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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.


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    Comic Books 

  • 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.
  • 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.

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

  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe: Some of the various nations' worst routes are considered this not because of horrific, outlandish ideologies or sheer amounts of death and suffering brought in all of a sudden, but because their rulers at least pretend they're tame and sane while sneaking in crimes against humanity and slowly turning the nation worse, but stable and able to last and perpetuate its awful ideas because it won't collapse for the foreseeable future. Things like Igor Shafarevich's Reformed State of Russia and Albert Speer's Reich if he fends off both militarists and the Gang of Four are examples of states that could last long enough to make Fascism or even National Socialism the winning ideology of the Cold War, especially when contrasted against their particular opponents being either decent people or near-psychopathically mad.

    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....

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