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Not a Mask

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Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: [terrified, aside to Cassilda] No mask? No mask!

A horror trope which has become something of a Dead Horse Trope, as it's now almost always played for comedy. It involves a character seeing an ugly face and begin pulling at it, on the assumption that it's a mask. Of course, it's actually someone's face and the puller will typically be Horror Struck. Sometimes a purely comedic variation will occur with wigs if the joke is that a woman looks like a man. Also closely related to "I'm not pregnant, I'm just obese" jokes. Compare with Your Costume Needs Work, For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself, Mistaken for Fake Hair and Not a Zombie. Can be a result of the monster being Mistaken for an Imposter.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • In episode 439 of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, Weslie disguises himself as Wolnie, and Wolffy spends the episode chasing him down. Eventually, he comes across the actual Wolnie and, assuming she's Weslie, pulls on her face to remove what he thinks is Weslie's mask. it isn't, and Wolnie hits Wolffy with her frying pan.

    Comic Books 
  • A very creepy example turns up in the EC Comics Tales from the Crypt story "Only Skin Deep". For years, maybe two, maybe three, this dude has seen this gal with a fabulous figure and a wonderful personality at a Halloween party (and only at that party). Only thing is, she's always wearing this horrible wrinkly witch mask. Finally, he proposes to her, they go get married right after the party — still in their costumes. They consummate their marriage in a hotel, but the kicker is, she turned out the light before they undressed. He dreams that she's still wearing the mask; pulling it off, she wears the same mask underneath. He wakes up, turns on the light, and yep, there she is, wearing the mask. So he pulls it off and... off comes her skin. It was her real face.
  • Batman:
    • The Joker sometimes likes to pretend he's wearing makeup, but that ain't makeup. Well, except... Depending on the Writer, he does sometimes wear lipstick. The bleached skin and the green hair are almost always the real deal, however. Sometimes the lipstick is just the Joker making a joke, putting the lipstick on over already-red lips. Other times, he's cut his face off and only raw flesh is beneath.
    • On their second meeting, Batman tries to unmask Man-Bat, who laments that he wishes his mutated bat form was a disguise.
  • Done in a Firebreather comic, where half-dragon Duncan, while on a field trip goes to a mall, and escorted out by security after they insist on him "taking off his mask."
  • Hawkeye vs. Deadpool has Kate Bishop meet Wade for the first time while he's not wearing his mask. Because it's Halloween, she compliments him on his awesome Freddy Krueger makeup only to be informed by Clint that that's his real face. Awkwardly trying to play it off, she turns to face Clint with a comically mortified expression.
  • In Original Sin, the Orb's associates ask him to take off his mask, and he explains he doesn't wear one, his head is actually a giant eyeball. They are understandably squicked.
  • What looks like The Tick's costume is by all indications his actual body. The antenna even work. In The Tick (2016), someone asks which it is, and Tick (who in this version doesn't remember his own past) is mystified.
    Am I never naked, or am I never not naked?
  • Ghost Rider used to pull this occasionally. It freaked the hell out of Spider-Man upon their first meeting.
  • In a 1970s comic, Morbius runs into a woman who tells him his make-up is "too much". He responds that his pallor is not artificial, "You see me as I am".
  • In Spider-Man 2099: Exodus, during the fight with the Masters of Evil, Spider-Man tries to pull of Zemo 2099's mask (which appears to be basically the same as the current Zemo's, if perhaps a bit more formfitting). Cue Zemo screaming that it's not a mask, and Miguel being horrified to realise he's pulling someone's face off.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman
    • The Joker in Batman (1989) wore flesh-colored makeup to cover up his face, which toxic waste had earlier bleached white.
    • The Joker in The Dark Knight wears make-up, but the scars are real.
  • In Galaxina, the titular protagonist is trying to relieve the Big Bad, Ordric, of the film's MacGuffin, the Blue Star. She proposes a little intimacy so they can discuss the disposition of the Blue Star, if he'll agree to remove his mask so she can see his face. At the revelation that she's looking at his face, she apologizes and he blows it off. Must happen a lot...
  • Help!: After the cult members get rounded up in a snare knocking out who they think is Ringo (but is first Paul, then John in a latex mask) the Mad Scientist finds the real Ringo, first pulling at his face a few times before yanking him away by the nose.
    Ringo: I can't understand — they kept pullin' at me nose! And mine of all noses!
  • Johnny English: Played for Laughs at the climax, when Johnny attempts to expose the fake Archbishop of Canterbury at the evil mastermind's coronation, having earlier discovered the mastermind's plot to install an imposter in a detailed mask at the coronation. Only, the mastermind has since ditched the "fake Archbishop" part of his plan, so English ends up trying to pull off the real Archbishop's face on international TV.
  • Rocky from Mask is asked to take his mask off. It's his face.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: In both versions, St. Nick invites children to pull off his "fake" beard, only to be shocked it's real.
  • Parodied in Psycho Ape: Nancy's boyfriend tries to pull a prank on her and her friends by jumping out at them in an ape costume, so when the titular escaped killer ape breaks into the house moments later, she assumes it's him again and tries to pull his mask off. The mask does come off, but that's because the ape was also wearing an ape mask for some reason. Adding to the absurdity, the boyfriend's ape costume and the costume used for the "real" ape in the film are one and the same.
  • Played for Laughs at the end of Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed. After Velma unmasks the Big Bad (twice), Fred attempts to do the same to their accomplice:
    Fred: And the real identity of Ned is— [tugs at his hairline]
    Ned: Ow!
    Fred: ...Ned!
  • Gul'dan in Warcraft (2016) wears robes with Spikes of Villainy sprouting everywhere. However, when he removes his robes for the mak'gora, we see they're actually coming from inside his body due to his use of fel magic.

  • A military-themed joke about gas mask training:
    Drill Sergeant: Masks on! Masks off! Masks on! Masks off! Kowalski, I said masks off!
    Kowalski: But it is off...

  • Played straight in Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow, a short story collection that inspired H. P. Lovecraft and was a precursor of the Cosmic Horror Story. The quote used at the top purportedly comes from the titular play, of which we never get more than a few small excerpts, as it drives its readers insane (no actual performances are ever suggested). The King in Yellow character is implied to be some sort of Humanoid Abomination.
  • In Beastly, Kyle goes to a Halloween party where he starts talking to a girl who asks to see him again, but to do so, she needs to know what he looks like. You know the rest.
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied by Death in The Light Fantastic, explaining why he appeared at a summoning ritual with a cocktail and a sausage-on-a-stick. "The party's nice, but I expect it'll all go downhill after midnight. It's when they think I'll be taking my mask off."
    • Terry Pratchett played a similar situation (almost) straight in his short story Turntables of the Night, with the catch that it's from the perspective of a guest at the party (who may or may not be drunk.)
    • Maskerade features Death appearing to a recently-deceased man while dressed in a bright red suit and an extremely cheap skull mask. The man demands that Death removes his mask, to which he complies. The man then asks him, with rising panic, to remove his other mask...
    • In I Shall Wear Midnight, Mrs. Proust sells stereotypical warty and hideous witch masks and gloves, and appears to be wearing a full set. Then Tiffany realizes that the masks she sells are copies of her own face.
  • An interesting variation occurs in the Goosebumps book The Haunted Mask and its sequel. Here, the titular mask and its siblings were real faces. The work of a Mad Scientist, the artificial (we hope!) faces started out beautiful, but became monstrous because the experiment was flawed.
  • May have been the case during the Bal Masque in Gaston Leroux's original The Phantom of the Opera. Justified example here: Erik's deformed features actually resembled a skull, so everyone thought he was wearing a skull-like mask with his Red Death costume. Also an homage to the above Poe story.
    • It's referenced directly when Christine unmasks him - Erik digs her fingers into his skin to prove his appearance is genuine, all the while mockingly asking if she thinks this isn't his real face.
  • In Quozl, the rabbit-like aliens are wandering around Disneyland pretending to be people in suits. (The protagonist's sister had written them into her kids' TV show) Hilarity Ensues when the security guards confront them for being dressed up like characters from a rival company.
  • The Reynard Cycle: In what is undoubtably a Shout-Out to Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow, the crew members of the Quicksilver encounter a rather disturbing mask-wearing, yellow shrouded merchant when passing through the lost city of Carcosa halfway through the course of Reynard the Fox. Shortly after this encounter, the clearly troubled captain of the ship claims that he encountered the same merchant at least fifty years previously.
    Bruin: How do you know it was the same merchant? Did he wear that weird mask?
    Captain Roenel: That was no mask. No mask.
  • Shel Silverstein's poem "Best Mask?"
    They just had a contest for scariest mask,
    And I was the wild and daring one
    Who won the contest for scariest mask—
    And (sob) I'm not even wearing one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens multiple times in The Munsters, usually to Herman whose appearance most resembles a person in a Frankenstein's monster costume.
  • Used in the first episode of Torchwood. The fact that the guy looks like an alien wearing a normal janitor's jumpsuit plays with you.
  • The League of Gentlemen's Papa Lazarou is not normally wearing makeup, despite looking like some manner of Monster Clown; he needs the makeup to cover the rest of his face rather than the genuinely skin-colored parts when he wants to look human.
  • In the Tales from the Crypt episode "Only Skin Deep" (itself adapted from the aforementioned comic book story of the same title), the guy finds out the woman a deranged Serial Killer who murders men and cuts off their faces for her "art" he hooked up with during a Halloween party isn't wearing a mask when he scratches her and draws blood.
  • Used in an episode of Angel when Fred's "very normal" parents first meet green-skinned demon Lorne, they refer to him as a man in a bathrobe wearing make-up. Lorne defensively replies that "it's just a little eyeliner."
  • A meta example: when Rene Auberjonois first started playing Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he would eat lunch in the Paramount cafeteria and prank people by pretending that he wasn't wearing a mask. The makeup job gave him an unsettling resemblance to a burn victim.
  • The Ultraman Tiga episode "Deban's Turn!" features Deban, a child-like, harmless alien who lives with a travelling circus troupe. According to the troupe leader, Deban's backstory involves the alien bumbling into the group, which they befriend thinking he's just another costumed performer, but they later discover the truth when asking for Deban to remove his mask during lunchtime.
  • Played with in the The Twilight Zone (1959) episode The Masks, where everyone wears hideous mask to earn an inheritance, only to find the masks deformed their faces.
  • Played for Laughs in El Chavo del ocho. El Chavo and La Chilindrina decide to try and scare Quico by playing ghosts, the former with a bedsheet and the latter with a horror mask. When they get caught, Don Ramón angrily tells la Chilindrina to take the mask off, and she complies. Then as he exits the house, he demands (again) that she takes off the mask, only for her to inform him that she already did, and when he verifies that she's telling the truth, she starts wailing.

  • Parodied in Old Master Q in one story where he encounters a Bedsheet Ghost. Seeing the ghost's face to be cloth, Master Q decides to yank it... behold, a two-headed ghost!

    Multiple Media 
  • Used in Scooby-Doo on multiple occasions.
    • On The New Scooby-Doo Movies in "The Exterminator" episode Don Adams keeps removing masks off Lorne Chumley until by accident he pulls at his face. "Well I guess that really is Lorne Chumley".
    • Another Scooby-Doo example is the Halloween 1976 episode of The Scooby-Doo Show, where Shaggy falsely thought Elwood Crane was wearing a mask.
    • Perhaps their most famous instance was in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, since that movie was advertised as "The Monsters are Real". And so, when Fred PULLS a head off, it's shocking for all present.
    • Then in Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase when they meet up with old monsters, Scooby and Cyber Scooby attempt to unmask the Gator Ghoul to end up learning this virtual one is real.
    • In Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, the guy working for the Evil Masked Figure is Ned, whom Fred tries to unmask, only to find out that he is exactly as he is.
    Ned: Ow!
    • In the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "The Man in the Mirror", Fred Jones' biological parents Brad Chiles and Judy Reeves respectively disguise themselves as Fred and an elderly Daphne Blake to try and trick the gang into leading them to the Planispheric Disc. When Scooby and the gang turn out to be wise about their ploy, Fred tries to unmask his father, only for Brad to reveal that he isn't wearing a mask and actually had plastic surgery done to make him look like his son. Judy has her face tugged on by Velma as well, who admits that she knew she also had plastic surgery and just wanted to cause her pain for the heck of it.
    • In the half-hour Halloween special Scooby-Doo! and the Spooky Scarecrow, Fred compliments the hunchbacked and misshapen store owner Mr. Bumpy on his mask, only for Mr. Bumpy to reply with "What mask?"


  • Cyrano de Bergerac: In Act I Scene I, Cyrano is described by one of his friends, Raguenau:
    Above his Toby ruff
    he carries a nose!—ah, good my lords, what a nose is his! When one sees it
    one is fain to cry aloud, 'Nay! 'tis too much! He plays a joke on us!' Then
    one laughs, says
    He will anon take it off. But no!—Monsieur de Bergerac
    always keeps it on.

    Video Games 
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: At the start of Chapter 4, when Nekomaru Nidai comes back as a cyborg after being mortally wounded in the last chapter, Kazuichi thinks they're just wearing an elaborate costume... up until he tries to take off their mask.
  • This happens in Persona 4 in the first meeting with Teddie. While Teddie's head isn't a mask at first, it is detachable, to Yosuke's shock when Teddie takes it off to reveal his hollow body.
  • Fain of Lusternia. He used to be a handsome leader amongst the Elder Gods, but he partook of too much of the Soulless elixir and his trademark mask became fused to his face. His full title, incidentally, is "Fain of the Red Masque".
    • Rendered even creepier by the fact he can still make expressions with it, the metal of the mask violently contorting to reflect his wrath.
  • Played for laughs in the second Professor Layton game. When the professor and Luke first run into Inspector Chelmey, who Don Paolo had impersonated in the previous game, Luke immediately assumes it's him again. He has to be pried off the victim, who has no idea why Luke is trying to pull his face off.
  • Discussed in Batman: Arkham Knight. An Arkham Militia member can say that's he still creeped out from having to talk to Scarecrow and another will mock him for being afraid of his mask "It's Halloween, remember?". Leading to this:
    Arkham Militia #1: (grimly) It's not a mask.
    Arkham Militia #2: (horrified) What that thing-that's his face!?!

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In the story "Tall Tales" in the Paradise setting, characters who began to see through the Weirdness Censor assume that the Funny Animals they see are humans wearing costumes. Of course, they are all attending a Furry Fandom convention at the time.
  • In this creepypasta for The Fear Mythos, this trope is applied to the Plague Doctor:
    "He had a funny beak face," the child said. "I asked him. I asked him why he was wearing such a funny mask. He told me that he wasn't wearing no mask."

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In the first episode of The Batman, Batman attempts to wipe the Joker's makeup off to identify him, but it doesn't work.
    The Joker: Smear free. It's permaclown!
  • Seen in a first-season episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon, in which Beej helps Lydia throw a Halloween party - by bringing a number of monsters from the Neitherworld to be guests. Her rival Claire picks one out and fawns over him all evening, mistakenly believing he's a really cute boy in a costume. Toward the end of the evening, Beej suggests that she introduce him to her parents in order to make it official, and she urges him to "take off that silly head." He does.
  • Played with by Drawn Together in a Scooby-Doo parody.
    Captain Hero: This is no fat monster... (rips Toots' head off) It's a blood fountain!
  • Kaeloo:
    • In Episode 65, Mr. Cat wears a disguise as Pretty. Kaeloo thinks that the real Pretty is Mr. Cat disguised as Pretty and tries to pull her face off until she sees the real Mr. Cat somewhere else.
    • Happens to Pretty again in Episode 83, this time with Stumpy thinking she's Ursula in disguise.
  • Loopy De Loop was twice mistaken for a person in a wolf costume, once at a costume party, and once thought to be a criminal.
  • Once on Magilla Gorilla, Magilla went to a costume party and saved the day. But when asked to remove his costume every one freaked out to learn he was really a gorilla.
  • In one episode of Popeye, Bluto asks the Sea Hag to disguise him via a youth potion which makes him look handsome so he can charm Olive Oyl. Popeye somehow recognized Bluto via the latter's voice, then tries to "takes [sic] off that mask" (to quote Popeye directly) by clawing at Bluto's face, which obviously doesn't work, much to Olive's disconcertion.
  • Over the Garden Wall: In "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee", when Wirt and Greg arrive in Pottsfield, they see what appear to be pumpkin people and Wirt seems vaguely worried this trope is in effect. Once he talks to one, however, she (truthfully) explains they're just costumes. Beneath the costumes, however, they're walking skeletons.
  • Played straight and inverted on different sides in The Owl House episode "Edge of the World": King at first appears to find his homeland, where everyone is a furry Horned Humanoid with a Skull for a Head like him. Turns out they're witches (humanoids) who hunt King's species while dressed up like them, and they thought King just had a particularly good costume.
  • Punch!: In David Suzuki's segment on mimes, he states that, despite popular belief, mime's aren't really people in make-up. He proves this by picking up a nearby fire hose and spraying a mime with it. The mime's "make-up" doesn't have a single bit of white or black running down.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Used at the end of "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part 1)":
      Chief Wiggum: This isn't Mr. Burns' face at all! It's a mask! [pulls on his face] Oh wait, it is Burns. Heh — his wrinkly skin lo-looked like a mask.
    • Krusty's face is usually shown as stark-white without anything put on it. In "Homer's Triple Bypass", Krusty tells Homer what heart disease has been like and points at his own face: "I got news for ya. This ain't makeup."
    • Also inverted by Krusty in "Bart the Fink", where he goes under the alias "Rory B. Bellows" for a while. The Rory persona looks like a "normal" Simpsons character — that is, with yellow skin, short brown hair and a normal nose. It turns out that it isn't Krusty without his clown makeup, but rather Krusty with a disguise that covered his usual clown face... even his red nose is hidden under a fake yellow one!
    • In one episode, the Simpsons go to a not-Ikea and meet its mascot, a figure made out of allen wrenches known as "Alan Wrench".
      Bart: (knocks on the side with an audible metallic clang) Cool costume.
      Alan Wrench: (robotic voice) It's not a costume, they found me inside a meteor.
      Marge: Excuse me, where can I find hamper lids?
      Alan Wrench: (normal voice) Hamper lids? Third floor. (turns back to Bart, robotic voice) Help, I need tungsten to live. Tungsteeeen!
  • In The Smurfs (1981) episode "All The Smurf's A Stage", Timid Smurf has been impersonating various Smurfs in order to show his acting ability, and he is (almost) convincing in each of his roles. When the Smurfs who don't know Timid was doing all these acting roles go to Papa Smurf to tell them that there is a Smurf among them that is impersonating other Smurfs, another Papa Smurf shows up, and Brainy pulls on his beard, thinking him to be the impersonator, only to find that that was the real Papa Smurf and the Papa Smurf they were talking to was Timid impersonating Papa Smurf.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants:
    • SpongeBob once pulled Squidward's face off, thinking it to be a disguise. It wasn't.
    • Same thing happened with Mrs. Puffs and the prison guards after SpongeBob and Patrick tried to sneak into prison disguised as guards.


Video Example(s):


You Need to Drink More Water

Just before Boimler is about to be assimilated, the Borg Queen is impressed with how Boimler almost looks human until he reveals he is human, which shocks the Queen.

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