angle.
  • In "The Gypsies in the Wood", the protagonists encounter a fairy changeling that hasn't yet mastered all the finer points of acting like a human being. As one of them walks around it, studying it from various angles, it turns its head to follow the movement all the way around.
  • Journey to Chaos: Tasio the Trickster can turn his head all the way around for fun or convenience. He's made of chaotic energy, after all.
  • In The Divine Comedy there is a place in hell where Phony Psychic are punished by having their heads on backwards, as they pretended to be able to see into the future they are punished by not being able to see in front of themselves at all.
  • The Locked Tomb: When the spirits of Canaan House take over Colum's body, they twist its head around 180 degrees to get a closer look at someone nearby, among other modifications. This is in no small part why the body drops dead as soon as they vacate it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Small Wonder episode "My Robot Family", Vicki does this in response to the command "about face".
  • The X-Files: In the episode "The Amazing Maleeni", the eponymous magician does this as part of his act. Mulder and Scully never do figure out how he did it.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Teacher's Pet" has a giant praying mantis in human form. Early tip-off: She "does a full-on Exorcist twist" when she hears someone come up behind her.
  • In a rare comedy example from Mystery Science Theater 3000: Tom Servo rotates his head 180 degrees during a cheerful Christmas song. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Doctor Who: The Spoonheads' necks twist 180 degrees to reveal the transmission dish on the backs of their heads when they upload someone in "The Bells of St. John".
  • In Good Eats, in the episode "Give Peas a Chance", Alton is called in to help a child named Stevie, who has been sitting at the table for days, because his parents told him he couldn't leave the table until he finished his (mushy, overcooked) peas. Alton shows him that peas can be delicious if prepared properly. He makes split-pea soup, a burger made of pressed split-pea paste, and a pea salad with cheese cubes. Stevie expresses his approval by turning his head around 180 degrees. (His parents don't find this unusual.)
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, a possessed Nora Darhk has this done to her by Mallus.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): This is played with in "Criminal Nature", a rare instance where it proved fatal for the person doing it. The Genetic Rejection Syndrome sufferer Melanie commits suicide by using her superhuman strength to turn her head 360 degrees, breaking her neck in the process.
  • The second episode of Ultraman X has the returning avian monster, Birdon, gaining a new abilty to twist her head 180 degrees backwards just as Ultraman X tries attacking her from behind. This new design here is seemingly inspired by horned owls being capable of doing the same thing in real life.

  • Cryptically referenced in the song "Guillotine", by Death Grips.
    The screens flashing red, can't see shit but heads
    Spinning exorcist like planets out of orbit off the edge
  • They Might Be Giants: From the song "Turn Around" on Apollo 18
    We were waving our arms out the window
    Of a fast-moving passenger train
    Acting in an irresponsible fashion
    Until the engineer whose back had been turned
    And who we thought would find this highly amusing
    Quickly swiveled his head around

  • Done for humorous effect by Captain B. Zarr of The Party Zone during Happy Hour multiball.

    Puppet Shows 

    Video Games 
  • Mimi in Super Paper Mario does this upon revealing her true form. However, instead of twisting her head around, she somehow spins her head on her neck, causing her head to turn upside down.
  • Havik from Mortal Kombat has the ability to contort his entire body in odd and sickening ways. In fact, two of his specials allow him to regain health by doing so.
  • The Brawl Doll, a creepy possessed doll in the aptly named Horror Manor in Wario World spins his head backwards while laughing in the boss introduction.
  • The clown monster in Bewilder House can do this when you keep your eyes on him.
  • The Imperium Tremens taunt of Beatrix from Battleborn has her rapidly spin her entire head around 360 degrees while sporting a very nightmare inducing face in a very horror movie way.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has the infamous Jump Scare from Blizzeta, the boss of Snowpeak Ruins. When Yeta leads Link to a Mirror of Twilight shard and gazes into it, she becomes corrupted and her head 180s to reveal a Nightmare Face.
    Blizzeta: NOT TAKE MIRROR!
  • Parodied in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. In the Haunted Towers, there's a doll in the middle of a room that turns its head to face you. If you walk counterclockwise around it, its head unscrews and falls off.
  • Haunting Starring Polterguy: Some of the fright 'ems invoke this, for the summoned monsters and for the Sardinis.
  • Fallout: New Vegas sometimes has a glitch where an NPC conversing with the player will twist their head in a circle vertically.
  • Mega Man 7: While Junk Man spins his body quickly during his introduction animation, his head stays in place, his eyes locked toward Mega Man.
  • Being based on an Owl, the Malfestio of Monster Hunter Generations is able to rotate its head 180 degrees and look behind itself, before turning its body around to face anything behind it.
  • All Is Dust (2015): The red beings that Thomas sees around the farm will turn their heads in any direction he goes, even if he's right behind them.

    Web Animation 
  • Spooky Month: Invoked and Subverted: in "Unwanted Guest", Pump convinces the demon Moloch, who is possessing the exterminator, to spin his head around, as Skid doesn't believe he's actually Moloch. It ends with Moloch breaking his neck and dying.
  • In the Helluva Boss episode "Truth Seekers", while possessing one of the D.H.O.R.K.S agents as part of his Big Damn Heroes moment, Stolas makes her head rotate around her neck. Being an owl demon Stolas is shown doing this with his own body a few times as well.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied by Courage the Cowardly Dog in The Exorcist spoof "The Demon in the Mattress", where a possessed Muriel's head drops off after doing the 180 degree spin.
  • In The Ultimate Enemy, Dark Danny, the evil future version of Danny Phantom, demonstrates a 180 degree head spin, and then fully turning his body.
  • The Flying Dutchman actually did this twice in SpongeBob SquarePants.
  • Adventure Time: the Earl of Lemongrab does this, despite not really having a neck. Also, unusually for this trope, doing so seems to cause him visible strain. It somehow makes the whole thing even more disturbing.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Maggie turns her head this way in the very first Treehouse of Horror, in a nod to The Exorcist.
    • One Treehouse of Horror episode has Homer Simpson moving his head in an Exorcist way. Parodied.
    • Played for Laughs in "Krusty Gets Kancelled", when Gabbo spins his head in shock when he learns the only guest he could get on the day of Krusty's comeback special is Ray J. Johnson.
    • In "Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily", the one where Homer and Marge are declared unfit parents and the kids are given to the Flanders family to foster, Ned takes them to the river to baptize them. Bart and Lisa are sitting in the back seat and Maggie is in front.
      Maude: Oh, relax, Bart. Your sister Maggie isn't scared.
      Bart: That's because she can't talk.
      Maggie: [pulls her pacifier out] Daddily doodily!
      [she turns her head 180 degrees to face Bart and Lisa]
    • In "When You Dish Upon a Star", an angry Homer is driving to the beach and turns his head clockwise toward his fighting kids. He then turns his head further clockwise to face the road and we hear an audible snap.
      Marge: Homer, your spine!
    • In "Exor-Sis" story from "Treehouse of Horror XXVIII", Maggie is possessed by a demon called Pazuzu and she starts to turn her head 360 degrees.
  • Tangled: The Series: Little Cassandra is seen bending her neck in an unnatural way to face Pascal in "Islands Apart", complete with the sound of sinew being twisted.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Seahorse Seashell Party", Brian is hallucinating heavily on mushrooms, and he stumbles across a naked Lois standing in a briar patch, who does one.
    Lois: [her head spins around 180 degrees] Wanna have ssssssex? [her eyes turn into snakes and crawl out of her face]
  • Futurama: Bender and other robots can do this, because they're robots. In one episode, Bender exploited this to deliberately terrify a recently unfrozen cryogenic subject while chanting Kill all humans!.
  • The Road Runner is seen turning his head a full 360 degrees at the start of the cartoon, "Ready.. Set.. Zoom!".
  • One episode of The Critic has Jay Sherman's son Marty's school compete against an entire school of "Exorcist" children, all of whom constantly display this trope simultaneously.
  • Done by a Creepy Doll on Jimmy Two-Shoes.
  • Done by Omi, of all people, in Xiaolin Showdown after he makes a temporary Face–Heel Turn and joins Chase Young on the Heylin side when he gets his good chi being left behind in the Yin-Yang world, coming back with only his bad chi remaining. When the remaining Xiaolin apprentices try to restrain him so they can restore his chi, including trying to sneak up behind him during his rampages, Omi makes a complete 180 degree head turn, complete with Ax-Crazy grin, Red Eyes, Take Warning, and the sound of scraping metal.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • In Drawn Together, "The Other Cousin" (s01e05), Wooldoor Sockbat on cold turkey hallucinates a baby crawling at him on the ceiling doing the head spin.note 
  • Invader Zim: Gaz does this near the beginning of "Bloaty's Pizza Hog".
  • Hilariously inverted in the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Blood Moon Ball". Star's demon ex-boyfriend Tom holds his head still so he can continue to give Marco a Death Glare while his body rotates as he and his anger-management counselor "walk it out".
  • Gravity Falls: In "The Inconveniencing", a possessed Mabel's head rotates, followed by the rest of her body.
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, Metallo can shoot Kryptonite Eye Beams. When Superman grabs him from behind, Metallo turns his head towards him anyway and resumes shooting.
  • Steven Universe: In "Change Your Mind", after being possessed by White Diamond, Pearl's head rotates 360 degrees the first time she gets back up. Given Gems' bodies are holograms that likely lack bones (or any other internal organs by default), it's possibly any gem can do so, they just don't because it would be creepy.
    White, speaking through Pearl: I feel excellent!
  • The Lion Guard: Ulla the owl is surrounded by Mama Binturong's porcupine minions, but she scares them away by turning her head exactly behind her. Unlike most fictional owls, she turns her head around at 180 degrees instead of a full 360.
  • Done by Izzy in the Total DramaRama episode "Germ Factory" after she and most of the other kids get sick from licking the interior of a restroom.
  • Played for laughs as a throwaway gag in the Tom and Jerry short "Trap Happy". Butch rolls a cheese-scented bait into Jerry's hole. Jerry watches as the bait rolls a full circle around him.
  • An uncharacteristically pissed-off Ed (of "Edd n' Eddy" fame) briefly does this in the episode "Little Ed Blue" in response to a distraction.
  • Played for laughs when Bean is possessed in Disenchantment, she spins her head around like an owl, then complains that her neck hurts before her whole body rapidly untwists.
  • Ready Jet Go!: Owing to Zerk being an alien, he can turn his head 360 degrees. He does this in "Zerk Visits Earth", when he arrives on Earth and greets Sydney, Sean, and Mindy.
  • Uncle Grandpa does this sometimes.
  • Winnie the Pooh can do this, though it's not played for horror. Some edits of this scene do play it up by making Winnie a Satanist due to the Exorcist's influence.
  • In Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama, during the climatic fight, Ron squares off with Erik aka Synthodrone 901, and delivers an upper kick that twists his head backwards. Erik simply twists it back the other way, much to Ron and Rufus's shock.

    Real Life 
  • Owls are famous for being able to turn their heads extremely far in either direction. Unlike many animals like humans, owls lack the special muscles in their eyes that would allow them to rotate or roll, leaving them fixed. Though despite popular belief, they cannot rotate their heads 360 degrees, for obvious anatomical reasons. Their approximate swivel rotation is about 270 degrees.
  • While owls are particularly specialized for head turning, birds in general have much more flexible necks than most mammals due to having a greater number of neck vertebrae.
  • Praying mantids are the only insects that can look over their shoulder. A praying mantis can turn its head more than 180 degrees and can see movement up to 60 feet.
  • There are people recorded to be capable of turning their heads 180 degrees, like this example
  • Tarsiers, very small primates native to south-east Asia, are capable of this. Since they look a bit like E.T., you probably don't want to chance upon them at night.
  • Pink Amazon River Dolphins (also known as Botos) have unfused neck vertebrae and can turn their heads 180 degrees. This ability aids hunting when the water rises in wet season, as the forest gets partially submerged and they have to swim through the trees.
  • Three-toed sloths have more neck vertebrae than typical mammals (nine as opposed to seven), allowing them to turn their heads in an arc of 270 degrees.
  • This goat has a remarkably flexible neck.


Video Example(s):


(Spoilers) "Who... are you?"

While going to bury Sonic's body, Amy unintentionally uncovers the head of her universe's Tails, revealing the one with her to be the same Tails from "The Secret History of Sonic and Tails".

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

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