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Rich: I'd ask you this question, Stew: who's really the worst monster in this so-called world of ours? Is it really the Medusa, the snake-haired temptress of olden times? Or is it another monster, Stew? A monster maybe a bit closer to home? A monster we call... man?
Stew: It's the medusa with all the snakes in her hair. That's the monster.
Rich: Yeah.
Stew: Yeah, it is, yeah.
Rich: Do you want to watch that celebrity arse video now?
Richard Herring and Stewart Lee, Lee And Herring's Reasonably Scary Monsters

If your world is a Fantasy Kitchen Sink where the heroes spend every week battling vampires, aliens, ghosts and fairies, one easy way to mix things up a little is to scrap the supernatural element altogether for a chapter and have the heroes fight something relatively mundane, be it a serial killer, a robber or even just a murderously grumpy animal.

Of course, since the heroes spend most of their time putting down creatures that are generally more dangerous and powerful than human beings, it's common to make these villains even more of a threat — expect to see your heroes knocked about (physically or mentally) more than usual. Cannibals are a common choice, largely because they border on monster-level weirdness anyway and aren't quite as played out as the Serial Killer.

To help make the threat even more convincing, you can expect the writers to make these episodes darker than the usual fare, possibly through gruesome horror or psychological tension. The latter is particularly useful, since it can lead to the characters inflicting nasty violence on humans rather than monsters for once. If the heroes can't kill humans then expect a Karmic Death. And if the show is given to platitudes you can expect some "the real monster is man" philosophising at the end — even though the werewolves, zombies and demons that appear in all the other episodes make it clear that man is only one among the other real monsters.

The Mundanger may be part of a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax — though with deadlier consequences than Scooby-Doo would often encounter. Contrast How Unscientific!, where a show set in an ordinary world features a seemingly real supernatural event in one episode.

Compare They Look Just Like Everyone Else! and sister trope Mundangerous for superpowered beings being taken out by similarly low threat objects. If at all interested, the trope name is a portmanteau of "mundane" and "danger" and not some Super Robot Genre series you just about remember but turns out never existed. Also has nothing to do with a certain moon of Kerbal Space Program. Contrast Paranormal Episode. In the audience, this may instill Realism-Induced Horror.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A Certain Magical Index: Touma Kamijou's Imagine Breaker makes him the perfect guy to deal with supernatural threats like espers and magicians, even the ones that have won the Superpower Lottery. However, it is utterly useless against non-supernatural attacks, meaning that he can struggle just as much against a bunch of unpowered Skill-Out Mooks, if not moreso. While most of his (seen) fights are supernatural based, there's a handful that aren't:
    • In Light Novel version of the Angel Fall arc, the heroes at one point have to deal with a Serial Killer named Jinsaku Hino, who they suspect is the source of the Angel Fall spell.
    • The Skill-out Uprising arc has Touma deal with a bunch of Skill-Out thugs whom have kidnapped Mikoto's mother, Misuzu for ransom. Since they all have guns, he has to sneak his way around most of the time (with the help of some bullet-proof glass), and the arc ends with him having a non-superpowered punch-up with the Arc Villain, Shiage Hamazura. It should be noted that this arc chronologically takes place just after the Academy City Invasion arc, where Touma had to face off against a high powered magician who crippled a good portion of the city's defense force by herself.
    • In Light Novel Vol. 17, Touma and Index's plane gets hijacked by mundane terrorists, leading to a "Die Hard" on an X plot.
    • Magical organization GREMLIN learn and hires armed mercenaries to deal with Touma, since he can't negate their mundane guns, and at least one of their members trained in martial arts just in case he got in too close.
    • Aleister Crowley, who could outplan other chessmasters with his ruthlessness, paranoia and intelligence, spent centuries waiting for his main plan (whatever it is) to come to fruition, and built the entire metropolis of Academy City to acquire Touma Kamijou and his Imagine Breaker long before their birth was nearly brought down to his knees by an unexpected anomaly, who had seemingly out of nowhere managed to send his current plans careening down the ground through its actions by eliminating one of his prized Level 5s. That anomaly is Shiage Hamazura.
  • One of the victims in Junji Ito's manga Dissolving Classroom was not murdered by the evil siblings and their Satanic brain-(and body-)melting powers, but by someone unseen who simply slashed his throat with a blade. It's one of the most disturbing moments in the story.
    • A few of Ito's one-shot stories count as well, in a meta sense. While most of his work revolves around bizarre supernatural horrors, a few such as "Scripted Love" and "Bullied" (both from Junji Ito Kyoufu Manga Collection) revolve around all too real horrors like murder, domestic abuse and incest.
  • Dragon Ball Z
    • During the Majin Buu saga,Mr. Satan ends up actually managing to teach basic morality to the titular monster, who was only killing everyone because he had no concept of right and wrong and had been instructed to kill by a truly evil person throughout his existence. Then a Spree Killer taking advantage of the apocalypse wrought by Buu under the belief that consequences won't matter with the imminent extinction of humanity, armed with realistic firearms and explosives, comes along and kills Buu's Morality Pet, causing the evil within him to separate from and absorb his innocent side and bringing the conflict which otherwise would have ended there From Bad to Worse. In a series defined by alien and magical threats with Beyond the Impossible stated power levels, this asshole managed to make a huge impact through acts and means that are fully within the realm of real-life possibility.
    • Before that, the Cell Saga introduced the one threat Goku wasn't able to defeat on his own: a virus. Turns out even the Legendary Super Saiyan wasn't immune to diseases. When Trunks comes back in time to warn Goku of the invading Androids, he also tells Goku that he's going to die of a deadly heart virus, the same one that killed Future Goku, and gives him some medicine to treat it. Unfortunately, Trunk's meddling in the past means that the virus doesn't manifest until three years after the initial prediction, which happens to be right in the middle of Goku's fight with Android 19. Shortness of breath upgrades to physical exhaustion before he starts struggling for air and clutching his chest in pain. Eventually, Goku drops to his knees, unable to do anything but suffer as his friends watch in horror in one of the most chilling scenes in the show. A mere disease nearly succeeded where aliens, demons, and androids had failed.
  • One episode of Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), a series in which heroes and villains alike wield alchemic magic, deals with a comparatively less-flashy cross-dressing serial killer.
  • The most vicious, evil, and overall nasty Monsters Of The Week in Hell Teacher Nube are all human. Such as the masked serial killer who nearly murdered Kyoko and Hiroshi, and got away, the con artists that did the same, the bank robbers who Nube humiliated with his supernatural skills until they shot at him with an Uzi, the kidnapper who took Nube's kids to a warehouse to kill them, the Mad Scientist who called down the Orochi upon the city...
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, the Big Bad Yoshikage Kira fends off various enemies having powerful Stands with his own Stand, but he is finally brought down by Hayato: an ordinary, yet very clever and suspicious boy whose father he pulled a Kill and Replace on. Hayato is not even able to see Stands, yet he managed to defeat Kira's "Groundhog Day" Loop ability. To add insult to injury, Kira is also ultimately killed by an ambulance.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion, with the reveal in The Movie that the final Angel is "mankind", in the form of an All Your Base Are Belong to Us attack on the Geofront.
  • One Piece has the Arc Villain of Enies Lobby, Spandam. Unlike most major antagonists, he is weak and incompetent, and relies on Lucci to do most of the fighting for him. However, his cruelty is matched by very few foes, as he has the shipwright of Roger's ship killed, has Franky mutilated and forces him to become a cyborg by running him over with a train, and his abuse of Robin is such that he makes her cry, which not even other villains that make her experience illusions of her deceased loved ones can do.
  • This happens in Parasyte. Shinichi spends most of the series fighting increasingly powerful shapeshifting monsters, but one of his most dramatic confrontations was with a human serial killer.
  • Succubus & Hitman: Main character Gamou Shouya is a "proxy hitman" for a demon named Armelina, who hunts and kills evildoers so she can devour their souls. His Myth Arc targets are all connected to a yakuza gumi that has been delving into occult magic, which also brings him into conflict with the Holy War Church that hunts evildoers in much the same way as him. However, he spends the first couple chapters hunting much more mundane fare, such as a Serial Killer attacking neighborhood girls with a hammer whom he saves his sister Riri from, and takes a Breather Episode after the fight with the Aragami family to kill a man who robbed and murdered an elderly couple with a knife.

    Comic Books 
  • In Beasts of Burden, most of the dangers the characters face are supernatural in nature. However, in "Lost", ultimately the source of the problem turns out to be a teenage boy who is secretly a serial animal killer.
  • The Doctor Who Magazine comic strip "Be Forgot" opens with a man who can't remember the date, but knows it's important. He needs to go out, but something is stopping him. When the Doctor and companion Jess visit him, a voice only he can hear says that if he lets them in, they'll die. This is not the work some alien psychic parasite creature, though, but his depression and anxiety on the anniversary of his mother's death.
  • In a Hack/Slash story it at first looked like old villain Father Wrath was back, but it turned out to be a non-powered copycat, whose neck Vlad nonchalantly snaps.
  • Hellblazer:
    • In the arc "The Family Man", something that's gruesomely killing families turns out to just be an old man with a big knife. And the mysterious beastie that's eating people outside the town of Doglick in "Good Intentions" turns out to just be a giant boar. Notably, the titular Family Man scares John more than most supernatural villains in the series.
    • The climax of "Family Man" is also notable for being the one and only time Constantine puts an enemy down with a firearm.
    • Throughout Garth Ennis's run, John could handle supernatural threats (including the the First of the Fallen) with ease; he was completely helpless with dealing with personal (his nicotine addiction or inability to sustain a relationship) or social ills (racism, police/political corruption).
  • Iron Man:
    • One of the beings who has come closest to killing Tony Stark is not any of the costumed criminals, space aliens, gods or monsters he's faced, but Kathy Dare, a mentally unhinged stalker who simply ambushes him in his home when he doesn't have him armor on, and shoots him dead center with a gun.
    • Howard Stark, a billionaire spy / inventor / industrialist dies alongside his wife in a car crash. Some versions of this have been that it was part of a conspiracy, while others are that it really was just a straight-up crash.
  • The Joker. Throughout the DC Universe, there's the Physical God Darkseid, Galactic Conqueror Sinestro, even Lex Luthor who has inexhaustible resources. Yet somehow the Joker, an ordinary nameless guy who went absolutely insane, manages to be just as terrifying and dangerous as they are, if not more so.
  • Odd Thomas: Odd usually deals with supernatural threats— cult organizations, spooks and spectres, and the like. In the graphic novel Odd Is On Our Side, the villain is an old man who really, really hated children trampling his prize-winning flower garden on Halloween.
  • The Punisher counts as this for the criminals and villains of the Marvel universe. Commit a crime in New York and you could be brought in by mutants, aliens or a literal Physical God, or, if you're unlucky, shot to death by a gun-toting vigilante. Parodied when he tries to bring in the Runaways, where he's so convinced that he's the scariest thing in New York that he completely misses the winged monstrosity that flies up behind him and nearly takes his head off.
  • In Mampato, the protagonist and his friends have traveled through time and space, facing multiple dangers: dinosaurs -on more than one occasion-, mutants -on more than one occasion-, pirates, aliens, alien carnivorous plants, have been captured to be offered as Human Sacrifice and they have participated in several battles. One of the occasions Mampato came closest to dying? Due to an infection from a poorly treated superficial wound.
  • The argentine comic Or-Grund, by writer Robin Wood, it has as its protagonist a barbarian hero (and a obvious Expy of Conan the Barbarian) who lives in a world of sword and witchcraft, where he faces evil wizards, zombies, ghouls, Lizard Folk , dinosaurs, giant octopuses, etc ... And once he was about to die from a poisonous spider bite.
  • An arc in Todd McFarlane's run on Spider-Man involved a series of gruesome slasher murders in the woods of British Columbia. Spider-Man initially believed the murders to be the work of the monstrous Wendigo, but while investigating alongside Wolverine they learned that the murders were committed by a serial killer.
  • This is a common thread through nearly all the horror comics by Emily Carroll that are collected into the anthology Through the Woods. The various stories feature ghosts, vengeful zombies, mysterious doppelgangers, etc., but in most of the stories the greatest dangers to the characters are much more ordinary, such as: being cut off from the rest of the world by a blizzard while low on food and supplies, being put into an Arranged Marriage to a man who is secretly a murderer, a friend's slow mental breakdown, and a man who snaps and kills his more popular brother in cold blood when he faces the prospect of his brother getting all of the village's respect while he is humiliated yet again.
  • In the Chilean comic "Zombies en la Moneda", the country is invaded by -obviously- zombies, however for the protagonists some of the moments of greatest danger come from things like neo-nazis, police crazed by stress, a girl psychopath who is also a Serial Killer and an earthquake accompanied by a tidal wave.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon is a franchise of animated movies with a colorful cast of villains who have funny moments to them despite being a threat to the heroes in their own right. But the darkest Disney villains are Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney) and Bill Sykes from Oliver & Company. Frollo is a prejudiced bigot who abuses his position as the French Minister of Justice for his pent-up sexual frustration of Esmeralda, a Romani woman whom he obsessively pursues to the point of threatening to kill her if she refuses despite him initially professing to be sin-free. Frollo's Holier Than Thou attitude to justify his evil actions drives a major portion of The Hunchback of Notre Dame's plot, but it also contributes to his Villainous Breakdown. Bill Sykes is a New York City Loan Shark who threatens to kill Fagin, a poor homeless man, if he doesn't pay back his loan. When seven-year-old Jenny arrives at the docks alone to pay the ramson for her kidnapped cat, he kidnaps her and threatens to feed her to his dogs if her parents don't pay.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Black Widow (2021) has General Dreykov, one of the most vile villains in a MCU movie. He might have no powers whatsoever, in fact he is pathetic physically, but he is still the mastermind that created the Black Widows, meaning he has hundreds of women brainwashed to do his bidding all over the world, and holds enormous influence, which means he is still a major threat.
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf centers around the true Urban Legend of a giant wolf who terrified France in the 1700's. Throughout the movie, it is believed that the wolf is a supernatural force. As it turns out, it was a pet lion made to look like a monster.
  • Captain America: Civil War: after successfully fighting off various supervillains, a Norse God, an Alien Invasion, and a Killer Robot, the Avengers are brought to their knees by a vengeful soldier with no powers beyond "patience and experience", not even wearing a costume.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Despite the surplus of dark wizards and magical beasts running aboutnote , everything ultimately comes down to an ordinary, fundamentalist mother and the son she has spent a lifetime abusing.
  • Grim Prairie Tales: While the other stories in this Anthology Film feature supernatural horror, Deeds' story is solely about the horror that men can inflict upon their fellow man and themselves.
  • One of the scariest scenes in the Jurassic Park series comes in The Lost World, and doesn’t involve the dinosaurs at all (although they’re responsible for the situation). Sarah Harding awakens from a concussion inside a trailer dangling off the edge of a cliff, with only the rear windshield separating her from falling hundreds of feet to the sea below— and then the glass begins to crack…
  • Sociopathic Soldier Captain Vidal is by far the deadliest (and most disturbing) monster in Pan's Labyrinth.
  • The twist ending of Scream of the Wolf reveals that the werewolf’s killings were actually the work of a disturbed hunter and a hunting dog trained to go after humans.
  • Underwater is a variation: instead of mundanity intruding on a supernatural setting, the supernatural causes mundane danger. It is set on an underwater drilling rig which suffers a catastrophic failure. All of the crushing and drowning and suffocation turns out to be caused by a Cosmic Horror throwing its weight around.
  • In the horror anthology film VHS, the villain of the "Second Honeymoon" segment is a normal human and her partner, contrasting with the supernatural monsters in the other segments.



  • Stephen King has done this a few times:
    • King wrote Cujo with the declared goal of creating an entirely mundane horror story where the supernatural was absent.note  The horror of the story comes from being trapped in a car during a heatwave with a large, rabid St. Bernard outside.
    • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a little girl who gets lost in the woods. The horror comes from her predicament and her hallucinations. Until the God of the Lost shows up, which the text suggests may not be Trisha's delusion.
    • In the extended version of The Stand, King spends a short chapter describing the "second wave of deaths" caused by the after-effects of the plague. Unlike the billions of people who die from the super-flu plague, these people die of mundane causes. Like the guy who dies of tetanus because all the doctors who could have treated him have died, or the girl who dies in the car accident when she decides that a lack of people equals a lack of traffic and runs into a stalled car at 100 mph, or the older man who dies of a heart attack because he runs out of his medication, and so on.
    • Misery is about a writer who is kept captive by his deranged fan Annie.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld is rife with dragons, werewolves, reality-destroying magic, and the odd Eldritch Abomination, but most of the darker books, like Night Watch or Small Gods, feature non-magical human villains. Similarly, the greatest threats to the bad guys are often Badass Normal Vimes or The Chessmaster Vetenari.


  • In The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, Amina decides to quit the job to retrieve Dunya al-Hilli when she realizes that she and her crew really are facing a sorcerer, and an incredibly dangerous one at that. Salima al-Hilli, Dunya's grandmother, immediately threatens to use her wealth, power, and extensive political connections to have Amina's whole family killed, starting with her ten-year-old daughter... and if Amina murdered her, she would only hasten their demise. Compared to that threat, Falco and his cruel magic are far easier to defeat.
  • Long before the werewolves show up, the first major threat Karyn encounters in The Howling (1977) is the human - yet no less monstrous - serial rapist Max Quist, who breaks into her home and sexually assaults her. Notably, the film alters things so that Quist is also a werewolf, though the protagonists don't realise this until about halfway through.
  • In the Maximum Ride series, the Flock face off against genetically engineered werewolves and other mutant threats. In The Final Warning, a huge source of danger is Angel falling down a chasm in the Arctic and then nearly dying, along with Max and Total, in a blizzard.
  • Solomon Kane mostly fought supernatural villains of some sort. However, in "Blades of the Brotherhood" the villains were perfectly ordinary pirates.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: despite the looming threat of the Others behind the Wall, the worst evils in the novels are constantly committed by human beings driven by greed, ambition, or sheer sadistic pleasure.
  • Spinning Silver: The Mandelstams are afraid of the Staryk Fair Folk who take an interest in their household, but much more afraid of their interest becoming known. The Staryk might be inhuman monsters, but the Mandelstams are Jewish, and the last Jewish community believed to have attracted the Staryk's interest was destroyed in a pogrom by antisemitic humans.
  • Kim Newman's story Where The Bodies Are Buried 3: Black And White And Red All Over. The other WTBAB stories were about a supernatural Serial Killer emerging from a Slasher Movie; this is a Ripped from the Headlines tale of tabloid hysteria and hypocrisy over such movies (Yes, ultimately it's all down to Derek Leech, but he doesn't do anything supernatural to make it happen.)
  • In World War Z, hunger, disease, and panic chaos cause a large number of deaths, possibly as many as the zombies. Years later, the military has learned effective strategies to eliminate zombies, so that the main dangers they face are - again - disease, extremely large and aggressive predatory animals, buildings on the verge of collapsing and traps left behind by the survivors.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Episode 7 of Andor, Cassian is arrested and sentenced to prison (a prison which is secretly a slave labor facility building the Death Star that never actually lets anyone out), simply because while walking to the store he happened to pass by some sort of police action and a cop on a power trip decided he didn't like the way Cassian looked or answered the cop's questions, choosing to interpret everything Cassian said or did as proof that he was involved in the crime or was mouthing off to the cop. Cue Cassian being hit with a bunch of trumped up and blatantly false charges. For anyone living in an authoritarian system or in an area known for overactive or brutal police, it's an all too real fear, and proof that The Empire doesn't need space wizards with fantastic powers to be terrifying.
  • A famous episode of Angel has Angel and the team handling a young boy who appears to be possessed by a demon, including setting fire and trying to kill his sister. They exorcise the demon and hunt him down. When Wesley declares the demon won't get the boy's soul, the demon scoffs "what soul?". As he relates, the boy was a bigger monster than the demon could be and the demon was trying to free himself of him. Sure enough, the sociopathic youth is already trying to kill his own family just for fun.
    Ethros: Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? Nothing! That’s what I found in the boy. No conscience, no fear, no humanity, just a black void. I couldn’t control him. I couldn’t get out. I never even manifested until you brought me forth. I just sat there and watched as he destroyed everything around him. Not from a belief in evil, not for any reason at all.
  • Arrow: After spending many seasons dealing with highly-trained assassins, a master hacker, and a 275-year-old Evil Sorcerer, who plans to nuke the world (not to mention crossovers involving a 4000-year-old immortal, an Alien Invasion, and Those Wacky Nazis), the man who nearly brings Oliver down is a down-to-earth street thug with lots of patience and an abundance of ruthlessness. Even a powerful meta like Black Siren is afraid of him.
  • In Bones, the one villain (out of multiple serial killers, international terrorists, trained assassins and other powerful people) that came the closest to have badass ex-Special Forces soldier and FBI Agent Seely Booth Killed Off for Real was a Stalker with a Crush carrying a revolver. And the second thing was a brain tumor.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The show had a minor villain in the school's lunch lady, who tried to kill everyone in the school by dumping rat poison in their food. Buffy had accidentally acquired telepathy at the time and heard her thoughts, allowing Buffy to stop her.
    • Played across the entire sixth season of the show with Buffy being ineffectually challenged by the Trio, a group of human supervillain wannabes; two of them have minor magical powers, but their leader Warren is just good with computers and machines. Inverted initially as, rather than being more challenging or horrifying than normal monsters, they actually spend most of the season being pretty useless nemeses, until Warren goes off the deep end, murders his ex-girlfriend and shoots Buffy and Tara, killing the latter - an especially noteworthy feat since it was the first time a character from the opening credits had been killed by one of the show's villains. Word of God is that the real Big Bad of that season was Life.
    • Subverted in one Halloween episode, Dawn and a friend go out on Halloween with two boys and end up in the house of a creepy old man whose home is full of old children's toys. There's a shot of him in his kitchen staring at a knife in his hand, and just when you expect him to start slashing he suddenly jerks up with a look of shock and pain on his face and then drops to the ground. Turns out the girl's dates are vampires, and the real Villains Of The Week, and they've just killed him.
    • Also, Joyce died of mundane causes, completely unrelated to the fact that Buffy was the Slayer. Of course, this plot arc led to the heroes finding a more supernatural threat in the hospital, but that doesn't diminish the fact that she still died of an aneurysm, not of any sort of magical creature. This only made it worse for Buffy, since it was something she couldn't fight.
    • In a brief scene in one episode, Buffy breaks up what she thinks is a vampire attack, only to discover it's "only" a mugging. She remarks on how quaint it is.
  • In the Charmed episode "Sight Unseen", a stalker turns out to be a human woman and not a demonic threat after all.
    • There's a few other instances as well, like Barbas hiring the mob to kill the Charmed Ones ("Ms. Hellfire") or Prue being framed for murder by a random psychopath ("Just Harried").
    • Played with in "Dream Sorcerer": The Monster of the Week is an ordinary human with no magical powers, but he's using advanced technology to perform a magic-esque trick where he enters people's dreams and murders them via Your Mind Makes It Real.
    • In "Awakened", Piper briefly dies not because of some supernatural threat but due to a disease (specifically Oroya fever, an early stage of Carrion's disease) that she picked up from a bug bite.
  • Criminal Minds had some variations on this: the villains are usually serial or spree killers, but one episode had a guy disguise a pragmatic, money-motivated murder by committing other murders, so that it looked the work of a serial killer. Another one had a killer who committed a double murder and tried to disguise it as the work of a cult.
    • "A Shade of Gray" had a serial killer/rapist of children being framed for the murder of a child who was actually killed by the victim's psychopathic elder brother, a boy of 9.
    • "False Flag", which is a deconstruction of conspiracy theories, has the team finding that a case of serial killing in a Conspiracy Theorist group is actually a coincidental accident, an unplanned murder, and a suicide.
  • In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, every case is about solving at least one death, that could be murder, suicide or accident... except "Suckers". Here, the "victim" is revealed to be a mannequin left as a distraction by a Gentleman Thief, and the actual crime is a complex fraud.
    • In another early episode, the B-plot has Catherine being called to investigate a disappearance in a wealthy home. Then she is told that the "disappearance" is not of a person, but of a prized painting that has been stolen.
  • CSI: NY: In the eighth season finale, "Near Death", the episode spends its whole runtime flashing back to the events that left Mac Taylor lying down on the floor of a drug store bleeding to (near-) death. After the case of the episode (a diamond store robbery) was solved with no violence (it turns out that it was performed by a bunch of old people willing to do anything to not end up in retirement homes), Mac walks into the drug store in the last five minutes of the episode, sees it is being robbed and tríes to stop it… and ends up being shot In the Back by a random junkie Mac had not noticed. The following episode had the entire cast on a rabid Cop Killer Manhunt driven just as much by the fact it was Mac as the fact it was some two-bit punk that had done the deed.
  • Doctor Who:
  • Fear Itself has a (non supernatural) Town with a Dark Secret in "Community"; and in "Something with Bite", the gruesome murders turn out to be the work of a human serial killer who wants to gain the attention of a real werewolf, so he can make him one.
  • The occasional episode of Friday the 13th: The Series, the most well-known one probably being "The Long Road"; on the way back to Curious Goods after getting a new artifact, Micki and Johnny are taken captive by inbred brothers, who murder people so they can stuff the corpses and put them on display.
  • Variation in Fringe episode "Northwest Passage". The killer is just a lone killer whose methods happen to look a lot like something done by the conspiracy, to an absurdly specific degree (he takes pieces of the temporal lobe of the brain). It would fit except that the conspiracy is not actually supernatural.
  • Haven: This show normally deals with the Troubled residents of Haven, Maine.
    • In "Welcome To Haven", there's an escaped convict and a man who plans to kill his fiance and take her money.
    • In "The Trial of Audrey Parker", two criminals hijack Duke's boat and kidnap everybody by sailing it out to sea. One of the criminals had the power to read minds, but his mundane partner was clearly the brains of the operation.
    • In "Resurfacing", the villains are a corrupt trio who sell people shoddy parts. A boat fitted with their parts sinks, killing everybody on board. The criminals attempt to kill everybody who learns about their shoddy parts and Make It Look Like an Accident.
    • In "Lockdown", a woman inadvertently spreads a deadly disease with her powers, but then her mundane, abusive husband takes center stage by holding everybody hostage with a gun. In fact, the woman's anguish over her abuse was what triggered her ability.
  • Highlander:
    • Duncan is able to protect Tessa from many Immortals who wanted to hurt her to get to him. However, she ended up killed by a random human mugger.
    • Duncan and the others occasionally face ordinary human criminals instead of Immortals. For example, in "Deadly Medicine", the villain was a Mad Doctor who would kidnap people and experiment on them, inevitably killing them. He ends up kidnapping Duncan and gets really excited when he discovers Duncan's Healing Factor, but never learns about the Immortals.
  • In the Lost Girl episode "Faetal Attraction", a Fury named Olivia finds out that her husband Samir is having an affair with a human named Jenny. Olivia angrily hires Bo to assassinate her. Bo assumes Jenny is just an innocent girl and tries to protect her, but it turns out that she is actually a psycho who kills her lovers and collects their skulls (of which she has dozens). By the time Bo finds out, Jenny has already added Samir's skull to the collection and was completely unaware of his supernatural nature. She then falls in love with Bo and tries to kill them both with a bomb. Bo manages to escape, but the explosion kills Olivia and her two sisters.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Netflix shows in general tend to go for this trope, dealing with threats too mundane for the Avengers to handle, such as Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, or Cottonmouth. Even the Hand, with their "ninja cult with immortal leaders" schtick, prefer to stick to low-down crime like Corporate Warfare.
  • Masters of Horror: The villains in the episodes "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road", "Pick Me Up", "Family" and "The Washingtonians" are more or less colorful serial killers (colorless, in the case of "Incident"), but human as far as we know. The villain in "Dance of the Dead" is just a shady club owner.
  • In all the episodes of Merlin (2008), only one episode has dealt with a threat that is purely non-magical in nature: the first season's "The Moment of Truth", in which the gang travels to Merlin's village in order to fight off rampaging bandits. Since then, there have been a couple of mundane villains, but they've armed themselves with magical weapons and tools.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles: Unlike the flagship, the team in this Spin-Off is a lower-profile group that mainly deals with national security-related cases, to the point where they express some bafflement when the Body of the Week is on occasion an apparently mundane murder of a Marine or Navy sailor.
  • The fourth season of Supergirl (2015) has Agent Liberty, a normal former college professor, whipping up people into an anti-alien bias. Kara at first downplays them as just some minor crazy extremists. That is until she finds chat rooms where regular suburban mothers are asking for advice on how to make bombs to take care of alien children in school. As Kara relates to J'onn, she can handle monstrous aliens and would-be dictators but the idea of normal, regular people willing to kill those who look different is too much for her to take.
  • Supernatural has featured a couple of these:
  • The first series of Torchwood featured a Cannibal Clan in "Countrycide". Like the Supernatural example, the heroes were drawn by killings they assumed were the work of aliens or the rift at first. This episode also has the distinction of being the only story in Doctor Who, or its Expanded Universe, to be devoid of any science fiction elements beyond the mere fact that Jack exists (the SUV tracker Toshiko holds is the most advanced tech the episode features, and Jack's immortality is never used either).
  • The Twilight Zone:
    • The 1959 series episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" is about a small suburban community tearing itself apart over suspicion that any one of them might be an alien invader in disguise. While it ultimately turns out that aliens were responsible for the events of the episode, it's made clear that they didn't have to fire a shot in order to plunge Maple Street into chaos — the townsfolk's natural paranoia did that for them. The episode's title was referring to the human characters. (The episode was later remade for the 2002 series with the threat being terrorists instead of aliens, but the basic structure, including the nature of The Reveal, was the same.)
    • The 2002 series episode "Azoth the Avenger is a Friend of Mine" has the supernatural element of an action figure coming to life, but the threat itself is the boy's abusive father. Azoth himself treats the father as just as serious an evil as the supervillains he normally faces, and in the end is unable to defeat him. The father is taken down when the mother and son have enough and kick him out.
  • Unsurpisingly, given its long run on TV, The X-Files features a bunch of these.
    • In "The Jersey Devil", the famous creature is neither a devil nor a bigfoot, as they seem to angle for a while, but a feral woman. The outlet left for mystery is the woman's male companion, whose body is stolen before the agents (and the audience) can examine it.
    • In both "Irresistible" and "Orison", a serial killer named Donnie Pfaster becomes obsessed with Scully; he is seen on a couple of occasions with a demonic visage, but this could just be his victims' fear warping their perception.
    • In "Our Town", an entire town turns out to be a Cannibal Clan; although there is a slight supernatural edge to the piece — eating human flesh, it turns out, provides you with extended life and youthfulness — it's secondary to the actual threat.
    • In "War of the Coprophages", a cockroach infestation creates mass hysteria about an alien invasion, though the trope is subverted in that there really are robotic alien cockroaches,note  but they have nothing to do with the deaths in the episode.
    • In "Grotesque", a serial killer believes that he is possessed by a demon, though it is implied that this is more down to madness and obsession than genuine supernatural drama.
    • In "Hell Money", an incinerated man turns out to be part of a grim organ-dealing gambling game.
    • "Quagmire", on the other hand, provides a Double Subversion: The prehistoric monster said to inhabit a Georgian lake where people have gone missing recently turns out to be an alligator. Mulder is... disappointed, but just as he leaves the scene, the audience gets to see that there is an actual plesiosaur in the lake. Whether the entire episode is just one big Deconstruction or a vindication of Cryptozoology is anyone's guess.
    • "Home" sees Mulder and Scully tackling a trio of murderous inbred hicks.
    • Done to chilling effect in "Paper Hearts", in which Mulder confronts a child killer who claims to have taken Mulder's sister. The episode ends ambiguously with Mulder's convictions of her alien abduction shaken.
    • Played with in "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster", in which there is a were-lizard running around, but said creature is totally harmless and benign. The real threat is a deranged Serial Killer whose murders are attributed to the were-lizard.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu normally involves players going up against the creatures and cultists of the Cthulhu Mythos. One adventure, "Westchester" House, was about a "haunted house" where the hauntings were strictly human created, with nothing from the Mythos involved.
  • Although the Ravenloft setting is best known for its vampires, werebeasts, mad scientists and other horror staples, it's also home to a number of mundanger human killers. One of the Core's bloodiest darklords, the tyrant Vlad Drakov, is an ordinary fighter whose only supernatural quality is an enhanced resistance to magic. The (non-darklord) ruler of Nova Vaasa, Prince Othmar, is likewise a normal human villain.
  • Tends to happen to you in The World of Darkness if you survive long enough.
    • Hunters in particular are likely to run into mundane serial killers. Of course, this being the World of Darkness, not all those serial killers stay mundane...
  • Enforced in Tales from the Loop; the game's Sanity Meter (which also works as the character's hit points) rules do not discriminate between supernatural and mundane reasons for stress; a Kid Hero can be just as easily pushed to the Despair Event Horizon by bullying at school or dismissive parents as an attack by robo-saurs from the 34th Hell-dimension.
  • Warhammer 40,000: For all the dangers posed by the Orks, Necrons, Aeldari, Drukhari, Tyranids, Genestealer Cults, Tau, Leagues of Votann, and of course Chaos, one of the biggest dangers to the average Imperial citizen is Corrupt Cops.
    • In a bit of a scale of mundanger, the constant threat of Ork or Eldar raids can often become mundane for a specific world, while other threats are scarier.

    Video Games 
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins and Condemned 2: Bloodshot likewise contain a whole lot of strange things - hallucinations, serial killers, crazy homeless people, ancient conspiracies responsible for all of the above, and what may very well be magic powers. The single most dangerous thing you encounter across the series, however? A good old-fashioned rabid bear.
  • In the horror game Devotion, there are many supernatural dangers present such as possessed mannequins and ghost women, but the biggest horror present throughout the game is Feng Yu gradually slipping apart thanks to the influence of a cult leader. It leads to him abusing his wife and falling apart as a person, and it all eventually culminates in the cult tricking him into killing his own daughter in a misguided attempt to "cure" her anxiety.
  • The Chosen One comes across all kinds of strangeness in Fallout 2, from ghosts to super-mutants to intelligent scorpions. But when (s)he investigates giant scorpion monsters that are kidnapping cattle at night, they turn out to just be a pair of cattle rustlers.
  • In Far Cry 5, you are aiming to liberate an entire county of rural Montana from an army of deranged cultists armed with an arsenal of military-grade weaponry, during which you might be attacked by a horde of drug-fuelled zombies, fight alongside a grizzly bear and puma, or blow up a giant statue with an attack helicopter. This makes Deputy Hudson's disturbingly detailed story about her partner's murder during a routine traffic stop especially chilling, given that it reflects the sudden and random nature of danger and death in Real Life.
  • League of Legends: Runeterra is filled to brim with magical and supernatural threats - the Unholy Ground of the Shadow Isles, the all-consuming Void, ancient Ascended mages sealed for millennia and even independent figures like Brand and Evelynn. However, there's also the Noxian empire, which is 'just' a brutal and expansionistic tyranny. Independent villains also include Jhin, who uses only Depleted Phlebotinum Shells and his twisted artistic genius, and Gangplank, who is just a pirate on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Are they taken seriously in the lore? Yes. Are they taken seriously in gameplay? Even more so.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Apparently, in a kingdom filled with fantastic monsters, powerful magic users and a nigh unstoppable boar-man using the source of unlimited power, regular chickens (cuccos) are the most terrifying foes to face.
  • The Long Dark makes a great point about how economic stagnation and being continually dismissed by the comsopolitan political elite of the 20th and 21st Centuries can have an even greater impact on isolated "flyover" communities than actual natural disasters.
  • Persona 5: In a franchise where every other villain is a God of Evil trying to obliterate or control humanity or a person harnessing the collective unconsciousness to do the same thing, one of the most evil and despicable villains is Kamoshida, a completely mundane Creepy Gym Coach who beats, blackmails and even molests his fellow athletes.
  • When the smartphone game Pokémon GO was released, muggers found the players easy targets— wandering in strange neighborhoods, distracted, often alone, with an expensive smartphone out.
  • Resident Evil: In a franchise where every other villain is some sort of plague-spreading Diabolical Mastermind with a god complex, one of the most pants-shittingly horrifying and evil villains is Chief Brian Irons in the second game, a completely mundane Dirty Cop with no superpowers and isn't even one of the infected. He does make it up perfectly for his Taxidermy Sex Dungeon of Evil, mass spree killings and being a legitimate threat against Claire and Sherry, and replaces the Sex Dungeon with new crimes that are just as bad in the remake.
  • With the Homura Crimson Squad officially in exile in Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, hunted by their former school and on bad terms with many others, their greatest threat, as revealed when they ally with the Hanzo students, is... getting enough to eat. Shinobi they may be, but they're assassins, not survivalists, and even with a working knowledge of edible plants, they live in a city. Using their skills for thievery would light them up as a target, so their only choice is to get jobs. Shitty, less-than-minimum-wage cash-in-hand jobs that don't mind the fact they have no ID or proof of education.
  • The Silent Hill franchise has more often than not put its mentally ill protagonist of the day in the genuinely haunted titular town and pitted them against genuine monsters. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories appears to be more of the same... but no. The whole game is the fantasy world of a troubled young girl who grew up in a broken home and without a father.
  • In the game Uncanny Valley, what was shown as disturbing shadow beings in the protagonist's nightmares turns out to be a bunch of gangsters out for the protagonists blood. However, after they're dealt with, the protagonist have to deal with a bunch of Killer Robots unconnected with the aforementioned gangsters.
  • Stardew Valley is set in a Small Town, USA Fantasy Kitchen Sink where the main antagonistic force is a predatory megacorporation that is wrecking the natural environment, driving the local Mom & Pop general store out of business, and stifling the community spirit. Despite the very cutesy visuals, many of the townsfolk are a Dysfunction Junction coping with serious mundane issues:
    • Shane is working as a shelf stacker at the local JojaMart and falling apart at the seams from alcoholism and severe depression, which is upsetting his family. He goes as far as to consider suicide at one point. Oh, and if you do the "right thing" and stop Joja Corp from expanding into the valley by restoring the local community, the JojaMart closes down and Shane loses his job.
    • Alex had a bastard of a father who hit him and put him down throughout his childhood, and when he walked out on the family, Alex's mother died not long after, leaving the boy to live with his grandparents. The cool Lovable Jock persona he has is in large part a thin lacquer hiding quite a troubled young man.
    • Penny is one of the poorest residents in the valley (besides Linus, the old man who lives in a tent in the forest). She lives in a riverside trailer alone with her alcoholic mother Pam, and makes a pittance working as an unofficial School Marm to the two local kids. Penny's relationship with her mother has only soured since the bus service broke down, leaving Pam unemployed and with nothing to do but get drunk at the local saloon and take out her aggression on her gentle daughter when she comes home.
    • Leah moved into town to escape a jealous and controlling ex in the city who did not support her dream of becoming an artist.
    • Sebastian has literally become a basement dweller just to stay away from his family. His stepdad Demetrius seems to dislike him and wants his daughter Maru to stay away from him, and Robin does nothing to fix this situation. The only people in town he appears to like are Sam and Abigail. There's also some dialogue that implies that Demetrius and Robin's marriage is on the rocksnote .
    • Jodi's husband Kent (who is absent in the first year) is a soldier who spent time in enemy captivity as a POW. He still has PTSD from his experiences and it causes friction in their marriage as well as problems in Kent's personal life.
    • Clint, the local blacksmith, expresses frustration at his current career; he only became a blacksmith because he comes from a long line of professionals but he himself has fallen out of love with the craft. He is attracted to local Granola Girl/New-Age Retro Hippie Emily but is a Hopeless Suitor who can't bring himself to ever talk to her (and there currently is no way to get them together).
  • The Yoobiiverse is primarily rife with supernatural and inter-dimensional horrors, as well as crazy supervillains. But in Annabelle (RPG Maker), the horrors are entirely mundane in nature, with the surrealism present due to the nightmares suffered by the titular Annabelle.
    • The overall villain of the series is Jason Sunray, who has no fantastical powers and is just some guy with an apartment, but is an abusive husband and father who molests his own daughter. His abuse is the very reason for all the nightmares and issues that Annabelle struggles with through the series.
    • Projection introduces a gang of school bullies, led by Alpha Bitch Riley, as the antagonists who cause Annabelle great distress and body issues, which are played fully seriously.
    • Exorcism has a religious Orphanage of Fear, The Church, and its fundamentalist owner, The Preacher, who abuses the orphans both physically and mentally, and instills in them a twisted philosophy that their suffering is punishment from God that they can only be released from by repenting.


    Web Original 
  • The Bedtime Stories episode "25 Cromwell Street", which ranks among the most chilling videos they've ever made because there is no supernatural or paranormal angle to the story: It is simply a concise, dispassionate and unflinching account of the crimes of Serial Killer, rapist and domestic abuser Frederick West and his wife and victim-turned-accomplice Rosemary. As the creators themselves put it:
    "One of the most prominent questions we try to answer in making these episodes is whether or not monsters truly exist. We believe this case decisively proves that they do."
  • Dream SMP: In a world where gods and supernatural creatures exist*, the most heinous acts in the majority of the series are committed by player-characters, in scenarios that can be easily transplanted to real life. The most notable examples of this are abusers and corrupt figures in power*, and the two characters that the fandom typically regards to have crossed the MEH are both of these: both Schlatt and Dream are tyrants in their own right, with the former being a Bad Boss and a Domestic Abuser, and the latter abusing a teenager to the point said teen attempted suicide. Another arc has a cult leader as the Arc Villain which recruits and brainwashes characters when they are emotionally vulnerable, which is still applicable to the real world even when the supernatural elements are removed.
  • SCP Foundation deals with dangerous anomalies, monsters, and world-ending objects on a daily basis. All sorts of stories exist about what could happen if something goes wrong, leading to The End of the World as We Know It. However, one tale has them brought to their knees by a computer glitch. Specifically in the computer system that controls the Dead Man's Switch for their emergency nuclear warheads.
  • While supernatural stories are Snarled's usual bread and butter, that hasn't stopped them from tackling more realistic horrors.
    • "Don't Open the Door", while cheating a bit with the dream sequence, mostly focuses on a young girl losing her father to a serial killer.
    • "My Deadly Routine" revolves around the sadly common mistake of locking your child in a car on a hot day because your attention lapsed at the worst time.
    • "Mom, She Tried to Kill Me!" is actually based partly off of the real story of Elizabeth Wettlaufer; a former nurse who killed several patients with an insulin overdose.
    • "Where Did the Children Go?" involves someone organizing a mass kidnapping of children with a fake fan club for a popular children's show.
  • Team Neighborhood plays it for laughs. For all the overdramatic reactions the mercs have to being hit by snowballs, the first casualty of the snowball fight in Frozen Fortress is caused by RED Demoman passing out drunk outside and freezing to death.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Cataclysm Backstory of Adventure Time, Marceline's mother Elsie did not die because of the return of magic or an attack by a Nuclear Mutant or any other dramatic, supernatural event. She just contracted radiation poisoning after she and Marcie obliviously walked past an abandoned, decaying nuclear power plant. Marcie's demonic heritage protected her, but Elsie — being a normal human — wasn't so lucky and slowly wasted away over the next several weeks.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Out of the Past", the incident that convinces the elderly Bruce Wayne to give a chance to the obviously-quite-fantastical youth-sustaining Lazarus Pits... is when he tries to save a fallen pedestrian from being run over by a truck, only to almost be hit himself because age has slowed him down that much.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series
    • There's often a normal human gangster or corrupt boss behind the villainy of the week. In a lot of cases, they're even more evil than the costumed villains are, like Boyle, the guy who created Mister Freeze by callously trying to pull the plug on his wife.
    • The Running Gag (such as it is) of the episode "The Man Who Killed Batman" lies in the fact both heroes and villains of Gotham (especially The Joker) have a hard time assimilating the fact that the Caped Crusader apparently met his demise to some little fat schlub of a Mook (of the type he pummels by the dozens without breaking a sweat) that got lucky for once in his life. However, Rupert Thorne believes he's playing dumb to muscle into his territory.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog ran afoul of all kinds of creatures that belong in the horror genre like aliens, ghosts, demons, mutants, and zombies. The most realistic of them were "merely" criminals with something seriously off about them who would be considered weird on their own by the standards of a more down-to-earth show but were somehow mundane for Courage's experiences, like say a feline Serial Killer who made his first appearance running a motel that fed people to his pet-spiders, a duck Con Man and a Corrupt Corporate Executive who both utilised hypnotism, a Mad Scientist who sent animals to space through his home-made rockets, a burglar with severe memory issues, a Domestic Abuser who manipulates his girlfriend and would gladly punish her for having a best friend note  and wreck said best friend's life just because she's a cat while he himself is a dog, and perhaps the most disturbing of all, a barber with an unsettling fixation on forceful shaving.
  • Defenders of the Earth mostly has the Defenders facing alien incursions (with Ming being the usual culprit), as well as technology gone rogue, superhumans who are using their powers for evil, and various demons and other supernatural creatures. However, there are a few episodes where the antagonist is an ordinary human, and the only science fiction and fantasy elements are the futuristic setting and/or at least one out of the Phantom, Mandrake and Jedda using their special powers:
    • In "Return of the Skyband", the antagonists are a group of female space pirates whose leader is the granddaughter of a woman the Phantom's grandfather accidentally killed. This woman now seeks to kill the Phantom in the belief that she will avenge her grandmother by doing so.
    • "100 Proof Highway" revolves around Rick and LJ trying to protect Jedda after she becomes friends with a boy from school who has a serious drinking problem and is putting both himself and Jedda in danger. This is the only episode in the series where there is almost nothing in the story that has any basis in science fiction or fantasy.
    • "The Adoption of Kshin" features a gang of river pirates led by a woman known as the Dragon Queen, who (pre-series) clashed with Kshin's family during the search for a lost city, leading to Kshin losing his parents and being separated from his grandfather. When, years later, Kshin's grandfather continues the search for the city (accompanied by Mandrake, Lothar and Kshin) the Dragon Queen and her stooges follow them.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "Not What He Seems", The Heavy of the plot isn't some kind of Eldritch Abomination or bizarre creature, it's government agents who are intent on arresting Stan. There is also a less mundane issue, in the form of the unstable portal under Stan's house, but it doesn't get focused on that much until the last few minutes of the episode.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures would occasionally have episodes revolving around completely mundane criminals, notable examples being "The Mother of All Battles", "Pleasure Cruise", and "The Good Guys" (the latter being one of several A Day in the Limelight eps for The Dark Hand).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The Season 5 premiere "The Cutie Map - Part 1" breaks the Sliding Scale of Villain Threat to Equestria with a Town with a Dark Secret (actually a cult) lead by a seemingly ordinary unicorn. Subverted in her second appearance, in which she has become so magically powerful that she goes back in time to Make Wrong What Once Went Right and causes multiple Bad Futures.
  • The Real Ghostbusters: The episode "Ghost Busted" is all about the 'busters retooling themselves to hunt human criminals, when their ghost-busting campaign (temporarily) goes too well and leaves them without any more to bust.
  • Rick and Morty: The heroes face aliens and creatures from other dimensions on daily basis, but the B plot of the episode "Ricksy Business" has a female human rapist as the antagonist.
  • The Sam & Max: Freelance Police cartoon pitted them against their usual selection of crazy monsters, giant robots, aliens, and so forth - as well as against their loserly human Loony Fan, Lorne. He is easily the most fondly-regarded villain in the show.
  • In one episode of Superman: The Animated Series the villain is a corrupt police detective who got an innocent man sent to death row for murder (that the detective committed). When Clark Kent manages to confirm the inmate's alibi, he gets caught in a carbomb attack, setting Superman's investigation back to square one and "killing" Clark Kent.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks has a brief instance where a different risk of the holodeck is revealed—even when it isn't malfunctioning, it's easy to get critically dehydrated in there if you aren't paying attention.
    Dr. T'ana: The holodeck is fake, but dehydration is real!
  • Static Shock usually has to deal with superpowered villains, but in the Very Special Episode "Jimmy", the main threat is a trio of vicious bullies, and their main target who plans to kill them with his father's stolen gun.