"6. If you're running from something, you get to a car, and a corpse falls out of it, the car probably still works. Shove the body aside and start driving."
The heroine has just escaped from the Serial Killer or the gruesome corporeal manifestation of the Cosmic Horror and is running through the Haunted House, desperately trying to find a means of escape. She's managed to avoid tripping over her own feet and falling like an idiot, and if she can just make it through this next upcoming door, she may just be able to make it to the outside world and sweet, sweet freedom!
She opens the door... only to find herself standing nose to nose with a decayed, maggoty, slack-jawed corpse...
Cue Scare Chord. Cue also a huge scream from the heroine and from any traumatized 8-year olds who may have the misfortune to be watching this show.
Yes. Once again, the Peek-a-Boo Corpse—the bane of squeamish horror movie watchers everywhere—has made an appearance, rearing its ugly, eyeless, wormy head and worming its way into the nightmares of kids and adults alike.
If you're a naive moviewatcher (e.g., a child), there is no defense from the Peek-a-Boo Corpse, for there is no way to see it coming. Even if you've had some experience watching horror movies (and can pretty much tell if a desperate Damsel in Distress is going to run into trouble,) there are still times and places when the Peek-a-Boo Corpse will pop out unexpectedly, scaring the bejeezus out of even the most hardened of horror fans, especially if it's a particularly hideous one. Most Peek-a-Boo Corpses like to hang around haunted houses and cemeteries, but occasionally they'll turn up in clean and innocuous environments where you'd least expect them (and where they'll have maximum shock value). A common way to find out if an ordinary, non-suspicious character is actually a villain is to have the heroine stumble upon a Peek-a-Boo Corpse hidden in their closet or basement. (Unfortunately, for the heroine, the villain is usually close by, watching this development, if they're not actively chasing her already.)
You can expect the identity of the Peek-a-Boo Corpse to be:
- An anonymous female victim of the villain, if he's a Serial Killer
- A non-main character who, up until the discovery of his body, was considered the prime suspect in the Murder of the Week ("Hunh. Guess he didn't do it after all...")
- A Jerkass non-main character whose karmic death would have been very satisfying if his corpse hadn't turned up in such a horrible, trauma-inducing way.
- Just some random, hapless ghoul
In order for a body to qualify as a Peek-a-Boo Corpse , its appearance must somehow jolt the viewer and the person finding it should either be (a) actively engaged in a search for something else or (b) running to escape some real or perceived danger. Note: In the event that the half-destroyed corpse-like body of the villain should pop out and scare the heroes after they had mistakenly thought that they had laid it to rest, it technically doesn't qualify as a Peek-a-Boo Corpse moment (the main reason being that... well... the villain isn't entirely a corpse yet...)
Compare Cat Scare.
- Go and check out the promotional website for the remake of Prom Night. There's a pretty underwhelming version of the trope if you click for long enough.
Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, Usopp receives a face full of it when the Going Merry is rained on (and quite nearly destroyed) by the remains of a ship that fell from Skypiea. Needless to say, the Straw Hat Crew is totally shook up by the abuse of both logic and gravity Usopp attempts to calm himself by closing his eyes and meditating himself into believing the whole ordeal is a dream. He slowly opens his eyes and the first thing he sees is... The skeletal remains of one of the ships crew. Poor Bastard.
- Steven Spielberg is probably the Grand Puppet Master of the Peek-a-Boo Corpse:
- In the movie Jaws, the hapless Richard Dreyfuss happens upon a particularly nasty example of this trope in an underwater wreck. (this one Spielberg reshot specifically to be as much of a Jump Scare as it could)
- In Jurassic Park, Laura Dern has just escaped the raptors when she feels an arm on her shoulder—oh look, Samuel L. Jackson's here! ...Nope, just his arm.
- The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark features a scene at the beginning where Indiana Jones, rushing to escape a Collapsing Lair, runs straight into his traitorous—and now karmically impaled—former guide, Alfred Molina. But this scene had nothing on the most pants-voidingly traumatic Peek-a-Boo Corpse gangbang ever filmed—the scene where Marion attempts to escape from a crumbling Egyptian tomb only to find herself being MASS ATTACKED BY A MOB OF HORRIBLE ROTTING MUMMIES WITH SNAKES CRAWLING OUT OF THEIR FACES OH GOD SPIELBERG AND GEORGE LUCAS I HATE YOU (Ahem. Didn't mean to yell there. But it's a testament to the effectiveness of that scene that it can still conjure up such revulsion and ire after 20+ odd years...)
- Not to mention the earlier case in which the corpse of a "competitor" scares Alfred half-witted.
- What should also be pointed out is that the mummies may or may not have been alive. Their appearance is still...something...either way.
- The only scenes which could rival the Peek-a-Boo Corpse scrum in Raiders would be those which occurred in the ending of the Spielberg-produced Poltergeist, which featured, among other things, the mother of the family being assaulted by corpses in the unfinished backyard pool. Later on, the entire family had to escape from a house where corpses in coffins were literally popping themselves up out of the floor and blocking their way. One even tossed itself onto the windshield of their departing car for good measure. (That and the evil clown toy are why this editor will never watch a Spielberg movie again...)
- What makes this particular instance of Peek-A-Boo-Corpse so bad however, is that whenever the mother was in the unfinished pool, the corpse in there with her... WAS REAL!
- Subverted in The Machinist. At the start of the movie the main character is shown in an attempt to dump a body, and later his fridge starts leaking blood after he fails to pay his electric bill. When opened, however, it only contains a large fish he caught.
- The Friday the 13 th movies all climax with multiple Peek-a-Boo Corpses, in the form of previous victims, all popping up at once to terrorize the Final Girl.
- You gotta give the killer credit for going through the extra effort of throwing a corpse through a window just scare their next victim.
- Need we even mention The Ring? If the one in the closet doesn't get you, the one in the chair will...
- If you want to see something even worse, pause the movie during the final moments of the opening "slumber party" scene. Then do some frame advances... (Keep the nitroglycerin on standby.)
- Accepted, when the lead characters begin cleaning up the mental hospital, a corpse falls from the ceiling with a hilarious result.
- Subverted in Beetlejuice, where the ghosts of the main characters attempt to pull Peek-a-Boo Corpses on the new tenants of their house. Since the living can't see them, they are totally ignored while the obnoxious new people complain about the size of the closets.
- Norman Bates's, ah, mummy in Psycho.
- The Orphanage gives us plenty of warning that Benigna is going to look pretty messed-up after being hit by a bus, so why is this revelation so disturbing?
- Evil Dead 2. Ever get attacked by the Peek-a-Boo Corpse?
- Blade has a variant - we know the "corpse" (a burned but still alive vampire) is there, but it attacks all of a sudden.
- One of these very briefly (ahem) pops up in The Wicker Man when Sgt. Howie is searching the mortuary. Then again, what do you expect to find in a coffin? Of far more interest is the fact that it's only got one hand.
- That hideously mutated corpse from The Thing gives us the slow-motion version of this trope when the camera finally focuses on it.
- Grindhouse: The trailer Thanksgiving parodies this trope, with two kills in a row resulting from a sudden beheading that's suddenly revealed when a character looks up.
- Halloween of course did this multiple times where Laurie is exploring a house, she find one body then walks into something which prompts another peek a boo corpse to pop out. Also in one of the many Halloween sequels (don't ask which one) they're holding a reality TV show inside the Myers house, the TV crew have set up a number of fake peek a boo corpses to scare the contestants, then real peek a boo corpses start turning up to the disbelief of everybody. The series continued this even when the main character was a nine year old girl...with one of the corpses being her adopted sister. Yikes.
- In the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Sudden Death, JCVD opens a closet door to find the corpse of a woman hanging on the door, with a bullet in her brain.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman impostor, Brian, is killed by the Joker, and his corpse is mercilessly hung outside the mayor of Gotham's office. What with the sudden appearance of his body slamming into the window, accompanied by creepy, startling music, it tends to make people jump.
- There's a great scene in American Psycho when a young woman is attempting to escape the lethally insane Patrick Bateman and she runs into several corpses all over his apartment.
- Max Shreck's final appearance (as a black-charred skeleton after taking a direct tazer shot to the lips) in Batman Returns may partially qualify, as it is something of a "Gotcha!" moment. (Full credit denied since Batman *was* technically looking for him/his remains during the preceding moments.)
- In The Goonies, Chunk finds a freezer full of ice cream in the basement of the Fratellis' hideout. Gradually the others notice something behind him, or rather someone who happens to be dead and promptly falls on the heroes. "It's a stiff!"
- This happens with a plague victim in The Seventh Seal.
- In Ghost Ship, the heroine opens a closet door to find the hanged, desiccated corpse of Katie, the young ghost girl. Mind, Katie was revealing what had happened on the ship (mass murder in a variety of gruesome and cruel ways).
- Gazerbeam in The Incredibles.
- Played with in the first of The Mummy Trilogy. When the three protagonists finally open up the Sarcophagus, cue the explosion of dust, momentary scare chord, and the corpse snapping out at the trio. The Heroine screams for a second, before sighing, "Oh, I hate it when they do that!"
- Invoked in-universe in National Lampoon's Class Reunion, where the killer sets a Peek-a-Boo Corpse on a rope swinging across the auditorium's stage like a pendulum, thus freaking out the attendees en masse.
- In the "Black Hair" segment of the Japanese horror film Kaidan, the samurai makes an unfortunate discovery after a passionate night with the wife he had abandoned.
- Done a couple of times in Disturbia first when Kale's friend Ronnie plays back a video he shot of the inside of his creepy neighbor's house and discovers a dead woman inside the vent, later when said neighbor pushes Kale into an underground pool he discovers several dead women inside.
- The bug-eyed corpse with the music box in hand, which topples out of the semi in the beginning of the second Mad Max movie.
- Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan McCoy's making his way through the Regula I station when he bumps into a Rat Scare. Relieved after the initial shock, he turns around - slap-bang into a corpse, hung upside down.
- Used in Glen Cook's Sweet Silver Blues, when a dried-up corpse falls out of a catacomb niche and spooks the heroes. Subverted in that it fell out because a vampire-spawn was hiding behind the corpse, and had pushed it aside in order to attack!
- Uniquely employed in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which a ghost is shocked to discover its OWN corpse in a cupboard. At the sight, the ghost faints.
- Ann Radcliffe's Gothic romance The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), when Emily, our innocent heroine, opens the wrong door and AAARRRGGGH! Actually, it's a waxwork, thereby subverting the trope. It's still an extremely creepy waxwork, though. Thus making this trope Older Than Radio.
- This mostly seems to happen to the Bursar in Discworld, who has found unexpected corpses in his wardrobe (in Hogfather) and lying in his bed wearing a nightcap (implied in The Discworld Companion). Granted, the latter incident was a student prank rather than a crime scene.
- Subverted in Maskerade, when a suspicious-looking cello case is anxiously opened by the opera house's manager, and found to contain the mutilated, broken-necked remains of ... a cello.
- In Fairy Tales, this happens memorably to Bluebeard's wife. Well, he did tell her not to look....
Live Action TV
- An episode of the detective series Simon and Simon featured a scene where the Girl of the Week opened a closet in a nice, clean, unassuming house to find herself staring at a decaying, socket-eyed female corpse. Since the stench of decomposition would probably have been fairly noticeable, one might wonder why the woman wasn't more cautious about opening the door. (Yes... one might wonder... if one hadn't been so traumatized by the scene that they ducked under their bed and started to cry like this then-9-year-old editor did... Damn you, Simon & Simon...)
- Parodied in Doctor Who, when the Doctor and his friends split up to search a school for evidence of the villains' evil plot. One character opens a door, we hear a high, terrified scream...and (eventually) see that he has discovered a closet full of vacuum-packed rats. Quoth the Doctor: "You decided to scream? Like a little girl? Nine, maybe ten years old. Pigtails, frilly skirt..."
- Mind you, Doctor Who isn't immune from this in itself; it used it straight in an earlier episode. Fortunately, the exact shot of the Peek-a-Boo Corpse had been used in the trailer, so I think everyone was expecting it.
- Heroes, twice in the second episode. First, the frozen corpse of Molly's partially decapitated father is sitting at the dinner table. Then again, Hiro finds the partially decapitated corpse of Isaac Mendez. This is the first hint that Hiro isn't in the present, since we just saw Isaac Mendez, and he was perfectly fine.
- I'm amazed we don't have a Buffy example yet: in the episode Ted, Xander opens a closet to find...skeletons. The audience doesn't see the bodies, though.
- There was also the extreme dead guy in Aura's locker from the first episode.
- Played with in "Dead Things", where Buffy (thanks to a spell) doesn't realize that Katrina is a Peek-a-Boo Corpse and thinks she's killed her.
- Often how the dead body is found on Castle. You're just going about your day, minding your own business, opening your safe or dumping your old pizza boxes down the garbage chute and bang.
- It happens to the leads during the Halloween episode in a closet in an attic. It's Played for Laughs.
- This happens a few times on Misfits, firstly when the group find Gary's hacked-up corpse in a locker. It also happens when Sally finds her fiance's body in her car boot, although Curtis ultimately manages to avert this with his time-turning ability. Plus, in episode 6, even though the audience already knows that Sally is dead, it still comes as a bit of a shock to see that Simon has propped her up in a giant freezer and is nonchalantly eating his lunch while gazing at her mangled corpse.
- This happens again in season 2, but the scene quickly takes a comedic turn when Nathan starts frantically screaming at the corpse: "Help! What should I do?"
- Happens all the time in Psych. Then Gus vanishes if not stopped first.
- A fairly common way to open an episode in NCIS.
- One prime example is the opening scene of episode 10 of season 4, "Smoked." Workmen at the Quantico Marine Military Base are replacing a furnace when the well-preserved (smoked) body of a dead man falls out of the chimney, which scares the bejeebus out of them.
- An episode of The Greatest American Hero pulls a PG-rated version of this on the viewer, having a murder victim literally spring back to "life" as a white-faced zombie.
- Real life example (reported on the BBC website July 5, 2007): A Belgian man has been arrested after a dinner guest helping to clear up after the meal opened a freezer and found the bodies of the host's wife and stepson. The 42-year-old host had invited guests for dinner at his home in the city of Verviers, 125 km (78 miles) east of Brussels, prosecutors said. Ms Wilwerth said: "It was a lady who at the end of the meal at a friend's house, and after washing the dishes... decided to take the leftovers of the meal down to the basement to store in the deep freeze. "Once she opened the deep freeze, she discovered the bodies." Guests then alerted police but refrained from telling the host.
- A Real Life Stuffed Into the Fridge, huh?
- The Ur Example is probably the corpse of lawyer Robert Crosby found in a secret passage in The Cat and the Canary (play, later film).
- Eternal Darkness: Examining the bathtub while you're Alex is a prime example.
- Halo: One example occurs on the level 343 Guilty Spark during the cutscene before you first encounter the Flood, complete with a Scare Chord in the music.
- The game F.E.A.R. LOVES to do this. And it's one of the lesser scares in the game.
- Doom 3 regularly does this too. In addition to falling out of closets and vent shafts, they are occasionally seen being levitated or otherwise manipulated by the demonic forces.
- Half Life 2 occasionally pulls this trope, but in one particularly harsh instance while indulging in some equipment-seeking vandalism, smashing a particular wooden beam to get at the health behind it will cause FOUR dead poison headcrabs to drop on you from above, totally unexpectedly.
- The very first thing you see in the Ravenholm segment is a faraway corpse hanging from what looks like a gallows. As you get closer to the body, you gradually realize that it's only the lower half of the corpse—a bloody, jean-clad pelvis and pair of legs hanging from a hook, with the upper body nowhere to be seen.
- THE PANTS WERE DEAD
- The game Police Quest: Open Season has one of these right at the start. While you're checking out the crime scene, you open a not-too-special looking dumpster and bam, you get a Scare Chord and a corpse closeup thrown in your face.
- Near the end of the game, there's a severed head in the Big Bad's refrigerator.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did this with the skeleton of the knight in the Venice catacombs, complete with crappy Adlib Scare Chord.
- Silent Hill 1 has a corpse fall out of a locker moments after a subverted Cat Scare.
- Silent Hill 3, meanwhile, has a peek-a-boo corpse as part of a haunted house attraction that Heather finds herself getting stuck in. (And despite the fact that you are bracing for some kind of scare, when "Danny" makes his appearance it's still Nightmare Fuel.)
- Silent Hill Homecoming springs one on you early in the game moments after you've passed through what you thought was a perfectly safe hallway.
- In Clock Tower, Jennifer can find Laura's corpse either in a shower (complete with Scissorman) or in a suit of armor. She can also find a corpse in a cupboard, which can come to life and attack her in the PSX version.
- Kuon loves this trope. Bits of half-eaten corpses (or whole zombies if you're lucky) seem to appear everywhere, round corners, in boxes and closets, or sometimes falling out of the air to land right on top of you.
- The disturbing suffocation-based end sequence of Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand employs this trope to frightening effect. It's not the discovery of the corpse, which is somewhat expected, so much as the fact that Nancy is quite unexpectedly immediately shoved into it.
- Happens twice in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, though the first is optional. During the beginning Tanker chapter, opening one of the lockers later on reveals the corpse of a dead crew member which promptly falls in front of Snake. The second time happens during the flooded Shell 2 Core section when Raiden opens the second-to-last door. Both of these instances serve no gameplay purpose whatsoever (though Raiden does allude to the second corpse when he finds Emma).
- Dead Space 2 is full of walking dead but Isaac still freaks out when a body falls out of a vent..and lands on him.
- Doom3 enjoyed this heavily, having bodies fall out of vents or fly across rooms with no warning, often designed to spook the player and make them waste ammo on a non-threatening body. The most prominent is towards the beginning where after grabbing a PDA, a body on a rope swings from the ceiling in front of the player.
- Oddly combined with Gory Discretion Shot in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name when Veser discovers the body in the theater.
- In Silent Hill: Promise Vanessa turns the lights on and finds a body waiting for her.
- 4chan board /x/ plays this for laughs. A common way to criticize the predictability or otherwise show contempt for a story is to simply post "and then a skeleton popped out."
- One Bugs Bunny cartoon set in a haunted house had a scene where an escaping Bugs opens a closet door and backs into it to hide himself. Unbeknownst to him, there's literally a skeleton in that closet. Seconds later, Bugs emerges from the closet all white from head to toe and spouting insane gibberish (an entirely reasonable reaction to have, under the circumstances...)
- In The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, "Duck Twacy" (Daffy) sprays gunfire through the door of a closet containing a mob of Dick Tracy-esque villains, causing their bullet-riddled corpses to come tumbling out one after the other.
- Tex Avery's MGM short Who Killed Who has the detective open the door, only to see the bound and gagged body of a butler fall out...and then another...and then another...and then another...the cascading domino of bodies only stops for a moment for one of the corpses to stop and remark on how many of them there are, and the bodies just keep on falling.
- This actually gets a shoutout in an episode of Bounty Hamster, with robots in place of corpses.
- An episode of The Simpsons revolves around Homer having a repressed memory of this happening when he was a teenager.
- In Transformers, Daniel Witwicky experiences this in the Autobot crypt when he's running away from an undead Optimus Prime.