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Nightmare Face

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"Can I be scary? Well, whaddya think of this?"

[W]hen she turned, it was the burned face of Sandor Clegane looking down at her, his mouth twisted in a terrible mockery of a smile. "You are shaking, girl," he said, his voice rasping. "Do I frighten you so much?"
He did, and had since she had first laid eyes on the ruin that fire had made of his face...

The human face is supremely important on a social and biological level. Most of our non-verbal communication comes from reading subtle facial movements, and its importance in our cognitive thinking is best shown in our tendency to see faces in inanimate objects (think of how many times you've looked at a rock face and thought you'd seen two eyes and a mouth). So there's something genuinely disturbing to most people about seeing a face visibly distorted, mutated, or rearranged ... so, naturally, this type of Body Horror is one of the most common Horror Tropes.

A Sister Trope and effective primary component of Nightmare Fuel.

It is in fact at least Older Than Feudalism — armies over the world have based their war masks around this trope, and in mythology and folklore, just about any self-respecting demon or supernatural evil will have one.


More recently, it has also become a staple of Surreal Horror.

This is a main symptom of Coming Back Wrong. Most humanoid examples of Our Monsters Are Weird will fit this trope.

This trope is commonly doubled with the Jump Scare in a Screamer Prank.

Sub-Tropes include:

See also:

  • This trope's well-meaning (but still scary) sister, The Grotesque.
  • Uncanny Valley, which usually ends up here by accident.
  • Game Face, which comes into play when a supernatural villain disguised as a human flashes his true form's Nightmare Face to scare someone.
  • Demon Head, cousin to this trope.
  • Demonic Head Shake, when the head shakes uncontrollably
  • Take Our Word for It, when the face is too grotesque to even show.

Interesting tidbit: this is one theory as to why some people are afraid of clowns. Exaggerated mouths, bulbous noses, and pin-prick eyes are downright terrifying to young children who haven't yet figured out that the person is just wearing make-up and not deformed.

Warning: Many of these examples contain image links. Read at your own risk if you are prone to losing sleep, especially if you're on a touch device where you may accidentally tap and therefore open links.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • Some of the scarier vanity plates sometimes used these. Some notable ones include the VID Mask, the Klasky-Csupo Robot and the Nickelodeon Pinchface.
  • This horrific 60s print ad from Mobil, created to advocate against driving with tension. And it does so by showing a horrifically distorted face. Interestingly, this image is actually of a dancer named Killer Joe Piro, and the original photograph was taken mid-dance, giving it its creepy look.
  • 90s Rice Krispie Treats commercials showed kids who, upon having none of the treat left to satisfy their craving, would morph into a of some kind while bellowing "IIIII WAAAAANNNTTT OOOONNNNEEEE!!!" Brrrr.
  • This Scotland Against Drugs PIF. Let's just say the title of the upload ("I've Just Shit Me Pants") is VERY apt.
  • Infamously, this Eggo commercial from 2001. A boy tries to steal some of his sister's waffles, only to immediately regret it.
  • This anti-smoking PSA from the 70s has an animated variation of the "Three Little Pigs" story, and the Wolf gives off such a face right at the camera before leaving his place to get to the pigs' straw house.
  • Wario in the infamous commercial for Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. "Obey Wario, DESTROY MARIO!!!"

    Comic Books 
  • Jonah Hex. (That second link includes an informative essay on what the result of Hex being unable to close his right eye would lead to.)
  • Two-Face, obviously. Well, half of him. Varies from artist to artist, with Tim Sale's rendering being particularly gruesome.
  • The Joker, naturally. Frozen Face with a Slasher Smile? Check. Permanent Uncanny Valley Makeup? Double Check. Looks like a Monster Clown from your worst nightmares? Quintuple check.
    • Taken up several notches in Death of the Family. Prior to the story arc, Joker was last seen having his face surgically removed and left for the police to symbolize his "rebirth". When he returns, still without a face, he steals his original, preserved face from the GCPD lockup and proceeds to wear it like a mask, using several hooks and leather straps to stretch it across his head in a grotesque parody of his original face. As the series goes on, the face starts to visibly decay and attract flies and at one point Joker even wears it upside-down to psychologically torment Red Robin.
  • Another Batman villain of lesser renown, the Great White Shark, lost most of his face (including ears, nose and hair) after being locked in a freezer and has since filed his teeth into points. As a result, he's nothing to scoff at, either.
  • Vos. Oh sweet holy crap, Vos. Vos is a Decepticon Justice Division member from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, and he combines Cold-Blooded Torture with this trope. Transformer faces have been pretty ugly before, but somehow this takes The Blank, inverts the concept of the Face Stealer (a Face Giver, perhaps?), and comes out the other side unsettling and terrifying.
    Vos: wear. my. faaaace.
    • Vos now has competition in the form of the incredibly creepy Sunder from the same series. It probably comes as little surprise that he's a serial killer.
  • Implied for Doctor Doom of Marvel Comics; first he gets his face scarred up by being caught next to an exploding machine (though precisely how badly scarred varies), and then he, in some tellings at least, puts his trademark metal facemask on. While it's still red hot.
  • Judge Fear, one of the Dark Judges in Judge Dredd, is able to kill by simply revealing his face, though the reader never sees it. Averted once by Dredd himself.
    • Dredd himself for that matter. The first time we "see" his face with his helmet off, there is a big black bar over it reading Censored For Graphic Content and the gang holding him at gunpoint are so horrified at what they see that they decide Dredd needs to die immediately. And while never taken to that extreme again, under Carlos Ezquerra's pen, both Dredd and his clone father Judge Fargo tend to look like lumpy lipless potatoes as they get older.
  • Paperinik New Adventures: Raghor's face is usually under a helm,but when he takes it off...not only he seems to be completely scarred,but he also has Medusa-like tentacles.
  • Rhona Burchill from Ultimate Fantastic Four has one courtesy of self-inflicted brain surgery to boost her own intellect, which left her with a large bald spot that exposes a very ugly, ragged scar and unnaturally bulging skull.
  • Crazy Jane from Doom Patrol has several. including Black Annis and a personality whose head is a sun that shoots smaller suns.
  • Wonder Woman: Some members of the Greek pantheon like to manifest with horrific things for faces, most notably the fear god twins Phobos and Deimos, who each like to appear with a desiccated dog skull for a head, or in Phobos's case to manifest with shadow and twisting cobras for a face. Their father Ares also tends to go the shadow route, manifesting with formless darkness and two glowing red eyes beneath his helmet is his go to look.
  • Irish Mob member Finn Cooley, a memorable one-off villain in The Punisher MAX. A bomb went off in his face before he could get away, and now everything above the lower lip is just skull wrapped in sticky exposed musculature. At all times he either needs a transparent face mask or a mess of bandages to hold it in place. In spite of all that, he was one of the less nightmarish mobsters in that storyline.
  • In Faith Dreamside, Belu's minions all have large yellow eyes and wide, sharp-toothed grins.
  • The chapter of Tales from the Dark Multiverse dealing with Knightfall features a version of Bruce Wayne sporting yellow eyes and a Slasher Smile as a result of the torture he was subjected to as he gets revenge on Azrael.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to the stuff of nightmares, but most Sonic media avoids this particular sub-trope. IDW Publishing's comic book adaptiation, however, features several notable examples.
    • Mimic the Octopus, a new villain introduced in the Tangle & Whisper miniseries, is a shapeshifter with Black Eyes of Evil and wrinkled lips (as part of a Skeleton Motif). He can show these features while disguised as someone else, with terrifying results.
    • During the second major arc, Dr. Eggman causes a Zombie Apocalypse (on purpose) with his Metal Virus bioweapon, which turns its victims—including some of Sonic's allies—into evil robo-zombies. The faces of these "Zombots" are intimidating by default, but they turn outright demonic when silhouetted, as Sonic's Zombot-ified friends demonstrate.

    Comic Strips 
  • Villains in the original Dick Tracy newspaper comic were notoriously Nightmare Faced. This waned at about the time Chester Gould suffered a Creator Breakdown, but has returned with the new artist, Dick Locher, who absolutely loves this trope.
  • Al Capp's Li'l Abner had a character named "Lena the Hyena" whose face was never shown, but by reputation and the reactions of other characters was this. Capp eventually ran a contest for readers to send in their own depictions of Lena. The winning entry, by Basil Wolverton, can be seen here.

    Fan Works 
  • Glitchtale's Season 2 Arc Villain, Bête Noire, excels at this (fittingly for an someone whose power is rooted in Fear). If you don't mind spoilers, see here for an example. Looking like a cute little girl most of the time, in reality her body is a shell made from a dead little girl's corpse. Her true form has sharp teeth, a wide Slasher Smile, and the skin can be torn off to reveal inhuman pink flesh that looks disturbingly like someone who's been Flayed Alive.
  • TS!Underswap:
    • Temmie follows in Flowey's footsteps by busting out a few of these, complete with evil cackling.
    • Asgore makes a scary face during his final attack on a genocide run, as a reference to one of Toby Fox's original concepts.
  • Underverse:
    • Especially with their already eerie black-and-white designs, X-Chara and later on X-Gaster are very good at pulling this, with wide jagged-mouth Slasher Smiles and creepy Black Eyes of Evil that have sinister red and purple irises.
    • Ink Sans of all people does one as well in Xtra Scene 2, though it's implied to have been a dream (or possibly Foreshadowing that he isn't all that trustworthy). It's currently the page image for the Nightmare Fuel page for the series.
    • Unsurprisingly, Flowey does this in OWNERS.

  • Harry Potter: Voldemort is described as having a face like a skull, with glowing red eyes and slits for nostrils. It's hinted that his involvement with the Dark Arts warped him; in later books it's explained that he got this way by splitting his soul to achieve immortality through his Horcruxes — he actually used to be handsome as a young man. Ralph Fiennes does a pretty good job of conveying this description in the movies.
  • Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame is described as being so ugly, people mistake him for the Devil.
  • In Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, the main character's lower jaw is shot off. This fanmade image (WARNING: gory/NSFW) gives a pretty good idea of why this is a bit of an upsetting thing.
  • The Kane Chronicles:
    • Menshikov, whose face was burned when he tried and failed to awaken Ra.
    • A heroic example can be found in Bes, whose trademark attack is to scare the shit out of his opponent by distorting his face hideously and screaming "BOO!" Not that he's that handsome when he's not making that face.
    • From the first book (and second to an extent) there is a demon named Face-Of-Horror who is Exactly What It Says on the Tin and worse. Compared to how other demons can be called Death-to-Corks and have corkscrews or other objects (or limbs) replacing their heads, Face-Of-Horror is a legitimately terrifying demon. If any of you are wondering what Face of Horror looks like: scaly, clawed talons instead of feet, and his face seems to have all the skin torn off, leaving only muscle. Anyone else reminded of a certain monster from Attack on Titan?
  • The Phantom of the Opera.
  • Redwall:
    • Slagar the Cruel has a badly mutilated Two-Faced look thanks to a snakebite in his youth.
    • Riggu Felis from High Rhulain is probably even worse. After having his face raked by an osprey's talons, he is described as looking like this: "The black-and-grey-striped fur was normal from ears to eyes, but below that it was red, glistening flesh and bone. The whole muzzle, nose, and upper lip had been torn off. Half of the warlord's face was a frightful mask - a spitting, bubbling skeleton, as he continualy sucked air to breathe."
  • "The Dream" from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Let's just say the pale woman from the original edition will make you wish you slept with a Warhammer 40,000 weapon next to your bed. The illustration from The Thing is spookier still, and as for the illustration from The Haunted House... we would post a link, but we're too scared to search. If you're feeling brave, The Haunted House provides the page image for Ghastly Ghost.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, who had the left half of his face burned off by his older brother when he was a kid.
    • Lady "Ser" Brienne of Tarth was known for being extremely plain. But after the encounter with Biter she has now a very similar disfigurement to the Hound's, except caused by festering teeth of an evil idiot rather than by fire.
    • Lady Stoneheart formerly known as Catelyn Stark, who, before having her throat cut, tore up her own face out of grief and insanity, and was then thrown in the river, where she spent considerable time before being resurrected. The result is not pleasant.
  • In John French’s Thousand Sons novels, the sorcerer Ichneumon is so heavily mutated by the powers of Chaos that his face no longer resembles anything even remotely human. One half of his face is covered with clusters of eyes, and the other half is dotted with lamprey-like mouths. Ctesias, a fellow sorcerer, is so put-off by the sight of it—and by Ichneumon’s obvious pride at having been “blessed” with such a hideous face by the Chaos Gods—that he can’t think of anything to say for a long moment.
  • Brightheart from Warrior Cats has half of her face torn off by a pack of dogs, leaving her permanently scarred and missing an eye. This picture from Cats of the Clans sums it up nicely.
  • In Wax and Wayne, Bleeder displays one of these between forms, a skinless face "of stretched muscle and grinning teeth". When she realizes she's been seen she makes another one by trying to copy the cabbie's face over the wrong bones, leaving her face a twisted nightmare.


    Mythology & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: The Gorgons, whose faces would turn you to stone. They supposedly had been beautiful originally, before they became like this. And some think they might still be beautiful, but there is no way of finding out. In the original, only Medusa could petrify with a look; her sisters had different powers (one just caused people to instantly drop dead).
  • Celtic Mythology: One of the many horrific details of Cu Chulainn's infamous riastrad or "warp-spasm" was that one of his eyes would bulge out of the socket (and fall out) and the other would be sucked in, his lips would peel back to reveal a Slasher Smile with More Teeth than the Osmond Family, and his mouth would stretch down to his chest. Even if he wasn't exactly an evil guy, people tended to be really uneasy around him.

  • A recurring motif in I Am in Eskew. The main protagonist, David Ward, sees them on the blueprints of an unending, blank building he visits, the audience that watches him and Allegra, and especially on his fake son, Happy Jack Adam, who he is forced to live with after he lets Jack kill his fake daughter, Lucia.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The krenshar, a catlike monster introduced in 3rd edition to give low-level paladins a use for their fear immunity, uses its complex cheek and brow musculature to fold its whole face back, exposing bare muscle and bone, when using its Scare special ability.
    • Changelings from the Eberron campaign can take the "Disturbing Visage" feat, which among other tricks can unnerve foes by looking more intimidating. The illustration on the Races of Eberron sourcebook definitely falls into this trope, but exaggerates the actual effectiveness of the feat.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade:
    • The Nosferatu have this as a Clan Curse, as their founder was Punished with Ugly by Caine himself, and anyone embraced into the clan will follow suit. They can't live in normal human or vampire society, but they've learned to cope, woe be to anyone who underestimates this.
    • The Tzimisce do this by choice. Their Vicissitude discipline allows them to mold flesh like clay, and as one of the more inhuman clans, they modify themselves and their servants into horrifying forms, faces included.

  • The Rahkshi from BIONICLE. Averted in the toys themselves (due to the limitations of toy design), but it is used in full force in the movie Mask of Light to unleash pure Nightmare Fuel on other characters (and the viewers, naturally).
    • The Barraki also count. They all have these freakishly bulbous, emotionless eyes that seemingly stare into nothingness. Pridak takes the cake, however, with his butt-ugly Slasher Smile, and what looks like blood splashed all over his face (which is actually his natural coloring, according to Word of God).
    • Makuta, being a Shapeshifter-race, are full of examples, and many of the fan-built Contest Winner Cameo figures have these as well.
  • The Evil Wand toy discovered by a parent at an Ohio dollar store has a hidden image under the foil on the wand: A disturbing photo of a girl with glowing orange eyes and a bloody, rapacious Slasher Smile cutting into her wrist with a knife.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 


    Web Original 
  • deviantART: This Manticore
  • The Hellbeast in NES Godzilla Creepypasta.
  • Whateley Universe story "The Turks or the Geek": Carmilla threatens a superpowered mutant. Hundreds of tentacles come out of her body and grab him. Then her face splits. Down the center. Inside are teeth and more tentacles, and a lot of the tentacles have eyeballs on the tips, and... It's so horrifying the guy wets himself.
  • This fan-made image of the Creepypasta Suicide Mouse.
  • An unintentional example. There are a couple of jokes on the web about the Rejuvenique mask being this. Because despite never being portrayed as such in the commercials, it's still creepy. Why? It's a mask that looks like this and delivers tiny shocks to the face.
  • Killerbunnies' Io "Nightmare Fuel" McMorrison posses a somewhat milder example of this trope. To elaborate further, she has with her wide, somewhat angry looking blue eyes and her teeth are growing through the skin to outside of her mouth. Naturally,on the note of her teeth, with such a deformity, one wonders how she eats.
  • And then of course there's the infamous Momo of the Momo Challenge, which originated as a creepy statue in Japan with giant blank, staring eyes and a rather unsettling smile.
  • The picture in the Creepypasta ''Teeth.jpg. It was made from one of the protagonist's friends with more than just Photoshop.
  • Science and math-based artist Robby Kraft composed a face from various inanimate objects resembling faces, i.e. pareidolias. The result is square in the middle of the Uncanny Valley, and worthy of a Creepypasta.

    Web Videos 
  • In Marble Hornets, near the end of Entry #22, and in one of totheark's video responses.
  • Speaking of Marble Hornets, the Observer from Tribe Twelve has a pretty nightmarish face at the end of COMECLOSER.
  • A Running Gag in Mr. Plinkett Reviews is for him to react (or overreact...) to an inhuman looking face:
  • Todd in the Shadows is revealed to have this in To Boldly Flee, neatly explaining why he does all of his reviews in the shadows or wearing a mask. Naturally, the other characters see it but the audience does not. The horrifying thing about his face? According to Word of God, his face is a mirror into people's souls — the worse you are, the worse his face looks. Which is why the Makeover Fairy and The Nostalgia Chick have both reacted in horror to it. The fact that Lupa remained calm when seeing Todd's face may lessen this slightly (indicating that good people see a more normal-looking face). The concept is still pretty creepy, though.
  • "The Glitch" by Corridor Digital focuses on a group of game characters as they try to evade a series of game-breaking glitches. Mario falls into a glitched portion of the game world, and just before he sinks in completely, his face suddenly and graphically morphs into several hideous visages as his screams digitally decompose.
  • The reason why Laina Morris became well-known as the Overly Attached Girlfriend. And she only needs to open her eyes wide and smile to do so.
  • This trope plays a major role in Illusion of Bias when the girl is unhappy the she lost her face. She then has a nightmare where she has a hideous face.
  • The entirety of Monster Factory is based on this trope. Out of all of the monsters in the series, Truck Shepard has by far the most nightmarish face, because its features have been horribly distorted thanks to a little hacking. For example, at one point his cheek stretches into infinite and his eye is several inches away from his face. In the words of Griffin, "Yikes!"
  • Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has Michael Taylor's face at the ending of "The Devil Made Me Do It". It didn't help that the narrator had mentioned that there were still 3 demons still possessing him after an incomplete exorcism.
  • The "basic" expressions for the Inhuman Emotions that the Fantastic Drug Thalasin+ enables you to experience. Junji Ito would be proud.

Alternative Title(s): Face Worse Than Death


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