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Being Tortured Makes You Evil
"The healthy man does not torture others. Generally, it is the tortured who turn into torturers."

Need someone to Face-Heel Turn, but the individual is uncooperative? No worries, just strap them to a table and go to town for a while. That's right, if you inflict enough pain on someone, they WILL be consumed by hatred and turn evil. Somehow. Sometimes handwaved by throwing the word 'brainwashing' around, but more often than not, it comes down to this simple theory: Pain is bad, so if you add enough pain to someone, they become bad!

Though you have to wonder... why does it tend to make them loyal as well? You'd think the newly evil victim might turn their newfound lack of morality toward the guy that did this to them, preferably in a manner similar to what the villain did to them. Stockholm Syndrome might factor in depending on how the torture was inflicted. In some cases, also, the torture was so horrific as to give the torturer a psychological hold on the victim, terrifying them into obedience. Also, sometimes the newly-evil victim isn't loyal to their torturer, but is still evil all the same and is just lashing out at everyone (especially if the "good" guys left them to be tortured in the first place).

As a literary device, it has two handy uses: It counts as a severe Kick the Dog (or worse) for the original villain, AND creates a tear-jerking Tragic Villain.

Related to Teach Him Anger, Beware the Nice Ones, Break the Cutie, I Control My Minions Through... and possibly Who's Laughing Now?. Can often be a Start of Darkness or Freudian Excuse. It can also result in the creation of a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds if done too seriously. A character with Incorruptible Pure Pureness is resistant to this. Rape Portrayed As Redemption is roughly the inverse trope.


Examples (Read at your own risk, as many are spoilers)

    open/close all folders 

    Anime/Manga 
  • More than a few Hentai titles involve good female characters being repeatedly raped, and they join the side of their tormentors against their fellow good guys/schoolgirls/etc.
    • All those with evil female characters being controlled by being repeatedly raped by their male colleagues. Rape happens a lot in Hentai in general.
  • Ciel from Black Butler epitomizes this trope, going from an innocent, carefree child to a cold-hearted and icy one after being kidnapped and tortured on his tenth birthday. His dearest wish in life is to inflict merciless pain to those who did it to him.
  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni the BBEG, Miyoko Tanishi aka Miyo Takano suffers from this. After an abominable childhood in an incredibly extreme version of an Orphanage of Fear, she turns completely and utterly insane.
  • Most of the Diclonius in (the necessarily shortened anime form of) Elfen Lied. Though at the very least the evil one that was on her tormentors' side had an Explosive Leash to keep her in check.
  • Griffith of Berserk is a marginal example. While his torture did leave him permanently maimed, that by itself wasn't enough. After his rescue by the Band of the Hawk, his heart broke when it became clear they weren't willing to carry around a mute, immobile lump of a former leader, but he thought he still had Casca on his side. It was learning that Casca not only agreed with the rest of the band on his uselessness, but was in a relationship with his former protege Guts, that finally sent him past the Despair Event Horizon. The torture just got the ball rolling; it was the aftereffects that sent him over the edge.
  • Done to Kaiser Ryo on Yu-Gi-Oh! GX... except we never learn what the villain's motive was for doing it to him! Unlike the Big Bad, he was neither a Cult leader nor soul stealer and didn't really have anything to gain from corrupting a teenager. Hell Kaiser isn't traditionally "evil", but he did become a much more vicious, ruthless character, as well as using the Underground's Electric Torture devices against other duelists.
    • All-Loving Hero Judai later proves that a character with Incorruptible Pure Pureness is, in fact, not immune from being driven evil by pain.
    • Also in GX, it was the combination of friction in space and the pain of the Light infecting Yubel that helped to drive her insane, and convinced her that this pain was Judai's love for her, fueling her entire "love is pain" philosophy.
  • In the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, years of child abuse by his stepfather turned Seto Kaiba into the cold Jerkass that he is.
  • Riful in Claymore really likes trying to do this, although she isn't especially successful.
    • It works in theory because she's only trying to provoke the Claymore's into releasing their full yoma power and becoming Awakened Ones; it's an almost completely physical event and what they want doesn't factor into it. Although Claymores fear awakening more than anything else, once they awaken they tend to immediately find they enjoy the power and freedom from humanity, which justifies this trope. Riful just tends to have bad luck; the first Claymore she tried it on died from the torture, the second worked but turned into an Awakened One too weak to be any use so she killed it and the third was rescued before her mind fully awakened.
  • Hansel and Gretel from Black Lagoon are a somewhat unique case in that they're children, and were raised under torture and abuse and implied rape as opposed to being decent people who were warped by it. So here it's less "Torture Makes You Evil" and more "Being Surrounded By Pain and Suffering Practicallly Since Birth With No Other State Of Being Known To You Other Than Pain Makes You Fucked Up."
  • Genkaku from Deadman Wonderland was revealed to have been beaten and raped by a group of bullies who hung around the temple when he was younger. It was definitely a contributing factor for making him Ax-Crazy and evil.
  • Konuma Ryuuko of Wolfen Crest. She's a nymphomaniac middle-schooler with what appears to be profound psychological damage from repeated rapes in her past, which made her a nihilistic sociopath.
  • The supplementary materials to Zeta Gundam state that Basque Ohm, as a POW after the One Year War, was horrifyingly tortured by the enemy. It's also pretty justified, as he didn't join the side that tortured him—instead he takes out his rage on Zeon's former civillians.
  • Sasuke from Naruto is possibly an example of this. Not only did his own beloved brother slaughter their entire family he also made Sasuke watch it for what seemed like a full day. And after Sasuke was actually able to accept his teammates as his friends Itachi did it again to him for apparently no other reason than wanting him to suffer.
    • Kurama shows signs of this. He lashes out at humans over the fact that they treat him as a beast, and the seal he was in while inside of Kushina involved having his limbs and tails chained down while he was impaled by a stake. It's also a distinct possibility that this is the same seal that was used to keep him inside Mito, which would mean that he was tortured for the better part of a century.
  • Jellal from Fairy Tail turns into a Zeref worshipper after supposedly meeting his spirit while being tortured. It's then subverted when Ultear reveals she just brainwashed him.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica all Magical Girls are subjected to this by a cruel emotional universal Equivalent Exchange counteracting their wishes, and eventually are warped into horrifying, cannibalistic Eldritch Abominations. This also happens to Homura at a wholly different level in Rebellion; even a nigh-unstoppable Magical Girl like herself can only take so much psychological terror, and she endures a shitload of it from the moment she first discovers how Witches come to be to the moment where she usurps Madoka and lashes out royally at Kyubey for many millennia's worth of acts of psychological terrorism against young girls the world over.
  • Basically Gatomon's back story in Digimon Adventure. After years (or decades) of brutal servitude, she's the ruthless lieutenant of a vampiric overlord.

    Comic Books 
  • In Captain America, Crossbones uses tortures on his brainwashed girlfriend Sin, to bring her back to herself. It worked. Writer has to survive an attack of angry Moral Guardians, pissed off because right after being tortured Sin has sex with her oppressor.
    • Somewhat understandable, since he did it to break her brainwashing. Also, her father, The Red Skull, also abused and tortured her growing up, Crossbones at least genuinely loves her and he's actually nice to her compared to how The Red Skull treats her.
  • The Joker attempts this on Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke in true dramatic Joker style, complete with a Circus of Fear and an annoyingly catchy showtune. It fails.
  • The Walking Dead: Michonne doesn't exactly turn evil, per se, after the Governor repeatedly beats and rapes her, although she does turn into a bitter, burned-out husk of a human being in a remarkably short span of time. It's worth noting that, whenever presented with the opportunity to actually kill the douchebag, she instead non-fatally, but painfully, wounds him; whether or not this is out of a simple desire for brutal revenge or a subconscious want to keep him alive thanks to Stockholm Syndrome is left up to the reader to decide.
  • Unicron does this in order to acquire the services of Nemesis Prime; he finds a dead Optimus Prime somewhere in the multiverse, clones the corpse, and then horrifically tortures the clone for several thousand years. It works.
    • Unicron goes the extra mile. He tortures his thralls to the point where merely existing is unbearable agony to them. Which makes his philosophy appealing merely because it'd be an end to such pain.
  • An almost literal example in the Superhero/Police drama Powers, where Deena is being repeatedly zapped by the energy powers of a man called "The Bug." His powers are apparently both contagious and addictive, since he plans on getting her hooked on it, but she jams his hands down his throat to blow him up and absorb the rest of his powers, proceeds to melt the rest of the gang, and has secretly murdered at least a couple of people since then; the powers seem to be having an effect on her mind, because when she fried her ex-boyfriend who stabbed her in the back, she entered a fugue-like state and didn't emotionally react until well after she had disposed of his body.
  • Batman: Black Mask was already a murderous gangster, but when he was lit on fire and left for dead, the resulting burns and further disfigurements got him interested in the subject of torture.
  • Likewise, Black Mask tortured Catwoman's sister, Maggie, forcing her to watch as he tortured her husband and force fed her pieces of him. After breaking out of her catatonic state, she's become Sister Zero, a religiously-motivated villain who believes that her sister's soul is in thrall to a "cat demon," and she's going to "exorcise" it even if she has to kill Selina to do so.
  • In X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain, Thomas Halloway is kept in "Project: Wideawake" by Professor Xavier as long as he withholds information from him. Project: Wideawake employs a mixture of blindingly bright lights and deafening sirens to deprive the subject of sleep. After about a week of the treatment, Tommy snaps. He starts acting like, and insisting he be referred to as, his dead twin brother Robert - a sadistic lowlife. He's faking.
  • Cinder from Deathstroke's Titans was sexually abused by a super villain called Nursery Crime when she was a child, some time after her entire family died in an explosion. With her heat powers she goes after child molesters and rapists, and is also suicidal because her powers prevent her from dying. That's her entire character.
  • In Fantastic Four #600, it's revealed that this apparently happened to Johnny Storm.
  • Two-Edge from ElfQuest is the product of an insane female elf and a troll she once seduced. He grew up neglected and tortured by his mother, and his father died shortly after he was born. His mind is broken pretty quickly and he spends most of the series as a villain, until Leetah finally manages to heal him after approximately 15000 years.

    Fanfic 

    Film 
  • V for Vendetta: For given quantities of Evil, we have this back and forth:
    • The Shut Up, Hannibal! is actually used for V, because Evey is convinced he isn't a bad person.
  • Saw: This happens to several characters in the sequels. Most prominently, Amanda and Gordon.
  • In the film Flesh And Blood, the innocent virgin Damsel in Distress gets kidnapped by a group of bandits and gang raped. She then joins their crew and merrily takes part in their excursions.
  • Big Bad Carson Dyle in Charade, who was abandoned by his wartime comrades after being badly wounded, and suffered months in a prison camp without any treatment. After he gets out, he's only living to get his hands on the money they stole together.
  • In Super 8, it's eventually revealed that the monster is an alien who's been experimented on and tortured by the military for decades, to the point that it views all humans as threats and is willing to kill them all.
  • This sums up Erik Lehnsherr's a.k.a. Magneto's backstory in X-Men: First Class, although his torture was not physical but emotional.
  • The point of Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom. Given that refusing to be turned evil means being gruesomely tortured and executed, although none of the victims know this.
  • In Skyfall, Silva was captured and tortured for five months, to the point where he tried to commit suicide only for his Cyanide Pill to end up horribly disfiguring him but leaving him alive. What really drove him over the edge, though, was the realization that M betrayed him and left him to this fate. The pain he suffered because of her is the source of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • The Cenobites from Hellraiser were once human, but years of torture in Hell have turned them into monsters. Rather literally.
  • In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face via an extremely well-applied version of this; after killing Rachael Dawes and burning off half his face, Joker comes to Dent's bedside with a gun and tells him that since the system couldn't prevent those things, he should leave things to chance. He then gives Dent his coin and suggests a game of Russian Roulette...

    Literature 
  • In The Silmarillion (a sort of prequel to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit), it is revealed that the original orcs in J. R. R. Tolkien's Universe were created thousands of years ago by Melkor, an allegorical version of Satan, who tortured elves he captured endlessly until they went mad and became monsters. The fact that elves in Tolkien's mythos are immortal makes this an example of Who Wants to Live Forever?, as well.
    • Tolkien was rather ambivalent about this detail; his notes made it clear that he didn't want it to be canon, and it also raises a number of thorny questions about with his mythology. For example, why haven't the number of orcs decreased over time as the originals were killed off? Orcs as corrupted elves also didn't mesh with his cosmology; would dead orcs go to the Halls of Mandos, where normal elves are taken after death, or would they share the fate of Men? The deeply Catholic Tolkien was conflicted over these, along with the concept of Always Chaotic Evil, which is why he didn't publish The Silmarillion before his death.
    • Averted with the Anti-Villain Maedhros: his being tortured (hung by his right hand from a cliff for a couple of years) only made him more badass. Though he did become something of a villain, it was for different reasons.
    • Also averted with Húrin. After watching what Morgoth's curse did to his family, did he set out on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge? No, he killed exactly one dwarf - Mîm, who betrayed his son to the orcs and was arguably asking for it. Then he bitched out his son's foster-father and left. Things went to hell anyway...
      • Only in the published Silmarillion. In The History of Middle-earth, he sparks a civil war among the Haladin and orchestrates the death of their chief and his remaining family members out of the belief that they failed to protect his children and thrust his wife out to die. He then ends up killing the Haladin who followed him in a petty fight over treasure, and is only stopped from causing more damage by Melian telling him that he isn't helping anyone. Then he kills himself. This might actually be a case of being tortured makes you crazy instead, which would certainly be justified after what happened to him.
    • A straight example would be Maeglin- although he was definitely jealous of Tuor beforehand, it was only being captured and tortured (or the threat of it at least) by Morgoth that caused him to spill the location of Gondolin and try to kill Tuor and his son, Eärendil.
    • In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum was evil to begin with, but after being tortured by Sauron he became worse.
  • 1984 - you only need fear and pain to break a rebel into an obedient citizen who finds Happiness in Slavery.
    • Questionable. Winston's torture doesn't really turn him evil, per se; he just becomes a 'good citizen'. In fact part of the means used to break his self esteem and conviction is reminding him that as a rebel he promised to do anything, commit any atrocity, in the name of the Brotherhood of Freedom, the possibly non-existent La Résistance. You could maybe argue that obedience is evil, but whether that's true or not is kind of the point of the book ("Is a lunatic a minority of one?"). Either way, the torture and its effects are definitely not hand waved but explored in great detail (about half the book).
    • More to the point, was Winston a good guy to begin with? Sure, Big Brother is clearly a bad guy, but Winston doesn't really appear to be any better than anyone else — just a bit more independent.
  • Mord Sith from the Sword of Truth books, but although one described what happened, it never really got into why it worked (something about the most innocent can be turned, but that's still not getting into it). It just did.
    • It was explained as 'Years of horrific torture designed to break someone, and then keep torturing them and only stop if they torture other people for you.'
    • It also probably helps that the people Mord-Sith come from have grown up worshiping and learning blind obedience to the Mord-Sith's master. As terrifying as the prospect is, the girls chosen have already had it hammered into them that this is a holy calling and their destined fate, and are partially picked for a lack of innate resistance and a natural desire to please. Stockholm Syndrome is far more powerful when you start out seeing your captors as compassionate teachers and ideal role models.
    • They take the sweetest, most eager-to-please girls at a very young age, torture them elaborately and horrifically, physically and psychologically, until they will do anything for their teacher; until they become so used to pain that they actually get off on using the weapon which causes anyone it touches - including the wielder - unendurable pain; then they are forced to watch as their mother is tortured to death, and then to torture their own father to death. Oh, and it's considered commendable if they thereafter avenge themselves on their masters by torturing them to death. Anyone who is pushed that far without dying is bound to go a bit insane.
    • The loyalty thing is explained by a magical connection they have to whoever the current Lord Rahl is - even if they don't necessarily like it.
  • The Scorpion Signal, an espionage novel by Adam Hall. The protagonist Quiller is sent to track down a Rogue Agent who was tortured by the KGB, and nearly gets killed because he fails to consider just how much torture can change a man. Like making him willing to kill a former friend when he interferes in his plot to assassinate the Soviet Premier.
  • In Chosen, the Antichrist starts out as an Anti Anti Christ... until his "dad" and some demons torture and rape him for several years. Then he becomes a proper Antichrist. Somehow.
  • Happens to several characters in The First Law, although torture doesn't always make them evil in a direct cause and effect:
    • Inquisitor Glokta, one of the main protagonists, was a dashing Master Swordsman and all around "golden boy" until he was captured in battle and horribly tortured, leaving him a total physical wreck. After the war, he became a Torture Technician, and while amusing to read about and known for occasionally petting the dog, he's still cruel and generally devoid of empathy. Somewhat subverted in that he wasn't really a great guy prior to the torture, so in a way, it just brought out the "real him".
      • Glokta's example is deconstructed as the story goes on; he was raised to be a soldier and nothing else, and when he was crippled, he had no other skills to fall back on... but he did have lengthy experience in knowing how to break a man, making his turn to the Inquisition quite sensible. He's also unique in that he becomes more compassionate instead of less through the trilogy, making use of Exact Words and Bothering by the Book to spare the innocent as far as he can. This is most notable when he marries Ardee and claims her unborn child, Jezal's bastard, is his. This effectively saves both their lives; he gets away with it because he had promised to "deal with" the "threat to the state" they posed, and even then knows he is skating on terribly thin ice.
    • Salem Rews, a Big Fun merchant and former friend of Glokta is brought before him, and Glotka has him beaten and threatend with torture to get him to confess to largely trumped up charges. Rews is then sent to a penal colony, and shortly after arriving, is horribly burned in an accident. He eventually comes back for vengeance on Glokta, but is persuaded to become Glotka's partner and in a later book, he's shown as the superior officer of the guy who ran the penal colony in which he was once a prisoner.
    • Shivers, a protagonist of the spin-off novel Best Served Cold is a Barbarian Hero trying to be a good person. Over the course of the book, he becomes increasingly morally compromised, and after he's captured and has his eye burnt out, he becomes a vicious Blood Knight and pulls a Face-Heel Turn. However, he mellows out a bit in later books.
  • X-Wing Series: Ysanne Isard, Director of Imperial Intelligence, has a secret prison called the Lusankya. She captures people, brainwashes them, and turns them into unwitting agents, letting them free afterwards to go back to the New Republic, completely unaware of what's happened to them until they find themselves doing her will. The process of converting people is never detailed in full, but it does involve torture. Tycho Celchu went through this and remembers being in that prison when he's let go. When he reports back he's suspected to be one of the unwitting agents even though he remembers being there. But he was immune.
    • it's also interesting, in that 1. It's shown that there's more to it then torture, including simulations, drugs, and such. (They start getting rewarded for being evil/doing as the torturer says)...and it's made a point that there are a LARGE amount of people it doesn't work on...who are being kept in the prison.
    • In Rebel Force a different Imperial has a method for turning people into emotionless assassins, which involves torturing them vigorously while he wasn't in sight to induce Stockholm Syndrome, then erasing all of their old memories. It's suggested but left up in the air that his best assassin, X-7, may have used to be one of the heroes of Last of the Jedi. Late in the series he gets his hands on Luke Skywalker, but Luke resists and plays along.
  • Legacy of the Force: Jacen Solo does this to Ben Skywalker, in an attempt to turn him to the dark side, and make him his first apprentice.
    • Speaking of Jacen Solo, his time as a prisoner of the torture-happy Yuuzhan Vong is widely held to have contributed to his own eventual turn to the dark side.
  • Thomas Raith in the eleventh book of The Dresden Files, is hideously tortured by the Skinwalker. While he had spent the previous books finding ways to sate his hunger without harming anyone, this event makes him reconsider whether it's worth it. In his next appearance, he's as good and friendly as he had been, but still decidedly well-fed. In the following book, he has apparently undergone a sort of hunger strike/Heroic BSOD after Harry's death.
    • Since the woman he's in love with has figured out a way around the whole 'I can't touch you' thing he no longer has any need to feed from anyone else, rendering the whole thing moot anyway.
  • Questioned in The Cursed by Dave Duncan, though not exactly lampshaded. The response is that this does indeed work if you don't only use torture, but combine it with a system of mental conditioning (the nature of which is never actually explained.)
  • Folgrim of The Legend of Luke suffered a variation. He was tortured and blinded in one eye by vermin, and this caused him to become insanely violent and unstable, but his violence was directed towards vermin specifically. Since they're Always Chaotic Evil the good guys have no problem with him killing them, but when he starts to eat them...
    "Nice fire, I likes a good fire!"
  • Neil Gaiman's short story "Other People" in which a businessman is tortured by a demon, first physically with two hundred and eleven different devices, then mentally with all his lies and misdeeds and their consequences over and over until he can no longer lie his way out of them. When it is done, the demon is gone, and a businessman comes in...
  • A.C. Crispin wrote The Han Solo Trilogy, which covers Han's life from his teenage years up to the start of the first Star Wars movie. Many characters from stories that take place later in Han's life appear in this series, one of whom betrays Han for money in Dark Empire. In Crispin's books we find that he used to be a decent man, as good a friend of Han's as Lando was. Then he got captured, tortured, and crippled for life. In the third book we see that the experience has made him quite bitter. When Lando and Han visit him to see if there's anything they can do to help, at first he doesn't acknowledge them. Finally, he gives them a look that tells them to get out and leave him alone. Perhaps he wasn't quite evil at the time, but he was certainly starting down the path.
  • Murtagh from the Inheritance Cycle started out as Eragon's friend and well-intentioned antihero, but his capture and Mind Rape (and who knows what else) at the hands of Galbatorix turned him into a loyal minion.
    • Well, Murtagh and Thorn don't exactly like being Galbatorix' right hand. They both hate him. But Murtagh is also angry at the world in general and has no problem lashing out at former friends. The loyalty-to-evil is enforced via threat of mind rape and/or torture - at one point Murtagh says something along the lines of "Do you have any idea what he'll do to me if I fail?"
  • Volkov, Russian chief vampire from Alexander Yang's Midnight World series, became a victim of extremely unjust court in a very young age. He was cruelly tortured to extract the evidence against his father, and almost died, when his Master showed him the way to survival and revenge.
  • Inverted in A Song of Ice and Fire with Theon Greyjoy. Previously a definite Smug Snake, the brutal torture he receives at the hands of the series' resident Bastard Bastard leaves him frail both physically and mentally and, while not a good person, leagues away from the outright villain he'd been before. And it's only after all this that he commits his first truly selfless act by saving Jeyne Poole.
  • Norse Mythology: The original god Loki in the Edda. (Not to be confused with the Loki in Marvel's superhero comics and movies.) His origin is unclear, as he is neither one of the Aesir nor a Vanir, but becomes bloodbrother to Odin and friend of Thor. Loki, the shapeshifting god of the hearthfire, starts out as a trickster who causes mischief but often gets the gods of Asgard out of a tight corner. This changes after he has to flee from the halls of Asgard and hide on Midgard (Middle Earth), although the reasons given vary according to the various tales in the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda:
    • One version claims Loki, the father of the wolf Fenrir, the Midgard Snake, and of Hel, the goddess of the Underworld, was feared for his prophecied role in the coming Final Winter, which is why the gods wanted to imprison him (despite the fact it was also prophecied that he would free himself in time for the final battle).
    • Another tale paints Loki as indirectly responsible for the (prophecied) death-by-mistletoe of Baldur, god of light, and the subsequent unsuccessful attempt to resurrect Baldur from the Underworld, which set in motion the events of Ragnarök, the Norse apocalypse.
    • The ballad "Lokasenna" (Loki's taunting of the gods) from the Poetic Edda however describes how the sea god Aegir aroused Loki's ire by holding a big feast at his hall and inviting everyone in Asgard except Loki; when Loki crashed the party and started angrily taunting the assembled gods and goddesses, Loki not only insulted several of them with sarcastic banter about their various not-so-brave deeds but also bragged how he bedded many of the goddesses while their husbands were away. Enraged, the gods tried to kill Loki, who had to flee. When the gods finally captured him, they transformed one of Loki's sons into a raging wolf who tore the other son apart in front of Loki and Loki's Aesir wife, then used the sons' entrails as chains to bind Loki to a boulder in a cave until he couldn't move, then they hung a poisonous snake over his exposed face that drooled acidic poison into Loki's eyes day and night; after the gods had left Loki's loyal wife spent days and nights holding up a bowl over Loki's face to catch the poison, but whenever she went outside to empty the bowl, the agony of pain made Loki tear madly against his chains (which caused earthquakes). He manage to free himself in time for Ragnarök and joined the tribes of giants, his own monstrous children, and the ship of the dead that came sailing from Helheim in their battle against the gods of Asgard. - Which makes this trope Older Than Print, depending on if you believe Loki was always secretly evil or if his mind snapped during the torture.
    • Loki could be kind to his followers at times, as told in the very few remaining stories about him. So he's not always depicted as evil.
  • Peeta was tortured and brainwashed by the Capital in Mockingjay. While he wasn't exactly evil, his vision of reality was so screwed that he tried to kill Katniss.
  • This is what seemed to have happed with Dr. Edith Marlok in Suspicion by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt. According to her, she’d been once faithful young communist who believed in a better world. After being sent to concentration camp Stutthof and working with Big Bad Dr. Emmenberger she became a cynical, indifferent, misanthropic morpinhe-addict.
    • This is averted however with Gulliver, who was also tortured by Emmenberger and had been in many concentration camps but became a Vigilante Man and Nazi Hunter instead.
  • Discussed but ultimately Averted in The Stormlight Archive. Kaladin's repeated mistreatment at the hands of various lighteyes has him an inch from doing a Heel-Face Turn and going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but he ends up having a Heel Realization instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Homeland: Whether or not this applies to Nicholas Brody is an important and recurring plot point.
  • Supernatural: Hell works along this premise. To the extent that once they torture away enough of your previous identity you become a demon, which in this setting are Always Chaotic Evil, although while all demons are stated to have been once human it's unclear whether all the damned make it all the way to demon. Dean takes thirty years of torture in the season break he spends in Hell, before he cracks and starts torturing other souls, and enjoying it because it's not being tortured. He blames himself for this intensely. Also notable, they gave him to Hell's chief torturer for most of it; he's a tough cookie, but he gives himself no credit.
    Dean: If I go in there and do it, I won't be the same person when I come out.
    • Part of the transformation may be when you start torturing others. Dean at least claims this is because if you start torturing others, they stop torturing you. And by that point he just desperately wanted the pain to end.
    • Another example Anna was one of the few good angels, before she was captured and tortured by other angels. She describes it as the same torture as hell, but twice the self-righteousness. She comes out of it little crazy and is now fighting against Sam and Dean, but comes off as a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
    • It's amusingly like the D&D system.
  • 24 used a more realistic version of this: Season Three Big Bad Stephen Saunders was on the same team with Jack Bauer that went into Kosovo for a covert mission; Jack was assumed to be the only member of the team who survived, and Stephen was left for dead. His disillusionment at being abandoned to the enemy is the driving force behind his actions in Season Three.
  • Gray in the Torchwood series 2 finale. Jack lost him while fleeing some very evil aliens who captured and tortured him for years and years. He survived with no conscience and a mega-sized grudge against his big brother for failing him. So he killed a lot of people.
  • In Firefly, this can happen to you at the hands of the Reavers. Even though the original Reavers were created by a drug that made them go berserk, they can produce exactly the same effects in other people simply by making people watch them do their Reaver thing. Apparently, it's a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • In Charmed, Gideon's torture of Wyatt in an alternate timeline turned him evil. Fortunately, they fixed the problem.
    • It's implied that this happened to Christy, Billie's sister since she was kidnapped by demons when she was six years old.
  • In Stargate Atlantis, the Wraith can do this to turn the boldest humans to lawful servants. They did this to three Satedan friends of Ronon and later even Ronon himself. It also helps that the victims become addicted to the enzyme used in feeding, which makes the one addicted exercise extremely poor judgement.
  • Though nearly all vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are evil, Drusilla is more fond of slow torture than most, probably because of the way she was tortured extensively by her sire Angelus before she was turned.
  • Allan-a-Dale in the BBC's version of Robin Hood was captured by Guy of Gisborne and tortured into becoming The Mole. There were a few mitigating factors including the fact that Allan was already dissatisfied with the lifestyle of an outlaw, but when he's discovered, he uses the torture as his excuse.
  • The Colbert Report once used this in a bit of circular Strawman Political Insane Troll Logic: if you're mistaken for a terrorist who hates America and consequently imprisoned in Gitmo and subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, you'll soon hate America — and therefore, we'll have to imprison and torture you!
  • Veronica Mars: MY NAME IS CASSIDY!
  • Lost Girl: Bo's mother after being tortured by the Dark Fae. Though this overlaps with being tortured makes you crazy.
  • Legend of the Seeker loves this trope, much like the books it was based on. The Mord'Siths' strength and devotion to eeeevil comes from having the good tortured out of them as kids. And it works on Cara again when she's tortured back to the dark side by Darken Rahl.
  • 7Days; one episode centered around a Presidential candidate whom time-traveler Frank Parker rescued from an assassination attempt. The candidate offered Frank a position in his campaign team. Later, Frank learned that the candidate had been tortured by Chinese soldiers during the Vietnam War. As President, he planned to destroy a US Navy vessel, implicate China and declare war, with the ultimate goal of killing the population of China.
  • Spartacus War Of The Damned: Features a fairly realistic version. Naevia spent some time as a Sex Slave to various Romans, and spends much of Vengeance as a Broken Bird. In War of the Damned she comes off as an Axe Crazy Dark Action Girl wanting to slaughter all Romans, even perfectly innocent civilians and children.
  • Being tortured is what drove George Cranleigh mad and turned him into a murderer in the Doctor Who serial "Black Orchid".

    Music 
  • Tripod's "Suicide Bomber" is somewhere between this and Then Let Me Be Evil. The singer is repeatedly tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to make him confess to a bombing he didn't commit. By the end, he's patiently awaiting his release so he can suicide-bomb a bus, knowing full well that another innocent person will probably be tortured and made to confess to the crime. (This is completely Played for Laughs.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, torture in Hell makes bad people worse - after some time they hate their tormentors so deeply that the last remains of their humanity snap and they start to transform into bottom-rank devils themselves.
    • Here D&D continues the process to it's logical conclusion: '....After almost three years of hideous, painful torture, the creature that crawled into the pit a gelugon crawls out of it a pit fiend....'
      • Uh, those guys who go into the pit are already one step from being the epitome of Lawful Evil... that is, they are supposed to strive to that end with distinction for several millennia or so. As to others, there was "fiends want to be fiends, even if one is in puny form, they just want to be greater ones".
      • Not necessarily. Most people damned to hell are evil, yeah, but some are tricked or unlucky.
    • In Forgotten Realms one of the Red Wizards' nastiest weapons are the "Chosen Ones" — normal people (usually stubborn slaves) who were forced to undergo excruciating transformation, and when ordered to fight they are deluded to see the foe as the one who transformed them. They aren't used en masse because they frequently slip out of control, stop mid-strike and run away, to find the real wizard whom they want to shred.
  • In Changeling: The Lost, The True Fae are sociopathic monsters incapable of compassion. They reproduce by abducting humans from the real world, (usually) subject them to constant, brutal, horrific tortures, and then once the last bit of their humanity is stripped away, they become True Fae.
  • Kindred of the East: Your average Kuei-jin 1) were tossed to hell, where they suffered from constant torment, then 2) crawl back to the world of the living to do some unfinished business, and 3) have their lower soul constantly agitated due to their time being tormented in hell. Is it a wonder that most of them turn into cannibal ghouls, and are just one step away from turning into One-Winged Angel even in their most collected moments?

    Video Games 
  • In the first Dungeon Keeper game, you can torture captured heroes into joining your side. As long as you're careful not to kill them (which turns them into fairly mediocre Ghosts), anyone will break eventually...
    • This even includes the Avatar, although it takes a very long time. However, since the Avatar is supposed to come back when you kill him, if you don't and convert him then his also good twin shows up to fight you.
    • Enemy Mistresses, however, doesn't join your forces because your torture have broken their spirits. They happily and willing join you out of gratitude for being tortured.
    • It works the same way in the sequel, though torturing your enemies to death now causes them to reveal map information to you instead of turning into Ghosts.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Malak turns Bastila to The Dark Side... by hitting her repeatedly with Force Lightning. Makes you wonder if The Emperor was trying to duplicate that stunt at the end of Return of the Jedi.
    • Torture is a standard method for Sith "converting" light-side Jedi, as mentioned in KotOR II and shown in other parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It's a good way to crack a Jedi's emotional control, getting them angry and setting them at the top of the slippery slope.
      • The idea is showing them that their dark-side emotions (fear of being tortured more, anger at the one doing the torturing, hatred for the bastard by the end) can make them stronger as well as the added lure of "Hey, I can do this all day, but if you join the dark side, I'll show you how to become stronger, strong enough to kill even me." They torture, and then give their victims the option of learning how to kill their tormentors. Hard to resist.
    • Because the Sith have practically built their religion around the idea of the apprentice betrays the master thing, the loyalty issue is less relevant for them. Being The Starscream is not a job disqualification downright desirable among the Sith.
    • And the Dark Side of the Force acts as psychological phlebotinum that explains any remaining bits about Jedi turning evil that don't make sense as such.
  • Aribeth in Neverwinter Nights turned to the dark side following some pretty severe psychological torture (read Mind Rape).
    • The character in question was on the path before that, seeing as how her love interest, a genuinely good, innocent person, was executed by the bloodthirsty populace demanding justice. It's not hard to imagine her falling, seeing as how her patron deity's portfolio is, specifically, justice.
      • Taken back in the second add-on, Hordes of the Underdark, where Aribeth states that her affection for Fenthick was more due to her devotion to her faith than because of her love for him - or, as she states it: "it was like being married to my church" (she was a paladin of Tyr, he was a priest). So her decision to defect was not because she went insane from grief but rather out of her own wantonness.
  • Jak from Jak and Daxter goes halfway there by going from Wide-Eyed Idealist to cynic Anti-Hero with a Superpowered Evil Side. While he was not tortured for the sake of torture, he was subject to two years of Dark Eco experimentation, pumping him full of the stuff, in the Baron's attempts to create a Super Soldier. Dark Eco tends to have some really nasty effects on people exposed to it, ranging from insanity to outright killing a person.
  • In Diablo lore, the angel Izual was captured by the forces of evil and tortured until he became evil.
    • After you kill him he reveals that he was Evil All Along, and was the one who kicked off the 'Soul Stone' thing with the direct intention of helping The Three.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 has The B&B Corps, civilian women who've been driven insane by the horrors of warfare, and undergone transformation into super soldiers in the misguided belief that fighting will ease their trauma. Each one plays the trope in a slightly different way:
    • Laughing Octopus both plays it straight and inverts it; she was kidnapped by a cult and forced to torture her family and friends to death, and said cult also forced her to react as though she took sadistic amusement in their suffering when committing the action.
    • Raging Raven plays it completely straight; she was locked in a cage and tortured for the amusement of a band of soldiers until she came to hate the world, and when she was finally freed, she went on an Unstoppable Rage.
    • Crying Wolf was left traumatized when her family (except her and her baby brother) were slaughtered in an ethnic cleansing. To make matters worse, while hiding from some soldiers who were hunting her, she accidentally smothered her brother rather than let his crying draw the soldiers to her location.
    • Screaming Mantis is a slight variation; she was locked in a basement beneath a torture chamber, and driven insane by the sound of screams echoing above her. The kicker? The chamber housed the dead corpses of torture victims.
  • Saavedro from the third Myst game was tied to a post, severely beaten, and was left on several small islands for 20 years, while believing that his family, nay, his entire world was dead. His mind is...not where it used to be, as evidenced by passages in his journal detailing how much he had forgotten and how desperate he was for revenge.
  • Cave Story Apparently, the difficult-path ending boss used to be a real nice guy... until someone got jealous of him and decided to torture him for a while. Now... well... He's... not so nice anymore. Though he averts the "joins his captors" aspect of the trope.
    • Though it's not so much that he lost his morals as that he lost his self-control. He even wants you to kill him.
  • Averted in World of Warcraft. The Lich King tries to torture Bolvar Fordragon after capturing; It doesn't work, and Bolvar actually ends up replacing him.
    • After a long questchain in Coldarra Keristrasza is taken captive by Malygos and forced to become his consort as a replacement for Saragosa who Keristrasza and the player character had killed. The players then Mercy Kill her after she's proven herself too insane to be saved from death and too much of a threat to be allowed to live, because going on a mass murdering rampage was a likely outcome.
    • Partly played straight with Maiev Shadowsong after her capture and torture at the hands of Illidan Stormrage. While she does go crazy and start metting out her own brand of justice, the torture is only the last straw that takes her over the edge of sanity.
  • Corvus from Dragon Quest IX was a nice guy... before being captured by The Empire and spending 300 years in prison, every limb chained and his energy being drained to maintain The Empire's magic. He was a little angry at the world in general after that.
    • It wasn't just being imprisoned by the Gittish Empire; it was also the fact that he had been sold out by the very town that had taken him in, including his lover. Apparently, she wasn't in on the plan to have Corvus arrested, believing she was subduing him with a sleeping potion because she and him were to hide at a nearby lake, and his Chronic Hero Syndrome would have caused him to ditch the hiding spot. He didn't realize this, and thought she was also betraying him. The betrayal and torture filled Corvus with so much hatred and grief that he eventually came to hate the mortal realm and all its inhabitants; all of Corvus' negative emotions became so strong that he turned into some sort of demon with the strength to rend the very heavens asunder with enormous dark energy beams and use the sickeningly powerful Magic Burst spell in battle. It was the betrayal that drove him to evil, and the torture that made him powerful.
  • Broodmothers from Dragon Age: Origins were once regular females before going through a sickening creation process that involves them screaming out of control for a day straight, having Darkspawn vomit into the mouths of said females, and Darkspawn gang raping them. Then they get force-fed the flesh of their own species. Near the end of the process, the women willingly and eagerly tear apart their former loved ones and devour them with relish. Not long after that they become full fledged Broodmothers.
    • Although he's not exactly "evil", this is a lot of how Fenris got the way he is. After being put through a ritual that burned Lyrium into his skin, one that was so mentally scarring he's forgotten his entire life up to that point, and his Tevinter Magister master being indescribably petty and cruel, he's turned into a brooding, skulking mess of a man. That doesn't stop the ladies from squealing over him... Or the menfolk.
      • His counterpart, Anders, gets this as well: even in Awakening, before he was possessed by a corrupted Spirit of Justice and started hanging out next to a literal hellmouth in Kirkwall, one gets the impression that the seven escape attempts from the Circle of Magi weren't just because the guy wanted some fresh air.
  • The (Japanese) novel for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep seems to imply this is what happened with Vanitas.
  • In Skullgirls, Lab Zero did their best to do this with Painwheel. In both her and Filia's ending, it doesn't stick. She breaks free in the former, and is saved by Filia's wish for her to have a normal life in the latter.
    • This is also explained as the origin story for Peacock... sort of. She went totally psycho after enduring gruesome, horrible torture, but never joins up with her tormentors. She has a decidedly heroic role, though she favors violent methods.
  • BioShock Infinite: Near the end of the game, Booker is sent to a Bad Future where years of torture and psychological conditioning have rendered Elizabeth so afraid of Comstock that she cannot bring herself to defy him even decades after his death. Instead, she becomes his successor and carries out his plan to purify "the Sodom below" by destroying New York City. However, she does feel guilty enough to give Booker a message for her past self that she hopes will Set Right What Once Went Wrong.

    Web Comics 
  • A variant in Goblins existed with the Fat Guard's plan. He believed that sufficient torture could turn powerful, but largely non-aggressive, monsters into killing machines that could be used to defend Brassmoon. When he released it, he found to his dismay that only the first part had worked.
  • The seven demonic Dire Unicorns in The Daemonslayers, including Blackjack's somewhat loyal mount and unicorn/dragon hybrid Knightmare, were all once pure and noble unicorns. When they were captured by the Demon Queen, Shine, and her minions, they were horribly tortured and corrupted with her dark magic into twisted beings who could no longer remember their names and former lives. The only unicorn who still retained much of his former self was Frenzy. Unfortunately, since the universe he inhabits is such an awful place to live in that it happily wishes to screw, torture and maim any decent being that lives in it, he is cursed with a blood red mist that is like a Hate Plague to anyone who breathes it. Because he remembers his former life, Frenzy is the most peaceful of the dire unicorns, yet seeing the effects time and again of the horrible curse of rage and destruction that travels with him caused him to slowly lose his mind and is now quite insane.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamers Alliance, Omaroch, Kaizoku, Tanya and Izael end up captured by their enemies who turn them on their side with a combination of torture and mindrape.
  • Done successfully to Incorruptible Pure Pureness in Broken Saints. Justified in that said character is an empath, and the torture was simply necessary to turn her into a conduit for negative emotion. Not that that makes any of the torture less disturbing.
  • In Addergoole a lot of the worst Keepers are those who were abused when they were Kept previously.
  • In The Spoony Experiment, Spoony recounts the time his Vampire: The Requiem LARP character was captured and tortured into joining the Lancea Sanctum and does the horrible things they tell him to. For the first session. Pissed off they tried to forcibly take over his character, Spoony decided to fight back, used his massive chemistry score to make a bathtub full of Semtex, sneaked it into the Vampire Prince's sanctum without anyone noticing, then went to his car and used the detonator. If not for GM fiat, Spoony would have leveled the building and took with it the head of the oppressive vampire hierarchy. (Just for reference, this is a LARP, there was no actual Semtex or detonators, just index cards that say that).

    Western Animation 
  • Robin in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was turned into a miniature, nearly catatonic replica of the Joker after weeks of being drugged and tortured by the Joker. It didn't really stick since, when faced with an order to kill Batman, he instead killed the Joker, but it took years to recover and eventually led to his brain being hijacked by a secretly implanted microchip imprinted with the Joker's personality.
  • A similar situation occurs in The Batman when Ethan Bennet is tortured and driven insane by the Joker, and the chemicals used on him turn him into Clayface. Determined to kill the Joker, he didn't care who got in the way. Fortunately, he redeemed himself.
  • One incarnation of Megatron attempted this on the Autobot Inferno. Megatron tortured Inferno for information and his own amusement. When Inferno still wouldn't break, Megatron tried forcibly converting him to the Decepticon cause. Although Inferno was eventually rescued by the other Autobots it looked like he might turn on them. In the end Inferno fought of the effects of Megatron's influence and died.
  • Shockingly enough for a Disney cartoon series ostensibly aimed at kids, TRON: Uprising goes here in "Scars." While Tron's torture at the hands of Dyson didn't completely turn him to the dark side, it's coming pretty close And probably helps Clu twist him into "Rinzler" later - to the point where he tries to kill Beck for intervening in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

    Real Life 
  • This trope might be a Dead Horse Trope by now. If torture alone made one evil, then survivors of Nazi death camps would be. So far no data has surfaced about the frequency of evil among survivors.
  • It's a common belief that murderers, torturers, rapists, and other violent criminals get that way because they were victimized as children. This conventional wisdom is so widespread that it's considered self-evidently true by almost all laymen. But a study of criminals in the United States shows that convicted felons aren't more likely to have come from an abusive family than the average person. If anything, it's victims who are more likely to have an earlier background of abuse, especially victims of molestation who are often specifically targeted because they have abusive or neglectful parents. Victims of domestic abuse are three times more likely to have been abused as children than their abusers. Even murder victims are more likely to have been abused as children than murderers.
    • A study published in the 2001 issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry showed that 35% of sexual offenders had a history of sexual abuse, a high percentage by female perpetrators. Only 2% of female sexual abuse victims became sexual offenders.
      • Unfortunately, society has isolated male victims of rape and child abuse for this reason. One insane billboard released by a rape prevention center showed a bruised little boy in tears with the caption "Future sex offender?", and an urge to prevent the chain of abuse.
    • Research into this supposed phenomenon was done which showed that those who had been abused were not significantly more likely to go on to abuse others. This was following a book of memoirs by a retired police chief in which he claimed that nearly all of the men he had arrested for homosexual acts (when homosexuality was still illegal) had stated that they had been sexually abused during childhood and this had turned them into homosexuals. The book's claims were taken as being true and the Abused Becomes the Abuser myth was taken from that. After the research which showed no connection between being abused and committing abuse, followup investigations discovered that the homosexual men had been lying in order to get more sympathetic treatment at their trials. This lie, along with Confirmation Bias, has caused this myth to continue to be believed by many.
  • It's more complicated than you think, as human brains are. The Theme Park Version of this trope, that torture makes you immediately evil, is certainly a myth (we can say that trying to reduce human behaviour into a Theme Park Version, just like what Freud did, is likely to lead to mythical status). However, the Freudian Excuse still is a recognized pattern in psychology. There are, after all, many different kinds of torture and brainwashing, from Operant Conditioning to downright Mind Rape. Children might also find the explanation "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, therefore evil is necessary for survival" to be rational choice with reinforcements. Social Learning Theory proposes that children efficiently learn by imitation through mirror neurons (e.g. if they observe somebody else doing something, it's as if they are doing the act themselves), and therefore, if a child observes being abused, then he is likely to learn how to abuse.
  • Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new head of Al-Qaeda, was tortured by the Egyptian government in his youth. Being tortured convinced al-Zawahiri that more violent measures would be needed to change the Middle Eastern status quo.
  • The possibility of this trope seems to keep popping up in the debate over whether or not to close Guantanamo Bay. The argument usually goes that if we did rely on shoddy evidence from tribal chieftains, picked up supposed terrorists, held them as detainees for years and subjected them to "enhanced interrogation techniques" while they were innocent... "Well, if they didn't hate us before..."
  • Aileen Wournos - the infamous homicidal prostitute - was tortured and abused by her grandparents. Her grandfather actually got her pregnant at the age of fourteen, and Aileen implied that her mother abused her as a toddler too and that violence was all she ever knew.


Anything But That!A Tortured IndexBreak the Cutie
Airstrip OneHelp, Help, This Index Is Being Repressed!Big Brother Is Watching
Becoming the MaskMadness TropesBrainwashed and Crazy
Mind ControlFace Monster TurnBreak the Cutie
Obliviously EvilSliding Scale of Antagonist VilenessLove Makes You Evil
Became Their Own AntithesisHeel Face IndexBeware the Nice Ones
Being Good SucksMorality TropesBeware the Honest Ones
Being Evil SucksEvil TropesBetter Living Through Evil

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