Desecrating the Dead

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/achilles_dragging_hector.jpeg
"Thrice did [Achilles] drag [Hektor's body] round the tomb of the son of Menoitios, and then went back into his tent, leaving the body on the ground full length and with its face downwards."

Usually when someone dies in fiction their body is ignored. If they're important (or just important to the plot), you may see them being buried or inspected at a local morgue, but due to the Law of Conservation of Detail they are usually quickly forgotten. Sometimes, though, the deceased gets a lot more attention.

Sometimes a character has a pragmatic reason to kill a dead person again, or is too emotional to stop themselves even though their victim is long past resistance. In this case, however, a character makes a deliberate decision to humiliate or punish the dead person even further. Sometimes they're so angry that death just isn't enough, and sometimes they're so evil they want to play with them some more. Spite, revenge, intimidation, and depravity are common motivators for desecrating the dead - for both Heroes and Villains.

It isn't always the physical corpse that's being desecrated; the spirit of the victim can be targeted for further abuse, a grave or monument can be defaced, or the works of the person can be destroyed even if they could be utilized for the betterment of society because it's more important to erase the creator.

The message sent is often dependent on what kind of character does the desecration:

Compare this to Kick Them While They're Down (where the victim is usually still alive), Of Corpse He's Alive (where the corpse is used as a puppet to maintain a pretense that the deceased is alive), and There's No Kill Like Overkill (in which the death itself is the abuse).

May overlap with What the Hell, Hero? (if the good guys do this and are called out on it), Creepy Souvenir (when a part of the corpse is kept as a trophy), Dead Guy on Display (when the corpse is displayed publicly, whether mistreated or not), or Last Disrespects (when the abuse happens at the funeral). An extremely mild version of corpse abuse might be the Spiteful Spit.

Supertrope to Pummeling the Corpse (when a person can't stop beating someone they've already killed because of an emotional breakdown) and Make Sure He's Dead (which is the justified version, and which may overlap with Rasputinian Death in cases where the dead has to be desecrated to keep them that way). Compare Dead Guy Puppet.

Robbing the Dead is almost never considered this in fiction, although it is in Real Life. The Hero has to loot the bodies and the crypts, after all.

Contrast Due to the Dead.

As a Death Trope, spoilers may be unmarked. You have been warned.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

When a Protagonist Desecrates the Dead:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach anime episode 272: defied. After Ichigo enters his ultra-powered Hollow form and apparently kills Ulquiorra, he prepares to stab Ulquiorra's body with his zanpakuto. His friend Uryu Ishida grabs Ichigo's arm and pleads with him not to mutilate Ulquiorra's body, warning Ichigo that if he does it he won't be human anymore.
  • In the Relight special of Death Note, Light humps L's grave.

    Card Games 
  • Munchkin has the "Mutilate the bodies" card, which can be played after any combat, allowing its player to go up a level by gratuitously hacking to pieces anything or anyone that fell during the fight.

    Comic Books 
  • In All-New Wolverine #12, Old Man Logan comes across the grave of his universe's version of Gabby, a clone of X-23, in the Wastelands. He proceeds to smash and spit on the headstone, ranting that she doesn't deserve to be remembered. It's later revealed that his universe's Laura and Gabby killed each other, under circumstances that strongly imply Gabby underwent a Face–Heel Turn.

    Film 
  • Gamera vs. Zigra. After killing the spiky shark-monster Zigra, Gamera bangs a rock against Zigra's spines like a xylophone, playing the first few notes of his own theme music.
  • Sergeant Donowitz has the pleasure of killing Adolf Hitler in the movie theater in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The theater is burning, the exits are blocked, and bombs are set to detonate. But that's not enough for "the Bear Jew," who repeatedly changes magazines to continue pumping bullets into Hitler's body.
  • In The Searchers, Ethan Edwards demonstrates how much of an anti-hero he is by shooting out eyes of a dead Comanche warrior. He explains to his allies that, according to the Comanche religion, one can't enter the afterlife without eyes, so he's just doomed the dead man to wander the Earth forever.
  • In the Spanish film Torrente 3, after killing an Elite Mook with their guns, Torrente and his sidekick not only empty the whole magazine into his body, but they also throw the guns on him, then they spit on him.
  • In Troy, Achilles promises to disfigure Hector's corpse after he kills him. After he does the deed, he drags the body behind his chariot and later, we get a close up of Hector's body to see that Achilles made good on his promise.
  • A pragmatic variation occurs in The Untouchables, when the eponymous squad has captured a Capone henchman and is trying to get him to talk about Capone's finances. When the henchman refuses to talk, Malone wanders outside, grabs the corpse of a Mook killed in the preceding gunfight, and after pretending to threaten to kill him if he won't talk, shoots the corpse through the head, spattering the henchman with gore. The henchman, believing he'd witnessed an actual execution, is very cooperative afterwards.
  • Best Seller: After one of Madlock's hitmen kills a witness that Cleve visited to corroborate his story for Meechum, Cleve is so pissed off that he shoots the hitman's already dead body a few more times before exiting the scene.

    Literature 
  • Pointedly averted in Big Red. The narrator notes that after the dog Big Red had killed Old Majesty, the terrifying bear that had been harassing the country, he didn't tear at or worry the corpse. He simply lay down. The author sees this as nobility of spirit.
  • Discussed for Laughs in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur Dent threatens to have Mr Prosser (the council worker who knocked Arthur's house down) hung, drawn, and quartered, and then to cut him up into little bits, and then take the little bits and jump on them.
  • In Protector of the Small, Keladry normally buries enemy dead before they can be defiled by the Stormwings (see "When other people..." section below), but she allows them to have the Big Bad and his Dragon because they're so monstrous. She also finds a young woman named Peliwin who was taken captive by Scanran soldiers cutting apart the body of a soldier who "hurt" (read: likely raped) her, and gently tells her to stop.
  • In The Stolen Throne, Prince Maric puts the puppet king Meghren's head on a spike in front of Fort Drakon in retaliation for Meghren doing the same to Maric's mother Moira the Rebel Queen a few years before that.
  • Discussed in the Trail of Glory novel 1824: The Rivers of War by Eric Flint. After the first battle of Arkansas Post, Sheff has to stop men in his squad from mutilating the corpses of dead freebooters:
    At the very end, he found himself using the bayonet—the threat of it, at least—to drive off some of the men of his squad. The killing was done, but they kept on.
    "Stop it, boys!" He shifted the musket to his left hand and dragged off one of his privates. "He's dead, Adams. You just mutilatin' yourself now. Obey me, damn you!"
  • The Way of Kings (first book of The Stormlight Archive): Kaladin ends up mutilating Parshendi corpses and attaching bits of their natural armour to regular armour in order to exploit their Berserk Button about disturbing their dead.
  • In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, after the Wicked Witch of the West melts Dorothy sweeps her goopy remains out the door. It's not portrayed in a mean spirited manner though. Dorothy just wanted to clean up the mess.

    Live Action TV 
  • On Babylon 5, Vir answers Morden's question "what do you want?" as below.
    "I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price." spoiler 
  • Hawaii Five-0: Realizing the North Korean government has given them the wrong dead guy and unwilling to bury a substitute, Steve and Cath journey into North Korea to retrieve the body of a fallen friend. Finding out his corpse has been badly mutilated serves as a Berserk Button for Steve.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Winston's Lost Night", Winston Churchill speaks out against the desecration of the tomb of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi in response to someone in a gentlemen's club who praised the action. The story was that Kitchener had ordered the act in revenge for what the Mahdi's troops had done to General Gordon, and the Mahdi's skull was taken from his tomb so Kitchener could "use it as an ink pot." It turns out that this act, carried out by Churchill's friend Reginald Mayfair, was the motive for Mayfair's murder by one of the Mahdi's former soldiers, who happened to be working in a bar where Churchill and Mayfair were drinking.

    Poetry 
  • In Homer's epic poem The Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles slays the Trojan warrior Hector. After doing so, he ties Hector's body to the back of his chariot and races around the Trojan beach, proclaiming Greek superiority to Troy for twelve days and twelve nights. Achilles does this because Hector does it to Achilles's much-loved cousin and best friend Patrocles (well, Hector doesn't really desecrate Patroclus's corpse, he just intends to, and not in the exact same way that Achilles desecrated Hector's). The Trojans do get their revenge, and even the Gods themselves eventually get offended by Achilles's actions — it is the involvement of the Gods that prevents Hector's corpse from being further mutilated, and the end of the Iliad involves Hector getting a proper burial by the Trojans.

    Theatre 
  • Discussed in Antigone: the plot is driven by a debate regarding whether or not the eponymous character's brother, Polynices, who died trying to seize a power vacuum, deserved a proper burial or further desecration.

    Video Games 
  • The physics engine in many games such as The Elder Scrolls allows the player character to manhandle corpses, but this rarely gets you any repercussion other than a passing comment from the NPCs.
  • Ace Attorney has an example in "Trials and Tribulations" involving Dahlia Hawthorne's spirit, as Phoenix Wright and Mia Fey (who is using Pearl's body) taunt and mock her about her failed crimes in order for her to get out of Maya Fey's body. Dahlia must then spend the rest of her time in the afterlife to forever think about these failures, especially since Mia took great glee in pouring salt on Dahlia's wounds.
  • Appears a few times in the Assassin's Creed series:
    • In Assassin's Creed II, Ezio shakes the corpse of Vieri de Pazzi vigorously and screams rather rudely at his face, and is then rebuked by his uncle for not showing appropriate respect. When he later assassinates Fracesco de Pazzi, he leaves his corpse hanging from the Palazzo della Signoria.
    • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, it's revealed that after murdering Al Mualim for betraying the assassin order, Altair decided to publicly burn his corpse in order to prove he was dead. This greatly troubled Abbas, one of his fellow assassins, who believed Al Mualim's corpse had to remain whole in order for his soul to reach the afterlife. In Altair's defense, it was not an act born out of spite, but for pragmatic reasons, as he wanted to make sure it was not another illusion created by Al Mualim.
  • In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts, Joshua Graham creates gruesome totems out of the remains of his enemies, the White Legs tribe, to send a warning to any surviving White Legs who threaten the Dead Horses (another tribe who have elected Joshua as their protector).
  • In Heavy Rain, Lauren will spit on the Origami Killer's grave if she survives the game but the killer doesn't.
  • Discussed in Star Wars: The Old Republic: At one point the Imperial Agent has to track down and kill a former operative. Since he'd threatened to reveal a number of Kaliyo's secrets as well, after he's dead she says she'd like to kick his corpse around a few times, but she doesn't want the explosive implanted in him to go off.
  • Warcraft III: In the expansion, the human leader Lord Garithos, an all-around asshole and racist (directly responsible for the Blood Elves fleeing Lordaeron and allying themselves with the Burning Legion) is finally betrayed by Sylvanas and killed at the end of the Undead campaign. As if this wasn't enough, a bunch of Sylvanas' ghouls immediately start feasting on his corpse. Note that this is completely impossible in regular gameplay (heroes don't leave corpses, and units that are even partially eaten can't be raised back) - he evidently just has that much bad karma stored up.
  • In Wolfenstein 3D, B.J. Blazkowicz does this to Adolf Hitler in the climax of the third episode, "Die Fuhrer Die", kicking his head off his remains and spitting on his corpse, a case of Kick the Son of a Bitch if there ever was one.

    Web Comics 
  • In Schlock Mercenary when Tagon is questioned about his willingness to take a job working security for his old enemy General Xinchub's funeral (actually a cover so they can steal the corpse) he says: "Aside from the money? I want to be sure he's actually down there when I dance on his grave."
  • Taken Up to Eleven by Vaarsuvius in The Order of the Stick. After killing a black dragon for threatening the elf's family, Vaarsuvius animates its head as an undead, targets it with an epic spell that kills its bloodline and all of its extended relatives, taunts it for its failure, and then disintegrates it.
  • Early in Squid Ninja, the title character would pose his kills with their fingers up their nostrils, as a calling card of sorts.

    Western Animation 
  • In in the Animated Adaptation of Planet Hulk, the Red King is humiliated upon death in several different ways. First, the Hulk utterly whips the floor with him in their battle, only to hold off at the last minute so that the reformed Caiera may get the last blow. Caiera kills him by infecting him with his Spike parasite, causing him to mutate into a zombie. Recognizing him as infected, his own robotic guards turn against him and incinerate his corpse.
  • In Venture Brothers, Brock Sampson is attacked by an Egyptian mummy. After beating the crap out of it, he pisses on it, saying that the mummy must be completely desecrated or else it'll just come back to life again.

When an Antagonist Desecrates the Dead:

    Anime & Manga 
  • From Naruto we have a variation that crosses over with Kick Them While They Are Down. When Gato arrives on the scene after Haku's death, the very first thing he does is kick Haku's body in the face as payback for Haku breaking his arm while wishing that he was still alive to feel the hit, much to Naruto's horror. This scene makes watching his Karmic Death at Zabuza's hands all the more satisfying.
  • In Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Dio desecrates Jonathan Joestar's body by severing Jonathan's head and attaching his own so he can claim it for himself. Supplementary materials reveal that Dio actually felt conflicted over doing this to one of the only people he ever respected.
  • Walter cements his Face–Heel Turn in Hellsing in truly despicable fashion by doing this to Anderson, who had just received a send-off worthy of a Worthy Opponent, by treading on his ashes and then calling him "garbage". This was enough to send Yumie, one of Anderson's most loyal subordinates, into an utter fury that got her sliced apart.

    Comic Books 
  • In Birthright, Kallista does this to Kylen after he is killed by Mikey, by possessing his corpse and using it to tear itself apart.
  • In one arc of The Punisher, the Big Bad claims that after he's found and tortured Frank to death, he'll rape his corpse for a year.
  • Nicky Cavella famously dug up and pissed on the remains of Frank's family in The Punisher MAX, which he did for the purpose of pissing Frank off. Frank's response was killing every criminal in the city that he could until the city agreed to rebury them before then going after him.

    Film 
  • In Licence to Kill, drug kingpin Franz Sanchez captures a Hong Kong agent who he believed tried to assassinate him (in fact, it was an unrelated plot by James Bond to avenge his friend Felix Leiter). The agent commits suicide by Cyanide Pill before he can be questioned, and Sanchez shoots his corpse several times to vent his anger.
  • The French Foreign Legion film March Or Die from 1977 has young Englishman Fred Hastings captured by the hostile Rif tribe and crucified on a Saint Andrew's cross. When the Legionnaires arrive in formation to retrieve the body, one of El Krim's men begins abusing the corpse to further humiliate the Legionnaires.
  • Panic Room. After getting his face burned in the home robbery, Junior tries to cut his losses and split. Upon learning that there's more money in the safe than Junior had told the other two robbers, Raoul shoots him in the head. He drags Junior's body indoors and shoots the corpse again out of spite.
  • In Demon Knight, Brayker Dies Wide Open. Jeryline respectfully closes his eyes before refilling the Key with his blood and taking his place as the new Demon Knight. When the Collector finds Brayker's body, he mockingly opens the eyes.
  • It is revealed in 300: Rise of an Empire that Xerxes decapitated Leonidas as he laid dead, right after the events of the first film.

    Literature 
  • Discussed in the fourth book of Tales of the Magic Land: Urfin Jus incites his army by claiming their enemies wiped out a garrison left to control them, and fed their bodies to pigs. (Of course, the army turns on him as soon as they see the garrison members playing volleyball with the supposed murderers).
  • Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" ends with the title character's killer stomping on his face.
    She had drawn a little gleaming revolver, and emptied barrel after barrel into Milverton's body, the muzzle within two feet of his shirt front. He shrank away and then fell forward upon the table, coughing furiously and clawing among the papers. Then he staggered to his feet, received another shot, and rolled upon the floor. 'You've done me', he cried, and lay still. The woman looked at him intently, and ground her heel into his upturned face.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the corpses of Robb Stark and Greywind are both beheaded, and Greywind's head is placed on Stark's body. Meanwhile, Catelyn's body is stripped naked and thrown in a moat.
  • In Warrior Cats: Mapleshade's Vengeance, after Mapleshade murders the ThunderClan medicine cat Ravenwing at the Moonstone, where the medicine cats gather at every half-moon. When they bury him there, what does Mapleshade do? She digs his corpse back up so that the crows can eat his body.

    Live Action TV 
  • Elementary episode "Dead Man's Switch" has blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton being killed and when the body is found his face has been stamped in. Unlike the book this is because the killer, Anthony Pistone, wanted to hide the scar that has inflicted from his ring, which would prove that they had previous contact and he was in on the blackmailing.
  • Game of Thrones: After Robb Stark is assassinated, the Bolton soldiers sew his wolf's head onto his body and parade him around in triumph.
  • In Salamander, the loathsome hit-man Noel kills an incorruptible judge investigating the Salamander conspiracy. His blameless PA was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so he kills her too. As an afterthought, the corpses are stripped and placed in a sexually degrading position to further humiliate them, to allow the popular press something salacious to grab onto and divert attention from the reasons for the killing, and basically just for a laugh.
  • Played with in Space: Above and Beyond where the alien Chigs mutilate human corpses. At first it's assumed to be For the Evulz or scientific curiosity, but it turns out they just misunderstood the Gospel as meaning that humans can come back to life after being killed.
  • Invoked in Star Trek: Voyager "Nemesis". The episode features a war between two alien species, the monstrous like Kradin, and the human looking Vori. A Vori commander lists the many atrocities the Kradin commit, including regularly desecrating the dead. It later turns out the episode is spent in a brainwashing camp, used to convince people the Kradin are Always Chaotic Evil. At the end Janeway confesses she does not know it the Kradin commit any of those crimes, but they accuse the Vori of the same things.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Warhammer universe, the forces of Chaos are very fond of this trope - they generally make grotesque trophies of their fallen foes, often decorating their armor spikes with the heads.

    Theatre 
  • In the end of Macbeth, Macduff severs the eponymous Villain Protagonist's head after he has slain him and has it paraded through the castle.
  • Titus Andronicus. Aaron boasts of doing this For the Evulz.
    Oft have I digg'd up dead men from their graves,
    And set them upright at their dear friends' doors,
    Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
    And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
    Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
    "Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead."

    Video Games 
  • In Danganronpa, Monokuma considers doing this to Sakura's body after he found out she broke down the door to an important room the students weren't supposed to see before she died.
  • Ninja Gaiden II: When Genshin loses to Ryu for the final time and dies, Elizébet kicks him in the head and spits on his pride. Ryu is anything but pleased.
    Elizébet: I gave you the everlasting life of a fiend, yet you threw it away! Undone by your pathetic sentimentality.

When Other Characters Desecrate the Dead:

    Comic Books 
  • Transmetropolitan: After vice-president Alan Schact was revealed as a practicing pedophile by Spider Jerusalem and committed suicide large mounds of human bodily waste were found piled on his grave. A leaked report claimed Spider's DNA was found in the turds.

    Literature 
  • In the Tortall Universe, this is the entire purpose of metal-winged immortals called Stormwings: they defecate on and claw battlefield corpses to pieces to leave a stinking, rotten mess. (They were created by a mage in an effort to deter humans from warfare, but it didn't work.)

    Live action TV 
  • One episode of Murdoch Mysteries mentions a British army unit that dug up the corpse of an old foe and beheaded it. The victim is the soldier who did the actual beheading, slain by a retired partisan of said foe after a chance meeting.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ends with Officer Frank Tenpenny's body being reportedly stripped naked and mutilated by several of Los Santos's homeless.
  • Halo: If you get overwhelmed and killed, Covenant enemies will do this to your corpse.
    • In PVP, some players like to teabag their fallen opponents as further humiliation.
  • One mission in the first Mass Effect involves a man trying to get his wife's body back after she's killed in action so he can properly bury her, but the Alliance wants to keep her body to do tests on it since they don't have much data on Geth weapons, which she was killed by. Whether or not her husband gets her back is up to the player's actions.

    Western Animation 
  • Mentioned in the "Sternn" segment of Heavy Metal, where Captain Sternn is on trial for multiple charges of murder, piracy, and rape. His attorney urges Sternn to plead guilty from the outset, hoping to avert this trope.
    Charlie: The best we can hope for is to get you buried in secret, so your grave don't get violated.

    Other 
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DesecratingTheDead