When a character (typically a young one) wishes to scare their friends (ideally after reaching the end of a scary story) they'll shine a torch or other source of illumination upwards across their face. This will often be accompanied with a Scare Chord and have a dramatic musical buildup but it's almost always Played for Laughs.
The effect works in Real Life (as long as the room's relatively dark), as the light casts a shadow across parts of the face eyes and highlights others, making it look distorted (and skull-like). Despite this, the ubiquity of the trope means that no one's likely to be fooled.
Sometimes a character might just have their face lit that way to make them look creepy. This isn't quite as dead, but there's a significant risk of this trope being pointed out, leading to Narm.
Often delivered by a character giving the Cruel Twist Ending or Karmic Twist Ending to a Ghost Story. It serves as a Jump Scare in universe but is rarely expected to scare the audience. Compare Demon Head, for a similar prosopic source of shock. Compare Ghostly Gape, which this can resemble.
- Jell-O Pudding used this in a commercial — the kids were camping on the lawn, Mom told a scary story about a creature that hunted down kids who stole pudding snacks (kicker being Mom was getting back at the kids for stealing her pudding snacks).
- Azumanga Daioh did this- Osaka shone a flashlight under her face, and told a scary story.
- City Hunter: Ryo does this several times to scare both friends and allies (he thinks that it is funny. Needless to say, no one else does).
- The titular character does this repeatedly during the "what's under Kakashi's mask" episode. Sakura is unamused.
- Yamato manages to create the effect without a flashlight in the middle of the day to scare Naruto several times.
- Ranma ½: During a Hot Springs Episode Nabiki did this as she told a ghost story to Ranma and her sisters.
- In One Piece: while telling the crew about the stories of the "ghosts" of the Florian Triangle, Sanji used a lit match to do this.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Juudai does this to the Ojama Trio while rescuing them from the abandoned well in the second season.
- In Wayne's World, Wayne scares Garth by shinning a flashlight on his face and pretending to be the Leprechaun.
- Done a lot in the The Blair Witch Project.
- The page picture is of Mitsuko Souma from the film version of Battle Royale when she enters the hut where poor Megumi is hiding out.
- This effect is used in the promotional pictures for the 1980 horror film The Children.
- Henry does this at one point in The Good Son to scare Mark, when he has Mark play hide and seek with his sister Connie. Mark, knowing of Henry's true nature, is fearful he will do something horrible to Connie if he doesn't find her first.
- In the horror movie Nightwish, a character who was previously murdered suddenly shows up again. The effect is enhanced because his face is illuminated by a flashlight.
- In The Little Mermaid, King Triton does this, with the glow from his trident, just before destroying Ariel's grotto (as he snarls "So be it!").
- In Lemon Tree Passage, Amelia does this while telling a scary story round the bonfire on the beach. She offers it to Oscar when he starts his story, but he dismisses it, saying he doesn't need special effects to be scary.
- In DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, the Genie holds a flashlight to his face when telling the boys about Merlock ("He's an evil sorcerer!").
- Played with in Septimus Heap, where Jenna is spooked by Septimus's face being illuminated by his Dragon Ring he's holding below his chin.
- Sir Percy Pelham is recounting a local ghost legend to his guests over dinner in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, and the lights go out just after he recounts a creepy detail. Before the lights come back on, he illuminates his own face this way with a lit match.
- The Rachel Maddow Show used it more than once to reference uses of fear in politics.
- A good example is from the 2/16/2012 show, opening a story on the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination campaign. Specifically both critiquing Rick Santorum's poor lighting at a campaign event and alluding to his rival Mitt Romney's worries about the former's underfunded yet oddly popular support.
- Referenced in Svengoolie's makeup.
- On Conan O'Brien's Late Night show, he would sometimes do a segment about predicting the future called "In the year 2000". (even well after the year 2000) To enhance the mood, the studio lights would be dimmed and he and his band leader would light up their faces.
- Done by Mulder to Scully in the "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" episode of The X-Files.
- Stephen Colbert has done this at least once.
- An iconic image of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
- Dexter does it once while talking to Doakes... warning him to be careful, as there are psychos on the streets.
- Frank Black on Millennium does it to a bunch of kids who have broken into his house (empty because he's separated from wife Catherine) and are telling spooky stories about him.
- Seen in the Special Edition Title of "Changing Channels" when the Winchesters are Trapped in TV Land, including a sitcom version of Supernatural which puts a light comedy spin on the brothers' ghost-hunting antics.
- Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) often did this unironically. We don't actually see the light source.
- The punchline of one FoxTrot strip reveals that Peter and Jason got lost during what was presumably a camping trip because Jason "killed the flashlight playing 'Mister Specter-Face'."
- Tripod Versus The Dragon: Scot and Yon play the evil Twin Wizards by wearing party hats and carrying torches to light their faces.
- Persona 3: Junpei does this when telling a ghost story.
- Metal Slug 5, on the character selecting screen.
- At nighttime in the Kai Tak Resort in Jazzpunk, one of the hotel clerks does this while wearing a tiki mask every time the player faces near him.
- Should you ever run out of power in Five Nights at Freddy's, you'll be treated to a horrifyingly twinkly and serene rendition of Toreador while Freddy stands in the corner for up to a minute flashing his eyes before he jumps and kills you.
- In Sluggy Freelance, one bad guy took advantage of his "Dramatic Lighting Shoes" to create this effect while monologuing. He was quite proud of them.
- Blood Stain: Main character Elliot is introduced to Dr Vlad Stein, her new employer, this way when he offers her a candle during a blackout. This, along with his intimidating appearance, does not help him make a good impression on his new employee.
- Hewy does his review of Coraline with a flashlight face in Hewy's Animated Movie Reviews.
- Used frequently by Diamanda Hagan, especially during her opening credits.
- This spoof of the Title Sequence of The X-Files.
- JesuOtaku did this (and commented on how this doesn't seem to accomplish much other than blinding you and casting shadows on your nose) at the end of his Deliciously Evil Anime Villains Countdown.
- The Simpsons: Bart tells a scary story to Homer. "...and that is how much college will cost for Maggie."
- Baljeet tries this while the kids sit around the campfire in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Get That Bigfoot Outa My Face!" His story is less than terrifying.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The creepy usher does it in "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!"
- South Park: Cartman shines a flashlight under his face to tell the story of Scuzzlebutt in "Volcano".
- Pinkie Pie does this in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Bridle Gossip" accidentally.
- Near the end of Tom and Jerry: The Movie, the villain does this after revealing her presence.
"Daddy... IS DEAD!"
- The Fairly OddParents! has an episode in which Vicky is turned nice by Timmy's godparents. When a character became evil, they would do a flashlight face in over-the-top comedic fashion.
- In the 3-2-1 Penguins! episode, "Wise Guys" Kevin does this.
- Angelica does this a couple of times after telling scary stories to the babies in "Rugrats''.
- The Spongebob Squarepants episode "New Student Starfish" has Mrs. Puff do this when she sends SpongeBob and Patrick to detention. Lampshaded in that she turns the flashlight off afterward.
- Kim Possible: Professor Dementor once tried to make himself look ominous by illuminating his face from below with a red flashlight.
- When the generator is temporarily down in Totally Spies!'s "Aliens", Jerry announces his presence to the spies this way, frightening the poor girls half to death. This was possibly on purpose, as Jerry often seems to get a kick out of scaring the spies.
- In the Jimmy Two-Shoes episode "Mt. Misery", Beezy does it twice while shouting "EVIL" in a very over-the-top fashion at the sight of a tiny weavil that Jimmy thinks is adorable. In both instances, he then turns off the flashlight and puts it away.
- In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Cheer Up, Star", Marco (unintentionally) does this when he dresses as a clown to try do what the episode's name says. Combining that with Star's apparent fear of clowns turns out to be very ineffective at cheering Star up.
- Nick Dean in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius does this when he's telling the story of the Phantom of Retroland to the class in "The Phantom of Retroland".
- While on the run from several actual zombies in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Shaggy and Scooby crash into the local gardener, whose lantern casts his face in this light, giving him broad, skeletal features and blank, gray eyes. After they run off, assuming he's another zombie, the gardener raises the lantern to eye level, showing that he was instead looking with concern.
- Bounty Hamster. In "Lonely Planet" Cassie and Marion give an Evil Laugh while shining flashlights in their faces.
Cassie: I have no idea why we did that.