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Treacherous Spirit Chase

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Maybe the protagonist is nearing their lowest mental ebb, maybe it's his turn to hold the Idiot Ball, or maybe things are going just a little too well. Suddenly, they're confronted by the person they last expected to see: a friend or loved one who logic dictates should be very far away right now or — just to underscore how unlikely this sudden reappearance is — dead. It's clear to the audience that the vision is some sort of trap and that he isn't really Back from the Dead, but the character for whatever reason refuses to connect the dots.

This "visitation," however, is not about to stick around and explain itself, lest its masquerade be uncovered. It might urge the protagonist to follow them with a siren song or a cryptic comment, but whatever happens, it'll turn on its heel and flee. The protagonist, overwhelmed with curiosity and emotion, abandons any sense of self-preservation and tears after it ... right into the kind of trouble that they'd have seen coming a mile away if they were thinking clearly.

An alternative variant occurs when the visitation is someone that the protagonist may not know personally; a lost child, a beautiful woman or whatever is needed to push the protagonist's buttons and have them hurtle into danger.

Even if the protagonist is in company, they usually will simply take off after the visitor because there's No Time to Explain. If the protagonist does stop long enough to tell someone else, the other person normally won't believe them ... and if the protagonist does somehow manage to raise a hunting party, they'll almost certainly get separated and then get into trouble.

Contrast with Spirit Advisor, both in helpfulness and in duration. Often uses a woman in an Ethereal White Dress or similarly mysterious figure to really grab the target's attention. A common way to weed out the guy who's Too Dumb to Live. Can overlap with Virtual-Reality Interrogation, when the vision is used to make a person reveal a secret.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost:
    • Belle sees her father, whom she saw die a few days ago, and happily runs to him, ignoring the Beast telling her it must be an imposter. Fortunately, she notices he is missing a scar on his arm and knocks him down. It turns out a demon possessed the corpse of her father and tore his scarred arm off to have one with claws.
    • Belle ends up captured because La Medium is possessing her mother, but she escapes on her own.
  • In Bleach, the Hollow Grand Fisher once used a projection of a little girl to lure his victims close to him like an anglerfish. A young Ichigo nearly fell for it, and only his mother's Heroic Sacrifice saved him. When Grand Fisher returns years later, he uses a projection of Ichigo's mother (which he can do because he devoured her soul) to target Ichigo and his sisters.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura, the Illusion card shows people whatever they're thinking about, but it can also show them someone they love or miss and lead them to their doom. Justified when it comes to Sakura: the Illusion Card appears as her deceased mother, but she also has an older brother who can see ghosts which does include their mother's real spirit and she's also rather young, so her believing it is understandable.
  • High School D×D: Viser, who has a beautiful, naked upper body and a monstrous lower body, apparently lures men to their doom by hiding her monstrous parts in shadow and seducing them to come close. Despite being warned about her, Issei falls for her trick and his friends have to stop him from getting herself killed.
  • Inuyasha: Inuyasha nearly gets killed by a youkai disguised as his mother who has been dead since he was very young. If Kagome hadn't seen through the illusion and managed to convince Inuyasha that things weren't what they seemed to be, he would have died.
  • Pokémon: The Original Series has several examples.
    • "Ghost of Maiden's Peak" has both Brock and James become instantly smitten with the Beautiful Ghost of Maiden's Peak. They're discovered the following morning, their bodies drained of energy. Double subverted by James, who took the effort to cover himself in spirit charms and actively tried to stay put, but was physically dragged out of the building. It turns out the spirit charms were sold to him by the ghost, a mischievous Gastly.
    • "Abra and the Psychic Showdown" has our characters lost in the forest, where they are visited by Sabrina's "doll" persona. Attempting to find out who she is and how they can reach Saffron City, Ash pursues her through the fog-laden woods... only to be led straight off of a cliff. Fortunately, his Pokémon are on hand to rescue him.
  • Sailor Moon: In the first season finale, the DD Girls project an image of Tuxedo Mask in pain and Sailor Moon falls for it. After the trap is exposed, they make the image again and Sailor Moon falls for it again. The DD Girls manage to lure in Sailor Jupiter and kill her by making an image of Motoki, whom she had a crush on. The DD Girls then try to lure in Sailor Mercury with an illusion of her love interest Ryo Urawa, but she does not fall for it.
  • In Voltron, Princess Allura is lured into a trap when Witch Haggar sends her a dream claiming that a white lion, one of Haggar's minions, is actually her father reincarnated.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Yoko Tsuno album "The prey and the ghost", the ghost is actually a hologram and the intention is to lure Cecilia into an "accident" in a dangerous ruin.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bridge: Jeog tries to lure Ki Seong out of her hiding place by projecting an illusion of her niece Gentle Leaf and threatening to kill her. Applejack figures out it is a trick and stops Seong from rushing out in time.
  • In the A Certain Magical Index/Puella Magi Madoka Magica crossover Walpurgisnaught, Accelerator sees a fake Last Order, who stabs him when he approaches. As he falls, he curses himself as a fool for falling for such a trick, since he remembers Last Order is in another city.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Devils Tomb, a Nephilim imprisoned in a tomb causes nearby people to experience hallucinations to either lure them to their deaths or drive them crazy until they are vulnerable to possession. The hallucinations are often of friends or loved ones; in one man's case, it was a naked woman.
  • In Don't Look Now, a father thinks he is seeing the spirit of his dead daughter and tries to track her down throughout the film. When he finally tracks down the hooded figure it turns out to be the serial killer mentioned on the radio earlier, who quickly kills him.
  • In Event Horizon, the ship exploits the fear and guilt of the crew to manipulate them. Peters is tricked into falling to her death by a vision of the Littlest Cancer Patient son she left behind on Earth.
  • Ghost Ship is full of these, the most infamous being a scene where one of the mercenaries is exploring the ship's ballroom, only to lured away by a seductive visage of the ship's lounge singer. Straight into an elevator shaft.
  • Leprechaun 2: The Leprechaun murders Ian by casting an illusion of Bridget undressing in front of him. He leans in to kiss her, unaware that he's actually sticking his head into a Deadly Rotary Fan.
  • In the live action Masters of the Universe movie, the non-Eternian POV character's girlfriend (played by Courteney Cox!) immediately accepts her dead mother turning in the middle of a siege by magic aliens from another dimension to lure her out the back door of the shop in which she and her friends are holed up defending a powerful alien artifact. Moments later, she accepts that her dead mother needs her to hand over said artifact. Needless to say, it's not really her dead mother.
  • In The Night House, Beth repeatedly encounters the ghost of her departed husband Owen in the form of suggestions of his silhouette in backgrounds and, eventually, an invisible force speaking with his voice. Once Beth accepts that her husband has returned, or no longer bothers trying to doubt and justify her delusions to herself, the entity abruptly denies being Owen, instead being a demon which has been hunting her for years.
  • In the latter part of the haunted house section of Pizza, the ghosts lure Kunal to another room several times by making it sound like Nikita is in the house, and in trouble.
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: The Dweller-in-Darkness projects the voice of Wenwu's deceased wife, Ying Li, pretending she is imprisoned, to trick him into freeing it from its imprisonment.
  • At several points in Silent Hill, Rose is spurred further into the obviously treacherous town by fleeting sightings of Alessa, who looks identical to her missing daughter Sharon. Somewhat averted near the end in that Rose is forced to cross a pile of fallen masonry over a very long drop into a burning coal fire — or something worse burning down below — but makes it across safely.
  • In Spaceballs, Dark Helmet manages to lure Princess Vespa out of Yogurt’s home by using the schwartz to disguise himself as her father, King Roland.
  • In Tower of London (1962), the ghosts of the two young princes attempt to lure Richard off the battlements by enticing him to play a game with them. He is only saved by the intervention of Buckingham, who cannot see the ghosts.

  • The Will-o'-the-Wisp, in Celtic folklore, is a ghost which supposedly drowns people walking in swamps at night by walking over deep water or quicksand so people think it's shallow/solid.
  • Russian folklore tells of a fairy which lures people away from paths in the forest by sounding like a person.

  • Book of Swords: In Woundhealer's Story, one of the main characters keeps seeing tantalizing hints of a specific girl he vaguely recognizes. Every time he comes across evidence of her, it mysteriously turns into a mundane material that has reason to be there already. Hair caught in a rough bush turns to spiderweb in his hands, fabric turns to moss, etc., and each time he is drawn further into the forest. Only after he's magically paralyzed by an enemy does he realize that the entire thing had been an evil enchantment designed to lure him there.
  • Beren and Lúthien: Gorlim refuses to believe that his wife Eilinel, who went missing during Gorlim's absence in the war against Morgoth, is dead. Sauron uses this belief against Gorlim by creating a vision of Eilinel as bait inside Gorlim's house. Gorlim enters and is immediately captured by Sauron's orcs, and eventually tortured into revealing the location of Barahir.
  • Deltora Quest has one extended over three books, and on the other end of a magic crystal for long-distance communication. An illusion created by the Big Bad pretends to be Jasmine's (nonexistent) sister, enslaved in the Shadow Land. It persuades Jasmine to break from the other heroes to go to the Shadow Land on her own to rescue it.
  • Discworld: Played for laughs in Going Postal. The Ankh-Morpork Post Office wraps unsuspecting postmasters entirely in a beguiling vision of the building's opulent past. Unfortunately for them, this includes images of floors and walkways that have long since rotted away. Moist von Lipvig nearly takes a very long tumble stepping onto a balcony that had long ago ceased to be.
  • Happens sometimes in Horus Heresy:
    • In False Gods, when Horus lies in a Chaos-poison induced coma, he's visited in his dreams by his fallen friend, Sejanus. Or at least, that's what it seems - it's actually Erebus disguising himself through warpcraft as Sejanus to lure Horus into Chaos' tender embrace.
    • In Know No Fear, one of the soldiers is often visited by his bride beckoning him to come with her - only it's actually a Chaos-thingy trying to lure him into cultists' arms. Thankfully, both his friend and Oll Parsson stop him in time, as one sees the "bride" as a terrifying monster and the other as raw Warp-stuff.
    • Subverted in Deathfire, when during a Gellar Field breach, Numeon and Zytos see the figure of their Primarch walking about the ship (they're transporting his corpse, but Numeon's adamant he'll raise from the dead) and chase after him, overjoyed. It is, in fact, a daemon leading them to their death - but it seems that at the last moment, Vulkan somehow takes over the apparition, as it warns them away from the trap.
  • The sorceress Zandramas uses this against Ce'Nedra in The Malloreon to cheat her out of valuable information. After magically luring her away from the group, she disguises herself as Ce'Nedra's handmaiden, holding her kidnapped son. Throughout it, Ce'Nedra is fully aware that the woman she's seeing is dead and her son is far away, but is forced to be so deliriously happy about seeing her "baby" again that she has to go along with it.
  • Otherside Picnic: Hasshaku-sama superimposes the image of someone close to her victim onto herself, luring them to come close enough and vanish to the blue light. Abarato thinks she is his missing wife and disappears after touching her; Toriko sees her as her lost friend and starts walking towards her. Sorawo, having no one precious to her, is not tricked and manages to chase and grab Toriko. Except not — what Sorawo thought was Toriko, is Hasshaku-sama.
  • This is the basic principle by which a Darke Domaine in Septimus Heap works: By creating an illusion that one of your loved ones is there, inside the Domaine.
  • This is a hazard when crossing the boundary in The Sword of Truth. Since the boundary is part of the underworld that has been uprooted, the shades of one's deceased loved ones beckon them to the other side. You're more susceptible to their tricks if you are weak and in despair.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: "The Lodger" features random passers-by lured into a two-flat by various poorly-lit characters, with much screaming and electrocuting as the result. The flat is a time machine searching for a compatible pilot, using images of humans in distress to lure people in and compel them to take control of the craft, usually with grisly consequences.
  • The Flash (2014): In the episode "The Present", Savitar tricks Cisco into opening the box containing his essence by projecting an image of his dead brother Dante.
  • In Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, Kit is led to become a hero by visions of his father, who is in a mysterious coma that will turn out to be the result of Big Bad Xaviax draining Life Energy to use as fuel; he's not the only victim, either. The kicker is, the visions were also the work of Xaviax. The Transformation Trinket is DNA locked, so he has to manipulate the lives of the Earth counterparts of the alternate universe's Riders behind the scenes to get them to work for him. Kit always wondered why he was the exception. He isn't.
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, Heat Wave is tormented by memories of Captain Cold. It turns out that at least the last few times, it wasn't memories; the villains had gone back in time to recruit a pre-Heel–Face Turn Cold to pose as a hallucination in order to lure him back to the dark side so they could get their hands on the MacGuffin.
  • In Lexx, a gift from an alien species causes each member of the crew to experience hallucinations designed to evoke jealousy. Stanley discovers Xev and Kai together in bed, while Xev stumbles upon Stan and Kai in the same position. Enraged, they come within seconds of murdering each other before the real Kai intervenes.
  • Subverted many times in Lost, starting in the pilot with visions of Jack's father. While the apparitions always require the character to do incredibly ill-considered and dangerous things (such as climbing treacherous rock faces, stealing babies or attacking each other), doing what the spirit says is often beneficial in the long run.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • The main plot of the episode "If These Walls Could Talk" concerns a house "infected" by an alien substance. Not only does the house absorb people into its structure, it's able to regurgitate Doppelgangers of those people to lure in their friends and loved ones when they come searching for answers.
    • In "Bodies of Evidence", an alien would shapeshift into people's loved ones or enemies to lure them close and kill them.
    • In "Stranded", the alien Tyr'Nar reads Brad's mind and shapeshifts into the cheerleader Cindy, whom Brad had a crush on, to lure him close and kill him.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Psirens" is one long exploration of this trope: the Psirens are able to read the minds of their prey and create a personalized hallucination to lure them to their doom. Lister, for instance, sees an image of his beloved Kochanski and their two sons in mortal danger on the planetoid below. Kryten recognizes the Psiren as such but is unable to disobey his programming when the Psiren imitates his creator and orders him to climb into the waste disposal unit.
  • In Rose Red, the ghost of Sukeena lures the professor into the woods, where he's killed by his insane intern.
  • Star Trek is full of these.
    • In the Next Generation episode "Interface", Geordi LaForge is directly manipulating an experimental probe by means of his ocular implants. While exploring a downed vessel, the Raman, Geordi encounters a vision of his mother, who urges him to bring the vessel's wreckage deeper into the atmosphere.
    • In the Next Generation episode "Eye of the Beholder", both Deanna Troi and a crewman relive a telepath's buried memories embedded into a portion of the Enterprise during its construction. Both attempt suicide following the discovery of their lover's infidelity, in accordance with the memory. The crewman succeeds, but Troi is saved by timely intervention from Worf.
    • In the Voyager episode "Coda", Kathryn Janeway experiences several disturbing "deaths" before finally encountering a vision of her father. Admiral Janeway informs Kathryn that she's dead, and he's here to accompany her to the next life via a tunnel of light. While she nearly follows the spirit, Janeway's desire to stay with her crew turns to increasing suspicion of her "father" and his motivations, who is revealed to be a hostile alien that feeds on the consciousness of any mortally wounded life form by luring it into its lair.
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be", Dean follows a woman in white which leads him to realize something is wrong in his new reality.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: During the Trojan War, Hector is scared to fight Achilles, but Athena takes the form of his brother Deiphobus and promises to assist him. Hector hurls a spear at Achilles that is blocked, then turns to his brother to ask for another one, only to find no one there. Hector curses the gods for tricking him as Achilles kills him.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE: In the 2020 event The Horror Show at Extreme Rules, Bray Wyatt, who has a supernatural gimmick, and Braun Strowman faced each other in a swamp. While chasing Bray, Braun comes across Alexa Bliss, whom he has a lot of Ship Tease with, wearing a black veil. "Alexa" tells him if he comes home and joins Bray, they can finally be together. Braun approaches her, but she disappears and Bray ambushes him. It is heavily implied that this was actually Sister Abigail, the spirit that watches over Bray.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons 3.5E free adventure "Test of the Demonweb" features an elf child being webbed up by three giant spiders. The child is an illusion; the spiders are not.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Traptrix cards are giant carnivorous plants or bugs that use pretty girls to lure men to them. It is ambiguous whether the girls are the creatures shapeshifted, avatars, servants, or owners.

  • Subverted in Hamlet where Horatio and the soldiers think the ghost of Hamlet's dad might be leading him into a trap, but ultimately it just wants to tell Hamlet how he died and ask him to take revenge.
    • ...although a popular interpretation is that it was leading him into a trap, given how many people wind up dead (and theoretically damned) by Hamlet's revenge quest. Note that, at the time the play was written, the official church position was that ghosts weren't real, but that demons taking people's forms were.

    Video Games 
  • In the Circle Tower quest of Dragon Age: Origins, each companion who you bring with you is trapped in a personalised dream. It's only because you break out of yours, by killing a dream-Duncan that you're able to rescue them. They wouldn't leave otherwise. Protip: It's worth rescuing them. They help you against the boss of the Circle Tower if you do.
    • Notably, Morrigan is entirely unconvinced, being both well-versed with demons of the fade as a mage, and thoroughly cynical to boot. She even criticizes the demon's poor impersonation of Flemeth.
  • In Final Fantasy V, Siren attempts to use images of the heroes' loved ones in order to get them to lower their defenses and steal their souls. It ultimately fails because Galuf has Easy Amnesia.
  • Final Fantasy XII toys with this trope. Both Vaan and Ashe see recurring silent visions of dead loved ones, apparently urging them to pursue the deifacted nethicite. Eventually, Vaan lets go of his anger over his brother's death and stops seeing him, while Ashe and the rest of the party discover later that the visions were just illusions sent to guide her to use the nethicite as a weapon, and not actually ghosts.
  • The Force Unleashed: Exclusive to the PS2, PSP, and Wii versions, while Starkiller is exploring the Jedi Temple, he sees Juno Eclipse kneeling in pain. Shocked, he runs over to help her, but she turns out to actually be Darth Phobos using illusions to take her form, and she attacks him.
  • At the end of Chapter 2 of Heart of the Woods, Madison runs into a blizzard after Tara, whom she has every reason to believe is alive (despite the fact that the rift between the two means neither knows where the other is) but appears to be in danger. Madison doesn't realize it's an illusion until it's too late, and freezes to death, but Abigail brings her back as a spirit.
  • In Ib, there are two distinct, but similar, variations of this. If Garry is alive, before escaping the painted world, Ib's mother will appear to the side and beckon to her, while Garry calls out to her; if Garry died, Garry will call to her instead. If Ib (disregarding Garry's pleas if he's present) agrees to go with them, scenes will flash showing Ib is actually following nothing, and the portrait will seal, preventing her escape. Enjoy your Ib All Alone.
  • Mass Effect 3 has Shepard plagued by dreams of a young boy they saw die when the Reapers hit Earth. Shepard runs after him through an eerie forest filled with indistinct ghostly shapes and, with each dream, more voices of dead comrades. The presence of the distinctive Reaper drone doesn't help. In the first couple of dreams, it's the spirit who meets a nasty fate while Shepard watches, unable to help. The third? He runs into the arms of another Shepard, and they both smile at the real one while slowly burning alive.
  • In Shadows of the Damned, Garcia chases Paula around like this for the first few levels.
  • In Silent Hill 2, James is in town to meet his wife, who he knows has been dead for years.
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming this trope is inverted. Alex doesn't remember that Joshua is dead because of his insanity, and spends the game chasing what he thinks is his living brother, but is actually a manifestation created by the titular town to force him to accept the truth of his brother's fate.
  • In the final chapter of Super Paper Mario, this is parodied, as the shapeshifter Mimi appears before you disguised as Merlon and Merlee, both of which are so ridiculously obvious that if you keep talking to her, she'll lampshade the Stupidity Is the Only Option of this situation, as Mario falling for her extremely obvious trap is the only way to progress.
  • In Until Dawn, you can choose to investigate the sound of someone who sounds like Jessica crying for help in another mineshaft. As this decision violates pretty much every rule in the book on how to not die in a horror movie, the character you send down there if you do choose to fully investigate (either Ashley or Chris) will meet a predictable end.

  • In Evon, Evon - upset after she thinks she's been blown off by Hero - storms off by herself and runs into... her father. Who has been dead for over a decade. Evon is so emotionally punch drunk she simply embraces "him." "He" turns out to be a "blank" - a summoned demonic creature in disguise. She gets to be freshly traumatized when the creature, still in the guise of her father, is slaughtered by Hero.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Foggy Swamp is a strange place where the barriers of time have no meaning, allowing visitors to see visions of people from their past and future. Sokka chases after a vision of Yue who accuses him of letting her die. Katara pursues what she believes is her long dead Missing Mom, and breaks down crying when she finds only a tree stump. Aang on the other hand sees someone he hasn't met yet: his future Earthbending teacher and companion Toph.