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Lightswitch Surprise

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Why were you sitting on my couch in the dark?
A character enters a location, and it's dark. The first course of action is to switch on a light, be it from an actual lightswitch on a wall or one's portable light source. And... Surprise! In the room is an unexpected sight. Perhaps the character is in a lot of danger now, or at least some trouble. Or maybe it's just a Surprise Party.

This trope covers a situation in which a reveal of somebody's presence is made by turning on a light. Supertrope to Matchlight Danger Revelation, which involves going to a dark location and revealing danger via a lit match. The surprise might be part of a Caught Coming Home Late situation: someone waits — often in the dark — for another who's coming home past curfew.

If a light isn't turned on but a character is revealed as they walk out of the dark, it's Emerging from the Shadows. A dangerous entity waiting in the dark for someone in that person's own home who only wants to speak with them is Trespassing to Talk.


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  • Always the Quiet Ones: When the Rainbooms enter Fluttershy's room, they find it looks the same. Then when Applejack flicks on the light switch, it's revealed that the entire room is actually trashed.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Casino Royale (2006) re-introduces James Bond in this fashion; he's waiting in a darkened office for his current target and only revealed when said target switches on a light to reveal that Bond has been in his safe:
    James Bond: M doesn't really mind you earning a little money on the side, Croydon. She'd just prefer it if it wasn't selling secrets.
  • Clue: This happens several times.
    • Mr. Boddy hands weapons to all the other guests, and instructs them to kill Wadsworth; he then switches out the light. After a gunshot is heard, the light is switched on again to reveal Mr. Boddy lying on the floor, instead of Wadsworth.
    • Later, in the same room, a cop switches on the light to reveal people apparently cuddling, when in fact they are hiding the fact that some of them are dead.
    • On a couple of other occasions, the surprise is the light being turned on, when somebody has been creeping around in the dark.
  • A Cure for Wellness. Lockhart hides from the orderlies searching for him in a dark room, and lights a Cigarette of Anxiety. The lighter reveals something strange about the room, so he turns on the lights to find it's full of bodies floating in tanks.
  • Demolition Man. When Doctor Cocteau and his assistant Bob enter Cocteau's office, it's dark. When Cocteau tries to turn on the voice-activated lights, they don't work. Then Simon Phoenix (who is sitting in Cocteau's chair in the dark) turns on the lights using a different verbal command, revealing his presence.
  • In Legion (1998), the protagonist is a soldier on death-row who overpowers his guards then tries to hide in a dark room, only to find his former commanding officer there, who turns on the lights to reveal a line of handcuffed fellow prisoners. Turns out he Got Volunteered for The Dirty Dozen Recycled In Space.
  • Madman: The alcoholic Dippy finds out that his bottle of Jack Daniels is empty, so he gets up and goes to a door. When he turns on the light, he finds Marz waiting there. Marz then slices open Dippy's throat with his fingernails and drags the body away.
  • Rogue One: Vader reveals himself to a group of rebel soldiers by igniting his lightsaber.

  • The Fredric Brown short story "Nightmare in Yellow": The main character is coming home from work on his birthday and decides to start a new life, starting with killing his wife. He does so on the front porch when she comes out to greet him, then steps inside propping up her body, turns on the light and... all the birthday guests shout, "SURPRISE!"
  • This happens a few times in The Famous Five:
    • In Five Go Adventuring Again, George switches on the study light to reveal her tutor Mr. Roland on the floor with Timmy the dog standing over him. When she asks him why he was using a torch instead of putting on the light, he says he couldn't find the switch, which is on the wrong side of the door.
    • In Five Run Away Together, Julian sneaks into the kitchen at night, and switches on the light to reveal Mr. Stick, the cook's husband, sleeping on the sofa. To avoid waking him, Julian switches off the light, and tries to find what he wants in the dark. The trope is then repeated when Julian accidentally wakes Mr. Stick, who switches the light on to reveal Julian.
    • In Five Go To Smuggler's Top, Sooty is creeping about in Uncle Quentin's bedroom trying to avoid waking him, when suddenly he realizes somebody else is in the bedroom as well, kidnapping Uncle Quentin. He switches on his torch to reveal Mr. Barling, and yells out the name in surprise. He is then kidnapped himself.

    Live Action TV 
  • Teen Wolf: A frequent occurrence in Scott's bedroom in the first two seasons. Initially, it's Derek waiting in Scott's chair for Scott to turn on the lights, but eventually Gerard, Isaac, and even Scott manage to surprise someone coming into Scott's bedroom by waiting patiently in the dark.
  • On Titus, Christopher Titus describes a surprise party they threw for his uncle. When he walks in the door and the lights go on and people start yelling, he draws a revolver and starts shooting, injuring at least one guest. He then realizes what's happening and says "You guys."
  • The Defenders (2017): In "Take Shelter", when Matt drops by the Bulletin to grab Karen and move her into police protection, he announces his presence by turning on a desk lamp at the cubicle outside her office door, getting her to look up from her work.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)
    • Episode "What You Need". When Mr. Pedott arrives home at his apartment, he enters and turns on the light. When he does, he discovers that Mr. Renard has broken into his room and is waiting in a chair to talk to him.
    • Episode "Long Live Walter Jameson". Walter Jameson believes he is alone in his room. The only light comes from a desk lamp. When he hears a voice say "Hello, Tommy", he turns the desk lamp to face the speaker. It turns out to be his former wife Laurette, sitting in a chair.

    Video Games 
  • In Clock Tower 2, one of ScissorMan's encounters at the library has him surprising Helen in a water tank once she turned on the light switch.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 2: New to the game is that you can now turn on the lights in areas of the restaurant to check out dark spots. Needless to say, you're going to find some unpleasant things wandering around from time to time, and some details change depending on whether or not the lights are on, such as the animatronics on the Show Stage opening their eyes when the light in the eponymous room is turned on.
  • One random event in Miitopia has lights switch off on an adventurer. After choosing which direction to go, the lights switch back on to reveal a surprise, ranging from a Surprise Party to tripping over a food item, to other party members having a moment.
  • In the last chapter of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, after Guybrush falls through the hole in Dinky Island, he finds himself in a dark room and the only thing the player can do is look for the light switch to activate it. When he does so, it's revealed Guybrush is trapped in some kind of tunnel right next to LeChuck.

  • The Legend of Genji: Happens in "The Avatar Returns: Part V" when Genji is Caught Coming Home Late by his mother. Upon returning home from his late-night excursion, Genji sneaks back inside his family's darkened apartment through a window, only for the lights to suddenly switch on, revealing Genji's mother casually leaning on a nearby doorway with her finger over a lightswitch on the wall.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • The short Switch is built around this trope. A young man is dropped into a small darkened room and all he can find is the switch for a unseen overhead light. Whenever he turns on the light, the room might be empty... or there might be a huge monster growling at him. Or there might be a mass of tentacles there. Or a pretty girl in a bikini. Or... eyes.. The empty room is boring and the pretty girl keeps turning the light off, if you're wondering why he doesn't stay on one of those two.

    Western Animation