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Undeathly Pallor

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Can you guess which of these two characters is dead? Check The Stinger for the answer!

Guillermo: Is she a vampire now?
Nandor: Well, she's got fangs and the white pale face, it's a pretty major clue.

In fiction, if you run into someone who looks like a corpse, it's not that they're sick, it's that they're dead.

Characters who become one of The Undead will develop pale or sometimes blue or green-tinged skin. In severe cases with visible (and deathly still) purple veins underneath the skin. Even people who were dark-skinned* in life will have it turn ash grey, or dark like soot.

A living character who is just pale is usually a perfectly mundane case of an Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette, who has heard all the jokes about waking up on the wrong side of the coffin. There may be some Unfortunate Implications here though since in fiction there's a strong correlation between being pale and going over to The Dark Side. In addition, living characters who come into contact with the dead, undead, or infernal may have a change of color and become Hades Shaded. This is the case with necromancers, infernalists, those under ghostly Demonic Possession, someone bitten by zombies or a vampire, or The Renfield who has fed on vampire blood. It doesn't stop there either, centuries of sunless existence may turn the character evil.

This trope is so common it's usually a dead giveaway that something is wrong with Alice/Bob when they suddenly show up this shade of pale. Smart characters will have their Not a Zombie sense ping them as being "somehow off". Which of course makes the defiance of this trope a #1 priority on every smart undead's list of Masquerade-reinforcing tricks. Settings where this trope is subverted have much more dangerous undead for being indistinguishable from the living. Another curious exception is that sometimes people who were brown-skinned or darker in life may look exactly as vivid after death as they did when they were alive for unexplained reasons. Probably something to do with the Special Effects budget and wanting to avoid a gaffe.

Truth in Television, as once you die, the blood moves due to gravity to the lower parts of your body (if you are lying on your back, then it pools there). It's called Post-mortem lividity. So if your skin looks drained of blood, it's because it is.

See also Monochrome Apparition, Death Is Gray, Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl, and Undead Barefooter.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sid from Soul Eater is a zombie gym teacher. He once had normal colored skin but after dying, he became blue...literally.
  • Owl / Seidou Takizawa from Tokyo Ghoul:Re is not undead, but makes use of this trope as part of his overall Zombie motif. In colored artwork, he's almost as pale as his white hair, with sunken eyes and discolored lips and nails. At one point, he talks about himself as someone that has already died and has a taste for brains.
  • The Unpopular Mangaka and the Helpful Onryo-san: Onryo-san has blue skin.
  • Zombie Land Saga: When they're not under the substantial amount of prosthetic makeup their manager Kotaro uses to make them look alive for public appearances, the girls of Franchouchou are all a grayish-blue. Junko, who died when her plane exploded and had to be reassembled from her Ludicrous Gibs fished out of the sea, instead has patches of dark blue, pale green, white, and dark gray, presumably from her pieces being in different states of decay when they were recovered.

    Comic Books 
  • Any Black Lantern who didn't just have a skull for a face had grey skin.
  • Subverted in Death Vigil; it's a side-effect of the Reaper's scythe to make its wielder have Mystical White Hair and pale skin—the appearance isn't unique to the Reaper herself.
  • G.I. Zombie: Jared Kabe, the titular zombie, has paper-white skin with visible veins.
  • Lady Death is an undead sorceress and milk-pale. In the Avatar Comics, there is a term for people that are sentenced to the Labyrinth called "albinos", who had willingly performed deals with the dark spectres that rule it and become undead beings of extreme power but hated by others.
  • Malibu Comics' Ultraverse character Ghoul was green (and pretty messy besides).
  • In Wonder Woman (2011) when Wonder Woman meets this version of Persephone she is pale green, which is a hint before her never healed sliced wrists are revealed that in this reality she is among the dead.
  • Dead Girl in X-Statix, who's sort of greenish.
  • Ghosts in the 2014 run of The Dead Boy Detectives are drawn a little blue in the face even when corporeal.

    Fan Works 
  • Fate of the Clans: Cú Chulainn, who's technically already dead and is just a spirit in physical form, is seen as having skin as pale as a corpse's in his Alter form.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Call of the Undead: The zombies in the film have a pale white complexion.
  • Dark City (1998)" The Strangers are alien energy forms who inhabit human corpses as a means of performing routine physical actions.
  • The zombies in Dawning of the Dead tend to have pale white skin.
  • The Jurassic Dead: Most zombified people in the movie turn grey. For some reason, Gunnar's skin just turned a noticeable shade of green.
  • The alien monster mutants in Pandorum are all Undeathly Pale. It's later revealed to be because they evolved and mutated over centuries to become apex predators for the ship they inhabit by feeding on the other passengers of the ship.
  • The Twilight Saga plays this trope straight with Caucasian vampires, but Laurent presents an odd contrast. He's not at all pale in the first movie but was washed out and greyish though, at least in the second film.
  • Drac and the female vampires in Bram Stoker's Dracula. While he doesn't display it in his younger form, his older form has very pale skin. His brides have it, though the dark lighting of their scenes makes it hard to tell. Lucy, on the other hand, goes completely deathly white after turning.
  • Vampires in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie had this among other mutated features to show they weren't human anymore.
  • Count Yorga when he goes full vamp mode to really show off his monstrous form. Likewise the vampires under his control.
  • In the film commentary for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson discusses how Boromir's skin was paled just a little bit at the moment he succumbs to his wounds and dies. The change is so subtle that most viewers might not consciously pick it up, yet still provides his death scene a little extra punch.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, Hades, Persephone, and other Underworld residents have their hands and faces coated white; it's implied to be stage makeup since Hades is later seen without the pallor. When Eurydice dies and is made part of the EBN programming she becomes deathly pale as well, as does Orpheus when he dies.
  • A Wakefield Project: Nathan Cross' ghost has pale white skin. Same with all the other ghosts about town.
  • The Whole Truth (2021): The Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl next door has very dark grey skin.

  • In The Twilight Saga, Maria the vampire looks "porcelain" despite being Mexican. The books are pretty inconsistent about what happens to people of color when they become vampires. Maria is really pale and Laurent is olive-skinned (but it's never stated what race he is). There are some other vampires who are non-Caucasian, but their skin color isn't really mentioned. The male half vampire from South America is definitely dark-skinned, though.
  • Variation in the Old Kingdom series. The actual Dead aren't noted to be pale (since most are either bodiless or too rotten to tell) but Necromancers (and Abhorsens, who practice necromancy to quiet the undead) become "deathly pale" from habitually projecting their spirits into Death.
  • In Warbreaker, when a Lifeless is created, all color is bleached from their body as a side-effect of the magic (which uses color as a sort of trigger). The resulting creatures look exactly like they did in life, except that they are pale grey all over.
  • When Kairn becomes a zombie shortly after dying in Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead, Zak thinks he looks sallow-skinned and unhealthy like he's been sick, not like the rotting zombies in his dreams.
  • This is why zombie rights activist Reg Shoe in the Discworld novels sports a "Glad to be Grey" badge.
  • Feral humans in Janitors Of The Post Apocalypse have syrupy black blood. The "cure" gives them higher brain functions while not modifying their physiology very much, but they are somewhat warmer with thinner blood. Ferals are distinctly grayish and cured humans have a bit more color. When she meets unmodified humans for the first time, Mops is struck and slightly unnerved by the warm red undertones that their red blood lends to their skin.
  • In Quazi, the titular intelligent zombies and the feral Risen (who haven't yet regained intelligence) eventually develop bluish-gray skin that sharply distinguishes them from the living. They're not really dead, though, and actually have a pretty good Healing Factor, although it works fairly slowly.
  • Miss Persephone Parker in the The Strangely Beautiful Series is so pale that she's often mistaken for a ghost.
  • Lesser Shade in in Shadow of the Conqueror, who become pale white, monstrous versions of their former selves, constantly weeping Tears of Blood.
  • Sunshine: Vampires have distinctively grey skin that Rae likens to mushrooms — spoiled mushrooms, when Constantine is in bad condition.
  • Played with in The Ashtown Burials with Nolan, who is unsettlingly thin and deathly pale with hair "the colour of dust" (despite being born in Persia) and creepy jutting veins. He shrugs off deadly venom and notes it will make him feel alive, and the heroes start to wonder...but it turns out he's not dead after all: he's immortal. Subverted further when we meet other transmortals, who look perfectly normal, so Nolan's creepy appearance is more likely due to the curse.
  • The Vampire Chronicles: Vampires' skin turns pale and smooth when they're first turned and becomes more so with age, so the oldest ones look like they're sculpted out of white stone.
  • The Morlocks in The Time Machine have this due to living Beneath the Earth.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Gregor Clegane's skin seems to be a pale purple, likely a result of congealed blood and/or partial decomposing.
  • All the zombies in In the Flesh look white and the pupils in their eyes look like crosses. They wear make-up and contacts to appear like the living.
  • Supernatural:
  • The vampires of Forever Knight, except for the handsome Vampire Detective protagonist. In the pilot episode, his tan is handwaved by Nick Knight saying he was exposing himself to the sun for limited amounts of time, as part of his ongoing attempt to cure his vampirism. Later episodes have him using a sunbed.
  • The zombies of iZombie become noticeably pale with bleached-out hair. At least one zombie deliberately dyes his hair to conceal this.
  • Laura Moon in American Gods (2017) gets a paint job from Mr. Ibis in order to avert this effect, although it deteriorates along with the rest of her. It's fairly subtle since actress Emily Browning is pretty fair-skinned to begin with.
  • What We Do in the Shadows (2019): After Nadja turns Jenna into a vampire, the latter starts looking a lot more ashy gray, which is lampshaded.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pallor is an actual disadvantage in GURPS. It worsens first impressions and can lead to unwanted scares.
  • The Abyssal Exalted get this in spades - As they get more powerful, Abyssals are required to either become pale (if they were light-skinned in life) and beautiful, or decayed and monstrous. As a high Appearance Abyssal's colors change towards the natural extreme they are closest to, Abyssals who were dark-skinned in life invert this trope, with skin colors resembling obsidian.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem:
    • Vampires typically grow paler and less lifelike as they grow older — not because of age, but because an older vampire is more likely to have fallen a few notches down the Humanity scale and gotten closer to their Beast.
    • Inverted by the Banu Haqim from Masquerade, who grow darker as they age, to the point where the elders of the line look like they're made of polished jet. This trait was dropped in Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition.
    • The Cappadocians, a clan-turned-bloodline in Masquerade take this a step further. They always appear corpse-like, unable to use Flush of Life to mask their pale faces regardless of age or humanity score. When they get older, they grow even more like wasted cadavers. The Harbingers of Skulls (Cappadocian survivors), due to their time spent in The Underworld, are outright desiccated corpses.
  • Pathfinder: Pharasma, the primordial Goddess of Birth and Death, usually manifests as a humanoid woman with grey skin and blank white eyes. However, any comparison to The Undead is inadvisable, as they're among the very few things she despises outright.


    Theme Parks 
  • The Haunted Mansion: Naturally, most of the deceased denizens of the Haunted Mansion have this kind of appearance. Special mention, though, should go to the narration by the Ghost Host, who suggests that the ride-goers themselves have this: "Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis."

    Video Games 
  • Bladed Fury has the supernatural-themed enemies and humanoid demon bosses like General Wu and Bogu, all of them who look human except for having pale, blue-white skin - an indicator that they're no longer mortals.
  • All vampires in Daemon Summoner are pale white. Your wife Emily was unfortunately converted into a vampire in the backstory, where in the flashbacks she looks like a normal human being - when you fight her as a boss (in a Staking the Loved One stage) her skin is bone-white.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy series:
  • Al, the ghouls in Eternal Evil have pale-grey skin.
  • The zombies in Arizona Sunshine have skin in various shades of death.
  • The lunch lady zombie in Corridor Z has green skin.
  • Most of the zombies in Diacrisis have normal-coloured skin, but you will occasionally see a green zombie.
  • Spark the Battle Dog: The zombies in the game have green skin.
  • In World of Warcraft the Forsaken have skin in various shades of grey, green, and blue. Death Knights also tend to be paler than a living character with the same setting of skin shade. They also have access to several different skin tones not available to living players, mostly in greens and greys. Though some of them are a bit odd - blood elves apparently decay into charcoal.
  • Brütal Legend has the Drowning Doom, whom all their units have this look to them. Most noticeable is Drowned Ophelia, the doppelganger counterpart of Ironheade's Ophelia, who, naturally, turns from a healthy-looking yet slightly pale Perky Goth, to an openly corpse blue after her transformation into the Queen of Black Tears.
  • In Gaia Online, the main zombie skin tones tend to be gray-white or greenish, though alternate zombie skin tones have been known to include dark blue, purplish, and bright scarlet. There are four vampire skin tones as well; a crappy 100 Gold potion in Skin Tyte with an exclusively pale-white base and three found only in The Treehouse and the marketplace, which range from "basically, we just improved the old skin tone" to "Now you, too, can be Ambiguously Brown". Zhivago in the plot manga and Kamilla in zOMG! are also Ambiguously Brown vampires, and were rather famous for formerly being the only ones.
  • Haunted Halloween 85: The zombies in the game have green skin. So does Donny if he loses all of his health and becomes a zombie.
  • Resident Evil likes to vary with this, as the zombies in-game can be anywhere from grey or blue-skinned, to a sickly-looking yellow.
  • The Sims 2 does this. Zombies are gray, vampires are blue. However, as with most things in The Sims, custom content exists to change these.
    • Also, in some MySims sequels, beginning with MySims Kingdom, Carl the Zombie is blue, with rotted away hair. In MySims Agents, his arm even falls off.
  • In The Sims 3 Supernatural expansion, all the premade ghost characters have blue skin, hair, and eyes, although they show up in-game as different colors depending on what they died of.
  • In the Kingdom Hearts series, Sora will have white skin whenever he is in Halloween Town as a result of becoming a vampire. He's not really undead. He retains the skin color in Christmas Town, where he wears a black Santa Claus jumper and hat over his clothes and eyepatch, respectively.
  • In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Dracula's skin became bone white after centuries of vampirism.
  • Queen Frieda of One Way Heroics has slightly paler skin than the non-undead party members. It might be a case of this trope, but it might also just be a case of the lighting on her character portrait.
  • Zombidle: Bob the Necromancer, as well as the Zombie Horde, Giant Zombie and The Big Plague all have deep green skin.
  • Metal Slug 3's zombies in the second mission have grayish-blue skin, and if the player or the various injured civilians around the area get zombified from a Zombie Puke Attack their skin changes to match.
  • Frédéric Chopin in Frederic: Resurrection of Music has bluish white skin due to being undead. He gains a more normal skin tone in the final level.
  • Sailor Zombie: The zombies in the game have grey skin.
  • Zombie Playground: The zombies in the game are grey-skinned with white hair.
  • Chthonic gods in Hades are readily identifiable by their corpselike complexions, with even the Hades Shaded Thanatos having dark grey skin rather than a natural color. Most of them are either blue or grey, though the protagonist, Zagreus, managed to luck out with a more natural (if ashen) Raven Hair, Ivory Skin.
  • Undying: The zombies in the game have grey skin.
  • Zombie Claus: The Jolly Undead Elf has grey skin.
  • Zombie Madness: The zombies in the game all have green skin.
  • All the Neons in Neon White, former damned souls from Hell, have stark white skin.
  • Baldur's Gate III: Astarion's personal quest is titled 'The Pale Elf' even before you find out he's a vampire. If the party tries to enter a hospital by pretending that a party member is sick, Astarion can get in instantly if he points out how pale he looks.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, if the lopsided gait and bloodstained shirt weren't enough of a hint, D-Man's blue-purple skin when he finally meets Akira marks him as an undead spirit.

    Web Original 
  • Taerel Setting: Played straight by many clans, such as the cave-dwelling Minemi and Xalather Kin'toni Clans who have stark white skin, but inverted by the Yergha Kin'toni Clan, who have such dark skin that it's almost black.

  • Camille in Bloody Urban has very light blue skin, despite the fact that she is of African descent. Recent comics show it changes back to its original pre-death color when she drinks blood.
  • The zombie twins Hex and Mye in Charby the Vampirate have very pale skin as do most of the vampires.
  • The Beastmaster, a revenant who appears in the The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids Jenny Everywhere comic Jenny Everywhere and the Master of Monsters, sports pale-green skin as the only conspicuous sign of his undead nature.
  • Devil's Candy:
    • Pandora, a female Frankenstein's Monster first introduced as she's being brought to life, has pale blue skin. However, people in this setting come in every color and shape imaginable, so that might just be the natural skin tone of whoever her parts were sourced from.
    • Clarence, a teenage vampire, has skin so pale it verges on paper-like.
  • Being based on Exalted, Keychain of Creation features various extremely pale Abyssals, the best-known of which is, of course, Secret.
  • The Kingfisher: Pale vampires abound.
  • Phantomarine: Human seaghosts' skin tones range from bone white to different shades of purple or blue, depending on their skin tone in life. They may also look like skeletons, either seemingly at will or when hungry.
  • School Bites: All of the usual vampires have chalk-white skin, save for Cleobatra who's African American but still sports a bit of paleness.
  • The zombies in Surviving Romance all have blue skin as an easy indicator.
  • Unsounded: The plods are all a grey color, with bits of bone visible.
  • In Zombie Ranch, people turned into zombies become noticeably green. Other mammals just seem to go green on the inside.

    Western Animation 
  • Strangely inverted by Danny Phantom, whose skin when he's a ghost is actually more tan than it is when he's human. Possibly this was done to have a stronger color contrast against his white hair. In contrast, the skin of Vlad's ghost form has a more typical pale blue shade.
  • Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice is rather pale-skinned.
  • Weirdly played with in Steven Universe: Lion turns out to have come Back from the Dead with his body altered to a state that in some ways resembles the undead. The same eventually happens to Lars. Both have their skin and hair turn a shade of pink much paler than they were naturally.

Answer: You actually checked? Wow, okay. It's Emily, the girl on the right with the boney arms.


Video Example(s):


Vampire Martin

Martin wakes up as a vampire with a purple suit and a high-collared cape.

How well does it match the trope?

4.2 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / ClassicalMovieVampire

Media sources: