Our hero is spending a quiet moment with a loved one. They enjoy some relaxing conversation, and maybe even take their companion into a tender embrace. Then, the door opens (or, alternatively, the phone rings) to reveal that the loved one is actually some distance away from them, and has been for some time. Cue the dawning moment of realization as our hero slowly looks back to the person right next to them...
Basically, some ghost, ghoul, or other evil creepy has decided to pose (using disguise, darkness, or some other subterfuge) as a friendly character. Whether it's for a specific reason or purely to freak out the protagonist (and the audience) we cannot be sure. In some instances, the disguised villain vanishes unnoticed upon the intrusion of the character they are impersonating, and the audience never sees their face. However, in most modern horror films, we are treated to a sudden shot of the monster in all its freaky glory, accompanied by a good, old-fashioned Scare Chord. Note that the threatening presence will remain hidden up until the hero discovers the deception (compare Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress).
A variant of this trope misdirects the audience by presenting the approaching loved one, perhaps through shadows, footsteps, and creaking floorboards, as if they themselves are the monster (which may cause the unwitting protagonist to huddle close to what they think is their loved one for protection) before the truth is revealed.
Compare Bedmate Reveal and Mistaken for Object of Affection. In a moving vehicle, this sort of reveal will often be Played for Laughs, prompting another character to ask, "Who Is Driving?". If it's subverted at the end, that's a Shock-and-Switch Ending.
- "The Story Of The Yara": Played With; the night Alonzo first hears the Yara, he searches the bushes around the pool, believing that it was a friend pranking him. However, when he returned home, he checks on his friend and finds him sound asleep. He's merely puzzled by the experience, but Julia, who believes in the Yara, is terrified.
- An example in The Haunting, taken directly from the source material: in bed, Eleanor clings tightly to Theodora's hand as sinister sounds emerge from the darkness in their room. Suddenly, the lights go on, and Eleanor sees Theodora sitting up in her own bed on the other side of the room. She has clearly not been anywhere near Eleanor for some time.
Eleanor: God...God...whose hand was I holding?
- The remake manages to completely ruin this part, we see Eleanor get abruptly thrown out of bed by some phantom force, after which she says "who was holding my hand?" As we never hear anything about someone supposedly holding her hand prior, it comes across as a total Non Sequitur.
- In Evil Dead 2, during a lull in the action, the characters huddle together for safety.
Bobby Joe: Jake...you're holding my hand too tight.Jake: ...Baby, I ain't holdin' your hand.
- The scene in The Orphanage where Laura feels her husband get into bed with her, and speaks to him for several minutes...before seeing him emerge from the bathroom.
- In Julia's Eyes, Julia stands with her husband at her sister's funeral. While kneeling down before the casket to pay her last respects, she feels a comforting hand on her shoulder. She smiles, and lays her own hand on top. A moment later, the other hand is withdrawn, and she looks up to see her husband talking to two men off in the distance. She whirls around to see whose hand was on her shoulder, but no one is there.
- The scene in Dark Water where Yoshimi and the audience thinks she is embracing Ikuko in the elevator... only to see Ikuko enter the hallway.
- In The Witch In The Window, fearing the presence of a witch in his house, Simon arranges with his ex-wife Beverly to send their son Finn to her on a coach bus. To Simon's surprise, soon after he gets back from the bus station, Finn shows up, claiming to have sneaked off the bus when his father wasn't looking. Later that day, Simon and Finn sit together and have a heart-to-heart talk. Then Simon's phone rings. It's Beverly, who casually mentions that she collected Finn from the bus as planned. Simon even speaks to Finn over the phone to confirm this. When he turns to look, the "Finn" who has been sitting next to him for the entire phone call gives him a little smirk. Simon flees, and when he looks back, the witch is chasing after him, snarling with rage.
- Anything For Jackson: Henry wakes up, looks over toward the bathroom, and sees his wife Audrey flossing at the sink with her back to him. He speaks to her for a few minutes before his cell phone rings. He picks up, and it's Audrey asking for help bringing groceries into the house. He looks back at the bathroom and the figure slowly turns around to reveal that she's flossing the teeth out of her mouth.
- In Head Count, the group is playing a drinking game. One of the friends turns to Sam (who has been sitting at the table for the entire scene), and says, "Sam, you're up." Suddenly, Sam leans in from the next room and asks, "What?" For a split second both Sams are onscreen at once. Then the lights go out...accompanied by a subtle Scare Chord.
- The Other Side Of The Door: Maria sees her daughter Lucy sitting on the bed, facing away from her and crying. She approaches, asking whether Lucy is all right, but Lucy does not reply or turn around. As Maria reaches out to touch her daughter, someone murmurs, "Mommy." She turns around to see Lucy right next to her, saying, "You woke me up." Maria looks back at the bed and "Lucy" is now staring right at her, sporting a gaping-eyed and -mouthed Nightmare Face.
- The ending of Siren: Jonah, after reflecting on his harrowing adventure, celebrates the first anniversary of his wedding to Eva with a round of passionate sex before falling asleep. After waking up in the middle of the night, he heads downstairs to the fridge, and discovers, to his horror, that Eva had passed out fully clothed in the living room earlier that evening, and had never come up to bed at all.
- Countdown: Quinn and Matt spend the night together, convinced that they have thwarted the curse. In the middle of the night, Quinn hears creaking floorboards from outside the room and sees a shadow under the door. Frightened, she tries to wake up Matt, who is sleeping behind her with his arm draped over her body, but he does not respond no matter how many times she shakes his arm and calls his name. The bedroom door slowly opens...to reveal Matt, who asks, "Yo, are you calling my name?" Shocked, Quinn looks down to see that the hand next to her is now a demonic claw, which seizes her, drags her under the covers, and attacks her.
- The Privilege: Finn, Lena, and Samira are hiding out in an abandoned gym and decide to sleep in the empty swimming pool. Samira wakes up in the middle of the night and hears footsteps. She turns to the sleeping bag next to her and says, "Finn? Did you hear that?" but there is no answer. The footsteps come closer and closer and finally turn out to be Finn, who says, "Hey. I went to the bathroom. Did I wake you up?" Samira simply responds, "Finn...who's holding my hand?" She pulls back the covers to reveal a monstrous hand gripping her wrist.
- A variant in The Cellar, Keira hears her son Steven calling to her from behind the locked door leading to the cellar stairs. Unable to find the key, she peeks through the keyhole, only to be met with a monstrous eye looking back at her. Then Steven appears right behind her, asking whom she's talking to.
- A variant in When a Stranger Calls: Jill sits in bed, hearing the killer's voice and looking with terror towards the open door of her closet. She shakes her husband awake and he flips over only to reveal that he's the killer and he's been lying right next to her the whole time. An unusual example in that the husband (whom the killer stashed in the closet) is not shown until later.
- It Follows: More from the audience's perspective than that of the characters. Jay is relaxing with her friends at the beach, enjoying some time away from the shapeshifting monster that is stalking her. Her friend Yara approaches her from behind as she chats with the others. After a few moments, we see that Yara is in fact relaxing in an inflatable tube in the water and has been for some time, which means that the "Yara" walking up behind Jay...
- Smile (2022): Rose hears a knock on her front door. She looks outside and sees her former therapist Dr. Northcott, who says she is there for a wellness check. The two of them sit and talk for a few minutes before the phone rings. It is Dr. Northcott, calling to see if Rose is all right. Rose turns to look at her guest and realizes she has been casually chatting with the evil spirit that is haunting her.
- In the climax of the film Caveat, Moe is in the cellar of the house, where a corpse is rotting in a nook behind a piece of drywall. He peeks through a hole in the drywall and sees that next to the corpse is Isaac, who has been trying to saw his way out. Moe calls through the hole that the two of them should help each other escape the house. He hears the sound of sawing and waits for Isaac to emerge. After a few minutes, a voice comes over an intercom in the basement: It is Isaac, who apparently has found another way out. The sawing continues, prompting Moe to back around a corner in fright. When a face finally peeks around the corner, it is the corpse.
- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: The first movie has an odd bit where, after finding out her "cookbook" is really a spell book, flips through it and finds a spell with "Moola" in the name, and assumes it's a spell that creates money. She casts it, there's a really small and brief earthquake that makes the lights go out, and she feels something touching her and says to Bob (her boyfriend) that she thinks it was a love spell. He says "huh", and she soon realizes that it's actually a snake summoned by the spell crawling on her. She freaks out and throws the snake on the ground, at which point it burns up for no apparent reason, and the whole thing is never mentioned again.
- A non-horror example in Beethoven when the husband thinks his wife is getting flirty in bed... only for the wife to come in and ask who he's talking to. The husband sees he's been talking to the dog.
- Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, as Scooby and Shaggy barricade a door against the Black Knight Ghost, Shaggy is handed armor pieces, presumably by Scooby. However, Shaggy then notices that Scooby is on his other side. The one passing armor to him was the Black Knight Ghost himself.
- The Three Stooges did this more than once. They're fleeing some monster or killer, and Moe and Larry (sometimes Curly replaces Larry) end up barricading themselves into a room for protection. Their partner starts hammering on the door and egging for entrance, they agree, and then realize who's in the room with them...
- Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is likely the Trope Maker: In neighboring beds, Eleanor and Theodora squeeze each other's hands tightly as sinister sounds emerge from the darkness in their room. Finally, Eleanor screams, the lights go on, and a startled Theodora sits up, asking what the matter is. She had been sleeping, and was clearly not holding Eleanor's hand.
"God God," Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, "God God—whose hand was I holding?"
- In the infamous Yi City arc of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi, Wei Wuxian is in the eponymous city to investigate supernatural events along with Lan Wangji and some junior disciples. The mist is far too thick for any of them to see anything beyond vague silhouettes, so Wei Wuxian asks Lan Wangji, who he's been walking beside, to use his sword to give them some light. While Lan Wangji obliges, the sword light comes from some distance away in the mist and clearly not from the silent figure next to Wei Wuxian. However, the horror is alleviated somewhat by the quick reveal that the figure is an enemy cultivator and not a supernatural entity of the city.
- Mayfear: in week 5, Daniel wakes up next to Cheryl, who is fast asleep and facing away from him. Then he hears someone moving in the bathroom. The door opens and it's - Cheryl. Daniel looks back at the bed, which is now empty.
- This happens in the very first scene of the Supernatural pilot. At night when Mary Winchester is about to check on the then-six month old Sam in his crib, she stops at the door seeing a dark figure looking over the infant believing him to be her husband John. However when she goes downstairs and sees that John Winchester is in a recliner in the living room she realizes to her horror that the figure is a threat who has broken into their home. She tries to go back and protect Sam, but instead gets killed by the intruder eventually leading to the Winchesters to seek vengeance for her murder several years later.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Hide", Clara tells the Doctor that she's not so scared that she needs him to hold her hand. The Doctor asks her why she mentioned that and she said it's because he is holding her hand. Then the Doctor holds up both hands revealing that, no, he isn't holding her hand.
- In LazyTown, one episode has Robbie Rotten dressing up as a ghost and scaring everyone around town. Robbie tries to scare Ziggy, however Ziggy assumes the ghost is actually Trixie and does not get scared. However Ziggy then sees Trixie and the rest of the Lazy Town kids are in fact on top of a tower. Now knowing the ghost can't be Trixie, Ziggy gets terrified of the ghost Robbie and flees.
- Played for Laughs in Woo-hoo! Wiggly Gremlins! Two gremlins wander around the studio, causing mischief. At one point, Anthony is talking to one of them, thinking it's one of the other Wiggles, when the real Wiggle comes in and asks who he's talking to.
Anthony: Why, I'm talking to Murray! [Double Take]
- Drew Daywalt
- His horror short Bedfellows is built on this trope. A woman hears the phone ring in the middle of the night. She has to lean across the lump on her husband's side of the bed to answer, only to discover it's her husband calling because he went for a jog and got locked out of the house. Cue her slowly looking back toward the lump under the covers next to her...
- He also penned the short film Mockingbird, featuring an unusual version of the trope: a man listens happily to his wife's voice singing to their new baby over the baby monitor. Just then his wife enters, revealing that she's been out shopping for some time...
- In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realizations, one event has Kirito and Philia questing in a cave, where Kirito promptly decides to put out the torch before telling Philia to back against the wall and keep quiet. Philia is under the impression that Kirito wants to make out with her and is startled when her hand is held. However when Kirito relights the torch, Philia is shocked to discover Kirito was standing on the other side of the cave, and the one holding her hand was actually a monster. Turns out Kirito was testing if the monsters were attracted to light and Philia is really pissed off at being misled.
- Fatal Frame II: When twins Mio and Mayu first enter the abandoned village, Mayu's hand emerges from Behind the Black to give Mio a reassuring shoulder squeeze. Only after Mio squeezes back does Mayu walk past her from several feet away. By the time Mio turns around, there's no one there...
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: When Mario and Luigi first enter the mysteriously abandoned Chateau de Chucklehuck, they must navigate a maze of Chuckola Cola barrels where many passages block the player's view of the brothers. Upon exiting the maze, whichever brother is in the back gets replaced by the thief Popple. It takes a few seconds for the brother in the front to notice the switcheroo and for the brother in the back to catch up.
- In Skinwalker, Joe believes he's walking alongside Celeste (and can potentially help her up when she falls and hold her hand), but when the fog clears enough he realizes he's actually been walking with the skinwalker disguised as her.
- Several creepypasta and one-paragraph horror stories originating on Reddit use this. It's a quick, word-efficient way to get in a good scare.
So ur with ur honey and yur making out wen the phone rigns. U anser it n the vioce is "wut r u doing wit my daughter?" U tell ur girl n she say "my dad is ded". THEN WHO WAS PHONE?
- At bedtime, a father humors his son's request to check for monsters under the bed. He bends down to look...and finds his son, whispering that there's someone in his bed...
- A child hears their mother's voice calling from the kitchen. On the way to the kitchen, the child hears a whisper coming from the closet, saying, "Don't go down there honey, I heard it too."
- One infamous, deliberately terrible creepypasta from 4chan deals with one of these that's set up very poorly:
- This strip of Loading Artist has the hero mistaking a ghost-cat for his cat. In a subversion, he gets excited because now he has two cats to pet.
- Arthur: In "The Fright Stuff", Arthur, Buster, the Brain, and Binky are plotting a prank to get back at Francine and Muffy during a Halloween party that involves Binky dressed as a ghost. Arthur runs to a ghost costume Binky, and later it's revealed that the pranks the boys and girls were planning were sabotaged. When Arthur confronts "Binky", the real Binky finally arrives and says that his costume broke so he decided to go as a cyclops instead. The gang not only realizes that the dressed-up ghost is a stranger, but they also notice they are floating above the floor like an actual ghost.
- In the Gravity Falls episode "Into the Bunker", Dipper and his crush Wendy are being menaced by a shapeshifter. At the climax, Dipper comes upon Wendy's unconscious body, prompting him to panic and tearfully confess his feelings for her. Just then, Wendy pops up, alive and unharmed, right behind him.
Dipper: Wendy? Wait, then who's...
(body on ground rises and attacks)
- In Family Guy episode "Business Guy", Lois and Carter devise a plan to get rid of Peter from the company, by having Carter dress up as a swamp monster who eats wealthy business men. It works and Peter signs the company over before fleeing. However, Carter then shows up wearing a Swamp Monster costume and asking Lois if they're going through with the plan. A horrified Lois then realizes the other swamp monster was not her dad but a real swamp monster! This then results in a Scooby-Doo style chase between Lois, Carter, and the swamp monster, who later gets revealed to be Hugh Laurie.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a very unusual example in "Castle Mane-ia". While exploring a haunted castle, Rainbow Dash feels a hoof around her and assumes it is Applejack who got scared. However Applejack is actually standing far away. Rainbow Dash and Applejack become terrified as the hoof is coming out of the wall and run away. Then on the other side of the wall, Rarity had reached her hoof through and just got scared as she felt something alive on the other side. In this case the "Fright Beside Them" turns out to be another friend having the same experience in reverse.
- Subverted in SpongeBob SquarePants: Sandy and Patrick try to lure SpongeBob out of his home, with Patrick dressed as a gorilla, pretending to attack Sandy. But during the "attack" Patrick suddenly enters the frame. As it turns out, the guy in the gorilla costume actually was Patrick, while the guy who entered the frame is a real gorilla in a Patrick costume.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), while the turtles and Renet are in an Egyptian tomb Michelangelo feels someone poke him from behind and assumes it's Raphael playing a prank on him. Except Raph is in front of him; Mikey looks back and to his horror sees it's a dismembered mummy arm on his shell.
- In Total Drama, the episode "Hook, Line, and Screamer", which parodies many elements of the slasher genre, naturally includes this trope. Duncan has just confronted the Killer and managed to unmask him, revealing him to be none other than Chef Hatchet. All the losing campers cheer from the safe tent, before Izzy notices Gwen is in the mess hall with the Killer. Only for Duncan to ask in shock that if Chef was here with them, then who was with Gwen? All of the campers realize Gwen is currently with a real killer, and all of them rush over to the mess hall to warn her. They manage to get there just in time to warn her, allowing Gwen to see the danger and kick the killer in the face, whereupon he promptly runs off.
- In Total DramaRama episode "That's a Wrap", the kids visit a museum where Duncan repeatedly tries to scare the other kids. When they accidentally awaken a mummy, Courtney assumes the mummy is Duncan. Despite its repeated attempts to scare her, Courtney shows no fear and beats the mummy up. It isn't until the real Duncan, also dressed as a mummy, appears does Courtney realize the truth and finally panics.
- The Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Haunted House Hang-up" featured the following example: In a dark passageway, Shaggy and Velma decide to hold hands so they don't get separated. Both of them comment on how clammy the other's hands are. Then they emerge from the tunnel...to find that the Headless Spectre had gotten between them and both of them were holding one of his hands.
- The New Scooby-Doo Movies:
- In the episode "Guess Who's Knott Coming to Dinner", Shaggy has left the old mine with the supposed ghost of Captain Moody, whom he mistook for the disguised Don Knotts. They are walking back to Moody Manor when they encounter the real Knotts, in his Homer Pipsqueak persona. While talking to Knotts, Shaggy looks to his side and realizes who his companion is.
- In the Laurel and Hardy crossover "The Ghost of Bigfoot", Ollie begins reassuring Stan, who's in the next bed, that he and the other guys can take care of Bigfoot if he shows up. Unbeknownst to Ollie, Stan left for the bathroom a few minutes into the speech, and Bigfoot sat down in his bed. When Ollie sits up and turns toward the bed, he sees who he's really been talking to and runs across the hall to fetch Fred, Shaggy, and Scooby.
- In the Mickey Mouse cartoon The Pointer, Mickey is hunting with Pluto, who wanders away when he's not looking. A bear goes after Mickey, but Mickey, thinking the bear is Pluto, keeps shoving it and slapping it on the nose when it gets too close. Eventually, Mickey sees Pluto standing in a field and says "Look, Pluto. It's you." Suddenly he realizes that if Pluto is there, then someone else has been behind him all along. So he slowly turns around...
- Minor example in one Pink Panther cartoon. The Inspector calls for his assistant, Deux-Deux, to run a lab analysis on a large gem, and a black-gloved arm reaches into the room and accepts it. Then Deux-Deux walks in, wearing white gloves on his much shorter arms...