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Spooky scary skeletons
Send shivers down your spine
Shrieking skulls will shock your soul,
Seal your doom tonight.
— "Spooky Scary Skeletons" by Andrew Gold
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Generally, skeletons were once seen as genuinely horrifying. They ended up becoming Camp at a later point...

But, that is not what this trope is about.

This trope is about skeletons and/or skeleton-like beings and monsters who are completely sinister and Played for Horror. Can Overlap with Eldritch Abomination and Undead Abomination. The Grim Reaper is often, though not always, portrayed as this. Contrast Friendly Skeleton. This is a Super-Trope to the following Skeletal Tropes:

This is a Sub-Trope of Dem Bones.


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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk : The appropriately named Skull Knight has a skull for a head, although nobody knows what's under the armor. When you add the glowing eyes, the ominous voice, the spiky armor, a serrated sword made of behelits and an appropriately ghoulish horse this guy is creepy. But he has saved Guts and the heroes before and is a self-proclaimed "foe of the inhumans".
  • Bleach: Espada Baraggan Louisenbairn's Resurrecion transforms him into a skeletal humanoid figure wrapped in a black cloak and crown. He is a powerful foe whose Respira attack causes anything or anyone that comes in contact with it to rapidly age to dust.
  • Digimon Adventure: When Taichi forces Greymon to evolve to his Perfect-level, it results in him becoming SkullGreymon, a giant walking dinosaur skeleton who lashes out at everything around him in a berserker rage. For a short time afterward, Taichi was afraid of having Agumon evolve worried that he would become SkullGreymon again.
  • Fairy Tail: Keyes, or the "Black Archbishop" of the Tartaros Guild, is a skeletal necromancer capable of reviving and controlling reanimated corpses. Despite allegedly being the weakest member of Tartaros, he's still a Knight of Cerebus who's not played for laughs in the least. And Juvia having to defeat him would be key to freeing Gray's father, Silver Fullbuster, from his twisted control and allowing his soul to rest in peace.
  • Overlord: Protagonist and resident uber-lich Ainz Ooal Gown certainly seems to fit the trope, and commands a great deal of fear from those who see his true face.
  • Sailor Moon gives us Wiseman/Death Phantom. He is an absolutely monstrous Eldritch Abomination who Was Once a Man before merging with the Planet Nemesis to become a Genius Loci, using avatars with the appearance of a cloaked skeleton to communicate and advance his plans via Manipulation, Mind Rape and corrupting others. When he begins using the Planet Nemesis for combat, it takes on the appearance of a giant skull. His goal? Destroy everything. Justified as he is a spawn of the Greater-Scope Villain of the franchise, Chaos. In the Anime, nobody knows where Wiseman came from, and the cloaked skeleton is actually his true appearance, rather than it being the Planet Nemesis. Still, either way, he will gleefully Mind Rape children if it will further his plans to destroy everything.

    Comic Books 
  • Pictured above is Nekron from DC Comics. He is a monstrous entity that desires to kill off everything else and was the main antagonist of Blackest Night. He rose an army of Black Lantern Zombies and began a rampage across the universe, taking down nearly the entire Justice League in the process.
  • Mistress Death from Marvel Comics is a cruel being who looks like a skeleton and is the Anthropomorphic Personification of death itself. Thanks to her manipulations of Thanos, who is in love with her, half of the universe is wiped out, essentially making her The Man Behind the Man to him.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Diana first comes across the chained skeleton of her predecessor Artemis the skeleton seems to creepily move from room to room without explanation. Once Artemis escapes from the island where she died she becomes an unstoppable vengeful enemy who horrifies the Amazons due to the implications of her death and abandonment.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Skeletons are animated by the power of a God of Evil and given to the service of the Evil Overlords called Dungeon Keepers. Ami seeing their creation early on is also a horrifying wake up call as to how awful the Keepers and Dark Gods are. A prisoner's skeleton is animated while they are still alive and it gleefully starts shredding their flesh to escape while they are trapped in helpless horror.
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    Films — Animated 
  • The Horned King from The Black Cauldron looks like a skeleton and wants to raise an army of undead to Take Over the World.
  • The Last Unicorn: The movie had a very creepy skeleton (voiced by the legendary Rene Auberjonois) guarding the clock entrance to the Red Bull's lair. The heroes manage to bribe him for information using the 'memory' of wine, but when he realizes Lady Amalthea's true form as the titular unicorn, he immediately sounds the alarm.
  • In Pooh's Grand Adventure Pooh and his friends become convinced that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a monstrous "Skullosaurus" and taken away to a place known as "the Skull." The heroes run from this creature for the duration of the story. As for "the Skull," while it is revealed to be a rocky outcropping as opposed to a skeletal one, it looks appropriate to the name and is pretty ominous.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Army of Darkness doesn't hold back. Ash faces off against an entire army of evil undead skeletons, complete with their own Calvary and siege units. Some of the deadites even have rotten flesh to up the fear factor.
  • Zigzagged in Terminator 2: Judgment Day where the skeleton of Sarah Connor was clinging on to the chain link fence after her flesh had been blasted off by the shockwave from the nuclear bomb, leaving the creep factor there but no malice.

    Literature 
  • Reaper Miniature's Dark Heavens setting included a Necropolis of Egyptian-style undead, and the pirate crew of Captain Razig.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Princesses Don't Play Nice has multiple skeletons:
    • A character is literally facing a animated skeleton, whose "eyes burned with a life that had no place in the waking world."
    • A group of them prevent the party from leaving the area, until a duel is complete.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant may be a good guy now, but he was once a villain known as Lord Vile, and looked like a skeleton in armour.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel Station Rage, the villainous High Gul and his elite soldiers all have a withered, skeletal appearance, the result of having been left for over eighty years in a form of stasis that was only supposed to be used for a few months.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Power Rangers:
    • Rito Revolto from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is a skeleton-like alien and is the minion and brother of the original Big Bad Rita Repulsa.
    • The Skullgators from Power Rangers Ninja Steel are Giant Mooks themed after the Gashadokuro and hence look like monstrous skeleton creatures. Their sent by the main villain faction to battle the rangers in their Megazord.
  • Lord Fear from Ace Lightning is a skeletal being and Card-Carrying Villain.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: In "The Tale of the Dark Music", a shapeshifting monster manifests in the basement of the protagonist's house whenever he listens to his radio. One of the forms the creature assumes to attack the boy is a skeleton with frightening red eyes.
  • Zigzagged in Doctor Who Two-Parter Silence In The Library and Forest Of The Dead, where the Villain of the Week, the Vashta Nerada, is not evil but a scavenger-like species who feed on roadkill, but they overpopulated on the planet the episodes take place on and many people die as a result.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World: The villains of "Skin Deep" are shapeshifting aliens whose real appearance resembles a human skeleton. Their goal is to imprison and replace the local wildlife, though they soon realize that their body structure makes them unable to faithfully replicate anything other than the human heroes.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands: Contains malevolent skeletons. Of particular note is the "Walkin' Fossil", reanimated dinosaur skeletons.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Animated skeletons are almost always Evil by definition; even mindless skeletal Mooks will try to murder the living when left to their own devices. In realms where players are allowed to be Necromancers, an evil Character Alignment is often guaranteed.
  • Future Card Buddy Fight: Many monsters from Darkness Dragon World invoke this trope, typically Death Rulers, Gate Guiders, and other monsters with the Death attribute. Most possess abilities that allow them to bypass the opponent's center monster to inflict damage or to turn an opponent's monsters against them.
  • Kings of War: The an undead faction has some skeleton troops, including skeletal giants, dragons, animals, and large monsters. They are not portrayed as good guys.
  • Reaper Miniature's Dark Heaven setting included a Necropolis of Egyptian-style undead, and the pirate crew of Captain Razig.
  • Warhammer:
    • One of the major factions is the Tomb Kings, which are composed of undead skeletons bought back through necromancy. They are genuinely creepy, though normally, although rather than malicious, they lean more along the lines of being very territorial of their land of Nehekhara. That said, there is one Tomb King who proves to be just as malicious as the Chaos Gods; Nagash, whose ultimate goal is to kill everything in the world and then bring them back as mindless undead for him to lord over.
    • Age Of Sigmar returns the two (well, four really) undead factions, where Nagash runs an army of ghosts, zombies, and weird iron-and-bone constructs, but does have some classic armed skeletons; and the Ossiarch Bonereapers, constructs of oddly shaped bone and specially selected souls.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Maryokutai is a monster that resembles a human skull with glowing green eyes. Its destiny is to fuse itself with a dark warrior in order to wipe out all life in its home planet.

    Video Games 
  • Castlevania: Reanimated skeletons make up a large portion of the Big Bad's army. There are multiple variants, such as the standard Mooks that attack by throwing bones; undead warriors that wield medieval weapons; Nova skeletons that can shoot powerful energy beams; and blood skeletons that can reassemble after being destroyed.
  • Minecraft brings us The Wither, a boss with the appearance of a skeleton-like Hydra that wants nothing more than to kill everything that is not The Undead, it being capable of destroying almost every block in the entire game.
  • Fortune Summoners: Skeletons are a type of enemy, but at least one is non-violent.
  • Helen's Mysterious Castle: Skeletons are monsters made to be part of a monstrous army of evil. But, they've retired in the titular castle and don't want to be monsters.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Stalfos and other skeletal enemies appear throughout the series, typically acting as mini-bosses in some dungeons. They are typically defeated by striking them when they drop their guard.
  • There are two skeleton items in Love Nikki - Dress Up Queen which belong to horror-themed outfits.
    • The wing item "Sniffing the Rose" from the suit Black Rose is a cloaked skeleton which is embracing Nikki from behind with one arm, with its head peering over her.
    • The foreground item "Specimen No. 7", from the suit White Demon, is a skeleton which has one hand around Nikki's shoulder and in the other holds a test tube full of a mysterious chemical. The suit it belongs to represents the character Gray Raven, an evil Mad Scientist with a Morally Ambiguous Doctorate; the skeleton is implied to be his favorite patient's skeleton, with the test tube full of their heart or soul's essence.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • The Skeletal Horror in RuneScape is an undead sentient collection of bones; it covertly gets the player to collect various creature's bones (and some golden wool for a 'non-chafing manacle') and once this set of quests is complete unlocks a boss fight with the Horror. Said Horror is related to the Jungle Horrors seen in the Pirate Islands, and is related to the mysterious Xau-Tak, who appears to be the setting's Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has the Bonerdagon, which is one of the strongest bosses and a bona fide horror in-universe.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: The God King of the Eternals is a four-armed, four-winged, legless skeleton whose armies are bent on invading the world from the Void and ending all the mortal races.
    Narrator: The chill of death, then its very visage: the pale skull at the heart of the Void.
  • Doom: One of most dangerous enemies the Doomguy will face is the Revenant, a very tall skeleton suited with a plated of armor with rocket launchers attached. Making its debut in Doom II, it is something of a Demonic Spider, who not only its missiles can cause a great deal of damage to the player, sometimes, they can even follow him around hoping to hit their target. And in DOOM (2016) and Doom Eternal, they're not any less dangerous, now being able to fly with jetpacks.

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    Western Animation 

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