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Menacing Museum

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Hmm... for a place of learning, it could look less, y'know, sinister.

"In the early 1900s, the museum was run by a board of trustees. Powerful guys, tycoons, captains of industry. [...] The board used the museum as a respectable front for all kinds of dubious activities. Mainly though, they were part of a club run by our favorite evil architect..."

Assuming they aren't boring or just plain weird, museums in fiction can be worrying places, regardless of whether they're natural history museums, technological showcases, art galleries, or even tourist-trap exhibitions.

Sometimes, this is a case of the venue being merely creepy, exhibiting incredibly morbid subject matter and featuring curators that might be a little too engaged in the material to be considered sane. In other cases, circumstances beyond the control of the staff have made the museum dangerous, perhaps because some villainous character or faction has decided to spend some time there. And sometimes, the museum and its contents are the danger to the patrons, to the point that the building itself might be some kind of malevolent construct.

In any case, the smartest thing to do would be to leave as quickly as possible without stopping for the gift shop - but chances are that you can't escape, especially in the more dangerous instances of this trope.

May feature a Living Museum Exhibit or two. If it's a natural history museum, it'll often overlap with Taxidermy Is Creepy.

Compare Spooky Silent Library, a completely different kind of unsettling institution.

See also Wax Museum Morgue, which is often this trope by default.


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    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • In "Whispers Of Terror," the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the Museum of Aural Antiquities, a public archive of audio recordings. Most of their time there is spent trying to solve a murder, deal with a group of criminals that have broken in, and withstand the real Monster of the Week — a living soundwave. It's actually the audio-based Virtual Ghost of Visteen Krane, out for revenge against his killers.
    • "Dust Breeding" sees the Doctor and Ace pay a visit to Duchamp 331 in the hopes of "acquiring" a painting historically known to have vanished - in this case, Edvard Munch's The Scream — and end up exploring an isolated art gallery known as the Outhouse. Creepily enough, it's noted to be almost deserted despite supposedly supporting a population of about fifty artists, and being run by the dangerously obsessive Damien Pearson. And when Ace finally tracks down The Scream in the gallery's historical section, the painting turns out to be alive and extremely hostile. Turns out that it's actually a prison for an Eldritch Abomination, and Damien is hoping to merge with it as part of the ultimate artistic project — having been experimenting on his fellow artists to that end.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Gravity Falls Dark Fic, All The World's a Toybox, Bill Cipher takes over the world and condemns the Zodiac to eternal punishment. In Grunkle Stan's chapter, he ends up being imprisoned in a museum dedicated to his past mistakes and failures, every exhibit designed to emotionally torture him. Worse still, the museum is haunted by the physical manifestation of Stan's self-loathing, and he won't stop until Stan commits suicide.

    Films — Animation 
  • The climax of Zootopia takes place in the city's Natural History Museum which is currently closed for renovation. As such there is limited lighting, missing safety rails, exposed scaffolding, and exhibits in partial disassembly lying on the floor. All of which contribute to its creepy, threatening atmosphere.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Deputy Kovacs realizes he's being tailed by Jopling and tries to lose him in the Kunstmuseum. Unfortunately, he happened to try this around closing time, meaning that the museum is almost deserted and also worryingly dark, resulting in a very tense pursuit through the shadows. It ends with Kovacs losing all the fingers on one hand, then being beaten to death and stuffed into a sarcophagus.
  • House of 1000 Corpses: Captain Spaulding's Museum of Monsters And Madmen is a two-bit sideshow/gas station/fried chicken joint/complete shithole in the middle of nowhere, run by the eponymous Monster Clown. Spaulding is a perverted old man with a violent streak and a twisted sense of humor, and his exhibits match: cheap mechanical recreations of infamous serial killers. He's also an ally of the serial-killing Firefly Family.
  • Night at the Museum: Zig-zagged. The exhibits of the museum come to life at night thanks to the power of a mystical tablet. When Larry is initially hired at the museum as a security guard, he isn't told of this beyond a few vague instructions and barely survives his first night working there. Eventually he gains the trust of the exhibits, turning it from terrifying to a fun place to work.
  • The Pear family from Rat Race decide to take a break from their journey to visit a Barbie museum at the daughter's insistence. It turns out to be a museum dedicated to infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie and run by Neo-Nazis. The Pears are implied to be Jewish, making this especially troubling for them.
  • The Relic: A giant mutated beast called the Kothoga is on the loose in the Chicago Museum of Natural History, chomping up people and leaving their much-bitten bodies lying around it in the run up to the gala.

  • 20th Century Ghosts: in "Last Breath," a family of three explores a "museum of silence" run by the strange Dr. Alinger, consisting of a series of apparently empty sealed jars with headphones attached. Alinger explains that each jar contains someone's dying breath, from the famous (Edgar Allan Poe, Roald Dahl), to the everyday (Alinger says the most exquisite breath in his collection came from a janitor), although he mentions he has no housewives' breath. While the father and son are impressed, the mother is unnerved by a breath from a woman who died in a plane crash; after she wanders in front of a moving car while leaving the museum, she ends up being added to Alinger's collection.
  • The Discworld has many examples in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Black Museum of the Guild of Assassins is given over to the contemplative study of inhumation, for instance, and celebrates the many and stylish ways in which clients have been eliminated. The museum of the Guild of Fools is built around the Hall of Faces. Every clown who ever was, and who currently is, has their unique face paint reproduced here on the surface of an egg — thousands upon thousands of them.
  • Moonlight Becomes You has Earl Bateman's ultra-creepy funeral museum, which features numerous artifacts and exhibits relating to death rites and funeral customs around the world and throughout history. He persuades Maggie to take a tour and she later sneaks back in after dark to look for clues around Nuala's murder where she's attacked and abducted by the murderer.
  • Nevermoor: The Museum of Stolen Moments is filled with snow globes, each containing a sculpture of a simple scene. Except these aren't sculptures; they're people, and the creator of the museum froze them in time, specifically in the moment before their death, and capture the moment in art forever. Morrigan finds the Museum both beautiful and utterly disturbing. Squall loves it, of course.
  • The Theodosia Throckmorton Series: Theodosia's parents' museum - the Museum of Legends and Antiquities - is relatively fine during the day but crawling with curses and spirits at night. She explicitly says she wouldn't walk the halls without some sort of protection and even then she scurries quickly through the worse areas while refusing to look at what's on either side of her.
  • The X-Wing Series reveals that after the Jedi Purge, Emperor Palpatine had the section of the Galactic Museum dedicated to the Jedi closed off from the public. Evidence suggests that he vandalized the displays there as Jedi were hunted down and killed, turning it into a morbid Trophy Room of sorts.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Atlanta: Teddy Perkins wishes to turn his creepy old house into a museum, complete with gift shop. He has an eerie room dedicated to "great fathers", including a model of his own abusive father (unless you subscribe to the theory that "Teddy" is the father), whose face is blank.
  • The Black Mirror episode "Black Museum" takes place in the eponymous roadside tourist trap, a museum focused on examples of criminally-misused technology from across the series. At first, it seems to be just morbid and creepy, but as the owner explains the backstory of his collection, it turns out that some of the "exhibits" are alive and suffering hideous torment - and the owner is directly responsible for their current condition. As such, the episode ends with Nish imprisoning the owner in one of his own souvenirs and burning the museum to the ground.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The lion's share of "The Big Bang" takes place in the National Museum, where the Pandorica and numerous other relics from the events of the previous episode have been put on display — most prominently the petrified remains of a Dalek. On the upside, the prisoner of the Pandorica is rescued well after closing time... but on the downside, the Dalek turns out to be still alive and still capable of attacking.
    • "The Day of the Doctor" is partly set at the National Gallery; along with the anomalous painting and the time fissures that keep springing up around the building, there's also a number of extremely pissed-off Zygons roaming the premises.
  • In The Good Place, the Bad Place has a torture museum where people who commit an infraction (such as flossing in an open plan office or calling ultimate frisbee "ultimate") are displayed. We only see "The Chamber of Low Grade Crappiness". According to Michael, other rooms have exhibits with potential to traumatize the humans for life.
  • The Australian series Street Smarts has an episode with a fake haunting plot set in the maritime museum.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode The New Exhibits, an obsessed tour guide brings home his soon to be closed museum's wax figures of serial killers.

    Video Games 
  • Aero The Acrobat: In the first game, the Big Bad, Edgar Ektor, has a museum as his evil lair. It's also the final world of the game.
  • During Batman: Arkham City, it's found that the Penguin has taken over the Cyrus Pinkney Institute for Natural History and is now using it as his base of operations, repurposing several display cases to house his growing collection of human trophies. Batman has to venture inside in order to rescue Mr Freeze, and quickly finds himself up against not only an army of henchmen, but also Penguin's pet great white shark, and even Solomon Grundy.
  • BioShock:
    • In BioShock, the Proving Grounds of Point Prometheus used to be a museum showcasing various natural wonders; after the Big Daddies became a necessity for protecting Little Sisters around Rapture, the museum was closed and converted into a training ground for Big Daddies. In the finale, you have to escort a Little Sister through the area while being continuously assaulted by Splicers, all just so you can reach the Big Bad.
    • The third locale visited in BioShock 2 is Ryan Amusements, a cross between a museum and an Amusement Park of Doom: the museum aspect appears in the entrance hall's monuments to Rapture's creation, painting the city's construction in near-mythical terms; beyond, the "Journey To The Surface" ride serves as a ghost train through anti-Surface propaganda, brainwashing younger audiences into accepting the increasingly terrible conditions in Rapture through fear of the horrors that would befall them on the dreaded Surface (most of which existed in Rapture sooner or later). For good measure, the place is infested with Splicers by the time you show up.
    • The Hall of Heroes in BioShock Infinite is essentially the national museum of Columbia, centred primarily around a propaganda-heavy celebration of Father Comstock's personal history. Quite apart from being practically soggy with racism, it's also been taken over by Colonel Slate's men in their last stand against Comstock's troops, leaving Booker and Elizabeth caught in the middle. Worse still, Booker also ends up pitted against the Motorized Patriots on display here.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has the "Museum" level, where, should one press the big red buttons there, the mannequins will come to life, immediately go after, and attempt to kill the player.
  • The City Museum in Condemned 2: Bloodshot, which is full of psychotic vandals who've outfitted themselves with medieval armour to attack you with.
  • Donkey Kong 64: One part of Creepy Castle is a dark and dreary museum filled with enemies in which you traverse with Chunky (through the main entrance) and Tiny (via Monkeyporting from the ballroom) to find two golden bananas in total. Like every other part of the level, the area is coupled with music that matches the dark atmosphere.
  • Fallout 3:
    • Almost all of the museums in the Capital Wasteland that aren't completely leveled are full of enemies: the Museum of Technology is especially dangerous, being infested with Super Mutants. Admittedly, none of that is really the fault of the museums themselves, as the game is set over 200 years After the End.
    • Zig-zagged in the case of the Museum of History: a sizeable chunk of the building's been infested with feral ghouls, making it a risky place to scavenge for loot. However, one wing of the museum's been converted into Underworld, a settlement for ghouls that still retain their minds, providing an island of safety for travellers.
  • Fallout 4:
    • The Museum of Freedom, visited relatively early in the game, is overrun with raiders - mainly because the last of the Minutemen are holed up on the top floor.
    • The Museum of Witchcraft is the setting for one of the most terrifying sequences in the entire game: a squad of Gunners have sought shelter here after being pursued by some unknown threat, and while making your way through the museum, you get to see them getting picked off one at a time by an unseen threat somewhere on the upper floors - all while steadily getting closer to the killer. It turns out to be a pissed-off Deathclaw out for revenge against the mercenaries that were transporting her eggs.
  • Fire Emblem Fates has the DLC map, Museum Melee, which takes place in an interdimensional museum for weapons. This museum has an event where people from various dimensions can compete in combat for the right to earn these weapons. It is somewhat downplayed, as all participants are stated to have willingly signed up for the event, and it's stated by the curator that while people do get knocked out, outright killing the opponents isn't allowed, though the player's characters still die should they run out of health in Classic mode.
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game: The Natural History Museum in New York has become a hotbed of paranormal activity due to it being one of the places where a node for Ivo's mandala was placed. It has become haunted by the ghosts of Civil War soldiers still fighting each other, and various other hostile spirits, such as Cornelius Wellesley, the old chairman of the museum).
  • Haunted Museum: The titular museum is haunted and home to a few missing person cases, prompting two agents to investigate it. When they get inside, the exhibits spring to life and attack them as well as transport them to various sub-worlds within. It's eventually revealed that aliens are to blame for the paranormal activity.
  • Klonoa: The Japan-only game Kaze no Klonoa: Moonlight Museum has Klonoa and Hewpoe explore a mysterious museum to stop four evil artists who have stolen pieces of the moon. As it turns out, the museum itself is alive, and it is The Man Behind the Man for the artists.
  • Luigi's Mansion:
  • MediEvil 2: The first two levels are set at the British Museum, now empty of visitors and hit hard by the wave of necromancy that Lord Palethorne unleashed on London. On top of being invaded by zombie patrons, it's also infested by reanimated exhibits like animated suits of armour, monstrously-reconstructed dinosaur skeletons, and even aliens (part of the moon landing exhibit). On the upside, it's also where Sir Daniel Fortescue returns from the dead. Sir Dan returns here twice, first to unearth Kiya from the transplanted Egyptian tomb, then later to find Professor Kift's time machine in order to save Kiya from being murdered by the Ripper.
  • In The Mummy Returns, both Rick and Imhotep have levels set at the British Museum after closing time, each with its own share of threats. If you're playing as Rick, you have to fight your way through Imhotep's cult, plus every single mummy in the museum brought to life by Imhotep's power... but if you're playing Imhotep, you're the menace in the museum, pitted against terrified security guards and (later) hopelessly outmatched Medjai.
  • Persona 5: Madarame's Palace resembles an art museum. The place's gaudy decor represents Madarame's sin of Vanity, while the paintings on display represent the many young artists he's exploited and abused. And of course, the place is crawling with Shadows, like every other Palace.
  • Ruff Night at the Gallery is a short game that takes place entirely in one of these. The museum is home to several haunted classical paintings of dogs, which stalk the player through the halls as they attempt to escape.
  • The British Museum of the Occult in The Secret World. A secret branch of the famous London venue left abandoned for decades, the players are tasked with building new exhibits on the monsters they've fought. However, though it's perfectly safe, the building is incredibly creepy: since it's meant to be personalized, other players can't enter unless they join your team - leaving you wandering the eerily-deserted building with only the creepy soundtrack and the lone curator for company... and the curator will spend your visit following you around, even teleporting himself into a wing of the museum after you, and he doesn't appear to be able to say anything other than ominously low-pitched mumbles of "hullo" and "cheerio." To date, no explanation has ever emerged for who he is or why he behaves like this.
  • Shivers (1995): On top of being a Museum of the Strange and Unusual (and indeed it is the Trope Namer for it), Professor Windlenot's Museum of the Strange and Unusual is also a dark, eerie, and dangerous place for the game's protagonist. To start with, it's night, and said protagonist is alone—already a slightly eerie situation. Some of the exhibits feature fearsome beings of myth and legend, and a few even touch on truly horrific matters, such as in the area entitled "Man's Inhumanity To Man". But on top of all that, on this particular night the museum is infested with escaped spirits, each of which could jump out of a myriad otherwise-innocuous locations to rend away a portion of the protagonist's life-force.
  • Sniper Elite V2 has the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin, which has been turned into a battlefield between Soviet and German forces. When Karl Fairburne enters the museum in order to destroy the nearby bridge, it's occupied to the brim with Nazi troops ready to shoot and kill any enemies entering its premises. The museum itself is in a state of disrepair, with most of its exhibits hastily packed into crates, and scaffolding placed where certain floor sections or staircases once were.
  • Waxworks (1992) takes place inside a waxworks museum bequeathed to you by your late uncle. By itself, it's not actually dangerous, though it's undeniably disturbing thanks to the morbid historical displays and the creepy butler patrolling the building. But because of your uncle's mission to stop the Evil Twins of the family, the museum's exhibits become portals through time, leading you to mediaeval graveyards infested by the undead, booby-trapped Egyptian pyramids, Whitechapel at the height of Jack the Ripper's reign of terror, and a mine plagued by mutant Body Horror.

    Web Videos 
  • Ghost hunting Youtube show Amy's Crypt has had the odd episode set in historical places that are now museums, including Richmond Gaol, the old Port Arthur penal settlement, Old Geelong Gaol, and South Australia's National Railway Museum.

    Western Animation 
  • The Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! series premiere revolves around Mystery Inc. investigating the Black Knight in an ominous museum. Said knight turns out to be an art thief, stealing paintings from the museum and replacing them with freshly made duplicates.
  • The Mystery Shack of Gravity Falls is a fairly sedate tourist-trap museum, and though it does occasionally feature a few genuine supernatural items alongside all of Grunkle Stan's usual junk, it's usually safe enough. However, in the episode "Headhunters," Stan's waxworks museum exhibit comes to life and tries to murder him, then tries to kill Dipper and Mabel when they discover the truth.
  • In The Loud House episode "Sand Hassles", Lucy suggests to Principal Huggins and Cheryl that, as opposed to going to the beach, the class go on a field trip to the Royal Woods Museum of Medical Oddities, much to their disgust. The pamphlet for said museum advertises exhibits such as a three-headed goat and a ten-toed foot.
  • Ninjago: "Day of the Departed" has the Hall of Villainy, a museum exhibit with statues of several of the ninja's greatest enemies. When they take the tour, the group even remarks on the uneasy feeling they get from the statues. After the ninja leave, the villains are brought back to life when their spirits possess the statues, and they split up to attack each of the ninja across Ninjago.
  • The Betty Boop short, "Betty Boop's Museum", Betty gets locked overnight in a museum and the skeleton displays come to life and kidnap her.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television, especially in the case of biological/medical displays and corpse museums, all widely-accepted examples of nightmare fuel - especially after dark.


Video Example(s):


Museum of Fear

The heroes must travel through the ruins of a monster-infested, poorly-lit museum.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

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