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"Well, what else is there to do when life turns on you and you've retreated into some small room? You look out your window. You see people come in and out of this phone booth. The same ones every day. You make up names for them. You imagine their stories. But eventually, you get tired of imagining and follow one of them. And you hear all of his lies. And you decide that his sins should be punished. Some guy shouting into a cell phone full of self-importance isn't gonna notice me."
The Caller, Phone Booth
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This is when a villain doesn't look like a villain, and is even more terrifying because of it. This does not apply to particularly handsome or charming villains - that goes under Evil Is Sexy or Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon. Characters following this trope look completely ordinary. You could pass them on the street and never notice them, let alone suspect they murdered someone just the other day.

In fantasy and science fiction shows, this is often what makes Mundanger villains so terrifying. While the normal beasties the protagonists hunt down and slay are obviously fantastic monsters that don't exist in our world, these monsters could be living right next door.

Please note: The identity of many of these villains may be part of a reveal, so please use spoilers wisely.

An Enfant Terrible is usually one of these. Contrast Obviously Evil and Devil in Plain Sight, as well as Face of a Thug (when someone is good or well-adjusted despite having a thug face). Compare Manchurian Agent, where they genuinely are like everyone else until triggered. Related with but not to be confused for They Look Like Us Now, where previously inhuman beasties learn to pass for human. The Nondescript is when their "normalness" is taken so far that people can't even remember what they're like. May intersect with Ridiculously Average Guy, who looks and acts utterly normal in every respect.

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The Trope Namer is a lazy Halloween costume: going in ordinary clothes to a costume party, then claiming, "I'm a serial killer. They look just like everybody else."

This is Truth in Television. Who knows? Maybe one of the tropers could just be this.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Monster: While the Big Bad is an exception, the most evil and dangerous characters are often the most ordinary-looking: Hartmann and Franz Bonaparta come to mind.
  • In the "Greenback Jane" arc of Black Lagoon, Jane and the protagonists are pursued by a band of bounty hunters. One of them eschews the series' Cluster F-Bomb style and speaks in Gosh Dang It to Heck! terms and at face value is a wholesome, Mr. Rogers-ish guy. It turns out, he's a pyromaniac who previously torched his wife so that he could smell her flesh burn. Imagine an evil Hank Hill and you get the picture.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure villain Yoshikage Kira actively cultivates this image, making himself as nondescript as possible to disguise his Serial Killer activities. This was used with chilling effect when heroes chased Kira, only to run off into a busy street and realize, that any office worker in the crowd could be him and they won't be able to find him.
    • Gray Fly, minor antagonist from part 3 looks like a plain old man and deliberately acts like he has no idea what is happening, while his stand rips people apart.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Krillin is surprised to find that Androids 17 and 18 (immensely powerful cyborgs that caused a Bad Future in an alternate timeline) look just look like regular people you'd see walking down the street. This is justified as they were once human, although even then they both happened to be juvenile delinquents.
  • The Titan Shifters in Attack on Titan. The revelation that they exist becomes a source of extreme paranoia for the military, since there is absolutely no way to detect them.
    • This is because most Shifters come from outside the walls, whether intentionally (such as in the case of Annie, Reiner and Bertolt) or they just ended up there (like Ymir). Titans, mindlessnote  and Shiftersnote  alike, are actually humans — or, more specifically, Eldians. And they're hated by the rest of the world for being "devils". It turns out that there are nine Shifters in total, each holding one of the powers of the Nine Titansnote  who were created after the supposed founder of the Titans and ancestor of the Eldians, Ymir Fritz, died and split her soul into nine fragments. Although, as mentioned in the note above, Eren currently has two Titan powers - the Attack Titan and the Founding Titan (which possesses the Coordinate ability and lets the holder control Titans). The Kingdom of Marley holds the powers of 7 of the 9 Titans, with the only ones missing being the Attack Titan (whose allegiance is unknown) and the Founding Titan (who was taken by King Karl Fritz into the walls of Paradis Island). Essentially, Titans, and those who hunt them, are all the same race, and since their distinguishing factor is that they can turn into Titans, there's no way of knowing who's a Shifter until you see them transform.
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami being the smart, charming, supposedly kindhearted honor-student son of the Chief of Police makes it difficult for many of the characters to take L's accusations seriously. L seems to be the only one who really believes that Light is Kira until very close to the series' end.
  • This is a common theme in Hell Girl. The evil person during most episodes are often seen as ordinary or even respectful by other people, leaving the victim no choice but to summon Ai Enma (Hell Girl) for revenge, knowing they're damning their souls too.
  • InuYasha: Sango reflects at one point that, according to her father, the most dangerous kinds of youkai are those that can assume human form.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Ghouls look exactly like humans and are nearly indistinguishable from them. Some humans even wonder whether they really exist, and express surprise when discovering that Ghouls look human. This is driven home when Ken Kaneki manages to score a date with a beautiful girl, and their wonderful evening ends with her trying to eat him. CCG Investigators are trained to watch for very subtle signs someone might be a Ghoul, but even then the law restricts them from acting until they actually see a Ghoul's Game Face.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, this is made quite apparent. Each arc has a different villain, who is always just one of the group beforehand. In some cases it's clear who the villain is, and in others the tension is increased by the fact that it could be anyone and no one looks like they could be it. Additionally, the ultimate villain also appears to be just like everyone, except maybe for a slight apparent fondness for the macabre.
  • In Serial Experiments Lain the Knights of the Eastern Calculus, who form the current incarnation of an Ancient Conspiracy able to hack reality itself thanks to the Big Bad, are an executive, a fat nerd and a housewife who plays videogames with her son.
  • In ERASED, the culprit behind multiple strings of child kidnappings and murders is Yashiro Gaku, the charming and seemingly well-intentioned elementary school teacher.
  • The Big Bad of Psycho-Pass, Shogo Makishima, certainly looks like an ordinary individual, but what makes him truly qualify for this trope is that the Sibyl System views him as an ordinary individual. Being criminally asymptomatic, Makishima's Psycho-Pass decreases as he commits crimes, where most other people would have their Psycho-Pass dramatically increase if they even think about possibly committing a criminal act. Makishima can commit all of the horrific crimes he wants and still be viewed by the Sibyl System as a perfectly healthy and stable person. This eventually turns out to be major foreshadowing for a twist that turns this trope on its head. Makishima fits perfectly within the Sybil System because it’s made of people like him.
  • The Parasytes in Parasyte crawl into their host's brain, take over their body and eat unsuspecting humans. What makes the Parasyte's particularly Paranoia Fuel inducing is that; say a normal person somehow managed to escape a Parasyte and memorize their face, said Parasyte can then completely change their face and catch that same person off guard.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • Akihiko Kayaba, the man who trapped 10,000 players in his death game. His anime character design is an average-looking man in a lab coat, in contrast to his Heathcliff avatar. Yet, he's still the Big Bad of the Aincrad arc.
    • Sugou Nobuyuki is a power-hungry, sociopathic Corrupt Corporate Executive with a god complex, and in real life, looks like your average everyday guy in a business suit and glasses. Even Kirito didn't realize his true colors until Sugou sniffed Asuna's hair and gloated about their upcoming marriage.
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle has the King of Vices, the Shadow Dictator of the Republic of Heiburg, who passes herself off as a plain-looking and meek soldier with a standard Drag-ride. Meanwhile, her decoy and fake boss was brainwashed into being Obviously Evil in facial expression and behavior in order to emphasize their contrasting outward personalities.

    Comicbooks 
  • Thessaly the witch in The Sandman. She appears to be a mild-mannered glasses-wearing citizen - like Clark Kent in a way. Except for the part where Superman doesn't obsessively hunt down and kill anyone who attempts to hurt him.
    • This is one of the nightmare-fueling qualities of the Collectors story as well. On one end of the spectrum, you have cereal fans who look like sweaty, loserish sexual predators you'd steer clear of at any costs. On the other, you have those who are ordinary-looking in the extreme... and just as vicious.
  • Mr Fun from the Batman mini-series Batman Family.
  • Kevin from Sin City is just a guy in a sweater and glasses. You wouldn't believe that he is a martial arts master, to say nothing of his knack for eating people. For extra uncanny points, it's a Charlie Brown sweater. Ratcheted up by casting Elijah Wood in the film.
  • Most Batman villains, even if they start out as relatively normal criminals, wind up disfigured and/or embracing some kind of super-villain gimmick. But not James Gordon Jr., an ordinary, bookish-looking lad who happens to also be a sociopath and serial killer.
  • Kevin Thorn from Fables looks like a completely ordinary guy, but is in fact the personification of storytelling, whose goal in "The Great Fables Crossover" was to erase the Fables universe from existence and start from scratch.
  • Raptors: In a stark contrast to the Molina twins who could easily stand out among the crowd, their vampire rivals in the other hand look completely mundane due to having mingled with humanity ages ago and taken positions of influence among society. They could be fat, old or completely plain, but deep down they are all depraved monsters that delight in abusing humans. This trope is usually not a problem for the twins, since they have managed to elude their enemies for centuries, but it certainly is for normal characters like Benito and Vicky, since they don't know who to trust as the conspiracy has infiltrated the police, politics, the church, etc. Even Vicky's own family is revealed to be part of it.
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    Fanfic 
  • Discussed in the Kick Ass fanfiction Fall of a hero, Rise of a legend when Mindy asks why the government don't deal with the criminals like terrorists or enemy armies and they discuss that visually there is no difference between them and civilians.
    Films — Animated 
  • Anomalisa. The movie is about the a man who thinks everyone but one person looks, talks, sounds, and acts the same.
  • Part of what makes Pinocchio's Coachman character so terrifying by Disney villain standards is that he basically looks like a normal, grandfatherly old man. There's no clear visual indication of his evil until he makes his Nightmare Face.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Trope Namer: The scene at the end of the first The Addams Family movie where Wednesday and Pugsley are showing off their Halloween costumes to their family. When asked by Margaret why she's not wearing a costume like her brother, Wednesday announces that she IS in costume as a "homicidal maniac" because "they look just like everybody else."
    • The sequel, Addams Family Values plays this completely straight with Debbie Jellinsky, the Addams' new nanny. A gorgeous blonde dressed all in white, who's actually an Ax-Crazy Black Widow with her sights on Uncle Fester. It eventually turns out she's been killing since childhood.
  • Norman Bates in Psycho. In the book, he's written as middle-aged, homely at best, and a bit creepy (much like his inspiration, Ed Gein), but Hitchcock thought it would be more interesting to make him look wholesome.
  • Jigsaw in the Saw movies. Extra points because he's dying of brain cancer.
  • John Doe in Se7en. Combine a very subdued performance by Kevin Spacey with a name like "John Doe" (the default name assigned to unidentified male corpses) and you've got a killer who is both chilling and credible.
  • Robin Williams has also played a couple of very troubling antagonists in One Hour Photo and Insomnia as well. While this borders on Playing Against Type here, his character in One Hour Photo was scary because he could have been any random photomat clerk, and he nearly faded into the background anyway.
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Bateman is apparently such a cookie-cutter yuppie that people keep mistaking him for other yuppies.
  • Garland Greene in Con Air, played by Steve Buscemi. The other cons comment on how he doesn't look like an infamous mass-murderer.
  • Virtually all of the people Bruce Willis' character has psychic flashes about in Unbreakable are seemingly ordinary people who have done or are looking to do bad things. The biggest case being a janitor who is a Serial Killer (who also doubles as a rapist).
  • Devil, which is about five average people trapped in an elevator, one of whom is Satan.
  • The Beast from Kung Fu Hustle turns out to be a dumpy old guy in his underwear. Much of the appeal in general of Kung Fu Hustle is how the martial arts masters turn out to be the most regular, unflattering-looking people in the movie, while the suave, Hollywood-ish Axe Gang are a pathetic joke.
  • The Night of the Hunter: Harry Powell is either this or a Devil in Plain Sight, depending on how sensitive your Evildar is. To all appearances, a charming and folksy preacher and the best stepfather a Kid Hero could ever want. Actually a Knife Nut Bluebeard Serial Killer.
    • A TV-remake of The Night of the Hunter had Harry played by Gerald McRaney, who is possibly best known for appearing in the Touched by an Angel spinoff Promised Land. He played a dad. A dad possibly a lot like yours. Put some role association together, and you have prime Paranoia Fuel.
  • In the comedy film The Man Who Knew Too Little, the main character (Bill Murray) thinks he's in a Tuxedo and Martini simulation game and, when informed about The Baroness, thinks that she is this elderly woman dressed as a dominatrix ("It was our anniversary!"). The Baroness is a real person, a Torture Technician / Mad Doctor. She is a middle aged woman of average appearance, maybe even pretty, and she acts completely calm and normal. The film sends the message that unlike in the world of James Bond, villains in the real world aren't always Obviously Evil with a convenient Red Right Hand.
  • Mr. Baek of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. After a very emotional buildup, a parent of one of a serial killer's victims says, "But you look just like a normal person."
  • Lampshaded in 8mm when Nicolas Cage's character tracks down and unmasks the Snuff Film performer "The Machine" to reveal some ordinary bald guy with glasses.
    Machine/ George Higgins: "What did you expect? A monster?"
  • Dylan Baker's serial killing school principal in Trick 'r Treat.
  • In Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the slasher killer of the title is, while out of his costume, a normal-looking guy. Because he ISNT Leslie Vernon, he really is just some random guy
  • The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, where the antagonist's true intentions are made incredibly clear to the audience and the protagonist, but the latter has to spend the whole movie trying to prove it.
  • Ben from Man Bites Dog. Sure, he's a hitman and serial killer, but other than that there's absolutely nothing weird about him.
  • Terminator:
    • This was supposed to happen in The Terminator. Lance Henriksen was James Cameron's first choice to play the Terminator and had already appeared in-character at a fundraising event. Arnie originally auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese before switching roles to make the Terminator look much more imposing and threatening; Henriksen ended up playing one of the cops instead.
    • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the default appearance of the shape-shifting villain is a fairly nondescript man (Robert Patrick), as opposed to the lantern-jawed Schwarzenegger. This really brings out the tension in the first part of the movie, before the audience knows that Arnold is the good guy this time around. Or would have, if every single trailer and commercial hadn't capitalized on the awesome T-1000 effects and the line "How do you terminate a Terminator?" thus spoiling the surprise.
  • Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace. According to director Marc Forster, Greene was deliberately styled without make-up, in order to symbolise the 'hidden evils in society'.
  • A nice one in the Bruce Willis movie Red. The operatives bump into a thoroughly ordinary middle-aged woman at the airport, with the most paranoid among them insisting she's a killer, while the others assume he's just crazy. Then after she's released, she turns up again - with a rocket launcher.
  • Halloween: As a six-year-old, Michael Myers is revealed to look like an ordinary blond boy. In the final minutes of the film, Laurie manages to rip off the adult Michael's mask, revealing that he's still just an ordinary looking blond young man, though with a fresh eye injury from his fight with Laurie.
  • When the cops in There's Something About Mary mistakenly think that Ted is a serial murderer, they remark that they never look like how you expect them upon seeing Ted.
  • In The World's End, the alien replacements all look like regular humans... until they attack.
  • Implied to have been the case with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, who - in life - was the janitor at the local elementary school and wore a crumpled brown fedora and a tacky Christmassy sweater, and was secretly murdering (and possibly molesting) kids for years. Of course, by the time we meet him, he's an undead monster with burns all over his body, so his appearance is a bit more striking.
  • In the end of Memories of Murder, a young girl describes a man who is more than likely the killer, and says that he looked "ordinary" and had a "normal" face. This suggests even further that the handsome Hyeon-gyu Park, the main suspect of the case, really was innocent.
  • Ghost in the Machine: When Terri learns that Hochman was the killer who recently died, it's noted that he just looked like a normal guy.
  • While the Cenobites of Hellraiser are terrifying, mutilated demons, most of the human villains fit this trope to a t, which is fitting considering the series commentary on sadistic cruelty hiding everywhere. Most notable is Frank Cotton from the first two films, who looked like a handsome, regular man before he was turned into a skinless monstrosity, but in reality was a sadistic Sense Freak.
  • In Hellbound: Hellraiser II, when the Channard-thing kills the Female, Butterball, and Chatterer, we briefly see who the three were before their transformation into Cenobites—respectively, a beautiful woman; a husky, ordinary-looking man; and, unexpectedly, a teenage boy. Presumably, they shared the same desire Elliot Spencer did before his transformation into Pinhead—to seek out the limits of human pain and pleasure, no matter the cost.
  • Star Wars:
  • In the film adaptation of Misery, Annie Wilkes was changed from intimidating and unkempt to somebody you could pass on the street and not look twice at. The effect is deeply unsettling.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Big Bad Zemo is completely unremarkable-looking (at least in context). This is a drastic change from his comic book counterpart, a heavily-scarred, garish-looking former Nazi.
  • The unnamed killer from Hush looks like a fairly normal 30-year-old man when he takes off his mask, though he does have a tattoo on his neck.
  • Peter and Paul in Funny Games look like a pair of clean-cut young men who want to borrow some eggs... until they unleash their more sadistic side to a hapless suburban family.
  • The title character in The Stepfather series of movies looks and acts like an ordinary-bordering-on-ideal father figure, if you ignore the fact that his go-to solution for discovering that his latest family doesn't live up to his standards is to murder all of them and move on to the next one.
  • The Hostel series of movies features the Elite Hunting group, made up of wealthy sadists who pay top-dollar for the privilege of torturing kidnapped tourists... and who otherwise are perfectly normal people with regular lives and loved ones.
  • From Predators: Edwin looks and like a completely normal guy, especially when surrounded by badasses and killers, but he turns out to be a psychopathic serial killer who enjoys drugging his victims.
  • They Look Like People: One of the protagonists is convinced that "monsters" are lurking in society, looking like ordinary people, possibly even his friends. Whether this is true or he's having paranoid delusions is a central question.

    Literature 
  • The Yeerks from the Animorphs are aliens that control sentient beings by tunneling into their heads through their ear canals and spreading themselves around the brain, sinking into the cracks, etc. So the protagonists are aware that anyone they know could be a "Controller". Like Jake's brother Tom, their Vice Principal Chapman, and many more throughout the series.
    • To really drive the paranoia home, it's not at all uncommon for the Animorphs to cause a public spectacle... and start getting attacked by random members of the crowd.
  • In Around the World in 80 Days, the Bank of England has been robbed by a man who unfortunately resembles protagonist Phileas Fogg. The British consul in Suez remarks that the description given is that of an honest man, to which the detective Fix declares that great robbers always look like honest men; the ones who look like rascals are too easily caught.
  • Bas-Lag Cycle: In Perdido Street Station the city of New Crobuzon's militia forces are basically this trope. The majority of the militia is made up of agents that walk around the city like any normal person. This is used as a in great effect when a strike breaks out and eventually leads to fighting between two crowds. The militia have people in both. Even the crowd that's on strike. They could be anywhere at anytime and you would only know when it's already too late.
  • Agatha Christie loves this trope. The murderer is always someone who looks completely normal, and whom the reader would never have suspected.
  • Circleverse: In Shatterglass, the serial killer turns out to be one of the Hindu Untouchable/Dalit Expy characters who have been constantly on the outskirts of the protagonists' radar, cleaning, being abused, and biding their time.
  • In Dandelion Wine, the serial killer called "the Lonely One" turns out to be a perfectly ordinary-looking man when he's finally caught. Douglas and his friends, who had fun spinning tales about the Lonely One in earlier chapters, are disappointed that he isn't the supernaturally creepy being they envisioned him to be and, being children, decide that this mundane man can't be the actual Lonely One and that the real Lonely One is still out there somewhere.
  • Dexter goes to a lot of trouble to seem like just an average guy.
  • In Discworld:
    • Psycho for Hire Stratford in Snuff is an unremarkable youngish fellow who looks like nobody in particular — until he has you at the wrong end of a weapon, when he looks distinctly, awfully like Stratford.
    • Exploited by the Ankh-Morpork City Watch in a non-villainous example. When it's an open secret that they have a werewolf on the force, having a Gonk like Corporal Nobby Nobbs around to divert attention from the attractive but (usually) very human-looking Angua trips up any number of crooks.
  • The infected humans in Eden Green are eventually taken over by their needle-symbiotes, but otherwise appear completely human unless freshly-injured and still healing.
  • The Silencers in The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. Used to chilling effect early in the novel when Cassie finds an injured soldier dying in an abandoned convenience store, but doesn't know if he's a Silencer or not and so shoots him out of fear. It turns out he was perfectly human.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: In Take a Thief, the Big Bad has what Skif's mentor calls "a face-shaped face".
  • Hurog:
    • In Dragon Bones, after killing a would-be rapist, Ward mentions that the man didn't look much older than him, maybe even younger, a mere boy. He reminds himself that the man would have killed him, too, if he had given him the chance.
    • Dragon Blood has an ordinary-looking, grandfatherly old man, who wants to teach his grandson his trade ... which happens to be torturing. The contrast between his genuine disappointment that the boy doesn't want to follow in his footsteps, and the fact that he is torturing a woman makes the scene all the more horrible.
  • Many of Stephen King's stories feature antagonists who look like perfectly ordinary people, most notably:
    • The novella Apt Pupil in Different Seasons describes Todd Bowden as an all-American kid with reasonable grades, a paper route, and overall nothing to indicate his obsession with concentration camps and Nazi war crimes. Naturally the fugitive Nazi war criminal Todd uncovers and befriends also counts, as his appearance is just that of an old man now.
    • The True Knot in Doctor Sleep look specifically like harmless old men and women clad in lots of polyester and travelling around in their RV. They also torture children with psychic powers and feed on the "steam" they produce in order to sustain their own immortality.
    • Perhaps the Uber-example is Randall Flagg in The Stand. Under hypnosis, Tom Cullen tells the Free Zone Committee that "He looks like anybody you might pass on the street"; when Dayna and Glen finally come face-to-face with him, they're astounded that he looks like an ordinary guy, not a monster.
  • Red Dragon spends a lot of time dealing with the day-to-day working life of Francis Dolarhyde, its eponymous Serial Killer, the sheer mundane nature of which make his horrific murder sprees all the more unsettling. In a twist, the killer thinks of himself as hideous and disfigured, because of a cleft lip he had as a child... except that it's barely noticeable after all the surgery he got for it.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Tickler is a brutally efficient Torture Technician, but Arya notes that he's a completely unexceptional and ordinary-looking man while not plying his trade.
    • Later in the series we meet Qyburn, who combines this with Affably Evil to give him a "grandfatherly" appearance, masking his true colours as an Evilutionary Biologist and Torture Technician extraordinaire.
    • Roose Bolton is one of the most evil characters in the series (even if he does his best to hide it) and is described as a man of average height and build with a plain face and no particularly distinguishing features except for his "pale" eyes.
  • Dr. Impossible from Soon I Will Be Invincible is a short guy just this side of middle aged. When he walks down the street in his civvies, he's completely unremarkable. With his costume on, he looks more like the Evil Genius Super Villain he is.
  • Tortall Universe: In the Beka Cooper novel Terrier, Beka and her mentors search for the Shadow Snake, a kidnapper and child murderer named after the local Boogeyman. They are shocked to learn the Shadow Snake's true identity: the grandmotherly proprietor of the local pastry shop.
  • Invoked by the Grey Men in The Wheel of Time, assassins who are cloaked in a Perception Filter that makes them look ordinary and forgettable... so ordinary and forgettable that you almost forget seeing them at all when they were the only person you passed in an otherwise empty hallway just before coming across a dead body.
  • Worlds of Shadow: Shadow is revealed to be just a plump woman whose appearance is middle-aged, though she's actually centuries old.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the series Adam-12, Reed and Malloy were helping a female officer conduct a rape-resistance class at a local college. When one of the attendees asked what would a rapist look like, the lady cop pointed to the pair of heroes and said, "Just like them. A man."
  • American Horror Story: Asylum: Dr. Oliver Thredson, a compassionate and upstanding psychiatrist who is actually the infamous serial killer, Bloody Face.
  • In The Americans, Elizabeth, Phillip and their handler, Claudia are KGB operatives, but speak with flawless American accents.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "Intersections In Real Time", Sheridan has been captured and is being tortured in a prison cell somewhere. The Torture Technician who comes to make him give a False Confession is not a bloodthirsty brute, but a mild-looking and mostly soft-spoken bureaucrat who looks like a family accountant or somebody's math teacher, and who administers Electric Torture and poisoned food likes it's just another day on the job. Word of God is that this was all intentional, as the creator wanted to remind his fans that not all evil men look or even act evil.
    • While he's almost exclusively He Who Must Not Be Seen, the few times President Clark is seen onscreen he has an ordinary appearance, and the fact that his name is so ordinary also adds into this trope.
    • This is definitely not in effect for Mr. Morden, the most frequent human representative of The Shadows, but it is when Captain Sheridan briefly meets Justin, the highest ranking human working for The Shadows. Justin is a middle-aged man who has the air of a kindly grandfather, complete with a cane, bushy mustache, and enormous eyebrows. The very first thing he does upon meeting Sheridan is invite Sheridan to have tea, and explains that he has chamomile tea prepared because it helps Justin to sleep at night. If you saw him walking a hypothetical grandchild down the street, you'd probably automatically smile and/or nod at him just because he seems so likable.
  • Being Human (UK): Herrick, the Big Bad of Season One and the vampire "king" of Bristol. In the unaired pilot, he was a tall, imposing Scary Black Man who looked like he had walked out of Vampire: The Masquerade, complete with leather duster and nightclub. In the series proper he's a non-threatening, average height, dumpy, middle-aged white guy who dresses in off-the-rack business casual or his police uniform.
  • Breaking Bad contrasts the over the top antics of the Axe-Crazy Salamanca clan with the ordinary looking members of Gus' criminal organization. The Salamancas rely on intimidation and crazy violence for their reputation. Gus prefers to blend in and appear to be extremely boring and affable. He also goes to great lengths to make sure that his underlings do not attract any unnecessary attention. Walt strides the line between these two extremes as he knows that he has to be as nondescript as possible but his pride and ego constantly prompt him to do things that will get him noticed. Further, Todd is a heartless, casual sociopath who looks like one of the show's more boring or typical characters. While he looks like an ordinary man, after killing an innocent little boy his reaction is, "Shit happens."
  • Not often used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this quote deserves mention.
    Willow: (in reference to a murderer) It could be anyone. It could be me! ...it's not, though.
  • Two of Cold Case's most notorious killers embodied this trope to a T. One, George Marks, was overweight, balding—and a rabid misogynist who kidnapped women by disguising himself as a cop, then forced them to strip to their underwear and run through the woods for hours before finally finishing them off with a gunshot to the chest. The other, John Smith, was incredibly average looking and well-mannered, easily tempting his victims to walk away with him. And, you know, his name was John Smith, which is probably the blandest name in human history.
  • Some of the UnSubs in Criminal Minds are sleazy looking, creepy, brutish or in some way unusual, but the vast majority look like regular people. In one episode, a woman is being followed by an obsessive stalker who isn't identified until the third act, at which point you realised he was standing in the background of half her scenes. Another noteable one is the unassuming killer from the episode "Lucky", in reality a devil-worshipping cannibal. Not to mention the episode "Normal", which is entirely based around the fact that the killer looks completely unassuming.
  • Game of Thrones: In the books, the sadistic, Axe-Crazy Ramsay Bolton is fleshy, worm-lipped and ugly, while his show counterpart (played by Iwan Rheon) is very normal looking, to the point that he easily passes himself off as a random house retainer.
  • In Graceland, FBI Agent Paul Briggs has a confrontation with the always masked cartel hitman who years earlier forcibly addicted Briggs to heroin and killed a bunch of his fellow agents. In the aftermath of a Gun Struggle, Briggs pulls the hood off the dead assassin... and sees the ordinary face of some guy he doesn't know. Briggs goes as far as to lampshade this trope and berate himself for having expected anything else. (Unknown to Briggs, the real assassin is still out there... and he's also a guy who Briggs doesn't know and looks just like everyone else.)
  • The villain of the pilot episode of Grimm is a mailman who wears loafers and cardigans, collects porcelain figurines, does needlepoint, makes homemade chicken pot pies, and eats people. note 
    • All Wesen, since most of the time humans cannot see their true form.
  • A sketch from Kids in the Hall features an ordinary-looking guy in pajamas and a robe having breakfast. When he begins his monologue revealing he's a mass murderer, it's a bit of a surprise.
  • The defendant in the Law & Order episode "Hubris" is a mild-mannered real estate salesman and a regular Casanova with the ladies. As it turns out, he also murdered his girlfriend, the old couple who were employing her, and her 6-year-old daughter, all to cover up a fifth murder that he had already committed years before. And while the detectives know he did it because they see security camera footage of the crime (suppressed at trial, natch), the audience never sees him doing anything criminal or sinister at all. To the very end of the episode, this mass murdering scumbag just looks like everyone else.
    • The Big Bad of the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit season 13 finale/season 14 opener is a frumpy, average-looking woman who is first introduced tending to the animals on her farm. She looks more like an elementary school teacher than someone who's engaged in sex trafficking, arranged a string of murders, and is using her prostitution business to blackmail half the cops and prosecutors in the state of New York.
  • On Lost, a show filled with so many pretty yet stupid people, it's mild-mannered ferret-faced chartered-accountant-lookalike Benjamin Linus who really runs the table.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Looking like a seemingly random pedestrian, Bushmaster walks up to Luke while he's minding his own business and being filmed by D.W. Griffith, and proceeds to lay him out flat in two moves, just because he can.
  • In the Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up", the dueling serial killers Walker and Wheeler both look fairly inconspicuous as a young drifter and a middle-aged trucker, respectively. Walker discusses the trope proper:
    Walker: Your genuinely dangerous individuals — they almost never look crazy. They don't have any weird tattoos, they don't have any weird stitches on their face, funny-shaped heads. They are NOT predictable.
  • The Yin Yang Killer from Psych. Turns out she was standing right there among the crowd in the background of nearly every scene.
  • The killer in "A Study in Pink", the first episode of Sherlock.
    • Moriarty looks snazzy in a suit, but he also has no problem blending in and convincing others that he's just a normal guy on several occasions. When he's wearing his baseball cap and jacket, you wouldn't give him a second glance on the street.
  • Supernatural. The fact that the demons and monsters can and will look like anyone else is very heavily used on the show.
  • Most of the accused on Canadian courtroom series This Is Wonderland. Since most of the show was set in small claims courts or mental health court, most of them were normal people who had just made terrible mistakes or had been put in a terrible situation. This made the rare appearance of a genuine monster all the more startling.
  • To an extent, BOB from Twin Peaks. He basically looks an extra from a bar scene - a denim-clad old man with stringy grey hair who smells like burnt motor oil. In fact, given that his entire presence in the show is basically a case of Throw It In!, his appearance is mostly modeled on what the set dresser happened to be wearing the day he got accidentally caught in the shot. On the other hand, you probably couldn't have a conversation with him, since he mostly runs around snarling at people and hiding in the woods.
    • This also applies to Leland Palmer, seemingly a perfectly normal family man and lawyer... who is actually a Serial Killer who has been raping his own daughter for years, under the Demonic Possession of the above BOB.
  • Heroic variant: The Regents in Warehouse 13 are not at all what Artie expected. However, they all look a little too ordinary...
    • Some artifacts are a non-human version of this. Who would have suspected that the tip jar at a food truck was behind a mini-Zombie Apocalypse?
  • This trope happens a lot on The X-Files, since the villains usually take pains to blend into society and are only outed when unnatural things start to happen:
    • Eugene Tooms in the episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms".
    • Donnie Pfaster of "Irresistible". Scully comments on how extraordinarily ordinary he is in her closing report on the case.
    • John Lee Roche, the serial-killer-of-girls on "Paper Hearts", looks and talks like a balding salesman, which he was before he got caught.
    • The vampire town in "Bad Blood".
    • The villain in "Folie a Deux" was a giant monster, disguised as a human being in a normal company.
    • Though not a villain, the alien in "The Unnatural" lived convincingly as a human baseball player.
    • The brain-eating man in "Hungry" took pains to disguise himself. Undisguised, he resembled a cross between a bald man and a shark.
    • The Alien Bounty Hunter can shape-shift into anyone he wants.
    • The Super Soldier human/alien hybrids are indistinguishable from humans until you look at the back of their neck. Or they kill you. Whichever comes first.

    Video Games 
  • In Persona 4 it's established from the beginning that there's a serial killer in Inaba. In such a small town, it would be incredibly easy to fly under the radar by just not doing anything extraordinary. That makes it hurt more when you find out that it's Tohru Adachi, the bumbling comic relief detective who works under your uncle. It's hard to believe that a man you've had in your house for dinner several times is actually a closet Misanthrope Supreme who was willing to end the world just for kicks.
  • From Last Window, we have the incredibly ordinary-looking Dylan Fitchar, who we discover is a mole for Nile, the crime syndicate that is behind every terrible thing that happens to people in both this game and Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
  • There are tons of examples from western RPGs that feature many different NPCs. Often the character models of some of the most evil characters, such as Bann Vaughan from Dragon Age: Origins or Nassana Dantius from Mass Effect 2 don't really look that much different or more sinister than the character models of any of the other NPCs of their race.
  • In Mitadake High, every sprite looking the same except for their hair and gender can easily provide you with this trope, as one out of the players has to be the killer. Subverted (at least for the characters) if the killer is the "Creepy Red-Haired Guy".
  • Mega Man Battle Network 3 has one subplot in which a bunch of generic NPCs turn out to be undercover World 3 agents planted in a strategic location specifically to provide cover stories for a more conspicuous (and well-known) agent.
  • When Shepherd starts detailing Makarov in Modern Warfare you expect based on the other villains that he would be some kind of monster or Expy of Stalin. Shepherd then shows you a photo, looking all the world like one for a passport, and Makarov looks much more like a off duty soldier or businessman than terrorist mastermind.
  • In Jhin, the Virtuoso's backstory in League of Legends, no one suspected the illusive murderer known as the "Golden Demon" would turn out to be an unassuming stagehand named Khada Jhin.
  • Clanden from Fallout: New Vegas is an entirely normal-looking man in a sweater vest who is in fact a truly evil serial killer who makes snuff films and was hired by the Omertas to build a device to poison the inhabitants of the Strip with chlorine gas.
  • Mr. Jefferson in Life Is Strange turns out to be the mastermind behind the darker events of Arcadia Bay in Episode 5. Fittingly, the player is led to initially assume that the clearly unhinged Nathan Prescott is the one pulling the strings. After all, he pulls a gun on Chloe in Episode 1 alone and is the one pumping drugs to students as part of the vortex club. Chloe's overly paranoid asshole step father David Madsen is also thrown into the ring as a possible suspect due to his abrasive behavior namely stalking students as you find out in his files, but no, the seemingly good hearted "cool" teacher Mr Jefferson is the same guy behind the disappearance of Rachel Amber and Kate Marsh's attempted suicide/suicide, And illicit photography sessions with the aforementioned girls.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords invokes this in-universe with the life-eating Dark-Side entity of intent Darth Nihilus, should the player-character choose to let his liberated servant Visas Marr remove his skull-like mask upon his death; if the player asks her what his face looked like, she will simply reply "A man. Nothing more."
  • The Neighbor in Hello, Neighbor! appears to be a painfully average across-the-street neighbor, but the player character isn't buying it. Considering he may be responsible for the kidnapping of several children and the lengths he will go to in order to keep the protagonist out of his house...
  • Seen in the online Hacking/ Tailing in the Watch_Dogs Series. The enemy players take the appearance of random civilians, so unless they are profiled or act out of the ordinary they are indistinguishable from NPCs.
  • In a late mission in Hitman (2016), one of your targets is interrogating a low-ranking courier of Providence for information about his boss, once of Providence's commanders. The poor scrub can only tell him that his boss looks like "a banker, like a guy who'd sit next to you on the bus". Sure enough, you see a major leader of Providence (and presumably said boss) in various cutscenes, and, apart from a nice suit and a bit of a raspy voice, he looks like a a perfectly generic middle-aged guy who wouldn't stand out in a crowd.
  • Yan-Chan, of Yandere Simulator, is by all appearances an Ordinary High-School Student—however, as the title indicates, she is utterly emotionless except for her obsession with her beloved Senpai. She can eliminate her romantic rivals in a number of ways, but blackmail and murder are not off the table. As YandereDev puts it, this is a horror video game—where you play the monster.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice has Pu'ray Zeh'lot, who looks like a perfectly normal Khura'inese citizen despite being a vigilante serial killer working for the Secret Police to kill rebels, who had no qualms about attempting to kill a pregnant woman. In a twist, he's the case's Asshole Victim rather than murder, killed in self-defence by one of his targets but their face portrait looks so generic the player isn't likely to suspect much of them. They even lived as a surrogate child to High Priest Inmee and his wife for years, with them being none the wiser until the incident happened.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • The majority of characters in Survival of the Fittest are Ordinary High School Students, meaning that oftentimes people who choose to play the game fit this trope in some way or another. This is particularly true in regards to v4, where there has been an increased focus on realism. Many, many characters in pre-game come off as people who you could easily find at your school in real life, but once you get to in-game... well, it brings out the worst in people. Danya himself can fit as well, as aside from bearing scars from attempts on his life he's described as someone who wouldn't particularly stand out in a crowd; Bryan Calvert even says Danya looks like his father.

     Western Animation 
  • This was used to great effect with the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender. You only ever get to see his silhouette against a wall of flames for most of the show's run, and when his face is finally revealed he looks like a completely normal and even fairly handsome man.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, the Clock King is the only self-created supervillain in the series to avoid the tropes in the Evil Makeover index. Aside from his gadgets, he's just a guy in a nice suit.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Amon, whose creepy mask, unexplained Anti-Magic powers and mysterious backstory made for a truly terrifying villain. Under the mask and scar makeup, he looks like a completely normal Water Tribe man in his thirties.
    • P'Li and Ming-Hua, the female members of the Red Lotus both have obvious Red Right Hands (eye tattoo in the middle of the forehead and missing arms), but Ghazan and Zaheer just look like two guys with no real distinctive features besides being slightly taller or shorter than average respectively.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, most of the villains that received major story arcs were usually beings on par with Physical Gods and other supernatural entities with sinister and terrifying appearances that were all bent on taking over Equestria. Later seasons, however, began to throw some of these into the mix.
  • Samurai Jack has the Dominator, a man in Powered Armor who slaughtered an alien village, brainwashed their children to become feral, and subjected Ashi to electric torture. After Ashi knocks his helmet off, he's revealed to have an unremarkable face and moustache.


Alternative Title(s): They Look Like Everyone Else

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