And here are some series where different kind of Death Traps play a large role:
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Anime & Manga
The original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga (before it got taken over by card games, and ever occasionally after) is one long series of these. An interesting twist is that it's usually the hero setting them up as a punishment for local bullies. At one point, he turns his own mind into a death trap when someone invades it. Then there's Big Bad Kaiba, who builds an elaborate theme park of doom for the heroes in an insane revenge plot. His Death Traps are unique in that they involve things like trained mercenaries and serial killers trying to kill Yugi and his friends, so he does at least avert Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?.
Detective Comics #824 parodies the ''Batman'' TV series by suggesting that with some villains, it's just a quaint routine; the Penguin traps Batman in a death trap that Batman easily escapes from — and when Batman challenges Penguin as to this, Penguin admits that he knew Batman would escape, and that he wouldn't have even bothered if he thought that Batman wouldn't ("I even left your utility belt on."). The Penguin had "reformed" at the time, and had the public image of a law-abiding businessman. It wouldn't have exactly done wonders for his reputation if Batman actually died in his nightclub.
For the Riddler, however, it's implied to be part of the same crippling Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder which compels him to leaves clues and riddles about his crimes.
Although victim to the usual power fluctuation of comic book universes, The DCU's Darkseid never attempts to kill Superman by using his consistently effective vaporizing Omega Beam. Rather, he prefers to inflict pain by slow and agonizing methods, from which Superman inevitably breaks free.
The Marvel villain Arcade always uses elaborate death traps, intentionally providing his victims a chance at escape however slim, because he's in the business for the fun of it. That is psychologically understandable, but considering that his business is assassin-for-hire, one wonders how he finds any customers.
To be fair, Arcade is rich enough that he doesn't really need the money to begin with, and so his deathtraps are more for his entertainment than anything else. He also markets his deathtraps to others, setting up obstacle courses that villains sometimes use to train themselves.
Also, he does successfully assassinate non-superhero targets in his Murderworlds; one such is shown in an early issue of Excalibur.
Lampshaded and played straight simultaneously in the X-Men's first confrontation with Doctor Doom: He captures them, places them in situations which could kill them, then explains to his temporary ally Arcade that he doesn't care if they escape or not. If they don't, he's rid of them; if they do, he gains valuable information concerning their skills and powers. Either way, he benefits.
In an early Jim ShooterLegion of Super-Heroes, a strike team of Legionnaires are captured and each put in a death trap designed especially for them by the minions of the Fatal Five. In this case, the Five wants them to escape and expend so much energy that they can harness for their own ends.
In Death Of The Family, Catwoman gets trapped in a centrifuge by the Joker. The idea is to be spin her around really fast until it kills her. Just when she's about to escape that, the centrifuge get flooded in an attempt to drown her. She escapes that too.
The Saw series of films are based entirely around a psychopath drugging a person or a group of people and placing them in a room where to escape death they must either kill someone else or mutilate themselves. Normally, once having done one of these two things, they die anyway, either because they had to do something else, or because the Deceptive Disciple made the trap. Notable among examples of the Death Trap as actually doing what it was intended to do.
Dr. Evil: Scott, you just don't get it, do ya? You don't.
Lampshade hung in The Jewel of the Nile. Heroes Jack Colton and Joan Wilder (the latter an author of romantic adventure novels) wind up captured by the villain, who hangs them both over a well, then explains that Jack's rope has acid slowly being dripped on it, while Joan's rope is being gnawed on by rats, creating a race as to who will fall first. Jack demands to know where he got the idea for such a ridiculous setup, and Joan admits it's from one of her books.
In Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, Dr. Putrid T. Gangrene leaves our heroes trapped in an experimental chamber where they will be turned into tomatoes after a timer runs out! Then he leaves. Just shooting them would be wrong for a mad scientist of his caliber.
The miraculous escape from an inescapable deathtrap is superbly spoofed in the 1983 film Bullshot. The dastardly Otto von Bruno completely immobilises the hero "Bullshot" Crummond with a Converse Forcefield. As soon as anyone opens the door it will Reverse the Polarity and detonate the stick of dynamite in Bullshot's mouth. Otto is, needless to say, rather disconcerted when Bullshot later turns up alive.
"When you directed Dobbs to the room where I was paralysed, there was one small thing you hadn't accounted for — that he would be wearing a regimental club tie which is 100% silk! The static electricity temporarily neutralised the forcefield, giving me time to take advantage of the inflammable properties of the brandy that you offered me earlier. Within the small amount of neck movement available to me under the magnetic paralysis, I formed my nasal cavity into a type of Liebig condenser, thereby concentrating the alcohol fumes in one place. I then forced the fumes down each nostril with such intensity that they were combusted by the lighted end of the dynamite, thus forming a natural blowtorch, which completely severed the fuse, rendering the dynamite totally harmless. The rest was easy."
Averted in one of the James Bond novels, You Only Live Twice, when he sneaks into a Japanese castle. He peeks through a keyhole, and sees a guy at the far end of a hallway, fiddling with something beside a door, then leaving. Upon entering, he makes it halfway across the room before the floor falls out from under him. As he falls, he berates himself for not remembering the traditional traps of such castles. He nearly dies.
The Pit and the Pendulum. A man is secured to a table, over which is a large curved blade which swings back and forth like a pendulum, lowering itself slowly with each swing.
Inverted in the Sharpe series of novels, specifically the India trilogy. It is antihero Richard Sharpe who keeps throwing his nemesis, Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill, into a villain's recently abandoned death traps and then leaving him to die. Hakeswill always survives. In Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe throws Hakeswill into a pit of tigers. In Sharpe's Triumph, he leaves Hakeswill under the foot of an elephant trained for executions.
Used by Warlord Zsinj in Solo Command. While setting up a booby-trapped industrial site for the Wraiths to hit, the baddies decided it'd be fun to drop them into an incinerator. It almost works, too — they remember to send a squad of troops to demand the Wraiths hand over their explosives. The Wraiths' demo expert doesn't fall for it and throws a pack full of rations to the troops, and gets out of there before the enemy realizes what just happened.
The bad guys are also smart about it. They ALSO send in reinforcements as soon as the heroes escape, cut off all communications, and send an extremely large number of troops to handle the back-up. Still fails, but they get points for trying.
Almost every frickin' installment in the Alex Rider series includes a deathtrap at the critical plot point.
"The phrase 'Set a thief to catch a thief' had by this time (after strong representations from the Thieves' Guild) replaced a much older and quintessentially Ankh-Morporkian proverb, which was 'Set a deep hole with spring-loaded sides, tripwires, whirling knife blades driven by water power, broken glass and scorpions, to catch a thief.'"
The Phantom of the Opera: The back door to the Phantom's house leads into his "torture chamber," specifically built there to trap anyone who tries to sneak up on him. The walls, ceiling, and floor are mirrors, which (depending on what single object is placed in the room) drive a person insane until they kill themselves by hanging themselves on the conveniently provided iron tree... if the rising temperature doesn't roast them alive first. He once had a job building these for the Cool And Unusual Execution of criminals as entertainment for a particularly sadistic Persian princess.
In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Opal Koboi traps Artemis and Holly in an abandoned theme park overrun by trolls and leaves them to die, as revenge for thwarting her world domination plan in The Arctic Incident.
And in "Dungeons & Dinobots", Blurr, Cliffjumper, Rodimus, and Sideswipe find themselves stuck in a creepy temple chock full of death traps.
In Fredric R. Stewart's Cerberon, Merlen and Oethelzeiren face off on the ground level of a colossal tower in the center of a city. After discussing the futility of a direct fight between them, Oethelzeiren improvises a Death Trap for Merlen by blasting out all the supports to the tower above them, leaving Merlen to hold up the tower with his magic while people inside the tower escape, and while an unstoppable Giant Wall of Watery Doom bears down on the city. Becomes No One Could Survive That when Merlen is still there when the flood water blasts through.
In P. G. Wodehouse's "Do Thrillers Need Heroines?", he complains of how the villains, the natural person to rid the thriller of its Too Dumb to LiveDumb Blonde, resort to this — for her, only for her, he can kill a man, in a straightforward manner.
Live Action TV
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..: The series often involved deathtraps. Some were relatively simple, like leaving the heroes to drown in quicksand. Others were far more convoluted, such as binding the victims to a tree with dampened straps of rawhide. Rawhide shrinks when it dries, which would crush the ribs of the victims. That's not what kills them, though; it's the rifle pointed at the victims with a dampened rawhide strap attached to the trigger. See, I told you it was convoluted.
The deathtrap as a cliffhanger was common to old Republic Serials as well as comic books, which Brisco County Jr. was an homage to. A similar homage/parody can be seen in SCTV's fake cowboy serial Six Gun Justice, where the main characters are left in a deathtrap at the end of each episode (such as being tied to a lit powderkeg, or being left trapped in a room with a wild bear) actually seen being killed, and then getting away from it at the beginning of the next episode with a ridiculous convoluted explanation as to how they got free in the nick of time.
Wouldn't it have been great if some actual latter-day cliffhanger had been Genre Savvy enough to have an episode where they don't show the hero's escape from the death trap at the beginning, and he just pops up back at headquarters or wherever everyone else is waiting for him, says he'll explain how he escaped later, and never does?
Batman: The live-action series from the 1960s used this plot device as a typical schtick for the Cliff Hangers. The trope remains common in Batman comics; the Riddler in particular seems fond of death traps. (This is slightly more excusable in Batman, since most of the villains are insane.)
Doctor Who: The Master has always used both simple booby traps and elaborate deathtraps against the Doctor and his companions. As seen in "The Sound of the Drums", the Master has now become Genre Savvy enough to know his Arch-Enemy will always escape the simple traps, but they're a useful means of putting additional pressure on the Doctor until he falls into the real trap.
In one of adventures from the first series, with Jon Pertwee as the titular Doctor, the Big Bad was using a death trap consisting of artificial plastic flowers which would fire a plastic seal over a person's nose and mouth, suffocating them. After enough time had elapsed for the victim to die, the plastic seal would then shrivel up and vanish. Naturally, it only works until the Doctor's current companion falls victim to the trap, whereupon the Doctor saves her by using a spray which causes the seal to lose adhesion so it can be removed before the victim dies.
Estate of Panic: Simply reveled in this, with each room the contestants need to search for money in having a particular "deadly" trap, many inspired from the above list.
The Goodies: Mad Scientist Rat Fink Petal tries to kill the Goodies with a simultaneous pair of deathtraps: a bathtub slowly filling with water in which sits a man-eating alligator, and a candle burning a rope holding a tub of concentrated acid, so they'll be tormented over which horrible death they'll experience. After a comical Cliffhanger Copout in which they make an unseen escape thanks to Graham's fruit peeler, their escape is foiled by Rat Fink who's Genre Savvy enough to be lurking outside the door. He then straps them to an enormous Cartoon Bomb, which if moved will open a canister of poison gas.
Jonathan Creek: Expertly parodied in one episode, in which Jonathan and Carla are trapped by villains in a cage that has been suspended over metal spikes as part of a magic trick, with the rope holding the cage set on fire... however, as Jonathan knows it's a magic trick, he also knows that there's actually a steel cable under the rope suspending it as part of the trick, so he's not particularly worried.
KateModern: In the episode "The Ice Man", Terrence locks Kate's Watcher in a freezer van. Something of an inversion, since the Watcher is the more obviously villainous of the two characters.
MacGyver: Murdoc is entirely too fond of these. they usually end up being his undoing.
This was enough of a standard device that MAD ended their parody of the show with Solo and the girl of the week suspended by chains, being slowly lowered toward a giant bowl of boiling oatmeal.
Revolution: In the episode "The Plague Dogs", one psycho captures Charlie and ties her to a chair with a crossbow set to go off if anyone opens the door to the room.
The Twilight Zone: TOS episode "The Jeopardy Room". A Soviet commissar traps a defector inside a hotel room with an hidden explosive Booby Trap. If the defector finds the bomb within the time limit, he lives. If not, he dies. The defector figures out the truth and brilliantly turns the tables.
The most bizarre, improbable and overly-complicated deathtrap ever was the winning entry sent in to Amiga Power as part of a competition; they also had to come up with an escape plan for the hero:
Mr Hero is tied to a chair.
Mr Evil Villain pulls lever, which activates springboard, sending onion flying towards mouse.
Mouse sees flying vegetable and runs to west coast of Australia. En route to Australia, he knocks over fisherman's Sound of Music video.
Fisherman is so distressed, a milk bottle top flies out of his pocket, colliding with stray wasp.
Wasp becomes disorientated and drops copy of The Beano on pensioner's pen refill.
Passing salesman sees this happen and rushes to help.
Eyelash dislodgement causes lamp post to turn on for seven milliseconds.
Power change helps Belgium win at Snap.
Over-joyous reaction makes termite in carpet drop crisps.
Widow in Greece senses termite's grief and raises flag.
Flag blocks out sun, which Captain Kirk mistakes for Klingon Bird of Prey. He fires phasers, which hit corner of leopard's eye.
This encourages swan to sell three bars of gold to cod.
New wealth upsets whelk, who fires jet towards Poland.
Buskers in Poland tie wool around barn to ward off evil spirit.
In disgust, spirit throws can of Lynx at barn, can rebounds striking man on head.
Man loses bookmark from book. Bookmark causes mass pile-up on M27.
Han Solo quickly reacts and throws radish at Daley Thompson.
Daley Thompson picks up phone and airs opinion about Communism.
Neighbouring swordfish stops watching TV, which enables flower to jump from window box.
It gets caught in helicopter blades, forcing helicopter to swerve 32 degrees.
Change in wind causes zebra's side parting to waver.
Zebra's third cousin mocks and falls down ravine. The splash makes a tornado in Kent which pulls up huge rock.
Worm is released and crawls into man's briefcase.
Man drops pint and piece of glass lodges in llama's ear.
Llama spits at lamp stand. Stand falls on cactus. Cactus spine embarks on journey, hitting vicar's jaw.
In great pain, vicar utters "Jesus!"
God strikes down hero, mistaking him for clergyman.
Mr Hero telepathically contacts eagle.
Eagle drops cheese on rooftop.
Slate becomes loose.
Discarded chair begins squeaking.
Entices mouse from route to Australia.
Knocks over Barry Kencov's ice cream maker.
Excess ice cream causes staple guns worldwide to rust.
Rogue staple gun calls elephant's bluff.
Elephant storms Mr. Evil Villain's hideout, freeing hero!
Older Than Feudalism: In Classical Mythology, Daedalus used a booby-trapped bathtub to kill King Minos. Daedalus was living in exile in Sicily, and Minos came demanding the right to execute Daedalus for helping Theseus solve the Minoan Labyrinth. The Sicilian king pretended to be hospitable and invited him to take an awesome bath with running water (courtesy of Daedalus' engineering) but the water was set to overheated, and burned Minos to death when he turned on the tap.
The "Grimtooth's Traps" books from Flying Buffalo were death trap after death trap, just waiting for a GM to install them in his dungeon. (And to come up with game stats for them.)
There are countless in Marathon. Some of them will have an item that you usually don't get until much later in the game or an invincibility power up, but failure to get said item perfectly results in death somehow. These are also in multiplayer.
A particularly egregious example from the 2004 video game Everything or Nothing: the villain captures James Bond and takes him to his underground mine, where he straps him to a table, points a large mining laser at him, turns the laser on, and then leaves the room, leaving not so much as a guard to notice when Bond inevitably escapes.
The game Dwarf Fortress allows you to construct several different kinds of death traps for your enemies and / or residents, including most of the ones listed on this page.
The Deception series by Tecmo tasks you with using death traps as your only line of defense against aggressors.
Nearly every Nancy Drew game features a form of a death trap.
Nightshade uses these in place of continues—if you lose a fight, you need to escape a trap in order to avoid a game-over. There are a total of seven traps (counting the one you start in at the beginning of the game), and only the seventh is truly inescapable.
Done to Sonic in Sonic Adventure 2. Dr. Eggman, who is at that point armed with a blaster and an enhanced mech, is offered a fake Chaos Emerald in exchange for Amy. Eggman knows it's a fake and tricks Sonic into placing it on the floor of a capsule, which he seals, ejects and hurls toward the atmosphere where it will blow up. The flaw is that not only is Sonic's "fake" Chaos Emerald partly real, it's via Shadow Sonic escapes.
The Fu Syndicate's Mandarin in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines tries to kill the character with a series of different death traps joined together like a bizarre obstacle course. This is explicitly because he knows that guns are ineffective against vampires, and as such he tries several different methods to see which ones work best. If a trap kills you, fine, you're dead. Said method works. If you escape that particular one, he a) knows it won't work later, and b) he finds out more about how strong/fast/enduring you are. He also keeps a stable of guards at hand and keeps observing you through viewing ports. His main error is placing a high-pressurized gas tank from a Kill It with Fire trap next to one of the viewing windows.
In Half-Life, there's the part where Freeman gets knocked out and thrown into a garbage crusher. By using the conveniently placed crates that are to be crushed along with you, you can jump up above the compressing walls. The whole thing could have been averted by a simple bullet to the head.
They try to Hand Wave it by having the soldiers say they're supposed to bring you in alive, but don't want to. The Death Trap is meant to ensure there's no body to prove they killed the person they were supposed to capture. Exactly why they don't shoot you then throw you in, or why they don't stick around after throwing you in, is not explained.
Part of the fun in Evil Genius is making elaborate death traps for unwitting foreign agents.
Minecraft has tons of these, such as bomb-ridden rooms, arrow shooters, pitfalls, drowning traps, one-way doors...
Evil Plan The Webcomic Subverted, usually. Lemon and Lime employ potentially a variety of lethal traps at their office entrance, solely for the sake of snapping humiliating pictures of the trespassers/invited guests.
Honorable mention goes to 8-Bit Theater's deathtraps, which are not to be confused with actual airships. Despite the name, the one the Light Warriors end up using and crashing repeatedly failed to actually kill anyone.
Parodied on an episode of The Simpsons. Homer's new boss, an Affably Evil Bond villain type, has a James Bond lookalike strapped to a deadly trap, and leaves him to die without watching. The Bond lookalike escapes in a suitably ludicrous manner, but is tackled to the ground by Homer during his escape. Homer and his boss depart, while his guards simply walk up and shoot the man dead.
And again, in an episode spoofing the story of Moses, Lisa and Milhouse (as Moses and Aaron) are thrown in a room with spiked walls that close in on them. However, the spikes have all been installed opposite each other, so that the walls stop when the tips touch, leaving plenty of room for them to climb to safety (and for Lisa to remark, "Slave labor. You get what you pay for.").
In The Great Mouse Detective, Ratigan says he couldn't decide which method he should use to kill the heroes, so he decided to use them all, culminating in an elaborate death trap in which several things, including a mouse trap and a falling anvil, would kill the heroes simultaneously.
Common in Kim Possible, whenever it (frequently) pays homage to spy movies. Especially common from villain cliché devotee Señor Senior, Sr. On one occasion of Lampshade Hanging, as she and Ron are being lowered into a moat of electric eels, Kim asks the villain, who's comfortably sitting back and watching, "Uh, aren't you going to leave now?"
An episode entitled "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" centers around this trope. An interrogator named Wormwood, who specializes in using Death Traps to terrorize people into giving him information is hired to steal Batman's cape and cowl. He repeatedly sets up a number of traps for Batman, who escapes every one until the Bat finally captures him. As it turns out, it was a disguised Batman who hired Wormwood to retrieve the loot Wormwood had obtained in a previous crime.
Joker also had a habit of using these deaths on victims (ironically often being unable to kill them as a result). For example, he hurls Bullock and Batman into a Great White Shark Tank, Sid the Squid into a tank of acid and the Dark Knight (again) by trying to electrocute him.
Lampshaded in Gargoyles — Xanatos has Goliath and Angela bolted to the ground and has a vat of boiling green acid hooked up to a timer. After ten minutes, the timer will tip the vat over, killing them. Says Xanatos "This is my first real stab at cliché villainy. How am I doing?"
The Illuminati also have the Hotel Cabal, a fake hotel that is nothing BUT deathtraps, a different one in every room, and hallway, and elevator..... All designed to kill anyone trapped inside or drive them to near madness.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The first thing Batman says in the entire series is to complain to Green Arrow about how often they get caught in death traps. Batman and the Joker Flash Back to the many death-traps Mr. J had trapped Bats in over the years in "Game Over for Owlman!". It's Lampshaded in The Musical Episode which showcased the most extravagant, multi-stage, redundant death trap the series has ever seen. Observe.
Gears grinding, ropes binding, coils winding, For a super-sap: death trap. Pistons panging, clamps a-clanging, springs spranging, It's the last laugh: death trap. Acid steaming, blades gleaming, lasers beaming, Final nightcap: death trap. Bones crushing, flesh mushing, gore gushing, It's a dirt-nap: death trap.
Batman: Was the singing really necessary?
Count 'em: Constricting ropes. Acid filling the room. Swinging blades of death. Lasers. Walls closing in. And just in case none of that worked, a ticking time bomb. Say what you will about Music Meister, but the man's thorough.
Sure, except it still didn't work.
In one cold open, Batman and Mister Miracle are strapped to a rollercoaster full of death traps, and escape at the last second. It turns out they were doing it for charity.
In the "Emperor Joker" episode, The Joker with his newly acquired Reality Warper powers puts Batman in a Rube Goldberg of a Death Trap. Batman escapes, but not really, as his escape triggered the last part of it and he gets killed. The Joker then revives him and kills him repeatedly in more death traps afterwards.
The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Read It and Weep" has, in its Book Within A Show, DaringDo encounters a huge variety of these, ranging from dart traps to throwing axes to flame pits to the entire chamber flooding with lava. Then Ahuizotl has perhaps the most awesomely silly - it has spikes on advancing walls, quicksand, spiders and cobras. While Daring was tied to a table, no less. It's like he got everything from the "Cliche Deathtrap" aisle at Murdermart, and decided to use as many of them as possible at once.
Strangely, averted in the animated series "Belphegor" by Belphegor himself, despite the presence of death traps. Whenever he places someone in an elaborate death trap, it's never to use it as a means to outright kill, but rather to intimidate, interrogate or just screw with the sanity and fear of the person trapped and those around them. Usually, he does so to provoke an action by the other characters that will help him achieve his true goal.
The infamous H. H. Holmes converted a hotel into a building full of death traps, to the point it was dubbed the "Murder Castle." Special mention goes to the trapdoors leading straight down to the basement, stairways to nowhere, bedrooms in which gas could be pumped in to asphyxiate the victim at any time, and a bank vault where people were left until the air ran out.
Now that I've told you about everyone else's death traps, I should tell you about mine. As I'm sure you'll notice if you look down, you are currently suspended some distance above a pit of deadly sharp spikes. The only thing keeping you from falling is a single electronic latch directly above you. The latch is connected to a computer right over there, displaying TV Tropes on a web browser...