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The Killer in Me

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"So it wasn't Dwight after all. Looks like I'm the killer. You never expect that you're the killer. It's a great twist. Great twist."
Michael Scott, The Office (US)

A character (usually the main character, but sometimes sharing equal billing) is chasing or being chased by a killer or monster. A lot of people end up dead, but not this character, and in the end we find out why: the "hero" was the villain all along.

This can go one of two ways:

The Amnesiac Killer is the more common variation, primarily because it's easier to write, as the audience is taken through the same reveal as the character himself. The Secretive Killer is particularly hard to pull off with the main protagonist (a minor protagonist is more commonly used for this reason) since the audience is always told the story from their perspective. If the events are shown directly, maintaining the twist right until the end therefore runs the risk of either Out Of Character Moments or losing focus on the character to conceal their real identity. A reliable method is to have the events (re)told through an Unreliable Narrator.

In many cases, the Amnesiac Killer is essentially a Memory Gambit told In Medias Res. A Split Personality is common; see Alternate Identity Amnesia. This trope could be the result of a Heel–Face Brainwashing. In Speculative Fiction, this may be due to a Superpowered Evil Side or Enemy Within.

When handled with care, it can be a powerful Twist Ending. When tacked on just for the sake of surprising the audience, however, it is likely that key events in the story will become illogical, or in the worst case, physically impossible.

Compare Tomato in the Mirror, in which the character finds out some other truth about who or what they are.

Not to be confused with The Killer Inside Me.

Warning: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, that means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.

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Examples of Secretive Killer:

  • Along Came a Spider: Monica Potter's character is the mastermind behind the kidnapping, who orchestrates the murders she is supposed to be investigating.
  • The protagonist of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt murdered a woman, covered it up, framed himself for murdering her (it made sense in context), got a mistrial declared, and finally was caught in the end.
  • The ending of Circus Kane reveals that Tracy had planned out the entire death house experience alongside her father Balthazar Kane — with her taking over the business upon his death.
  • Teased in Final Judgement: At one point, the homicide detective drops the bombshell on the protagonist suspect that the artist who we saw commit the crimes has been dead for six months, leading the viewer (and the hero) to briefly question their own sanity. However, it immediately turns out that the detective was lying strategically, and the artist has in fact just gone off-grid.
  • One of the earliest movie examples: Forbidden Planet, via "Monsters from the Id." Though in this case the murderer is established as not being willing except on the level of the Id. He just fails to inform the other characters that his subconscious is creating monsters running around killing people.
  • In Hellraiser: Inferno, Detective Joseph Thorne turns out to be the Engineer, the very serial killer he's been hunting throughout the film and also the child victim. Both are physical aspects of Joseph himself created by Pinhead: the killer is Joseph's savage hedonistic side and the boy is Joseph's childhood innocence. It's capped off with the evil one slitting the kid's throat, signifying how Joseph destroyed himself through his own mistakes.
  • In low-budget slasher (aka, main character and narrator Mary is a very shy introverted and sexually inexperienced young woman who wants to be a film star. She, along with other young (and sex-crazed) women, moves into a house that is part of a pornographic internet page. Before the sex scenes can start, all main characters of the film are killed off, and it turns out that she killed them all for ruining her dream by the end.
  • Kevin Costner's investigator protagonist in No Way Out (1987), with the twist that, while he's not guilty of the murder he's investigating (and being framed for), he is guilty of being the Soviet mole that it's blamed on.
  • One Night in October: Michelle has a murderous split personality inside her that she's aware of. When she finds herself tied up in her house by people who intend to rob her, the personality asks to take over, which she has no other choice but to comply with.
  • The protagonists of A Perfect Getaway are eventually revealed not to be in fear of the killers, but to actually be the killers. The other couples who are presented as potentially the killers are either their next targets or stooges to pin the murders on.
  • Perfect Stranger: Halle Berry's character murdered her 'friend' (who was blackmailing her) and successfully pins the blame on the innocent if slimy Bruce Willis. Oh, and she murders again when another friend tries to blackmail her about setting up Willis. This one is pretty much the result of last-minute Executive Meddling to decide the identity of the killer.
  • Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear, who reveals at the very end of the movie that his innocent persona was all a lie.
    Martin Vail: So there never...there never was a Roy.
    Aaron Stampler: Jesus Christ Marty, if that's what you think, I am disappointed in you, I don't mind telling you. There never Aaron, Counselor.
  • The (fake) FBI agents played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond in Surveillance.
  • The protagonist of Dario Argento's Tenebre is revealed to have killed the murderer — an obsessed fan of his — halfway through the movie and then used it as a cover for a murder spree of his own.
  • The Uninvited (2009): It turns out that Anna murdered every person that died. She doesn't remember anything she's done until a massive flashback scene. It also comes with The Reveal that her sister Alex has been Dead All Along.
  • In the French film Vidocq, the title character is a detective who disappears chasing the mysterious murderer known as the Alchemist. Vidocq's biographer Etienne takes up his investigation. Eventually, it turns out Etienne is the Alchemist himself, who tries to find and eliminate all clues leading to him that Vidocq left.

  • Agatha Christie:
    • Arguably one of the more masterfully executed examples of this trope in literature is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which it turns out that the killer is none other than the book's own narrator, James Sheppard. His recollections are completely truthful- they just leave out a few key details.
    • Christie did this again in Endless Night, with another Unreliable Narrator. In Endless Night Michael, the first-person narrator, relates how he fell in love with Ellie, a sweet young woman, and they got married. Soon after their marriage, she's killed in a riding accident. Then at the end of the novel, Michael reveals that he and Ellie's governess/companion, Greta, conspired to kill her and take possession of her enormous fortune. Much like in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Michael doesn't lie, he just leaves a lot of stuff out.
  • If The Dead Rise Not: Much of Part II has Bernie Gunther investigating the murder of Max Reles, a notorious gangster. The ending reveals that Bernie himself did it it, party because Reles the Asshole Victim was dating Bernie's daughter, but also in part as long-delayed revenge for a murder Reles committed 20 years ago. Bernie, who narrates the story first-person, describes the before and after of Reles's murder but doesn't reveal that he himself did it until the end.
  • James Patterson:
    • Beach Road. This trope was so skillfully done that if you aren't paying close attention, the end will throw you for a massive loop.
    • Cat and Mouse combines parts 1 and a bit of part 2 as well.
    • The Lake House does this; the beginning of the book says that the events are being told by the characters and may be inaccurate, but you're likely to ignore it until The Reveal.
  • The detective-narrator of William Weld's Mackerel by Moonlight. Well, sort of. He's actually innocent of the murder he's accused of, but the twist ending reveals that he's secretly the Russian mole that the villain blamed the murders on.
  • "Man with a Hobby" by Robert Bloch: The narrator sits at a bar and is approached by another man (who's carrying a bowling bag like the narrator himself and a lot of others because there's some bowling event going on). The stranger starts talking about a Serial Killer known as the Cleveland Torso Slayer, who was in the habit of taking the victim's head with him. Then the police arrive and the stranger leaves in a hurry. He almost forgets his bowling bag, but the narrator hands it to him. Soon we hear that the stranger was apparently the Torso Slayer himself, because his bowling bag contained the most recent victim's head, and he had also stolen some money from the same place. The narrator's last line reveals that he was glad that the thief hadn't noticed he handed him his (the narrator's) own bag.
  • Anthony Horowitz's Moriarty is narrated by Fredrick Chase, a Pinkerton detective who traveled to London after Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes died from falling down a waterfall. While looking at Moriarty's body, Fredrick meets Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard detective who was sent to see the body. He tells Athelney that the reason he came to London is that he suspects that an American criminal named Clarence Devereux was trying to partner up with Moriarty, and now that Moriarty is dead, he may try to take his place. Together, the detectives work to find Clarence and his criminal partners, and they succeed, though someone keeps killing the partners they find. After Fredrick and Athelney catch Clarence, Fredrick shoots Athelney in the head. The narrator then reveals that he was Moriarty all along and that he pretended to be a detective to get help from the law to find Clarence and his associates, and that it was Moriarty and his muscle (one of them being Sebastian Moran) who killed the criminals. After explaining to the reader how and why he carried out this plan, Moriarty takes Clarence as his prisoner, now planning to take over HIS crime web instead of restoring his own. Though Moriarty faked being on the side of the angels, he admits that he was genuinely fond of the Athelney.
  • The Shooting Party by Anton Chekhov. The framing device is that a newspaper editor reads a manuscript by a retired local magistrate Kamyshev, describing a murder investigation. It's autobiographical, and in the manuscript Kamyshev's stand-in Zinovyev catches the culprit. However, the editor notices some inconsistencies and deduces the identity of the real murderer: Kamyshev himself. Confronted with the editor's deductions, Kamyshev reveals that that was his intention: to make a hidden confession and thus alleviate the pangs of his conscience. However, he has no intention of surrendering to the law, even though an innocent man went to prison because of intentionally botched investigation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in season four of Angel: Cordelia was the Big Bad masterminding the events of the first two-thirds of the season. In actuality, she was possessed by a powerful and manipulative deity, Jasmine.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Superstar", there is a monster running around attacking people. It turns out that it is a side effect of the spell Jonathan cast to become the Uber Cool Guy. Slightly subverted in that it was a separate entity.
  • Marlena on Days of Our Lives was brainwashed into becoming "The Salem Stalker" by the Demera family. Outwardly, her personality was unchanged, and the killer's identity was not seen by the audience until during the seventh murder. She wound up killing nine people before being shot dead herself — not one of them stayed dead, of course, but this is Days Of Our Lives we're talking about.
  • In one episode of Porridge, an elderly man in prison for murdering his wife years ago repeatedly protests his innocence. After eventually being granted a full pardon, he reveals he knows exactly what happened to the actual murderer: He killed him before being arrested for the wrong murder.

  • The song "Buenas Tardes Amigo" by Ween appears to be about a man seeking revenge against his brother's killer, but in the end, it is revealed that he did the deed out of jealousy, pinned the blame on someone else who promptly fled, and is about to seal the deal by killing the man he framed.
  • In the mothy song "The Tailor Shop on Enbizaka", Sudou Kayo avoids mentioning that she was killing anyone by saying simply that someone was killed.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Betrayal at House on the Hill, the start of the Haunting reveals that one of the players is a traitor (with some exceptions — some scenarios have multiple traitors, or none, and in some the player character is killed off by the real villain, who is then played by their player) who have either brought the others to the house for a sinister purpose or betrays them for other reasons. As the role of the traitor is decided by which Haunting scenario is played, which is decided the moment the Haunting starts, this will come as a surprise to everyone. You thought you were just snooping through an abandoned house? No, you're secretly part of a cannibal club and the people you brought are tonight's dinner, which you planned all along!

    Video Games 
  • Heavy Rain plays with this. Multiple hints suggest that Ethan Mars may or may not be one of the amnesiac variety, but that's a Red Herring. The real Origami Killer is Scott Shelby, a different player character who clearly knows he's the killer, but we don't find out until late in the game.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: Manny Pardo, one of the player characters, is revealed to be the Miami Mutilator he's been investigating. Possibly.

    Visual Novels 
  • Chaos;Child, plays with this trope, as the killer is actually the Deuteragonist who's a human subconsciously created by child Takuru, in order to fulfill his wish to feel special and be entertained. They are a representation of his child-like desires and represent a mindset he has to overcome.
  • In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, initial PC Kaede Akamatsu is the first culprit, killing Rantaro Amani with a death trap. Observant players might notice that her internal monologue gets suspiciously sparse and vague, and she does a few things that are later revealed to be setting up the trap. The sixth chapter reveals that it actually wasn't her and she was framed, but she's still an attempted murderer because she was trying to kill someone and her trap failed by chance (had Rantaro been in a slightly different position, she would have really killed him), which the mastermind used to convince everyone, including Kaede herself, that she did it.
  • War: 13th Day has you as the killer. The game leads you to believe that you are playing yourself, a relatively passive observer. All this time, you've actually been one of the characters from their world — specifically, the one who killed the main star. Now, the question is...who are you?

Examples of Amnesiac Killer:

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami, who repeatedly insists that he is not the supernatural killer Kira, and does not remember being Kira, is Kira. Note, however, that this only applies during his Memory Gambit during the Yotsuba arc.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry:
    • In the manga-only chapter Onisarashi-hen, viewpoint character Natsumi Kimiyoshi is responsible for the deaths of her family members, though she doesn't realize until the end due to Trauma-Induced Amnesia.
    • In the first arc Onikakushi-hen, the main character Keiichi realizes that people around him are acting crazy and people are dying...He gets increasingly afraid and kills his two best friends in self-defense. It wasn't. He was just being paranoid and delusional.
  • K inverts it by starting with this setup — Yashiro is caught on video committing the murder, but he swears he doesn't remember it. Is it this, or is he lying? Then it turns out his memories are fake. And the answer is neither — he was body-snatched. And Yashiro Isana never existed.
  • In Monster (1994), Inspector Lunge assumes this to be Tenma's problem for pretty much the entire story because all the evidence he can find says Tenma is the killer.
  • The yaoi manga Rub In Love begins with Ruma's wife being shot in front of him, followed by his best friend Taiki seducing him. It gets hinted that Taiki hated Ruma's wife and had tried to seduce him since school time. Ruma meeting the assassin (a woman) in his apartment makes it seem as if Taiki wasn't it. Taiki was actually the woman in his apartment, but not the murderer. Ruma had loved Taiki the whole time as well, married his wife so he can still see Taiki, and then hired an assassin to kill her as a birthday present for Taiki. Naturally, the offender doesn't remember until the very end.

    Board Games 
  • Most well-known in Cluedo/Clue, since the murderer could be any of the six Player Characters. Including yours, and you don't know if you did it or not (unless you've got your own card in your hand, or seen it in someone else's). And, as amusingly pointed out in Murphy's Rules, if you deduce that you are the killer, you win the game by denouncing yourself.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman Two Faces Elseworlds, Bruce Wayne used a potion to transform into Batman, who is the embodiment of all his good qualities. A mysterious killer who laughs started appearing and killing prostitutes and Batman chased after him. Only after investigation, it was discovered that he was the Laughing Killer who was the embodiment of all his bad characteristics.
  • In Blaze of Glory, Lance Temple is hunting down the Outlaw Kid, unaware until the final issue that he is the Outlaw Kid. He is driven to tears when he finds out. Downplayed because he's the only one who thinks the Outlaw Kid is a killer, and it's an Internal Reveal to boot.
  • In The Boys, the Homelander believes he's suffering from this after receiving photos of himself performing heinous acts like baby-eating. It's really his clone Black Noir trying to drive him insane so Noir can receive the order to kill him.
  • An issue of Cable & Deadpool featured our favorite merc investigating a murder in Providence, his buddy Cable's brand-new Utopia, only to have the investigation end with a two-page spread of Deadpool saying, "Now the only question is...why did I kill this man?!" It eventually turns out that Deadpool's healing factor is interpreting traumatic memories as damage and healing them over, leading to periodic blackouts.
  • In the Crime SuspenStories tale, "Mr. Biddy....Killer!", an assistant D.A. relates how he recommended that the death penalty given to Archie Chester be rescinded, and that Chester instead be committed to a mental institution. During his trial, Chester claimed that a mysterious man named Mr. Biddy befriended him and induced him to murder his wife, promising to take the blame for the killing — only to vanish after the crime. Just hours before Chester's sentence is to be carried out, the D.A. visits the man out of pity and is stunned when Chester screams, "Tell him, Mr. Biddy! Tell him how you killed Emily!" to an empty chair in his cell.
  • Inverted in Alan Moore's Greyshirt comic, when a man finds himself with a bloody hammer and a dead woman, and no memory of either. He reads in the newspaper that the Hammer Killer has murdered eight people and flees the police as it must be him. But when Greyshirt and the police find him, they tell him he was the next victim: the Hammer Killer slipped while attacking him and broke her skull. Unfortunately, he has killed someone who tried to stop him, thinking he was a multiple murderer anyway.

    Fan Works 

  • Spoofed in Adaptation.: Donald's hackneyed script "The Three" has the twist that the killer, the detective, and the victim are all the same person. Charlie complains that it makes no sense, but it's a smash hit anyway.
  • In An American Werewolf in London, the protagonist David Kessler is bitten while his friend Jack is killed. When Jack warns him that he will change on the next full moon, David scoffs that he'd never do it. Later, after his first night out, David finds himself in the wolves' cage at the London Zoo, no idea how or why. Jack explains that he kill people the night before while a werewolf. During the next night, despite his trying to get arrested, David changes again and fails to recognize his girlfriend, the nurse who took care of him earlier.
  • Angel Heart: Detective Harry Angel is hired by Louis Cyphre to track down someone who skipped out on a deal with him, and is serious enough about it to kill to cover his tracks. After traveling to New Orleans to investigate and being framed for several murders, Harry comes to the horrid revelation that he is the missing person, had sold his soul to the devil, who has set the whole thing up so that he will be executed by electric chair and then go to Hell, thus fulfilling his debt.
  • In Before I Hang, Dr. Garth develops a serum to reverse the effects of aging and tests it on himself. However, he uses the blood of an executed murderer to develop the serum, which becomes a Psycho Serum as a result. He becomes a Jekyll & Hyde, driven by sudden overwhelming urges to kill, but then not remembering committing the murders afterwards.
  • In the '80s TV movie Blackout, Keith Carradine's character is in a car accident with another man, who dies. Keith loses his memory and is hideously disfigured. One of the two men is/was a serial killer, but no one, including Keith, knows which one. Until Keith starts having blackouts, dressing up in bondage gear, and trying to axe-murder his wife.
  • Blind Horizon: It turns out that "Frank" is one of the three men intending to kill the President whom he's been trying to stop. That's how he knows of the plot. Nonetheless, he ends up stopping it anyway.
  • At the end of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, it is revealed that the three remaining main characters have been killing off their friends over the course of the movie, who they were hallucinating as evil people.
  • The VERY historically inaccurate film of "The Boston Strangler" says this is the case with the killer, Albert De Salvo, and much of his time in custody is spent trying to get him to realise that there's another personality inside the gentle family man. This proves difficult, because he doesn't actually remember blacking out during the killings, and has false memories of what he was doing at the time. It should be noted that the real Albert De Salvo was never even suspected, much less diagnosed, with having any sort of Multiple Personality Disorder. It's even debated whether he was the Strangler, along with whether these killings were all committed by the same man.
  • Subtly implied in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, where Francis finds out his best friend Allan has been murdered shortly after finding a motive to kill him. The Twist Ending of the movie is mostly that the bulk of the film was Francis' insane recollections of the events leading to his imprisonment at a mental asylum, and he's populated the story with the other patients around him, but Allan is nowhere to be seen at the end because he's still dead. The funny thing is that Francis never figures out that he's the real killer, and unless you pay careful attention to the subtext, neither will you.
  • This is a popular interpretation of The Descent, with Sarah as the killer.
  • In Dragonball Evolution, Goku finds out that the evil Oozaru, which he's spent most of the movie on a mission to defeat, is actually him. Somehow. Even though the Oozaru is supposed to be thousands of years old and Goku himself is only a teenager. It's not really explained.
  • The twist ending of Dressed to Kill reveals that the shrink was the murderer — unknown to himself due to a Split Personality disorder.
  • Fight Club: Toward the end of both the novel and the movie, Tyler Durden and the unnamed protagonist are revealed as physically being the same person.
  • The 2008 film Hide combines this with Tomato in the Mirror: The Villain Protagonist is the same person as the serial killer who abducted and has been torturing the protagonist's sister; when The Reveal is made, the protagonist kills his sister, then proceeds to torture his girlfriend in a Gory Discretion Shot. Then we learn that he's been Dead All Along and the entire movie was just one more rotation in a long loop of Purgatory where he kills his loved ones over and over again, ad infinitum.
  • Haute Tension (also known as Switchblade Romance in the UK and High Tension in the U.S.): The insane truck driver who ties up Marie's friend Alex and murders Alex's family...turns out the be Marie herself; the insane truck driver is her alternate personality. Alex, the film's true heroine, is abducted by Marie because of a suppressed lesbian attraction.
  • Hide and Seek: "Charlie" is an alternate personality of David himself.
  • Identity: Our "hero" turns out to be one of a serial killer's alternate personalities and all the deaths in the movie are of various personalities inside the killer's head.
  • In the metafictional horror movie Madhouse (1974), horror actor Paul Toombes (Vincent Price in a bit of Meta Casting) begins to suspect that he may be the Theme Serial Killer who is terrorizing the movie studio with murders taken from Toombes' own Dr. Death series of films. Ultimately subverted when it turns out that Paul is not the killer, but a target of gaslighting by the real killer, who is envious of his success.
  • Memento. The protagonist has frequent short-term memory loss and is trying to find the man who killed his wife. In the end, we find out his wife survived the murder attempt. She's still dead by the time the movie starts, but only because the protagonist killed her accidentally with an insulin overdose, and chose to preserve his sanity by rehearsing a story that it all happened to someone else, called Sammy Jankis. So now he chases criminals in revenge for an act he himself committed. Maybe.
  • My Bloody Valentine 3D. The Split Personality of Jensen Ackles' character is the killer.
  • Played with on a less grand scale in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. Freddy kills Coach Schneider. The camera then pans back to Jesse looking at the dead body, covered in blood and wearing Freddy's killing glove. When Jesse sees the evidence and realizes that he is the killer, he freaks out. In a later scene, Freddy bursts out of Jesse's body and kills Jesse's friend Grady. Pan back to Jesse again covered in blood and wearing the glove. He curses at Freddy, who is still standing in the room, but when he throws the glove at Freddy, it breaks the mirror that Jesse saw Freddy in, revealing that Jesse was only looking at a reflection of himself.
  • The Number 23: Jim Carrey's character murdered his cheating girlfriend and suffered a guilt-induced nervous breakdown, causing him to forget the whole affair. The titular book was written by Jim's character (who wrote the rough draft), and his doctor (who fictionalized the story).
  • Paradox (2016): It turns out Jim, who's the closest thing to a single protagonist, is the mystery killer. He's not exactly amnesiac, but the version of him onscreen doesn't know about for most of the film it because there's time travel involved — that is, not until the future version of him tells him that he's about to do it all. Mind you, in another example, it turns out that it will be not him but Gale who becomes the mystery character that sets up the Stable Time Loop leading to the invention of the time machine.
  • In Salvage, teenager Claire Parker is seemingly trapped in a time loop reliving her murder at the hands of killer Duke Desmond. At the end of the film, it's revealed she is Duke Desmond, who has been killed by the police and is now trapped in Hell reliving his last murder from her perspective for all eternity.
  • The film version of Secret Window — Shooter does not exist; he is a schizophrenic hallucination undergone by Mort to commit acts (murder, arson) Mort himself could never consciously bring himself to do.
  • The protagonist Gordon from Session 9, who we follow most of the time, turns out to have gone through a Sanity Slippage and killed his family and co-workers off-screen.
  • Shrooms: There are no ghosts or wild killers and Lindsey Haun (probably) cannot see the future; the mushrooms have driven her violently insane and she is the one who kills everyone.
  • Happens in The Thirteenth Floor where the hero has blackouts during which somebody else is taking over to go about his bad deeds.
  • In Triangle, Jess, who winds up killing all other characters (including herself) in doppelganger form, and is eventually revealed to be continually reliving the same sequence of events because she's a) insane, b) dead, or c) both.
  • Homaged in the Wallace & Gromit film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: The duo spend the first half of it trying to find a monstrous rabbit-creature that's destroying everyone's prized gardens. Turns out it's Wallace after a science mishap has caused him to transform into said creature at nightfall.
  • In You Might Be the Killer, Sam calls his friend Chuck for help with a killer who has been murdering the counselors at his camp. After hearing Sam's account of the events, Chuck raises the possibility that Sam himself has been conducting the killings without realizing it. Sam has indeed been committing the killings, while possessed by the evil woodcutter's mask.

  • In Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, Alexander Bonaparte Cust realises with horror that he has apparently been committing the serial murders during his memory blackouts. Averted, as it then turns out that he's actually being manipulated into thinking so by the real killer and is completely innocent.
  • Margaret Millar's Edgar-award winning thriller Beast In View, in which a woman who is apparently the victim of a malevolent stalker turns out to be being persecuted by her own malevolent alternate personality, is the Ur-Example in the crime genre of the "the villain is actually the hero's or PoV character's evil alternate" idea. Unfortunately, it later became a groanworthy cliche due to simplistic and/or logistically impossible examples.
  • Interestingly, the Jim Thompson novel The Killer Inside Me isn't an example of this trope, as it's told from the first-person perspective of a character who knowingly and admittedly is committing the murders in the story, and isn't hallucinating or hiding anything. Or is he?
  • At the end of Monster by Diana Hoh, the protagonist discovers that she is in fact the monster who has been attacking her fellow students, due to a science experiment that went wrong, causing her to transform into a monster and have no recollection of the attacks. A very surprising twist, as she never even suspected herself.
    • Also a theme in another of Diane Hoh's books, 'The Night Walker,' in which Quinn suspects that she is attacking people while sleepwalking. It turns out she isn't; the real culprit is trying to frame her for it.
  • Murder on the Leviathan features an English aristocrat who accidentally killed his wife through dangerous driving, went insane as a result, and has internalised the story: he recounts it as though it happened to someone else and turns violent when confronted with the truth. This isn't a major part of the story and is not a revelation to the other characters, but is to the reader.
  • The Nothing Man by Jim Thompson: Inverted. It turns out the protagonist, who had thought he was killing people the entire time, invented all of it; every one of his "victims" either died of an accident, committed suicide, or survived. This probably wasn't the original ending he had in mind.
  • Mariastella Cosentino in The Scent of the Night — throughout the book, everyone is looking for Gargano, who stole a lot of money from some very angry people. Mariastella was in love with him and when he came to her for refuge, she shot him and blacked it out completely, so to her, Gargano was still alive and missing, not dead and wrapped in plastic on her spare room bed.
  • Stephen King's novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden". Later the Johnny Depp film adaptation.
    • The novella may have been a case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. The Mississippi writer is a real person who died prior to the events in the book. His ghost may have done all the things the main writer did, or may have driven him to them, or may not have been a ghost at all.
  • Michael Crichton's novel Sphere used a similar twist.
  • Stephen King's short story "Strawberry Spring", which appeared in the collection Night Shift.
  • Ted Dekker's Thr3e, where the protagonist, villain, and love interest are all split personalities of the same person.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Angel episode "Somnambulist" at first appears to be an example of this trope, but it turns out that Angel is having dreams as a result of his connection to one of his vampire progeny, who is the actual murderer. This does make Angel indirectly responsible.
  • Banjun Drama: In "Since That Day", a man goes on a search after a mysterious woman starts appearing in his vision after a car crash. By virtue of confronting the man he had assumed to be her murderer, he finds out he himself killed her in a car crash.
  • In the Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction segment "Malibu Cop," the titular detective discovers that he himself is the murderer he is searching for. He committed the crime while sleepwalking. Supposedly this story was "Fact."
  • Ironically, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Killer in Me" is not an example of this trope. The earlier episode "Sleeper", however, has Spike as a Manchurian Agent under the control of The First, killing and then having no memory of having done so.
  • One murderer in Criminal Minds didn't seem to realize he was a killer until the BAU themselves showed him proof. In this case, though, it's made abundantly clear to the viewers that he's the killer from very early on, so it's only a shock to him. This leads to a rather bizarre and intense interrogation scene where the BAU keep showing him more and more evidence that he did it and he keeps refusing to believe it...until it all comes back to him.
  • In season 6 of Dexter, Professor Gellar is a split personality of Travis Marshal after he killed the real one. This is one of the less effective uses of the trope, as the stretched-out one-season story arcs of Dexter meant that much of the audience already saw this coming a mile off when the signs were becoming too obvious.
  • A completely non-supernatural but incredibly tragic example drives the A-plot of an episode of Hill Street Blues: A fight between two men at a homeless hostel ends with one of them stabbed to death. The only person who claims to have seen what happened turns out to be suffering from what was then known as Multiple Personality Disorder, but eventually it becomes clear that one of his personalities was the true killer. When the man realises this, he throws himself out of a fifth-floor window to make sure his murderous alter can never hurt anyone again. While the responding officers desperately try to save his life before an ambulance arrives, he experiences a few moments of clarity and is finally able to give his real name before Dying as Yourself.
  • The TV movie In The Shadow Of Evil is about a cop who develops amnesia while on the case of a serial killer whose pattern indicates that he will kill again in a month. Towards the end of the month, he has regained enough of his memory to realise he's investigating himself and switches from Amnesiac Killer to Secretive Killer.
  • Kamen Rider Build: Sento Kiryu is appalled to find out he might have murdered someone right before losing his entire identity a year prior to the story's beginning. It's absolutely out of question as he is now, but there is nothing that would prove his previous identity's innocence. The actual murderer faked his death to repurpose him as an Unwitting Pawn.
  • Subverted in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, "Consumed", where a sleepwalking cop (who has a rather mean personality while doing so) is the suspect, but it's quickly established that he wouldn't have been able to commit the murders since his sleepwalking self couldn't use a gun. It turns out that his neighbour had been manipulating him (and preventing him from getting treatment) so she could use him as a fall guy.
  • Mouse (2021): Ba-reum was a serial killer before he got hit with Laser-Guided Amnesia. He's horrified when he regains his memories and spends the rest of his life trying to atone for his crimes.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Little Red Riding Hood was told to stay inside whenever the full moon was out because a gigantic wolf was stalking around the village. It turns out she is the werewolf, and her Granny was trying to protect the other villagers by keeping her inside. Red Riding Hood, of course, had no idea it was her, and often snuck out anyways, causing gruesome murders every so often.
  • Davis of Smallville, who turns out to be the human form of General Zod's pet project, a.k.a. Doomsday.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Repression" follows Tuvok as he tries to find out who has been secretly assaulting crewmembers and rendering them comatose. It turns out to be Tuvok himself, having recently been brainwashed by a transmission hidden within a message from his son. None of the victims die, fortunately, but instead end up brainwashed themselves as part of a conspiracy by a disgruntled former Maquis to take over Voyager.
  • In Twin Peaks, the revelation that Leland Palmer is actually the supernatural serial killer BOB and responsible for many of the deaths in the series, including Laura Palmer's, happens twice. First, BOB's identity is revealed through a mirror to the audience. In a later episode, Leland realizes what he did/what BOB made him do as BOB leaves his body, and has a moment of remorse.
  • The Wheel of Time (2021): Mat has serious doubts whether the farmers were killed by him or a Fade. Rand assures him it was the Fade, but Mat isn't convinced and asks Rand to Mercy Kill him if he goes insane. He promises to do the same to Rand.
  • The X-Files:
    • The copycat killer in "Grotesque" is a leading investigator of the original case. As a part of the team, he's chasing himself. Did he know? Maybe, as he specifically requested Mulder, who he believed is the only one who could crack the case. However, he seems genuinely appalled and distrustful when Mulder reveals to him that it is him who they are chasing. In addition, as the original Serial Killer, he claims that he was possessed by a demonic force. A classic Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane of The X-Files.
    • In the episode "Chimera", Ellen Adderly is as horrified as anybody by the murders of her friend and later her rival in their community. At one point, she believes that she is about to be attacked by the stringy-haired creature she saw in the mirror. Then it's found out that she suffers from a Split Personality, and her aggression was how she dealt with her husband's cheating on her.

  • Krayzie Bone's song Don't Know Why. Krayzie essentially blanks out after killing his ex-employer, but doesn't remember doing it. He wakes up in a graveyard covered in blood. Of course, things get worse for him when cops show up at his front door, more or less confirming his fear.
  • The Living Tombstone's "September" ends on a Wham Line this way, after the protagonist suddenly recalls a memory that tells him exactly why he woke up After the End.
    I just remembered
    What happened in September-
    I'm the one who killed them all,
    I survived after the fall.

  • Arnold Schoenberg's song-cycle/single-role opera Erwartung (Expectation) — In a forest, an amnesic woman looks desperately for her lover. She finds his bloodied body and cries out for help. Her memory gradually falls into place — she has killed the man for his infidelity.
  • Sort of: Part of one of the oldest-known Twist Endings: In Oedipus Rex, the main character spends the play trying to find the murderer of the previous king. At the end, somebody makes Oedipus realize that he himself (unknowingly) was the murderer- the audience saw the murder, but no one knew who the victim was. It only goes downhill from there...
  • In Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier, Aladdin turns out to have been the one who killed his parents under the influence of a murderous split personality. However, considering he is nearly as bad himself (minus the intentional homicidal tendencies), he doesn't really mind once he figures it out.

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent:
    • Daniel tortured criminals to perform a ritual to protect himself from the shadow, and doesn't realize how many people Alexander gave him to torture were actually innocent until he murders an innocent girl.
    • In the Justine DLC, the woman you play as, who seemingly has been captured by the titular Justine Florbelle and forced into horrifying trials along with many innocent people, is actually Justine herself who gave herself amnesia as another test.
  • In Batman: Arkham VR, the culprit of Nightwing's murder is revealed to be Batman himself, whose body was hijacked by the Joker. He discovers this only in the end.
  • In Captive (RPG Maker), the protagonist wakes up in a room with no memory of who she is, and tries to escape the building she is trapped in. She finds corpses all throughout the building and experiments done with them. The endings reveal that she was the killer, who was experimenting on the men to try to cure her father's unknown illness.
  • In the Chzo Mythos, this is heavily implied in the second game with Player Character Malcolm. He's definitely a Tomato in the Mirror in that he killed his father to get on the spaceship initially, sure — but since we're playing from his perspective, who's to say he wasn't the one possessed by The Welder all along? This is referenced in the special edition commentary, though never clarified.
  • Don't Escape: In the third game, it's eventually revealed that the protagonist, while asleep and under the control of the crystal, is the true culprit of the murders in the ship. The Golden Ending is achieved by destroying yourself and the ship with a bomb to permanently destroy the crystal.
  • In the indie adventure game Downfall (2009), the protagonist, Joe, realizes that the entire game has been subterfuge for his shotgun-toting rampage through his own apartment building. In true Silent Hill fashion, all of the monsters were innocent tenants, and Joe's damsel in distress, Ivy, is long dead. A police detective pops up in the game's finale to inform us that, no, we're not really in a hotel, and "Ivy" is just some lookalike whom Joe kidnapped and killed.
  • One of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout's main plot threads is Edna (the protagonist) attempting to find evidence that proves her father wasn't guilty of murdering her childhood acquaintance Alfred, for which he was sentenced to death. The climax reveals that Edna herself was the one who killed Alfred (she pushed him down the stairs in a particularly tense moment) and that revealing herself as the murderer would make her father's death for naught, as he sacrificed himself to save his daughter from being executed for murder.
  • Heavy Rain sets this up fairly early on with Ethan Mars, who has periods where he blacks out then wakes up with an origami figure in his hand. It's a blatant Red Herring. However, the real Origami Killer, Scott Shelby, still is an example of this trope but is a Secretive Killer Unreliable Narrator instead. This unfortunately leaves the piece of origami in Ethan's hand after a blackout that happened to occur when he son was kidnapped completely inexplicable. The initial idea was that Scott witnessing the death of Ethan's son created a psychic connection between the two; it was cut for being inappropriately science fictional, but nothing was left in its place.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, it is revealed about halfway through the game that the main character is a mind-wiped Darth Revan being manipulated by the Jedi Council. Also counts as a Tomato in the Mirror.
  • In Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, the show within a game Address Unknown ends like this: The protagonist, who spent the entire show looking for the murderer of his family, a man named John Mirra, realizes that he was the killer after he sees the killer's face staring back at him in a bathroom mirror. This, incidentally, may mean the whole purpose of the show was to set up a truly terrible pun which is lampshaded by some mooks you hear discussing the show: he solves the mystery in the bathroom (as in, the john) by looking into the mirror...Also a Tomato in the Mirror. John is schizophrenic, given that he flat out believes the killer is from an alternate Noir York and that he is hunting Mirra in the alternate dimension. John eventually embraces the Mirra personality. When he receives a phone call from himself, he realizes the Noir York doesn't exist and he really is a murderer and screams in horror.
  • In Need for Speed: Carbon: Own The City, the handheld version of NFS Carbon, the player character has amnesia after a car crash that also killed their brother Mick Rogers, and makes his way through the city in an attempt to find the man responsible. It turns out they were the one who caused the crash, due to how much of an overbearing and toxic person Mick was both towards the player and Sara, Mick's former girlfriend; not only that, but their closest friends knew the whole time, and were only helping them to try and stop them from finding out.
  • [PROTOTYPE]: "Three weeks ago, someone released a lethal virus in Penn Station. I woke up in a morgue..." This is part of the opening narration by Villain Protagonist Alex Mercer. Guess who released the virus? Played with; Throughout the game, the virus is established to be sentient. The protagonist is not Alex Mercer; it's the virus itself using his body and identifying as him. And yes, the virus itself is deeply disgusted by Alex's actions. Not a Subversion since Alex already knows the (massive, by the way) spoiler by the time he finds out what happened, so it never seems like it's going to be played straight.
  • Silent Hill:
    • In Silent Hill 2, James goes to the town of Silent Hill in order to determine whether or not his wife — who died three years ago of an unnamed illness — is still alive after receiving a letter from her. In reality, he smothered her with a pillow days before, may have her in the trunk of his car, and repressed the memory of it ever happening. The town of Silent Hill forces him to realize this truth. Depending on the endings, it's either this or a Mercy Kill.
    • In the Bad Ending of Silent Hill: Origins, it is implied that Travis is actually a Serial Killer and The Butcher (the monster that looks like a Pyramid Head Expy) is a manifestation of Travis' "dark side". It was never officially stated if this ending is canon or not.
  • Part of the backstory of Siegfried in the Soul Series. He swears to avenge his father's murder. Guess who did it...
  • The Suffering: Ties that Bind: At the end of the game, it is revealed that Blackmore is really Torque's alter-ego.
  • The plot twist of Trapped, the first game in The Trapped Trilogy, reveals the amnesiac Dan McNeely is actually the Big Bad of the series and a ruthless murderer and gang leader.
  • In Twisted Metal: Black, Preacher believes that he is the victim of Demonic Possession after an exorcism, with the "demon" driving him to kill. When he wins, he finds out that there was no demon and that he was Evil All Along. This leads him to jump off a building in regret.
  • This is the twist of the white chamber.
  • In Xenogears, when we find out that Id, an Ax-Crazy fighter is really another personality of Fei, combining this trope with Enemy Within.

    Visual Novels 
  • Chaos;Head is a subversion. While the main protagonist, Takumi Nishijou, is a mentally disturbed Unreliable Narrator who's quickly implicated in the New Gen killings that drive the plot, and even gets point-blank accused of being the culprit early on, he really is innocent of the murders. However, he is being manipulated by the Big Good who's fighting the larger conspiracy behind the killings, and the killer themselves is someone Takumi knows via an online chatroom.
  • Throughout Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, while it's known that all the students lost two years' worth of memories, Hajime seems to suffer the most from it, being unable to remember even his talent. So naturally, he's horrified to learn that not only is he a Reserve Course student who erased his identity to gain every talent imaginable but is also a member of Ultimate Despair, and the true mastermind behind the killing game who put AI Junko in the virtual world.
    • And later, in V3, Gonta Gokuhara winds up as this when he makes a mistake wiring himself into the Virtual World and finds himself without memories of what happened there- which inclcuded himself and Kokichi conspiring to murder Miu.
  • Inverted in Tsukihime, where Shiki sees himself walking around the city at night and killing people when he should be sleeping, and fears that this trope is in effect. Actually, he's watching the experiences of the real killer, SHIKI, with whom he shares a spiritual link. Although he really does have a killing impulse and a killer in him, but it only targets non-humans.
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, player character Sigma turns out to be Zero, the mastermind behind the Nonary Game.

  • In-universe in Unwinder's Tall Comics strip 91: the twist ending of Sonty Mick's short story "The Murderer in the House". He didn't know he was the killer because he had a brain problem.

    Web Original 
  • Critical Role: Fresh Cut Grass has a hidden Sanity Meter that decreases when they end up in stressful situations. When it runs out, their eyes turn red and they go violently berserk. The first time this happened they attempted to gore Chetney with a buzzsaw, and started hurling the party's deepest insecurities right back into their faces after being restrained by Ashton. They had no memory of what had just happened afterwards, and seemed extremely shaken at the idea that they harmed their friends.
  • Mystery Skulls Animated: Arthur's arc starts out as this in "Ghost". He's chased around the mansion by Lewis, but it's only near the end of the video that we see why: some time in the past, Arthur got possessed in a moment of weakness and pushed him off a cliff to his death. Episodes afterwards show that Arthur had no idea he did it, or even that Lewis is dead for that matter; he keeps an active log of locations he might be (merely thinking he went missing), and his lack of memory is implied to be trauma-induced.
  • Played with in SMBC Theater's "Homicide Detective" skit. Guess who the murderer is!
  • The twist ending of the Creepypasta "Stop Scaring Everybody" has the protagonist realize he's been killing people during his blackouts, and that he's actually the brutal serial killer who's been terrorizing the city,

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied repeatedly in SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "The Smoking Peanut", SpongeBob throws a peanut at a sleeping clam so it will wake up and perform its circus act, only for it to start crying instead. The peanut-throwing is treated as a heinous crime, and Patrick takes it upon himself to track down the culprit, but the police mistakenly come to the conclusion that he is the culprit and arrest him, causing Patrick to think he actually did do it.
      Patrick: I'm the last person I would have suspected, but I was looking for me all the time! It's the perfect crime!
    • In "Hall Monitor", SpongeBob begins hunting down a maniac that has been terrorizing the town, unaware that the "maniac" is actually him. This leads to a bizarre scene where Patrick is using a walkie-talkie to report on the maniac's location and somehow, SpongeBob just can't run away from him!
      "The maniac's IN THE MAILBOX!"


Video Example(s):


NFS Carbon: Own the City

After spending the entire game chasing down the racer responsible for the crash that killed your brother Mick, Sara reveals that the true culprit behind Mick's death was actually you, although the crash also caused you to not remember the truth behind it all. However, she also reveals that Mick was so despised by everyone in the city, besides you and Sara, that it is implied that they were also let in on the truth and allowed you to get away with murder.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TwistEnding

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