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It'll wear your face, Jerrik. Tear it off in rips and strips.
—Brogan Dace, Golems of Amgarrak
Voluntary Shapeshifting is a really powerful and useful ability for a character to have. But occasionally they run into a problem of logistics (other than the usual ones); how do they get the information to change shape? Sometimes it is enough just to look or touch whatever the character wants to change into.
Other times, nastier things have to be done. Some face stealers-- almost exclusively villains-- must kill a person in order to take their form. While sometimes any body part will do, the purest form involves removing the target's face. Occasionally the victim will even survive, perhaps being left as The Blank until he can steal his face back. Either way, this has the added benefit of making it impossible for the original guy to show up and ruin the charade.
Occasionally an application of Cannibalism Superpower in which case its You Are Who You Eat, although skinning the target is just as common. See Kill and Replace, which is what this trope often leads to.
Anime and Manga
- Chriopterans in Blood Plus can take on the form of anybody whose blood they have drunk. Used for extra squick points when Diva walked around as Riku, the protagonists little brother who she had previously raped and killed
- In Inuyasha, one of Naraku's henchmen was a faceless man who wore the faces of people he'd killed.
- Orochimaru from Naruto does this early on during the chunin exams to a team of Grass Village genin. He and his underlings literally take the faces from the victims either while or after killing them and wear them as disguises. However, after that instance the technique is never used again. This could be explained by the fact that there are other (less drastic) ways to copy someone's appearance. Like E-Ranked technique every Academy Student is supposed to know.
- Zetsu can mimic the chakra of people he transforms into, but he needs to take some chakra first
- Actually, he also used it when impersonating the Kazekage. After that he simply hasn't been in disguise.
- Hanzo in Ultimate Muscle slices the faces off his defeated opponents.
- In Nurarihyon no Mago, Rikuo fights a guy who cuts off girls' faces.
- Etzali (Unabara Mitsuki) of Toaru Majutsu no Index.
- The Chameleon from Spider-Man comics. Usually he uses a special gas to make a mask out of his target's skin, but some continuities have him actually eat the target.
- The Chitauri in Marvel's The Ultimates needed to consume a human to take their shape.
- The Marvel Universe also has the Dire Wraiths.
- An obscure Iron Man villain was a Japanese demon called the Face Thief, who was exactly that.
- Another comic-book example: the Warwolves, creatures from Marvel's Excalibur series, could drain a living target's life force and then assume its form by wearing the empty skin that remained.
- Orlando, a minor demon from The Invisibles series skinned his victims' faces off and, pretending to be them, went on to kill their relatives.
- Everyman in Fifty Two needs to eat a part of something in order to turn into that shape. He mentions many nails and hairs when discussing combat shapes (And some of the shapes he uses just for fun), but as time goes on he begins to take more than he needs and take advantage of the wide variety of meats available in the DC universe.
- Mazikeen in Lucifer tries to restore her face to half-destroyed this way (Its Complicated) and manages only to turn someone else's face into The Blank (non-consensually).
- The Jin en Mok in Lucifer do this too, more successfully.
- Skulljacket was a one-shot villain from Spider-Man, using former-Soviet technology. He mimicked appearance by means of holograms, but could copy enough of a person's memories for a better-quality impersonation by taking a small sample of flesh (getting the memory info from RNA), usually leaving victims rubbing an aching neck. After taking on a police detective's semblance, he made a snide, mock-sympathetic remark implying that the memory absorption told him the detective's grown son was homosexual and dad was having trouble dealing with it. Skulljacket typically left those he mimicked alive, so they could take the fall for any crimes he committed wearing their appearance.
- The female Dire Wraiths introduced in ROM Spaceknight didn't need to kill, but by sucking out the target's brain would also gain access to their memories, making impersonation easier.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of course.
- The Thing has the titular alien being able to infect and take over anyone who comes into contact with a single cell of it.
- The Bug in Men in Black
- The Zandozan assassin in The Last Starfighter
- The Djinn from the first, third, and fourth Wishmaster movies. In the second he used the same human form he had in the first, a corpse from the morgue. In the third and fourth it gets worse as he skins living people, a hapless college professor and a lawyer played by Michael Trucco, respectively.
- The gingerbread... thing in The Brothers Grimm only got a face after she stole that of a girl, leaving her with a blank face.
- Pavi Largo in Repo! The Genetic Opera, a vain playboy whose own face was scarred horribly by some unseen accident, and who now wears the skinned-off flesh of women's faces bolted over his mutilated flesh like masks. (It's implied that he takes them from women he rapes- and that he possibly even stole them as trophies anyway even before he was disfigured. After all, we see a picture of him with a normal face cutting away a dead woman's skin in an alley...)
- In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter breaks out of a Cardboard Prison, kills a guard, cuts of his face and wears it like a mask, so that he can play possum and pose as the guard in order to escape while being taken to the hospital.
- A literal double example, done with surgery and much Squick, in Face Off.
- Lazlo Soot does this in Smokin Aces and in Smokin' Aces 2
- The T1000 in Terminator 2
Terminator: The T-1000's highest probability for success now would be to copy Sarah Connor and to wait for you to make contact with her.
- Leonard from Mask Maker.
- The Karas Demons in The Cycle of Fire have to eat their targets to keep their shape for long, and in the process they also acquire access to the target's memories.
- In Ozma of Oz, the third Land of Oz book, Princess Langwidere can change her head at will. She takes a liking to Dorothy's head and wants to add it to her collection. (She does offer Dorothy one of her cast-offs in return, and it's implied that it wouldn't have killed Dorothy, but still...)
- Abeloth from the Fate of the Jedi books. Unlike other examples she doesn't seem to consume anything physical just her victim's presence in the Force.
- In the seventh Harry Potter book, Nagini the snake (Voldemort's familiar) impersonates an old woman by hiding inside her corpse.
- The changeling demon from the High Druid of Shannara trilogy takes forms this way, by literally wearing the skin of the person it is impersonating.
- The Kandra in the Mistborn series. To take a person's form they have to consume their bones and use those as a skeletal structure and an imprint for their flesh to imitate.
- Legion, The Mole in The Banned and the Banished, turns into any animal he wears the skin of. It isn't that disgusting until he kills and skins a friendly Shape Shifter . . .
- The creatures in The Apocalypse Door by James D. Macdonald remove and wear the face of the person they're imitating. They also apparently take part of the brain, giving them access to the person's memories.
- The Guild of the Faceless Men in A Song of Ice and Fire use several different means to hide their appearance, one of which involves removing people's faces and using magic to temporarily graft them onto their assassins. This is used both for impersonations as well as to blend into a particular environment.
- In The Taking by Dean Koontz, a group of people are discovered literally faceless and the shapeshifting demonic invaders use Molly's father to torment her after he is dead
- In The Kingkiller Chronicles, some 'demons' have this ability, but when they are in someone else's skin, it is very obvious that they are not human, as they only speak gibberish.
- Thursday Next: Acheron Hades took the face from his dying Mook Felix and applied it to a succession of abducted and brainwashed replacements. He later threatened to make Thursday the next Felix.
Live Action TV
- There also was a monster from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with this name. Needless to say, the scene in which some of the Rangers had their faces stolen is Nightmare Fuel.
- The Skinwalker from the pilot of the Dresden Files TV show.
- In an episode of The Mighty Boosh Vince starts to tell a story about his childhood about an ape who needed to steal a man's face to be king, or something... it ends on a sort-of cliffhanger as Vince (in the story) falls asleep, leaving him susceptible to the ape's intent, but obviously the adult Vince telling the story has a face, so to an extent it's obvious how it ends.
- Accidental usage. There was a character in Heroes who had the ability to mimic people with just a small physical sample for their DNA. Then Sylar met him, stole his ability and became a Face Stealer in his own right.
- The Slitheen in Doctor Who kill humans and fashion their skins into alien-tech disguise suits.
- The Weeping Angels might be an auditory example. They can steal people's vocal cords and impersonate the victim over a telephone or walkie-talkie.
- The Shapeshifters on Fringe are a Squick-y example of this, as the transformation looks exceedingly painful, requires that the victim be dead, and involves a three-pronged metal thing jammed into the roof of their mouth. The second group of shapeshifters from the fourth season require an even more nightmarish and biological Body Horror to take their victims' form.
- In the fourth season of True Blood, we learn that shapeshifters can take the form of humans only if they have killed a member of their immediate family.
- One episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? invokes this with an ancient woman who traps young girls and steals their faces in order to retain her youth. She stores their faces in a book, and uses the featureless girls as masked servants.
- In season 1 episode 6 of Supernatural, a Skinwalker is the Monster of the Week. He takes on many people's appearances and uses the ability to frame others for murder. The Leviathans from season 7 can also take on the faces of others.
- A literal Face Stealer (similar to the Avatar: The Last Airbender example below) appears in "Maskara" by Filipino band The Eraserheads.
- The Ganabe in Chill.
- In Legend of the Five Rings there is a species of all-female troll-like monsters who pretend to be human women by killing them and wearing their skin (the illusion holds as long as the skin is more or less fresh.)
- The Lunars from Exalted all have a spirit animal they can shapeshift into at will, but can also assume the form of any creature whose heart blood they consume following a ritualistic hunt. And yes, this applies to humans, as well.
- Alex Mercer from Prototype eats people and uses this so often he starts body surfing.
- In Thief III this is how Gamall, the main antagonist infiltrates the Keepers. This involves skinning people, so it's a very literal example.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the three transformation masks are actually made from the souls of dead characters - or possibly a manifestation of their Ghostly Goals, the game isn't exactly clear about the mechanics. Regardless, the character has to die in order for you to get their mask.
- Note that you get the mask by playing the Song of Healing, implying that the mask-transformation process is in some way beneficial to the soul of the departed.
- In the N64/PSX Mission Impossible game, the Face Maker not only duplicates people's faces, but their clothing as well.
- Doopliss in Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door.
- The Spy in Team Fortress 2, upon getting a Back Stab with the "Your Eternal Reward" knife, instantly disguises as the person he stabbed.
- In canon, it is unclear how Decoy Octopus of Metal Gear Solid impersonates people so perfectly, but we know it involves exchanging his blood for theirs. The Last Days of Foxhound explains that he can take the appearance of anyone whose blood he drinks. He spends most of that series using the form of a dead villain, just because there was a lot of blood left over.
- Reynardine of Gunnerkrigg Court fame is an inversion, with a little bit of Body Snatcher; he can take the form of anything with eyes, but they don't die until he leaves that form.
- Rumors of War features a Face Stealer of the Kill and Replace variety, in the B Plot of its first major Story Arc. Creates a What Happened to the Mouse? moment when another character is "disappeared," and a protagonist is blamed for it, concluding with an Attempted Rape (foiled in Action Girl manner) and the arc suddenly ending.
- One of the latter appearances of Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons has him surgically trade faces with his cellmate in order to escape from jail.
- One episode has Chief Wiggum taking a count of various prisoners and asks about the whereabouts of a guy who eats people and steals their faces. The guy, who is totally normal looking, cheerfully indicates his presence.
- Koh, The Face Stealer in Avatar: The Last Airbender, is the Trope Namer. This centipede-like Eldritch Abomination takes the faces of people and animals who show any facial expression in front of him, whilst keeping the appearances around to use as masks. And even worse, his victims don't die, if the faceless monkey outside his lair is any indicator. When Aang is first told of him by Roku, he is warned that he can only save himself by not showing any facial expression near him, which helps him a lot when he meets him for the first time in "The Siege of the North, Part 2"; when he nearly blows it when he smiles behind his back, he's at least Genre Savvy enough to resume his straight face at the last moment.
- According to the Cartoon Network version of MAD, Megan Fox got her looks by stealing Kristen Stewart's hair, Scarlett Johansson's eyes, and Angelina Jolie's lips. Before this, she was an actual fox.
- A certain sea slug called the nudibranch eats jellyfish and uses their stinging cells to protect itself from predators.
- Hermit crabs, though they don't actually hurt anyone, they just use the shells of dead sea creatures.
- Assassin bugs will "wear" the exoskeletons of prey on top of their bodies. Due to size disparities this may cause them to appear as a pile of insects rather than one. It still works.
- Quite possibly the most sinister of real life face stealers is a queen Polyergus breviceps, this ant queen goes into another colonies anthill of another genus (Formica), she finds the queen of the colony. She then cuts open the queen with jaws designed just for this task and proceeds to, bathes in the fluids of her victim, while the victim is still alive, for around 25 minutes. After that she leaves lets Formica queen bleed out. Moments after the death of the Formica queen, the Formica colony thinks the murderous outsider is their real queen. The reason for this bath is obvious to anyone who knows about ants, ants communicate primarily by chemical signals. Furthermore if the colony in question has more than one queen she kills all of them even though she only needs to bath in the blood of one queen to be accepted, and with her new identity, she is in no hurry to find them after the first one is taken care of, because to the duped guards, she is their queen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80uUVnswNRs
- ↑ Koh lives in the Spirit World, where you don't need to eat or breathe, and therefore, you don't need facial features. And if the fact that he did this to Avatar Kuruk's wife in retribution for Kuruk's arrogance is anything to go by, mortal beings may suffer the same problem in the Spirit World.