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Scary Shadow Fakeout

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When normal objects are arranged in a manner that resembles a monster.

A character (usually a child) has heard a Ghost Story and is frightened that the monster described in said story will come for them. Later (always at night), during a thunderstorm, that character will see what is undoubtedly the shadow of the monster!... only it turns out to be several normal objects arranged so that it vaguely resembles the monster. How they got that way, we'll never know.

This often pops up in kids' shows, and usually involves tree branches with no leaves (even if it's in a setting where It's Always Spring).

Truth in Television to some extent. Impossible Shadow Puppets are often involved. See also Big Shadow, Little Creature, Poorly Lit Pareidolia, Shock-and-Switch Ending. Contrast Shadow Discretion Shot. Compare Bait-and-Switch Silhouette (a similar gag with silhouettes instead of shadows) and Coincidental Accidental Disguise. May be used for a Pseudo-Crisis Cliffhanger.



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    Comic Books 
  • Featured several times in Gaston Lagaffe, when the eponymous character's car, instrument or other materials create a frightening illusion in a low visibility area.
  • In Grant Morrison's run on JLA, Plastic Man diffuses a prison riot by shaping his body so he can cast a Batman-shaped shadow, utilizing the prisoners' fear of the Caped Crusader to convince them to surrender.

    Comic Strips 
  • In this Get Fuzzy strip, Bucky Kat, having been warned by a horoscope to "Beware of the Grim Reaper", ends up frightened by Rob in a loose-fitting jacket holding a baseball pennant.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In the animated movie Brave, Merida's little brothers use a plucked chicken to make a shadow which looks like a bear to help lead the adults on a wild goose chase looking for the bear supposedly in the castle.
  • At the end of Pooh's Grand Adventure, a shadow of a monster which may be the Skullasaurus approaches Rabbit, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore with a stomping sound, but at the last second the shadow changes shape and it is revealed to be Christopher Robin. This makes more sense when it is later revealed that much of the film was shown Through the Eyes of Madness.
  • In Mickey And the Beanstalk, when Willie the Giant first appears, his shadow makes it look like he's wielding a mace (as per most traditional depictions of the giant). He's actually playing with a big rubber ball, and looks a lot goofier than his shadow would indicate.
  • In an animated short on "Sesame Street", a boy sees (and seemingly hears singing) a shadow of what appears to be a dancing alligator. The shadow turns out to be of his dog, Sparky.

    Films—Live Action 
  • In What a Carve Up!, Ernie sees a shadow 'round a corner that appears to be the killer standing with a club raise, ready to strike him. He dives round the corner and tackles it, only to discover he has just tackled a suit of armour holding a mace.
  • Toward the beginning of Flight of the Navigator, a Flying Saucer-shaped object throws a huge shadow on the ground, and people look around in alarm to see— the Goodyear Blimp.
  • V/H/S. Played with in "Amateur Night". Three college kids take a girl to a hotel, hoping to video her during sex. She murders one of them during the act and the other two flee into the bathroom, but realise they can't stay there. They emerge into the darkened hotel room to see what appears to be a shadowy Eldritch Abomination, but it's only Lily standing in an odd position. Of course that changes once she starts to transform...
  • Combined with "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody in Police Academy 3: Back in Training. Sweetchuck is alarmed by the sight of a sinister shadow on his shower curtain of a man wielding a knife, only for it to turn out to be Zed clutching a tube of hair gel (a sight he finds no less terrifying).
  • The Locals: While trying to break into a farmhouse, Grant gives himself a Jump Scare when he thinks he sees the homicidal farmer lurking behind him. But when he turns around, it is just a hooded coat hanging over an old pair of boots.

  • In children's book Bedtime for Frances, Frances sees a large, dark shape in the corner and thinks it's a hostile giant. When she asks it what it wants, it turns out to be a robe draped over a chair.
  • Curious George in the Dark: George becomes scared of the dark until The Man with the Yellow Hat tells him that the monsters are just the same objects as they are in the light and gives him a nightlight.
  • In Till We Have Faces, the high priests of Ungit believe the kingdom is being visited by a god known as the Shadowbrute because a shepherd saw an enormous shadow on the mountain behind his torch. The Fox points out that if the shepherd was using a torch at night, well then of course there would be a shadow behind it, no divine interference necessary.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked in The Longest Journey: you must assemble a pile of things to make a shadow that resembles one of a man pointing a gun, so that a guy sees it and gets scared.
  • Pokémon Snap has a shadow of a Pinsir that is formed by assorted junk in the power plant level that is visible if the Zapdos egg is hatched.
  • In the Tanker level of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Snake sees the silhouette of Vulcan Raven (who died in the last game), only for it to be caused by an action figure and some other junk someone left in front of a flashlight.
  • In Resident Evil 2 (Remake), you're tricked into thinking that a zombie is waiting around the corner on the third floor of the Police Station, only to find out that it's a small statue on a desk with a lamp behind it. Then in the 2nd Scenario, there really is a zombie there.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: Subverted in one of the Randy Beaman stories, where his mother assures him that the shadow he mistook for Dracula's is just that of a coat on a hanger. It's actually Dracula.
    "One time Randy Beaman was alone in his bed, and he was in the dark, and he saw some shadows and thought it was Dracula, but his mom said it was the coat hanging on the rack, and he turned on the light and it really was Dracula."
  • Arthur: In "Is There a Doctor in the House?" Arthur is awakened one night by a thunderstorm. His door is open and a flash of lightning makes a shadow appear on the wall outside his bedroom that appears to have pointed horns and a cape. It makes Arthur shriek but then we see the shadow was just D.W. with her Mary Moo Cow doll over her head about to round the corner and enter Arthur's room.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes: Zig-zagged in "Jimmy, Don't Be A Hero". When Lucius thinks he sees Jimmy in his room at night, it turns out to be a coat rack; later in the episode, however, the same thing happens, and this time it really is Jimmy, creepily watching Lucius while he sleeps.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "What Lies Beneath", Silverstream hides from a shadow of the Storm King and his minions. When Gallus shows up, he sees that the shadows are merely those of piles of stacked rocks.
  • Little Princess: In "I Don't Want to Go to Bed", the title princess sees a shadow and thinks it's the shadow of a monster that's in her room but it's only a tree.
  • The Magic School Bus: In "The Magic School Bus Gets Lost In Space", Ralphie and Keesha see the shadow of an alien advancing through a cloud of dust towards them. It turns out to be Arnold, in a spacesuit, carrying a load of stuff for Janet.
  • Total Drama: While out camping in the woods in "The Sucky Outdoors", Bridgette has to go pee in the dead of night and leaves the Killer Bass' tent. She is spooked by a swarm of bats and one gets stuck on her face. Her panicked movements to get it off are emphasized in shadow form by the campfire against the tent panel, frightening the Killer Bass who were already on edge by Duncan's story about a serial killer.

    Real Life 
  • Of course, many Real Life people have experienced this at some point or another. In Real Life, this is an example of pareidolia, seeing or hearing patterns or significance in what amounts to the random noise of the world. The most famous example would be the face on Mars, which combines coincidental shadows (the eyes) and a square of missing data (the nose) to construct a human face. Later, better photographs eliminated the illusion completely.