A trope commonly found in animation; two or more characters, usually hiding from something, have found themselves in an entirely pitch-black environment. One of them remarks on or complains about how dark it is. The other strikes a match — but the sudden burst of light reveals that the characters are, in fact, standing in the middle of an amazingly dangerous environment, be it a room filled with monsters (who have, up until this point, been remarkably quiet) or — to give the danger an added boost of irony — a room packed with an unimaginably large store of explosives (especially if the "match" turns out to be a Dynamite Candle). Guess what happens next?
Bonus points if the revealed monsters (or even the match-holder himself) blow out the match, implying that someone's going to be in a lot of pain while conveniently preventing the viewer from actually seeing it.
See also Lightswitch Surprise.
In Real Life, this is why matches and lighters are strongly advised against as immediate emergency lighting, especially after a disaster such as an earthquake or tornado where there could be burst gas lines (which won't even give you the warning of a labeled dynamite box before they explode and incinerate anything in range), scattered flammable chemicals such as gasoline and paint thinner giving off explosive fumes, or low-hanging easily combustible materials.
- The "Mad World" commercial for Gears of War uses this trope for excellent dramatic effect. Being pursued by alien forces, Marcus Fenix dives into a darkened building by crashing through a window. Although it is almost pitch-black inside, he spots countless spots of light, and opens fire upon them. The bright muzzle flash of his machinegun reveals that these eyes belong to a gargantuan, lobster-like creature that fills the entire room.
- Early in Jeff Smith's Bone, the Red Dragon asks Fone Bone for a light for his cigarette in pitch-darkness, giving Fone his first brief, terrifying glimpse of a dragon. Eventually you might realize that, since the Red Dragon can breathe fire, he might have done this just to mess with the poor guy.
- One issue of Marvel's G.I. Joe has a group of Joes chasing a Cobra vehicle. They later reach a point far from their starting point and one fires a flame to see where they are. He reveals the Cobra forces that are about to ambush them.
- Subverted in De cape et de crocs. The heroes go to a dark room they assume to be the ship's magazine. To everyone's horror, Eusebio lights a candle, revealing they're in the ship's larder. A later scene plays it straight via inversion (they thought they were in the larder, it turned out to be the magazine).
- One Venom storyline culminated with him chasing a criminal gang into a warehouse filled with highly explosive drug components, then cutting the power and waiting for them to light a match.
- Phil Foglio's What's New? with Phil and Dixie comic in Dragon magazine #50 uses this. Phil and Dixie are exploring the TSR dungeon in the dark and realize there is someone else with them. Phil lights a match, revealing that the other creature is actually a demon. Then the demon blows out the match...
- A Garfield strip does this once, during the storyline when Garfield ran away from home.
- Finding Nemo actually does this with the Anglerfish's lure.
- Hoodwinked: Wolf and Twitchy are in a mine cart and enter a tunnel. Twitchy looks for candles.
Wolf: Wow, those nice and bright. What kind of candles are those, anyway?
Twitchy: Uh, "Deena Meetay" — must be Italian!
Wolf: Ah! Lose the candle!
- Used in the Wallace & Gromit short A Grand Day Out, with the robot inside the rocket's fuel tank.
- In The Cat Came Back, after falling down a mine shaft and seeing a pair of eyes, the main character lights a match only to find himself surrounded by rats, bats and snakes. The first rat then helpfully blows out the match.
- The Croods: Grug is trapped inside a cave, so he tries to make a fire. When he finally does, it reveals a tiger behind him. The tiger blows out the torch, but stokes it back when it gets spooked by an offscreen explosion.
- Lucky Luke: Go West! features villains Crook and Bartleby, after a By the Lights of Their Eyes moment in an abandoned mine, lighting a match only to find themselves next to a mountain of dynamite boxes. However, the match isn't the biggest problem... more pressing is the fact that Rantanplan was chasing after them with a lit stick of dynamite, which he lets go at their feet.
- Space Jam: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are digging their way to Michael Jordan's home to get his lucky shorts. Daffy decides to take a shortcut and surfaces inside a doghouse. He lights a match and finds himself facing Michael's bulldog, then lets out a feeble "Mother".
- In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Yosemite Sam is vanquished when the heroes knock him into the gunpowder room of his own casino and he performs this trope.
- Dramatic usage: One of the characters in the movie Pitch Black is being stalked by monsters that fear light. His light source is running out, and he knows he's about to die. He swigs some alcohol, holds up his guttering torch, and blows a column of flame that reveals the army of monsters surrounding him. The second the flame's gone, they attack.
- Cloverfield does this by utilizing a camcorder's night vision in an abandoned subway tunnel.
- In the 1999 film The Mummy, as Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evy (Rachel Weisz) escape the rapidly collapsing pyramid, they are forced to leave Rick's traitorous friend Beni behind, and the pyramid seals itself behind them. Beni retreats back into a massive room filled with treasure, with the only light source being his illuminated torch. Thousands of (flesh-consuming) scarabs stream into the room around him, and the light slowly goes out on the torch as they get closer, and... you know the rest.
- In the first Ju-on film (the original video version, not the theatrical version), Yuki decides to investigate the strange noises she hears coming from the attic of the house. As it is extremely dark up there, she starts to dig out her lighter. Suddenly, the camera switches to the POV of what is in the attic, which crawls towards Yuki at an incredible speed before stopping right in front of her face. The terrified Yuki slowly and shakily manages to flick on her lighter and... BAM. The ghost of Kayako is staring her right in the face, and she is not happy.
- A similar scene was also featured in the US remake, The Grudge. (In fact, the entire above scene was recreated almost shot-for-shot for the remake, but it ended up as a deleted/alternate scene on the DVD.)
- Parodied in Scary Movie 4: When Cindy moves the lighter near the ghost's face, we pan down to see the lighter is burning the ghost's hand.
- In The Descent, one of the girls is using the night vision on the camcorder to see her way through the caves. During a particularly tense scene in which several of the girls are panicking, the camcorder rests on Beth... and the sudden appearance of one of the Crawlers standing right behind her. For bonus points, this is the first clear look at a Crawler. And it's one of the most terrifying moments in the film.
- A variation is used in The Rocketeer in which Lothar uses a match to verify the identity of his sleeping victim, and the light gives the audience the first good look at him.
- In Shaun of the Dead upon arriving at the pub Shaun goes to the back room to fix the fuses and get power to the TV. When he flicks one of the switches it turns on the light outside the door next to him, illuminating a pack of zombies just outside. He rapidly turns it back off and goes back to the main room.
- Much crappier example, but also utilized in P2. While going through the parking garage, the protagonist trips and drops her cell phone. As she picks it up, the light from the screen illuminates her stalker and now kidnapper, who proceeds to knock her out and drag her away.
- Used VERY effectively in the indie film The Passage. The protagonist finds himself in a series of tunnels in the Atlas Mountains, using only candles for light. When they run out, he has to use the flash of his digital camera. It's a tense scene as he waits for the flash to recharge. The first few moments are suspenseful, and then, well, he's not alone.
- Happens in Airheads when station accountant Doug Beech is hiding in the janitor's closet. He accidentally spills some liquid on himself, and he lights his cigarette lighter to see what it is. When he sees it has a "Caution: flammable" sticker on its container, he panics.
- Police Academy: Mission to Moscow. The first thing Harris sees when lighting a match is a "no fire" sign. The next thing we see is an explosion.
- In Mr. Hulot's Holiday, the eponymous vacationer lights a match inside a shed which is revealed to be filled with fireworks.
- Dwarves had a special job to clear out pockets of flammable gas, where a miner called a knockerman would don many layers of protective clothing, a slingshot, a lamp, a ball of oil-soaked rags, and a cage of crickets, then head alone into the mine. When the crickets stopped chirping, the knockerman would back up, light the ball of rags and throw it forwards, either becoming a hero or dying as one. Due to the inherent nature of the sacrifice demanded, dwarf kings are usually taken from the knockermen's ranks, which is why there is considerable friction when an Ankh-Morpork dwarf discovers that putting a metal mesh on the lamp causes the lamp to burn blue in the presence of minedamp without setting the rest on fire.
- Monstrous Regiment: The soldiers are exploring the catacombs of the keep, and Wazzer hears noises in the dark. Someone lights a match. They are surrounded by zombies. Subverted, though: the zombies aren't after them, and they'd probably be safer down in the catacombs than in actual combat.
- The Phantom of the Opera: Raoul and the Persian escape from the Phantom's Death Trap and find themselves in a pitch black cellar full of barrels. The Persian lights his lantern so they can open up a barrel and examine the contents... which turn out to be gunpowder. The Persian quickly throws his lantern away.
- In 20 Years After, the heroes' servants discover the ship they're on is packed with explosives, about to go off, this way. They are appropriately terrified.
- The Andy Griffith Show once has Barney, while looking for a lost goat, enter an dark shack. The highway department is using dynamite to build a new road near Mayberry. Fortunately when Barney lit the match he doesn't light anything else.
- Subverted in the Doctor Who episode "Daleks in Manhattan", when the Cold Open involves a man being lured into the prop room backstage at a Broadway theater by suspicious sounds. He lights a match, which reveals a face leering at him, belonging to a dummy of a pirate. He breathes a sigh of relief, puts out the match, and then is ambushed by a Pig Man.
- A rare live-action example occurs in the final episode of the first season of Foyle's War. During a German air raid on a British airfield, Foyle and his fighter-pilot son run to the nearest dugout that looks like shelter. In the darkness, Foyle's son flicks on his lighter, revealing that they are surrounded by barrels, having unwittingly sought shelter in the airfield's fuel dump. Naturally, Foyle recommends that his son put the lighter out.
- It happens in an episode of The Incredible Hulk. Banner and two friends are locked in a dark bank vault. Banner transforms, but no-one can see it. They hear the Hulk's breathing and realize that they're locked in with something. Cue one of them lighting a match and revealing the Hulk's face.
- In the video for "Jurassic Park", after the lights go out on "Weird Al" Yankovic, he lights a match and discovers he's surrounded by hostile dinosaurs. One of them then snuffs the light.
- Dungeons & Dragons: The illustration for the "Corpse Candle" spell in the Spell Compendium is exactly this trope. The wizard using it finds himself entirely surrounded by spectral undead, along with the caption:
Corpse candle sometimes reveals things you wish you hadn't seen.
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge features the "room full of explosives" variation.
- Subverted in Grim Fandango. At one point in Act 3, the protagonists end up at the bottom of the sea, and they meet Chepito, a wandering man with a lantern attached to his head. When the subject of sea monsters is brought up, Chepito turns his head to reveal that they're already surrounded by them. But it's okay, because the light is what keeps them at bay.
- The opening sequence of Silent Hill and its film adaptation. Both protagonists go into a dark alleyway and light a match to find that they are surrounded by bloody corpses, chain-link fences, and gray demon children.
- In the final act of Police Quest: Open Season, you enter a dark room in the theater, and turn on your flashlight to reveal the Big Bad, who knocks you out and strips you of your possessions.
- An unscripted, but likely, example from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: A later mission has you faced with a field of vision-obscuring fog, naturally calling for the use of the Clear Skies ability, revealing Alduin, The World Eater about a meter and a half in front of your face.
- Twice in Jurassic Park: The Game:
- In Episode 3, Jess sneaks away from the group to a dark hallway for a quick smoke break. She turns on a lighter, revealing a raptor just inches from her.
- In Episode 4, Billy sees a suspiciously dark hallway and slowly approaches it. He lights a flare, and reveals that a whole pack of Troodon is just inches from him.
- Used in Normality: after getting knocked down a dark hole, Kent finds himself in a room full of crates marked "Crackers", which he believes to be a stash of the subversive band "Crackers & Asthma". One lit match later and he realizes they actually contained firecrackers before the whole place blows up in a massive fireball.
- The Flash cartoon series Lenny Loosejocks has an episode where the title character goes spelunking, carrying a flashlight. At one point Lenny falls through a hole, and turns on the flashlight to survey the surroundings, revealing a huge orange snarling monster in front of him. He quickly turns off the light again, then turns it on again... and the monster is gone. Rinse and repeat for a minute or so before Lenny shrugs his shoulders and moves on.
- During a camping PSA of Red vs. Blue, Sarge and Caboose (as rendered in Minecraft) attempt to use a cave as shelter and light a torch to see. Upon seeing the various squid surrounding them, Sarge tells Caboose to put the torch out.
- Girl Genius: The protagonists find out this way that they are in an ossuary... and the "rock" with dry moss they alighted is in fact a skull.
- Wapsi Square has an example that would do Wile E. Coyote himself proud.
- On Gone with the Blastwave, two soldiers fall into a pit and ends up underground. The flamethrower guy lights up his flamer, revealing a wall full of giant, mutated arthropods. Thankfully, they seem to be scared of the light and scatter away.
- In Idiotsitter, Billie is led into the darkened garage by Joy, who explains the situation of "Fight Day" by matchlight. Then the match goes out and Joy flees, leaving Billie to light a match of her own-revealing Gene right behind her, who lampshades this trope.
Gene: I'm behind you, and that's scary!
- Roy and Valerie wander into a pitch black cave at one point in Journey of the Cartoon Man. When Roy strikes a match, a cartoon bear, lion, and dinosaur are revealed growling behind them.
- Once read on a mine exploration forum:
If you can light a cig it's fine.
If you struggle to light a cig it's poor.
If you can't keep a cig lit it's bad.
If you can light a cig AND everyone else around you, along with the entire mine, then it is bad too.
- The SCP Foundation has SCP-507, a man who is randomly teleported to different dimensions. In one case he found himself in total darkness with the feeling that someone else was very close by... His request for a flashlight granted, he ended up back there and found himself eye-to-eye with a Humanoid Abomination when he turned on the light, and this time it asked "Back so soon?"
- Plenty of Looney Tunes cartoons. Often combined with the obligatory By the Lights of Their Eyes.
- Wile E. Coyote in particular has a bad habit of finding shacks full of explosives.
- Yosemite Sam also inadvertently ends up in powder houses every so often, especially when in pursuit of Bugs Bunny.
- Used in almost every episode of Scooby-Doo.
- Done by Plucky at the end of the Tiny Toon Adventures renditon of "Particle Man".
- On The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, episode "Arabian Desert Danger", after the Ant Hill Mob were tricked into driving into an oil pipeline, Dum Dum struck a match inside the sealed pipeline. Of course, this led to a Non-Fatal Explosion.
- A variation occurs in The Simpsons. Homer ends up in a dark closet, and lights a match...
Homer: [sees skeleton] Aah! [drops match, light goes out] That was a close one... [lights another match, sees skeleton again] Aah! [drops match again] That was a closer one! [lights yet another match] Aah! [drops match yet again] Oh, thank God I'm out of matches! Oh, no, here's another one...
- Spoofed in Futurama. Leela and Fry are trying to find their way out of a pitch black area. Fry lights a match to see better and promptly screams, causing Leela to cry out "What? What is it?" Fry responds, "I burnt my finger."
- A variation occurs in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the episode "The Waterbending Scroll", Aang is separated from Sokka by a huge cloud of smoke originating from smoke bombs used in a battle between pirates and firebenders. Aang, getting tired of the smoke, blows it away, hoping it allows Sokka to find him... only to find himself in the middle of a battle with no less than seven weapons pointed at him. He promptly brings the smoke back.
- In one episode of Ben 10: Alien Force, season 3, the Power Trio are exploring a mine. Kevin finds a big pile of boxes, and lights a flare so he can read what's written on the boxes. "TNT" is written on the boxes. Ben quickly blows out the flare. Kevin yells "Hey!" and... lights another flare. Luckily, Ben blows that one out, too, and Gwen berates Kevin for his stupidity.
- Jonny Quest episode "The Fraudulent Volcano". When Jonny and Hadji sneak into the enemy base and end up in the dark:
Hadji: I wonder what's in those boxes?
Jonny: Wait a minute, I got a match. [lights it] It says E...X...P...L...O...Ex...Explosives!
Hadji: Forget I asked you! Let's get out of here!
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Not a match in episode "Boast Busters", but otherwise played very straight: While they are in the cave of the Ursa Major, Snips complains about the darkness and Snails uses magic to create a light at the tip of his unicorn horn. And thus the two foals discover that they are right under the nose of the giant ursine monster.
- Danger Mouse: In "The Strange Case of the Ghost Bus", DM and Penfold traverse a dark tunnel, and the two cannot fathom why they're holding each other's hand or why they feel like fur gloves. DM strikes a match to show they've both been holding hands with a yeti.
- Batman: The Animated Series: In "Trial", the lights are knocked out just as the assembed criminals are about to kill Batman. When Two-Face gets out his lighter, they see that Batman has escaped.
Two-Face: Everyone spread out! Don't let him get away!
Batman: [voice from the darkness] Who says I'm leaving?
- A variation occurs in the Aladdin: The Series episode "Vapor Chase". Aladdin, Jasmine and the gang have to stop a fire powered ''Chernabog-like monster called "the Sootanai" from burning Agrabah down. As the gang try to hide inside a dark storage area...
Genie: Sure is dark in here.
Iago: Yeah, and there's a funny smell here, too. It kinda smells like...like... [Genie lights a fire with his thumb and the room lights up revealing barrels around the gang]... lamp oil.
All: LAMP OIL?!
Aladdin: Don't do that! [shoves Genie's lit thumb into the blue guy's mouth] One spark, and this place will blow like... like...
Iago: Like it's full of barrels of LAMP OIL!!
- This trope is why battery-operated flashlights are one of THE emergency kit tools you absolutely must have (and having one on you usable at all times is also a good idea, even if it's just a keychain light). Matches, lighters, candles, hurricane lamps and flame-based/fuel-fed lanterns ARE valid sources of light and heat in an emergency, but they are only to be used in an area confirmed to be free of gas leaks, explosive petrochemical or chemical fumes or liquids, explosives, ammunition, or quickly combustible objects. In the immediate aftermath of a major, destructive disaster (especially one such as a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado that destroys buildings and scatters their contents about), battery-powered lighting is the safest immediate lighting, because a flashlight won't ignite leaking gas — whereas a lit match will.
- This trope is also why, after a disaster, you should not, as tempting as it might be to the nicotine-addicted among people, light a cigarette until you are absolutely sure you are in an area free of leaking gas or chemicals.