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"On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!..."

A character has been called to a small town to investigate some supernatural phenomenon. Our intrepid hero subscribes more to logic than superstition, though, and he is confident that the disturbance will prove to have mundane origins. The locals tell him tales of this horrible monster, and he laughs them off as the products of an overactive imagination. With this knowledge under his belt, he bravely sets out to catch the miscreant.

This ends when he actually SEES the monster — and finds that it is just as advertised, and worse. He sees the eerie, glowing intelligence in its eyes, smells the rotten meat on its breath, gets smacked around a bit, but survives, running back to safety to hide under the bed and refusing to come out because it's real it's real OH MY GOD IT'S REAL... even though that's what everyone's been telling him up till now.

Inspired by the protagonist of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and in particular Ichabod Crane's portrayal in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999), this state is what results when mundane presuppositions come crashing against the supernatural reality, and the character in question just can't handle it.

Differs from Heroic BSoD in that this is not necessarily a result of emotional trauma.

Related: Going Native, Apocalyptic Log, Supernatural-Proof Father, Skeptic No Longer. Contrast Admiring the Abomination, where the character, whether expecting an actual monster or not, reacts with awe, excitement, or even joy upon seeing it.


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  • 1408: Mike Enslin, despite being a non-fiction writer about the supernatural, is a skeptic and expects a normal night's stay in the titular hotel room. It soon becomes apparent that there really is something supernatural about the room, and it intends to claim him as its 57th victim.
  • The Blair Witch Project: The three leads are pursuing what they initially think to be just a local legend that happens to make a really neat ghost story, but as the Worst Camping Trip Ever progresses, they come to realize that a) the Blair Witch is in the woods with them, and b) she intends them to never leave. This causes breakdowns both mental and relationship-wise once their intended fate becomes clear.
  • The Brothers Grimm. Since the brothers are skilled at faking monster attacks for their protection racket, naturally they think the events on this small town are caused by another hoaxster like themselves. They're wrong. They are so VERY wrong.
  • Grave Encounters features the crew of a Ghost Hunters-style reality show, who are filming overnight in a mental hospital but express skepticism that any of the ghost stories about it are true. Of course, once they are in lockdown, shit gets real...
  • In The Mothman Prophecies, John Klein, a journalist, investigates a mothlike creature roaming in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The usual glowing eyes, mauled livestock, scratched tree bark reported from townsfolk and cops...So those phone calls and dreamlike predictions coming from this so-called Mothman? They're real. We know what's in that drawer. Chapstick.
  • In My Name is Bruce, Bruce Campbell follows this trope to the letter. His frenzied flight includes shooting at the men who came to help him slay the beast, stealing a bike from a little kid, and carjacking an old lady before he finally makes his cowardly escape from the town.
  • The Night Flier: Richard Dees is a tabloid reporter who has been searching for something supernatural all his life, and has become rather weary of all the cryptoid tales as a result. When he finally runs into a real vampire, the latter notes that meeting him is Richard's destiny, even if it were to kill him.
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Mystery Inc head to Moonscar Island to investigate reports of hauntings; Daphne wants to capture footage of a real supernatural occurrence for her TV show, although Fred and Velma are both sceptical of ghosts and monsters truly existing. Even after Scooby and Shaggy encounter ghosts and a zombie, and Velma gets levitated, Fred and Velma keep insisting there's some rational explanation and that it's probably a crook in a mask like usual, but it becomes increasingly difficult to believe the paranormal occurrences are faked. When Fred tries to unmask a zombie and instead pulls its head clean off, the entire group finally accepts the monsters are real, prompting them to flee in terror from the zombie horde (even Daphne isn't thrilled despite getting exactly what she wanted).
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999) has poor Ichabod, after spending much of the early movie strenuously denying that there is such a thing as the Headless Horseman, meeting with him face to, well, lack of face, and watching him take off the Magistrate's head. He proceeds to faint dead away after not only witnessing this, but having the Horseman pick the head right out from between his legs with his sword.
  • In The Wolfman (2010), Lawrence is initially skeptical to being a werewolf and towards werewolves in general, until, you know, he actually becomes one. Played a little more straight with Aberline, upon realizing he's been bitten.

  • The Stephen King short story and subsequent movie 1408 has several of these - moreso the movie, because there the protagonist has just about given up on the idea of genuine hauntings.
  • The protagonist of the James Herbert novel Haunted (1988) is a paranormal investigator who specialises in exposing Phony Psychics after getting burned by one in his past, and is understandably pretty skeptical (and deeply cynical, because this is James Herbert) about the supernatural. The events of the story force him to rethink his stance, to put it mildly.
  • Interestingly played with in Pyramids; the people of Djellibeybi believe deeply that the sun is pushed by a scarab beetle, the stars are painted on the body of the Goddess of the Night and so on. But you're not supposed to be able to actually see them, and when they do, the idea that all the things they've sincerely believed are actually true freaks them out.
    Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
  • Despite being the Trope Namer, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not an example. Ichabod Crane is a deeply superstitious man who firmly believes in ghosts and witches; when he sees the Headless Horseman on the road he is terrified but not surprised. Furthermore, it's heavily implied that what he saw wasn't a ghost at all, but an elaborate hoax by a romantic rival trying to scare him into leaving town, which his worldview has already primed him to fall for.

  • Horatio, faced with the ghost of old Hamlet.

     Video Games  
  • While it's up to the player to decide precisely how to react, this is conveyed pretty well in Nethergate when you find out just what's living in the caves you're investigating. It's subverted later on, though—facing an assault by hordes of ghosts, you shrug it off through sheer force of badass.
  • The ill-fated trio featured in the "Kitchen" VHS tape in the Resident Evil 7: Biohazard demo. They visit an old plantation house that was mysteriously abandoned in order to film an episode of their show. Their financier is the most skeptical, just treating the expedition as another day at the office until they get separated from the host of the show and when they find him, he has been brutally killed by...something.

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     Western Animation