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The Croc Is Ticking

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"Tick-tock, tick-tock! Hook's afraid of an old dead croc!"
Peter Pan, Hook

Where most stories rely on a suspenseful soundtrack to foreshadow the monster's attack, some go a step further, giving it its own ominous theme in-universe. Either because it's been tagged with or entangled by a telltale noisemaker, or because it's eaten an audible mechanism — often along with the person who'd been carrying it — such a creature usually won't be much good at sneaking up on the heroes, as it'll be accompanied by a distinctive sound of its own.

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The Trope Namer is the crocodile from Peter Pan, which had swallowed a clock and was always accompanied by a "tick-tock" thereafter. Fridge Logic issues such as why the clock (radio, phone, etc.) can still be heard through a large creature's belly wall, or why it doesn't run down and/or get expelled in time, are often ignored.

A subtrope of Hell Is That Noise and Source Music, and a low-tech sister trope to Sensor Suspense. Sister trope to iSophagus, may be related to Why Am I Ticking?.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld tales of A.A. Pessimal, any manifestation of the crocodile-headed Great God Offler is always accompanied by a muffled but audible ticking. Offler does not like to talk about this very much.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Jurassic Park III, a Spinosaurus eats a man who's carrying a satellite phone. The phone is later heard ringing just before another attack, and again from a gigantic pile of dinosaur poop. Bonus points since the Spinosaurus may have actually been the dinosaur equivalent of a crocodile.
  • In Tremors 2: Aftershocks, one of the Graboids eats a radio that's blaring music, which is then heard from underground before it reappears. Although inaudible to the human ear, the vibration of an approaching Graboid can be detected by seismometers in the films and the series.
  • In a variant, the monster from Supershark emits an energy that makes radios succumb to static when it comes near.
  • While the noise doesn't actually warn anyone, the sound of a victim's cell phone can be heard ringing from inside the Piranhaconda as it slithers through the jungle.
  • The psycho killer Colt Hawker in Visiting Hours wears a small bell around his neck, which rings whenever he moves.
  • This is invoked in both the Disney version of Peter Pan, and the live-action film Hook. Particular to Hook, Peter and the Lost Boys taunt Captain Hook with a bunch of clocks, exploiting his deathly fear of their sound.
  • In Kong: Skull Island, when a Skullcrawler eats a camera. Just before it attacks again, the humans hear the camera's mechanisms whirring, and they can see its flash going off inside the creature when it strikes.
  • In Star Wars, if you hear the slow methodic sound of mechanical labored breathing, you'd better pray you're not a Jedi, rebel, errant Imperial, or even in Darth Vader's path. One of the most tense moments in the saga is during the fight in Cloud City, when Vader hides from Luke and tauntingly lets him hear his breathing as Luke nervously paces the room. This is topped shortly thereafter when Vader pulls the same trick but holds his breath. A quick, muffled gasp is Luke's (and the audience's) only warning as Vader leaps out of hiding.
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    Literature 
  • Captain Hook's crocodile nemesis in Peter Pan is the Trope Namer. It also averts the clause about Fridge Logic in the main description, as the clock running down is discussed by Hook and Smee as a definite possibility and in fact does run down just before the climax.
  • The Beast Fable called The Bell and the Cat or The Mice in Council discusses a plan to put a bell on a cat so the mice will hear it coming. Averted because none of the mice are brave enough to actually install the bell.
  • In Hex And The City, the Reality Warper Madman is preceded around the city by his own personal soundtrack, which is helpful to people who want to stay the hell away from him.
  • In Sewer, Gas & Electric, a sewer-dwelling mutant shark eats a tunnel worker whose new digital watch plays Bolero. Its next appearance is heralded by the sound.
  • Mrs. Tachyon from the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy often runs into people with her shopping cart. Fortunately, it has a squeaky wheel that the local people have learned to listen for.
  • In Too Many Curses, the Vampire King who prowls the halls of Margle's castle is cursed to emit a constant sound of ringing bells, denying him any chance of stalking prey undetected. When a more powerful monster catches and devours his body, his ghost is left behind and free of the curse, but the creature that eats him becomes subject to this trope.
  • In Wyrd Sisters, Nanny Ogg muses that Magrat's crush on the Fool has its up side: thanks to the tinkling bells on his jester hat, she'd always know where he was.
  • Carl Sandburg "Rootabaga Tales" has a scene where baby alligators are fed with clocks. ("Peter Pan" and this book are only a few years apart and it's probably a Shout-Out.)
  • Non-creature example: In Phoenix, Vlad travels to Greenaere on the trading skip Chorba's Pride. He asks why the ship's head stay has bells tied to it just as the wind shifts, and demonstrates why the bells are needed: it's to warn people on deck so the boom won't swing around and hit them in the back. (Next time, he knows to duck.)
  • Redwall: In Triss, a constant source of Nightmare Fuel is something that's only heralded by a sickly sweet smell, and causes even two certified badasses like Skipper and Log-A-Log to run like hell. It turns out to be three huge adders conjoined near their tails in early age by an entangling chain, the smell coming from their tails' necrotic flesh.
  • In The Carpet People, the termagant is decked out in bangles and ornaments, presumably by its long-ago worshipers. These jingle as it walks, allowing Snibril to trace its movements without the risk of being Taken for Granite from looking at it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played with on Get Smart, "Ship of Spies": A KAOS informer is killed just before giving Max some important information. The only clue: the killer made an unusual "clip-clop" sound. They investigate and end up on the eponymous ship where it turns out just about everyone makes that clip-clop sound - a woman with castanets, a man with a peg leg, etc.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Clockpunk monsters of "The Girl in the Fireplace" make ticking noises as they move, and break the mechanical clocks around them so people won't notice that it's them ticking rather than a nearby timepiece.
    • In the Christmas special "A Christmas Carol", a flying shark bites off the tip of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. He later detects that the missing part is coming closer, just before the shark attacks him and a young boy.
    • If a Vashta Nerada swarm eats someone in a spacesuit, you can tell because the person's ghost-circuit will repeat the same thing over and over again.
  • An episode of Seinfeld has Elaine using this technique by giving a container of Tic-Tacs to a co-worker who is master of the Stealth Hi/Bye. All it does is drive her boss crazy, because the rattling of the Tic-Tacs is heard throughout the entire building constantly but nobody can tell where it's coming from because the man is still just as stealthy as before. Then Elaine had the brilliant idea to pop a few Tic-Tacs herself while her boss was in the room, making him think she was the one making the sound all along.
  • Averted on NCIS, when Abby tries to convince an intern to wear bells so she can tell if he (like her previous two aides) tries to sneak up behind her. Gibbs arrives and distracts her before she can press the issue.
  • One of the two serial killers to plague Camp Redwood in American Horror Story: 1984 is nicknamed "Mr. Jingles", because his approach is heralded by the sound of his clinking key ring. The counselors quickly come to fear and flee that sound, even if it's actually coming from the keys of a camp staff member who's innocently locking up for the night.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Defied by the Tik-Tik, a variety of aswang (shape-shifting boogeyman) from Filipino folklore. Although always preceded by the sound for which it is named, the Tik-Tik can cause the ticking noise its movement generates to seem louder when it's far away than when it's right behind you.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The midnight peddler, an original creature from 3rd party Dungeons & Dragons monster compendium The Tome Of Horrors, is invariably encountered pushing a squeaky-wheeled handcart through deserted city streets on foggy nights. Would-be customers can locate a peddler in the fog by the cart's squeaks, while those reluctant to meet such a creepy entity can avoid it in the same way.

    Video Games 
  • In Persona 3, if you stay on one level of Tartarus for too long, you will face having the Reaper spawn. You're able to tell he's close by the sound of chains coming from his direction.
  • Throughout the Silent Hill games, the protagonists have radios which emit static whenever monsters are near—though it's never clear when exactly will they pop up.
  • In Minecraft, a very short time before a Creeper explodes (1.5 seconds on easy mode to half a second on hard), you can hear the hiss of gunpowder igniting inside its body. This is especially scary because other than that hiss, Creepers are silent. Meaning you have no warning other than a second and a half of hissing before the Creeper explodes, destroying you (or at best severely depleting your health) and whatever you were building at the moment.
    sssssssssssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS-*BOOM*
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Killer Croc alludes to the Trope Namer, making ticking noises.
  • Starcraft II: Terrans can build a sensor tower that detects enemy presence in a huge radius. But since it doesn't reveal Fog of War, there's no way of knowing what types of units they are, so what looks like a huge army may be be padded out with non-combat units.
  • A character in the second Ace Attorney Investigations game is an assassin, and has two special custom-made bells that ring whenever he approaches. One is on his knife, and one is on his vicious attack dog. After a while, the bright jingling gains an ominous connotation, even to the player. This trope is somewhat justified as the assassin is blind and presumably uses the sounds to locate his seeing-eye dog if they are separated.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Tom and Jerry short The Little School Mouse, Jerry's last lesson for Nibbles is how to set this up by slipping a bell onto Tom. After he completely fails, Nibbles simply offers the bell to Tom as a gift, and the cat's thrilled with it.
  • Parodied/blended with Why Am I Ticking? in Futurama, in the following Show Within a Show excerpt from a film billed to have "a vampire AND an explosion":
    Woman 1: Don't open that coffin! It's ticking
    Woman 2: [with stake and hammer, over coffin] I have to! This coffin isn't going to open itself!
    Dracula: [flinging open coffin and emerging] BLUUUUAAAH!
    [explosion, as advertised]
  • The Looney Tunes short "Bell Hoppy" puts a spin on the fable by having Sylvester the cat trying to bell a mouse (Hippety Hopper, the baby kangaroo that everyone thinks is a giant mouse). Not only does he keep failing, but everytime the bell rings the other cats jump out and beat him, thinking he's the mouse. Finally, Sylvester manages to bell Hoppity, but then he is captured and put in a van. As the cats hear the bell and jump out, they are run over.
  • In Jake And The Neverland Pirates, the Fridge Logic is in full effect for the Tick Tock Croc, Captain Hook's crocodile nemesis, as the awful ticking is always heard whenever the croc draws near.
  • In Peter Pan & the Pirates, when the Croc's clock runs out, time breaks down in Neverland. Tinkerbell ends up having to get in, wind the clock and get out to solve the problem.
  • Daria: In "Legends of the Mall", Metalmouth's approach was heralded by the sound of his metal dentures picking up radio signals and playing music. Oddly, the only thing they ever seemed to play was Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun".

    Real Life 
  • Cowbells, although mainly used for easy location of stray livestock, could also give a clanging warning when a ticked-off bull or ram was charging an unsuspecting target.
  • Rattlesnakes use their tail rattles to scare off predators and general annoyances.
    • Or at least they're supposed to. Sometimes, however, a rattler will strike, then rattle.
  • One particularly tragic example was invoked in certain regions of India. Members of the "untouchable" Dalit castes have historically been relegated to professions like sanitation and leatherworking, and higher castes have often regarded any contact with Dalits as spiritually unclean. So according to the ancient Chinese traveller Faxian, when Dalits left their segregated communities, they had to sound a wooden clapper to warn other people to get out of the way.
  • Medieval lepers carried bells or clappers to warn other people of the risk of contagion; the sounds these devices produced also constituted a plea for charity.
  • Not a threat, but tin cans strung behind the vehicles of "Just Married" couples provide a rattling declaration that newlyweds are approaching.
  • Supposedly, Gan Ning (of the Three Kingdoms period) wore bells on his waist sash to frighten his enemies.
  • Japanese and Chinese monks carried around a special staff tipped with rings called "Shakujo". The sound of the rings was used to warn people of the monk's coming (as a plea of charity) and to ward off animals.
  • Inverted in the many, many cultures where making loud noises — banging pans, ringing bells, fireworks — as one travels has been alleged to ward off monsters or evil spirits.
  • Some cat owners put bells on the cat's collar to warn birds or small animals the cat might be stalking. Many cats learn how to either stalk without jingling or get rid of the bell (and possibly the whole collar).
  • Since the invention of cell phones, there have been instances of ringing dogs. If a dog is big enough to swallow a phone whole, the phone can still ring, letting people know they need to go to the vet and the phone store, definitely in that order.
  • In WWII, the German Stuka dive bomber had so-called "Jericho Trumpet" sirens (known on this wiki as the Stuka Scream), driven by the propeller when diving. This let everyone know that Those Wacky Nazis were about to ruin your day, and that there was nothing you could do about it.
    • The Soviet equivalent were the Night Witches: female pilots who flew bombing missions by gliding over the enemy lines at night, so the only sound heard was the engine while taking off, then silence.
  • Riders for the Yam, a horseback messenger system established by the Mongols for rapid communication within their Empire, wore jangling bells to alert relay posts of their approach so fresh horses could be brought quickly to them, and to warn travelers on the caravan routes to clear a path for the Great Khan's mail carriers.
  • The sirens of ambulances or fire engines are intended to warn other drivers to pull over and clear the way for such emergency vehicles. Although intended as a safety precaution, the sound itself can be alarming to drivers who can't find an opening along the shoulder to slip into.
  • Due to the risk of pedestrians not hearing their engines, electric cars in Europe are now required to incorporate noise-generating devices that ensure their approach isn't entirely silent.

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