This trope might come in several different packages, but it always involves the same stages: a presence (a character, an apparition, an item, a painting, etc) appears to be perfect, gorgeous, stunningly beautiful, angelic in every way relevant. Then suddenly or gradually, this beauty dissolves into nightmarish horror: the character is hideous, the apparition is demonic, the item is hellish, the painting is horrific, etc.
Any scene or situation where something appears good on the surface but has some kind of horrific undertone or inner layer falls under this trope. But what is the context?
Often it is a test of character.
In the case of the covenant ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the beautiful spirits beckon to be looked at, only to turn into skeletal murderous poltergeists once that has been achieved. Indy and Marion survive because they have the self-control (or extra knowledge) not to look at the ark once it's opened. The nazis do (out of greed and ignorance) and meet their demise.
Similarly, the femme fatale is a similar test of character: the main character's challenge is to withstand her allure and keep from being blinded and manipulated by it. Those that can't do it, perish at her hands because of the true horror she hides within.
Items that are irresistible on the outside but hide death (or other horrors) within pose similar tasks for the characters: Aladdin's Abu fails the test when he grabs a huge jewel in the cave of wonders. The Ark in Raiders kills off all the present nazis (which makes you wish the nazis won and took the thing to open in Berlin, in the presence of Hitler and his entire inner circle…).
Creatures of the nightly persuasion, from vampires to succubi, also have a similar mechanic to their character.
But this doesn't hold only for skin-deep beauty. In what could seem as a subversion, but I think is simply the same trope in different contexts, a person that seems ‘too good to be true’ or just friendly and alluring in terms of personality could hide a sinister core within. One such instance is in the movie The Mask where the bombshell girl seems to be the ‘beautiful but deadly’ one and in the end the one that is the traitor is the ‘warm personality but not AS pretty as the pretty one’ that Stanley Ipkiss trusts only to be betrayed by her.
Have you used ‘horror within beauty’ in any way in your comics?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 8, 2022
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