"They say, 'whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.' But when it comes to torture devices, that's pretty much never true. The picana electrica delivers shocks at only 1/1,000 of an amp. It's completely non-lethal, but at 15,000 volts, it's so painful, you wish it was."
— Michael Westen
in Burn Notice
, via voice over as the device is about to be used on him
techniques are messy, uncomfortable to watch, and difficult to simulate for TV. Such graphic violence would risk an undesirably restrictive MPAA rating or rejection by a network's standards. More of an immediate problem, a key character with broken limbs or open wounds would simply not be able to physically continue in the plot without a considerable healing period, of which there may be no room for on the timeline. Including a physically broken character in the plot would simply be an ongoing downer, defusing any joy the writer intended to create.
Instead, most torture sessions in TV, movies and video games takes the form of an electroshock treatment, some form of direct neural stimulation, or the ever popular Agony Beam
. In any case, the point is to have the actor shake around as if in terrible pain without actually causing any physical damage. If the producers are particularly interested in realism, a pair of burns will be left where the electrodes were attached. Depending on medium and genre, this may include visible electric arcs. Sometimes parodied, but far more often played straight.
It's almost guaranteed that a variation on this conversation will take place:
The hero never dies or experiences serious physical injury/mutilation, and in most cases will not even show any marks, though usually requires a shoulder to help walk for another scene or so, as he is too weak to walk on his own. The hero will soon regain his strength entirely. A villain given a taste of his own medicine
might die or become horribly mutilated, though.
This trope appears to be weakening in recent years after the appearance of "torture horror
" films such as the Hostel
series breaking into the mainstream, though this genre began back in the 1970s with films like Mark of the Devil
and Salo Or The 120 Days Of Sodom
Sometimes an example of Truth in Television
- certain members of the scientific and medical communities believe that nonfatal electrical current through your brain is the most painful thing a human can survive, and certain military groups around the world have begun to utilize this. When applied properly, this method also has the added bonus of not leaving any physical evidence of torture on the bodies of the "guests". Electric torture has some side benefits to interrogators as well, as it tends to mess with brain circuitry leading to feelings of disorientation and short term memory loss in addition to pain which increases confusion and makes subjects more malleable. It also tends to be convenient as it doesn't require a ton of effort on the interrogators part and rarely requires extensive cleanup beyond the occasional loss of bowel control.
A favorite of the Psycho Electro
; a variant of Agony Beam
. See Magical Defibrillator
for the flip side of electroshocking humans, and Harmless Voltage
. May be part of a Robotic Torture Device
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Anime and Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: A Mephisto-like character introduces Kaiser to a method of playing Duel Monsters that involves Electric Torture, which Kaiser inflicts on his own brother post his Freak Out. Later, it's revealed that he's used this method so much, it's screwed with his heart and substantially shortened his lifespan.
- In the manga version of the original series, Jonouchi is tortured by gang members (the leader of which just happens to be a former friend) with stun guns. Later on, Yugi defeats the entire gang using a knocked-out member (holding a stun gun), the weather, and a couple of well-placed threats.
- Yusei is the undisputed king of this trope when regarding Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: While in prison he's subjected to this twice (one of them stripped down to nothing but his boxers), three if you count the excruciating experience of being literally branded a criminal, and again when he gets his D-wheel back from security in the form of hundreds and hundreds of cattle prods. The Arcadia Movement might also have routinely done this to children in their attempts to raise a psychic army (it's how Misty's brother died, anyway).
- During Goku's fight against Jackie Chun in Dragon Ball, Jackie Chun uses a finishing move that shocks the opponent with 20,000 volts of electricity (according to Yamcha). Goku eventually became willing to give in, but then he saw the full moon...
- Parodied in the third episode of Excel♥Saga; a group of soldiers subject Excel to being shocked with electrodes, only to find it arouses her. In confusion, they shock another soldier, who displays the standard cartoon reaction.
- Ayeka subjects Ryoko to some form of Electric Torture in the second episode of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA after she is captured while being hung upside down, but it only tickles her and seems to have no effect. This changes when Ayeka jabs her with the hilt of Tenchi's sword and causes a much more painful electric reaction (although it can be assumed that it is much more than electricity doing the damage) due to Ryoko being unable to touch the sword.
- Note: In the actual Japanese dialog for this, Ryouko shouts "I'm coming!" to irk Ayeka, but the subtitles in later releases of the OVA do not reflect this, cleaning it up to "That tickles!"
- Ginji of Get Backers has been known to interrogate random mooks by slowing raising the charge ("750, 1000, 1500...").
- A particular YuYu Hakusho villain specifically blends electricity with his personal power and then uses it to slowly torture Yusuke, with the eventual intended effect of killing him, but not before he has to watch Keiko die first.
- Slaves in the Magical World of Mahou Sensei Negima! are equipped with collars that allow their owners to perform electric torture on them with but a few words, though these are supposed to only be used when the slave attempts to escape.
- Samurai Gun. The forces of the Shogonate develop an electric chair for interrogations.
- In the special Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns, Giovanni does this to Mewtwo to try and get it to submit to his ownership. Eventually it frees itself rather...disturbingly.
- In the Pokémon Special manga, there is one scene when Red is held down by several Magneton so that Lt. Surge's Electabuzz could use Thunder on him several times before his body is dumped into the ocean.
- That may be a hint as to how Pokemon were used in wars in their world...
- Used by Grings Kodai in Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions on Zorua to get his mother to obey him. Added points for doing it to a baby.
- Harmless Electrocution is subverted in this case. Not only is the pain from the shock agonizing, everyone it's used on takes awhile to recover (thankfully they're all Pokemon, who seem to heal much quicker than humans anyway) and he kills Zoroark with it, though she's revived by Celebi.
- In the main Pokémon anime, for his battle for his eighth Indigo League badge, Ash finds himself facing off against Team Rocket, since the real gym leader (the same Giovanni from above) was away on "business", and assigned the trio as his substitutes. Team Rocket traps Ash in a platform that electrocutes him whenever his Pokémon take damage during the battle. Meowth rigs the platform to send electric surges even when Ash was winning. In the end, though, Togepi makes this plan backfire.
- In Shugo Chara!, Chairman Hoshina acts this way towards Ikuto, telling the scientists to push him further even though the X energy in Ikuto's violin is causing him harm.
- Killua of Hunter × Hunter had been subjected to this so many times in his youth that he developed an affinity to electricity, which he used when creating his Hatsu techniques.
- In Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, the Demon sisters try this on Panty and Stocking. However, because they're angels, it doesn't work, and Stocking even finds it pleasurable.
- In Freezing, after objecting to (and launching an investigation into) unethical experimentation by the world government Chevalier, Elizabeth Mably is arrested, stripped to her underwear, and has electrodes attached to her head and breasts, with the sessions of electrocution lasting for over 20 minutes at a time (the downside of Super Strength; the Chevalier know this won't kill her) It's played straight as an arrow, complete with the minion/Big Bad conversation ("But Sir, if we do any more than this, she might receive permanent brain damage..." "I don't care"), but manages to be genuinely horrifying courtesy of showing things like Elizabeth drooling and losing bladder control, and her eyes rolling up into her head.
- Happens (in an unexpected and fairly graphic sequence) to Lightfoot in G.I. Joe Special Missions #13.
- In All Fall Down, Siphon endures a form of this while on a deathtrap power-nullifying platform.
- The Punisher does this in the Punisher MAX issue "Long Cold Dark". The Punisher is already nasty-talented at inflicting pain on others. When Barracuda kidnaps Frank's daughter, who he didn't know existed, The Punisher goes Papa Wolf on the man and hooks up Barracuda's danglies to a car battery. For an hour.
- Variable voltage harnesses from various Transformers Generation 1 comics serve as a restraining and torture devices for both Decepticons and Autobots.
- Tortured Truth, a Danny Phantom fanfiction by Darth Frodo.
- Dunny of Company0051 decides to stick his video games card into the Master Chief's neck slot and see what happens. The result? It hurts.
- The main reason that Celesia keeps Lulamoon around in Twillight Sparkle's awesome adventure seems to be so she can shoot lightings at her.
- In Cupcakes, Pinkie does this to Rainbow Dash.
- In what is possibly one of the most terror-inducing moments in the Tamers Forever Series, a swarm of Kurisarimon do this to Takato while he is being beaten to death.
- Takato, Rika, Henry, Terriermon and Renamon are also on the receiving end of Azulongmon's Wind Electricity technique.
- In Pages Of Harmony, Twilight does this very briefly to Rainbow Dash, but just as a test to make sure she could administer the electrical manipulation to her brain properly. Done in a much more blatant sense with Applejack to condition her into fearing telling the truth, so much so that she only is driven to speak in questions, as she no longer knows truth from lies.
- In TeenWolf fanfiction, most of the Derek/Kate fic have or at least mention this, as the fic is usually about Kate torturing him.
- In The Orphan Master's Son, North Korean interrogators use an electric torture device to wipe out their victims' personalities, turning them into Empty Shells.
- A brain-electrodes variant shows up in Duumvirate that can also cause pleasure.
- In Ken Follett's thriller Jackdaws, the Nazi interrogator (who is not in any way comical) tortures one of the women by sticking an electric probe up her vagina. She gets her comeuppance, however, by doing the same thing to him, simply in a different location.
- John Galt goes through this at the end of Atlas Shrugged. Not only does he stoically endure the torture, but he's able to professionally troubleshoot the torture device, while still tied down, when it breaks after being turned up too high.
- Heinz, one of the interrogators in Stephen King's short story In the Deathroom, has custom-built a device that draws power from a car battery and transfers it to a large steel stylus; he claims to the story's protagonist that he has used it to deliver shocks to prisoners' hands, feet, and other more delicate places. Evidence in the story indicates that he killed a friend of the protagonist by jabbing him in the temple with the stylus — the shock triggered a lethal epileptic fit.
- The book 1984 had such a device used on the protagonist, though it was not even close to the worst torture he was subjected to.
- In On A Pale Horse, the hero's girlfriend is tortured by being stripped to her waist, and her nipples being touched by active electrodes. Author Appeal and Fetish Fuel ahoy.
- The Machine, Count Rugen's creation in The Princess Bride, features suction cup electrodes attached to almost every inch of the victim's skin, even on the tongue and inside the ears. Its result is rather singular; the Machine quite literally sucks away years of the victim's life. Prince Humperdinck, true to villain form, turns the machine up to the highest setting in order to kill Westley, but he turns out to be Only Mostly Dead.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe has the use of Electric Judgment by the Jedi. The only difference it seems to have from Force Lightning is that it is often not intended to be lethal. And that most Jedi frown on its use, while all Sith think it's peachy.
- Happens in Galaxy of Fear: Clones. Some mind-scanning droids are modified so their electrical scans will be almost as effective at taking information from the minds of people who aren't hardened against this sort of thing as torture droids, and as a bonus it will be even more painful.
- Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal sees the French Action Service resort to electric torture on Viktor Kowalski, with the ex-Foreign Legionnaire dying after he breaks and finishes confessing. One set of electrodes is attached to the penis.
- Daniel Keys Moran's The Last Dancer has a standard part of the plot being wireheads who have a circuit installed in the pleasure center of their brain, which is apparently highly addictive, but which requires an electrical connection to work. Sedon tortures D'van (aka William Devane) by installing the same thing into the pain center of his brain. The really nasty thing is that Sedon uses a battery pack to power it, and when Denice escapes with D'van and Sedon, for several hours Sedon doesn't mention to Denice that the battery pack is still supplying agony to D'van...
- In The Regeneration Trilogy, soldiers with PTSD symptoms are subject to electroshock therapy. Although it's called psychotherapy, it's described as no less cruel than torture, since Yealland essentially shocks them until he gets the reaction he wants—going as far as shocking a man's face to make him stop smiling.
- Similar to the Regeneration Trilogy example above, James Bond gets electroshock therapy in The Man with the Golden Gun as a deprogramming method (he had just attempted to kill M, having been brainwashed). Ultimately subverted by the addition of sodium pentothal, which allowed Bond to sleep through the process. Bond implies that this was added only fairly recently.
- In The Hunger Games series' third book Mockingjay, it is revealed that Johanna Mason was soaked in water and electrocuted.
- In John Varley’s Red Lightning the narrator gets wordlessly threatened with this. He wakes up bound to a chair and with his scrotum connected to a box with a dial and that is plugged into an ordinary wall outlet. The device is never switched on.
Live Action TV
- On a fall 2003 edition of WWE Raw, Kane tied up Shane McMahon to the ringpost. He then applied a set of jumper cables to Shane's "nether regions". The other end of the cables were hooked up to a car battery.
Truth In Television
- the notorious Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts is the only "treatment facility" in the United States to still use "aversive therapy" (read: intentionally inflict pain on their "patients" to "cure" them of "behavioral disorders". They do this using a device developed there called the GED (Graduated Electronic Decelerator). It's worn in a fanny-pack with electrodes stuck onto the skin with electrically conducting adhesive. The devices are not FDA approved and the methods used routinely at the center would be considered a crime against humanity if used on prisoners of war, but under the pretense of "medical treatment"? Unfortunate Implications abound, of course.
- Used widely in South America during the 60s-80s.
- The parrilla was an infamous interrogation tool routinely used by the Chilean secret police during Pinochet's dictatorship (1973-1990). It was a metal frame prisoners were strapped onto naked, while the questioners applied electrodes to whatever body part they thought appropriate. The torturers usually considered the penis and vagina particularly appropriate (even developing a wet-steel-wool electrode for better electrical contact on female victims).
- The picana, described in the Burn Notice example above, was an electric cattle prod that Argentine torturers used on their victims during the Dirty War (1976-1983). Oftentimes, people were raped with the picana.
- The "Cadeira do Dragăo" (Dragon's Chair) was an electric chair used as a torture device and part of the plethora of torture devices used by the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 60s-70s.
- Used by Syria after the Yom Kippur war on captured Israelis, though it hardly ever earned them any good intelligence.
- Doing this to the genitals is a favored technique of the torturers working in Middle Eastern Secret Police forces in general, more as a punishment/warning for opposition to the regime than any actual attempt to get information. This is part of the reason for the recent revolutions in the region.
- This is inherited from French police and army, who used this generously on Muslims during the Algerian independance war. It was called "Gégčne". The leader of the French far-right party is (in)famous for having used this with enthusiasm.
- Subverted by ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), more commonly known as electro-shock therapy, which takes place under anesthesia.
- In American McGee's Alice, Alice will enter a lab where the March Hare and the Dormouse are undergoing medical torture. The March Hare is being alternately electrocuted and Dunked in a dunk tank, while the Dormouse has a constant electric current running through him as he is operated on. There's not a damn thing you can do for them.
- Happens in Metal Gear Solid: It is possible to be killed in this scene; to survive, the player must repeatedly press a button to keep Snake's health bar up. Something similar happens in the second game. The third game, Snake Eater, also has the hero tortured with electricity, but meanwhile the Big Bad is also (literally) beating the piss out of him. Cunningham also (very briefly) does this to Big Boss by whipping him with a stun baton (twice), as well as placing his artificial leg directly into Big Boss's groin between the two shocks in the very beginning of Portable Ops. Peace Walker also has this happening to Big Boss.
- In the backstory for Star Control II, thousands of years ago, many of the Ur-Quan voluntarily wore "Excruciators" for months or years to prevent them from being mind-controlled by the Dnyarri (as the one doing the mind control also feels the pain and has to break the link). The experience left most quite insane.
- Squall is subjected to electric torture in early Disc 2 of Final Fantasy VIII. More so, if you refuse to feign cooperation.
- Used on Pikachu of all people in the story mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
- Well, actually it's possible to use electric Pokémon like Pikachu as power sources, so they were actually sucking electricity from its body. But it still qualifies as torture.
- Occurs in the first two Shadow Hearts games, just to fulfill a villain's perverse fantasies (much more blatantly in the second). In the first one, it's done to Alice, and giving the proper responses (the first one every time) opens a sidequest (and saves her from being shocked). In the second one, you choose who gets the torture, and the responses you give determines the contents of a later treasure chest.
- Double H in Beyond Good & Evil is trapped in an Electric Torture machine when you first meet him. Even the heroine Jade is visibly squicked about his situation.
- In MOTHER 3, Fassad's method of choice for punishing Salsa for disobeying him... or whatever excuse he had. He really enjoyed shocking the monkey.
- It does have the side effect of healing whatever status anomalies he might have at the time when he uses it during battle though. Fassad probably knows this, as he seems to be about fifty times more likely to shock the monkey when he's inflicted with one of these statuses.
- Done to Bruce Morgenholt in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Sam arrives too late to do anything, and finds him suspended above a bathtub having endured a very long torture. Players will hear his screams before they get to him.
- This was used to more realistic effect in BioShock in an audio diary of one of Fontaine's smuggler mooks. He said it couldn't be any worse than what Fontaine would do to him.
- In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri when you seized the last base of another faction there would be a brief video showing a writhing figure screaming in agony as he or she was electrocuted. Given you had already beaten them was the torture really necessary? Yes, Mwa ha ha ha.
- It should be noted that faction leaders are never killed, just kept alive for interrogation. If you defeat an enemy faction early in the game, they will be kept in your stronghold for several hundred years.
- If you lose the game by having your last base taken, your character is shown in the same eternal state as well.
- All of the torture featured in Knights of the Old Republic employs electroshock. Many of them involve the Sith and their Force Lightning, but there's a prominent scene in which it's delivered by muggles via more conventional "force cages".
- Similarly, in The Old Republic, Sith Inquisitors carry out torture with Force Lightning. Only this time, players can do it too.
- the white chamber has the protagonist watch a tape... Of herself, strapped to a table, and electrically tortured (with nobody around, mind you). This is where it gets weird. Seconds after the tape starts playing, in a flash, she finds herself on that same table, the same happening to her. You CAN die here, but the time limit is so incredibly generous and the puzzle rather simple, the only real way to die is to let the time limit run out.
- In Return to Castle Wolfenstein Agent Zero is shocked to extract information by an SS scientist in the titular castle. He expires before they can get anything out of him.
- In Hitman: Contracts, 47 finds one of his targets in the aftermath of one of these. The proper way to assassinate him is to let the machine run until it finally kills him.
- In Wet, Rubi is captured due to some subterfuge. She is suspended with her feet in a tub of water connected to a car battery charger, but the interrogator loses interest and orders her killed after about 30 seconds. Naturally, she quickly makes her escape and turns the tables on the torturer. She's badass like that.
- Tales of Destiny has portable versions of this forced onto the party when they are made to cooperate with Leon. However, the heroes are mostly good subordinates and so Leon resorts to punishing snarks directed at him (or, Rutee).
- Implied in Modern Warfare 2. Soap locks himself and Ghost in a garage with their target's assistant, while Ghost is seen doing... something involving a car battery and jump leads.
- Also seen in Black Ops, where you are being tortured, especially at the start of the game.
- Done at the start of Scaler. To a twelve year old boy. Unfortunately, this backfires on the villains, in the form of causing Bobby to turn into a lizard before becoming Trapped in Another World.
- In the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2, Feron, Liara's friend and partner who was one of the people who got Shepard's body back from the Shadow Broker, is strapped to a specially-built torture chair that basically amounts to this. The only way to get him out of there without cooking his brain is to shut down the power at central processing, which means taking the Shadow Broker down.
- In Street Fighter IV, this is done by very-evolved psychic Rose, of all people. One of her ultra-specials, Illusion Spark, traps the opponent's arm in her scarf. She then proceeds to shock said opponent, apparently stopping only when she feels like it. To be sure, this is a more benign version - at least in that it's a fight rather than a torture session and she intends to knock the opponent out, not to extract information from them. Still, this move basically gives us a mini-session of Electric Torture mid-fight...
- You can do this to someone in order to get a safe combination in Dishonoured. Strange variant, in that the man you torture was being tortured willingly; at least, at first.
- Happens twice in Kingdom Hearts II; first, when Sora is forced to watch Donald and Goofy being tortured by Sark as a demonstration towards his role as "a Heartless Commander" after the teenager's snarky comment. Later on, all three of them get paralyzed from an electric shock while trying to steal a statue from Hades.
- In the manga adaptation, the events are inverted, as Sora is tortured after attempting to attack Sark, while his friends watch in horror.
- This happens several times throughout the Ratchet & Clank series. One noticeable moment is when the Unknown Thief AKA, Angela Cross captures Clank and electrocutes him as part of her warning video for Ratchet to leave Bogon, lest the same thing happen to him.