Creepy Changing Painting

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Sometimes, an inanimate object such as a painting or statue might inexplicably change off camera. For example, in one shot a statue of a man may be smiling, and in another shot the statue will be frowning. This can be used as a Funny Background Event, but is often used in horror, and can possibly be a source of Paranoia Fuel.

Possible Sister Trope to Offscreen Reality Warp. May overlap with Expressive Accessory. See also Portrait Painting Peephole.

Examples of Creepy Changing Painting include:

Comic Books

  • One issue of the Comic Book Adaptation of Rocky and Bullwinkle had a pawn shop in whose window was displayed a bust that seemed to grin one moment and scowl the next. It turned out to be connected to the auction in that story.
  • In the Don Rosa Donald Duck story, The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros) this page [dead link] features a statue who is quite affronted at the thought of sharing Junior Woodchuck information with a non-woodchuck. Don Rosa quite likes these sorts of bonuses.
  • Batman was poisoned once, and the villain offered him the choice of two possible antidotes. Already getting woozy, Batman noticed a painting of a man with folded arms -- and one finger pointing at a third bottle, off to one side. Almost sure the hand hadn't been in that position before, he grabbed the bottle and drank it, and the bad guy asked in shock, "How did you know the antidotes I offered were just more poison?!" Then, as the crook grabbed a pistol to kill the still-shaky Batman the simple way, the helpful portrait fell off the wall and knocked the fellow cold. No explanation was ever given.


  • In Airplane!, the inflatable "Otto" pilot doll changes expression several times.
  • Played for Laughs in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights with the sheriff's cardboard cutout.
  • In Mouse Hunt, the portrait of the old owner of the string factory subtly changes expressions, most notable when the main character has sex in the office with the portrait watching in surprise/disgust.
  • A very minor case in Young Frankenstein. A scowling portrait of Victor Frankenstein is highly visible in Fredrick's room. When Frederick finds his grandfather's instructions and decides to continue his work, a lightning-illuminated close-up shows the portrait looking very pleased.
    • Related is the joke of Igor's hump moving from one shoulder to another.
  • Mild case: A point in the Harry Potter universe is that people in paintings, photographs and the like can actually move, even out of frame. So it's not inexplicable or off camera, but it still gets creepy when you see Umbridge's office hanging full with pictures of cats, miauwing and moving.
  • Mrs. Munson talks to her dead husband's portrait in the remake of The Lady Killers, and while the portrait never talks back, it does react to the events around it (most obviously with an expression of surprise at an explosion, and a satisfied smirk at a Karmic Death.)


  • An iconic example is The Picture of Dorian Gray. The titular portrait changes when no one looks at it, and its first change is a subtle alteration in the expression. Most of the remaining changes are more obvious.
  • In The Witches, one of the children is cursed to live in a painting. No one ever sees her move, but she lives her entire life in the painting, even aging gradually into an old woman, and then disappearing altogether.
  • The Mezzotint, by M. R. James.

Live Action TV

  • In the Supernatural episode "Provenance", things in a haunted painting move and change, although events in real life evoke a reaction in the painting.
  • In Doctor Who, the Weeping Angels. Also, some of the drawings in "Fear Her" do this.
  • One of the pranks in an episode of Trigger Happy TV featured a person disguised as a statue in a park who would sneeze every so often when people came near.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone features a ventriloquist who notices while shaving in front of a mirror that his Demonic Dummy keeps on changing the tilt of its head every time he glances at it in the mirror. Then he looks directly at the dummy, and it winks at him. He responds by throwing something at it, causing its face to seemingly break.
  • An episode of Mysterious Ways had a crying stained glass window as its miracle of the week.
  • In one episode of Warehouse 13, Pete, Myka and Claudia were stuck in a house where the changes they made in the room changed the painting of that same room.

Video Games

  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: Paintings found in Castle Brennenburg change depending on the player character's sanity. Under normal conditions, the portrait of Baron Alexander depicts him as an old long-haired gentleman; if the player's sanity is low, then the portrait's face becomes melted and monstrous - possibly revealing Alexander's true face. The castle's other paintings also appear to change depending on your sanity level; this usually manifests as distortion in the figures' faces and the addition of skeletons in the scene. This makes for excellent Paranoia Fuel, just like everything else in the game.
  • In Five Days A Stranger, there's a painting in the dining room of Roderick Defoe. Each day, the man in the painting gets older and older. By day four, it's a corpse. By day five, the painting is blank except for a blood splatter.
    • Another example is the landscape painting in a different room. Every so often, a dark, vaguely-human figure appears on the horizon. It's subtle enough that most people don't notice. The painting was done by Matthew Defoe, one of the first deaths linked with the manor's past. Its origin is explored further in Trilby's Notes.

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Veggie Tales, Larry the Cucumber has a paper bag mask which changes expressions based on the wearer's expression. Bob the Tomato notices it, and is very freaked out by it. It is later hinted that the mask doesn't change because of the wearer's emotions, but the wearer's emotions change because of the mask.
  • As a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Lilo and Stitch, a poster in Nani's room has a surprised expression for a few frames after Stitch hits Jumba with a VW Beetle.
  • In the Tex Avery cartoon Who Killed Who, a police detective looks inside a dark room with a flashlight. The light passes a picture of a woman in a swimsuit and fur coat. He quickly returns to it for a second look, but now the woman has covered herself up with the coat.
  • Early villainess Hexadecimal in ReBoot had a drama mask for a face, which could change expressions, but only when offscreen. Hex could invoke this by passing her hand in front of her face.
  • Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: While the transforming door knocker is par the course, after the ghostly visitations end and Scrooge!Magoo leaves to visit the Cratchit house, the door knocker winks at the audience.


  • The queue of The Haunted Mansion at the various Disney Theme Parks has something like this. At point along the queue, there is a headstone with a casting of a woman's face. Every so often, the woman's eyes will open, dart around for a few seconds, and then close. The queue also contains several paintings that morph into different paintings, such as a painting of a woman morphing into a tiger.
  • The allegedly cursed painting "The Hands Resist Him" (AKA "the cursed eBay painting") allegedly had the people in it frown, and one even allegedly pulled out a gun.
  • This is often used with masks and other odd faces. For instance, Jack from the Jack-in-the-Box fast food commercials.
  • Religious figurines and paintings are often accused of crying or bleeding when no one is looking.