The picture looks normal at first — a quaint, 1950s diner scene — but something feels off. You can’t quite put your finger on it. Then you notice the skull in the coffee, the blood gushing from holes in the waitresses’ knife, the tentacles wrapping around the little boy’s arm … The painting is the “Blue Plate Special” by Missouri illustrator Jeff Lee Johnson, and it has gone viral for being what many have heralded the creepiest image on the internet.
Johnson created the image for Fantasy Flight Games’ The Investigators of Arkham Horror, Tales of Madness, a. H.P. Lovecraft-themed role-playing game. The company’s art brief supplied the setting (a seemingly normal but actually horrific scene from the point of view of a guest in a rail car diner in Lovecraft’s fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts) and Johnson filled in the rest. The whole project took around three days.
“It seemed like a perfect assignment, as I always loved images like that as a kid,” Johnson tells Bustle. “It’s especially fun to set up a viewer’s expectations with an initial read, and reward a closer look with an entirely different narrative. Plus, I have very fond childhood memories of family meals in similar settings so it was easy to imagine the atmosphere that was needed.”
Sure enough, a closer look reveals a number of creepy details: the bloody handprint on the restroom door, the blind man with gills reading a newspaper, the eyeball on the plate next to him, the man in the background with tentacles on his face. One industrious Reddit user even worked out that the woman’s notebook says: “have to think he less strange than the horrifying creature that seems to have inhabited the cabinet behind the counter. All tentacles and teeth…” and others debated whether she was recording what was happening, or creating it.
Hope you weren’t planning on sleeping tonight, friends!
Johnson’s work focuses on fantasy, horror, and science fiction, areas he said he was drawn to (no pun intended!) by his mother.
“She taught me to draw at an early age, and filled the house with science fiction/fantasy literature. Also, one of our favorite things to do together when I was home sick from school was watch classic black and white horror films on TV. That led to late night horror movies on weekends when I was supposed to be sleeping, and I was hooked,” he tells Bustle.
His favorite detail in the painting?
“I think the ant design embedded in the tabletop linoleum may be my favorite element, as it is one of the easiest details to pass over. They're not bugs, they’re features. That and maybe the blind man reading the newspaper, which is just weird.”
Check out more of Johnson’s creep-tastic designs on his DeviantArt page.