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Mundane Horror

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Nothing out of the ordinary...

The usual horror tropes (fantastic monsters, ancient curses, Axe-Crazy maniacs, etc.) do not always work because this is too distant from what we may encounter in everyday life. Therefore some creators use the Mundane Horror.

The idea is to portray a seemingly comforting and everyday scene, but with some minor details which somehow "do not fit" and have very dark implications (i. e. that the character is really in a Dark World, or we're looking Through the Eyes of Madness, or it is all a Dying Dream).

A common way to do this is to take a normal scene then apply effects to it. For example, a group of children jumping rope is innocuous or even heartwarming in normal contexts. Slowing the footage down, making it black and white, desaturating the colour balance, blurring parts or all of it - or a combination thereof then altering the soundtrack so it's Creepy Children Singing an Ironic Nursery Rhyme instead of the normal lighthearted jumping cadence and you get a totally different effect from what is ostensibly the exact same scene.


Often features a Wham Line or a Wham Shot, and may overlap with Crapsaccharine World; Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick; and Surprise Creepy. Can sometimes result in Fridge Horror if you don't immediately see the weirdness. A frequent result of A Glitch in the Matrix.

See also Uncanny Valley, when this trope is applied to characters rather than situations. Contrast Mundane Made Awesome. Compare and Contrast Faux Horrific.



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    Comic Books 

  • Much of David Lynch's work resides here, balanced precariously with Surreal Horror (and, on occasion, Surreal Humor). In fact, the term "Lynchian" has entered the lexicon as a descriptor for something with disturbing undercurrents beneath a mundane exterior.
    • Mulholland Dr.: Two men are in a diner, discussing a dream one man had about being in the diner, discussing a dream one man had, until they went out back and saw something so horrible it kills the dreamer. Then, they get up and walk around to the back of the diner...
    • Lost Highway: The main character goes to a party and is approached by a pale man with black lips and eyes. The sounds of the party go silent. The man then says they've met before, at the main character's house, and that he's there right now.
      The Mystery Man: [producing a cell phone] Call me. Dial your number. Go ahead.
      [The call connects]
      The Mystery Man: [over the phone] I told you I was here.
  • Jacob's Ladder is a master of "Uh, did I just see that?" moments. A nurse with a bone sticking out of her head, a creepy-looking sandwich in a fridge at a party, blood in a sink in a public toilet, etc.
  • In Twixt, the protagonist, who is interested in the biography of Edgar Allan Poe, comes to the hotel "Chickering" where Poe used to stay. He is met by a very eccentric family couple who say weird things about "graves in the floor" and sing the song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" which sounds decidedly creepy in the context. It turns out it was all a dream, and when he comes there at daytime, the building is abandoned.

    Internet Memes 
  • The "When you see it" meme: seemingly ordinary photographs which include one or more small decidedly creepy details.

  • Nancy Etchemendy's Cat in Glass is a collection of short stories that range from inventive and appealing to downright macabre. In Lunch at Etienne's, a woman gets her toddler ready to go (he's mad and won't speak to her, and she has to carry him), gets annoyed by the quantities of dust on the coats in her wardrobe, can't get out the blocked front door (why hasn't the landlord fixed it yet?), walks down the street (are her neighbors still not speaking to her? and what's all this white stuff on the ground, it's too early for snow), enters her favorite restaurant, and meets her best friend for lunch (speechless). She catches a glimpse of the mirror, which reflects an old woman in rags sitting next to two corpses in the broken rubble of what used to be a restaurant. Stunned with horror, she shakes it off and goes back to talking with her best friend about how the service at this place is always horrible.
  • Coraline: The other world looks almost exactly like an enhanced version of the real world, but areas around the edges (and eventually, the whole place) looks unrealistic in an unsettling way, with the narration likening it to a photograph or a drawing.
  • In The Landlady by Roald Dahl, there's a nice small hotel with a friendly host. It has only two guests who are still there though they checked in more than a year ago, and are "known for one and the same thing" (having gone missing); the host gives her guests tea which tastes like Bitter Almonds. Guess the implications?
  • A Letter from Clearys by Connie Willis follows a seemingly ordinary American family who are living in a small house in the mountains, while building a greenhouse there and waiting for a letter from their friends... However, for some reason, there is snow in the middle of June, and the main character has strange burns on her hands that are not going away no matter what. Eventually it's revealed that they inhabit a post-apocalyptic world, the family friends died in the nuclear explosion, and the protagonist likely exhibits the first signs of radiation poisoning.
  • In Crouch End by Stephen King, a family couple drives into an unknown district of London. Initially it appears almost normal, but with some minor unsettling details (a strange newspaper headline, a cat with a mutilated face, three bikers who appear to have rat heads). These are the first indications that they are in a Dark World.
  • A Wrinkle in Time: In one area, the citizens are being brainwashed into conformity by a giant brain called It. The area looks relatively normal, but the lighting is pale green and there's a noticeable lack of outliers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Quite often, if something disturbing is going on on the station, such as when it's shown during the Cardassian Occupation and in the parallel universe, the lighting will be a lot dimmer than usual.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Year of Hell", one of the signs that the Voyager crew is having the worst year ever is the ship looks broken and the lighting is dim.
  • In episode 9 of Twin Peaks, Donna delivers a meal to an old lady Mrs. Tremond and her grandson. They say cryptic things, the grandson, who is "studying magic", makes creamed corn disappear from the tray, and the whole scene has a very unsettling feel. Next time Donna comes to visit them, they are not there, and a completely different person lives here.

  • The Caretaker’s album Everywhere at the End of Time starts out this way. At first it’s old ballroom music, repeated in loops and distorted to sound like it’s decayed. As the album goes on, it descends into chaos, representing the theme of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Video Games 
  • Chilla's Art is a game studio that specializes in Japanese urban horror, making the most mundane activities terrifying ghost stories: try to get home on The Ghost Train, work the night shift at The Convenience Store, or god forbid, try to help with a reported case of some Missing Children.
  • Moshi Monsters: In the "20,000 Leagues Under the Fur" mission, one of the signs that the leader of the Super Moshis, Elder Furi, is seriously ill is that the smoke from his Volcano Lair, which is usually yellow, is purple. Another sign is that all his computers are displaying error messages.
  • Night of the Consumers is a very unsettling look at what life working retail is like. You will learn to fear the words "EXCUSE ME" and "PLEASE HELP ME" if you don't already.
  • Some of the more realistic levels of Sanitarium have this. A seemingly normal American town which has no adults and is full of disfigured children, a mental asylum with friendly guards and patients, with one of them cheerfully telling you that she "ate her husband with carrots and rice", etc.
  • The Playable Teaser for the canned Silent Hills is set in single looping corridor of a completely generic apartment flat, albeit one that's haunted and becomes incredibly nightmarish the more loops the player goes through.
  • Spirit Hunter: NG, the sequel to Spirit Hunter: Death Mark, is said in the official site to differentiate itself from its predecessor by taking place in ordinary urban locales (for example, an underpass and an office building) as opposed to the more traditional haunted locations of the original (such as a haunted forest and Hell Hotel).
    While its predecessor, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark, found its spirits in distinct, horrifying locales, Spirit Hunter: NG weaves fear seamlessly into the mundane. Face down monsters in quiet residential streets, neighborhood parks, and even the protagonist’s own home. Be careful—terror lurks behind every corner.

    Web Original 
  • This is part of what makes the best incarnations of The Slender Man Mythos (Marble Hornets in particular) so unforgettably terrifying, through the juxtaposition of the suburban mundane with the nightmarishly uncanny. The Operator isn't some distant, bloodthirsty demon from a monster movie who stalks the unwary at night or lurks in haunted houses...he pops up (often completely un-obscured) in broad daylight, in totally recognizable suburban surroundings, standing in front of that house across the street. Or as a small, seemingly inexplicable spot of static on your otherwise unrelated home video. Or beside that tree a little ways down the road. Or quietly lurking at the edge of the forest. Or outside your window. Or inside your house....

    Western Animation 
  • The Loud House: "One Flu Over the Loud House" is a Plague Episode parodying a Zombie Apocalypse, in which the Loud family gets the flu. The first visible sign that things aren't right is that the upstairs hallway looks different— it's dark, it's a mess (while a bit of clutter is normal in the Louds' hallway, this time it's so bad that even the furniture is knocked over), the ceiling light is askew, and "RUN!" is written on the wall with a backwards "R".

     Real Life 
  • In a mild way, people with certain anxiety disorders or phobias may get fearful or even outright terrified of things and situations that other people see as no big deal, such as going to the dentist, for instance.