Someone drops a mundane electric appliance (classically a toaster) into a bathtub or other pool of water lying around. A classic way to attempt murder or suicide in the movies.
Fictional depictions are much flashier than the real thing, with arcs of electricity and bright flashes many seconds long and the complete shorting-out of electrical service to the entire building. In Real Life, though, the resulting electric current is momentary and nearly invisible and likely would just trip the nearest circuit breaker or fuse - but grabbing the electric device while in the bathtub would be just as lethal in real life as the trope is in fiction. This is also a victim to Technology Marches On. It was much more common in the past when most bathtubs had copper piping; however, as more and more homes have PVC plastic plumbing, most tubs aren't grounded and electrocution is less likely. Though if you think this might be a good idea, please call someone and talk to them before you do it.
Just one of the many ways that a character can die in a bath.
This is a Subtrope to High Voltage Death.
NOTE: Since this trope can lead to a character getting killed, expect spoilers below.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Electricity and water is used as a weapon of murder in Case Closed; the police were almost going to write it off as an accident until Conan noticed that something was off.
Or rather, something didn't quite.. plug in.. right.
The second Elf Princess Rane episode shows Mr. Yumenokata getting shocked from using an electric shaver while taking a bath.
In Young Justice, it's revealed that Secret was originally killed by this method.
In Fido Dido, a character has an idea while taking a bath, causing an Idea Bulb to appear over her head. Just then a smaller version of her appears, and says, "Hey, that's dangerous!" so the bulb disappears, and is replaced with a flashlight. "That's better."
In the graphic novel Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell, the ghost of a gang leader is possessing the bodies of the gang members who betrayed her and forcing them to commit suicide. One of her victim takes a plunge into a swimming pool along with a number of electrical devices.
Diary of the Dead. The nerdy character experiences this as a zombie tackles him and pushes him into the tub while he's using a blow drier to dry his hair. Strangely, the electricity doesn't disturb the security camera that's watching him the whole time. Also, it wasn't like the shock could hurt him anymore, since he was in the middle of being mawed by a zombie anyway.
This was how Debbie Jellinsky attempts to kill Fester in Addams Family Values. Fester being Fester (the TV series had him lighting a bulb in his mouth, a gag actually used here), it doesn't work.
Leads to Fridge Logic when she later tries to kill him with an electric chair. (Especially since Fester would in the TV series strap himself in one to "recharge".
And Wednesday electrocuted Pugsley in the first film.
Particularly noteworthy, since rather than just drop an active, mundane electronic device into a bathtub, he sets up a rather complicated metal harness connected to numerous devices, steps into the bathtub, and then switches it on. The result is also more realistic, as it causes the lighting to intermittantly short out, and much convulsion and a lot of blood.
In The Astronauts Wife (Rosemary's Babywith aliens), the wife of one of the astronauts commits suicide this way, after her husband dies of a stroke. When the main character confronts her alien-possessed husband, she's standing with her feet in water dripping down from the sink, preparing to commit suicide the same way... and after confirming that he's been possessed, water pours down from above, as she's left the tub and sink on the other floor on, causing him to be electrocuted instead... It Makes Sense in Context. But too bad this frees up the alien to possess her instead.
During the prison riot scene in Watchmen, Rorschach kills one of the inmates by breaking a toilet on him and then letting the water reach an exposed wire near the wet guy.
The same principle is used is Wristcutters: A Love Story, except instead of throwing an appliance into liquid, Eugene throws liquid (a beer) onto an appliance (his guitar) for a rock'n'roll suicide. Works just as well, apparently.
In Stay Tuned, while the main characters are stuck as cartoon mice and being chased after a robotic cat, they lead it into a bathtub and throw a hair drier into it.
Subverted in House Of 9, Francis attempts to kill Lea by ripping a light fixation while Lea washes her hands and drop it into the sink. Lea is shocked and knocked out, but awakens later.
The ditzy female serial killer in Neighbor ties a girl up, puts her in a bathtub, and throws a hair dryer in, but it fails to kill the victim. When next shown, the bath is now full of random appliances and electronics (including an entire television) and the victim still isn't dead. The killer decides to just drown her.
The protagonist in the Stephen King short story A Very Tight Place uses this trope when he confronts his would-be murderer, tossing an electric hair-dryer into the man's lap while he's sitting in his jacuzzi. It turns out to be just a psychological attack, as the dryer's not plugged in.
The title character in Harlan Ellison's Jeffty is Five. The protagonist doesn't realize until it's too late that Jeffty's mother deliberately propped the radio by the tub precariously enough that it would tip into the tub as soon as Jeffty changed the channel.
This is the cause of death/murder method in the Carter Dickson mystery The Reader is Warned.
In the Dresden novel Blood Rites, an actress is nearly killed when a huge industrial light falls into the puddle created after a burst of scalding water causes her to fall through and break a glass shower door. Yes, someone was trying to kill her.
William F. Buckley Jr at one time when he needed a murder method for his Blackford Oakes Series discussed methods with an electrical expert. I believe the letters did speculate the actual use of a bathtub. However in the end, in Stained Glass it was an electric booby-trap inside a cathedral that was undergoing a massive restoration (and thus had plenty of stray wiring to blame) that did the deed. It's been a long time since I read the letter I am referring to so I am not sure I am accurate.
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo asks Raoul Duke to do this during the high point of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," believing that it will get him the ultimate high. Raoul flings a grapefruit instead (though he doesn't bounce it off his head like in the movie), unplugs the radio (leaving it to run on its harmless batteries), and then gets the hell out before Dr. Gonzo can realize what happened. When he gets up the nerve to check, Gonzo's started to come down from his trip.
In The Adventures of Superman (the 1950's TV show with George Reeves), a gullible rich person is told by a phony psychic (hired by the rich guy's heirs) that he would chase away the Evil Spirits around him if he stepped into a bathtub while holding a live electrical cable. Superman saved him (of course).
The cliff-hanger of one story on Batman had the Penguin and his mooks electrify a swimming pool and were going to throw Chief O'Hara (who's locked in a trunk) in.
In "Mr. Monk Gets Cabin Fever", Kathy Willowby kills her husband Martin by dropping a radio into the tub while he's bathing, then freezes the body and puts it out in the boat the next night so that it looks like Martin got struck by lightning while fishing on the lake.
And in "Mr. Monk and the Big Game", Julie's basketball coach Lynn Hayden is killed in an electrified shower.
Subverted in Black Books. Manny is making toast in the bath (while using a hair dryer at the same time). When he's applying the jam (which is in a soap dispenser) to the toast and attaching it to a Rube Golderberg -esque device designed to deliver it to Bernard, he accidentally knocks the hairdyer into the tub. He proceeds to take it out, comment, "That was lucky" and continue using it. There may be a radio by the bath too.
Tested by MythBusters, who confirmed it. However, they also showed that a working Ground Fault Interrupter will cut the power to an appliance in time. Appliances without GFIs, on the other hand, will kill, which is an issue because the overwhelming majority of small appliances don't have GFIs. They didn't test GFIs built into power outlets (required for new bathroom construction by several building codes), but presumably they'd work the same way - but a murderer could simply plug the appliance into an outlet in another room using a cheap extension cord.
In the Columbo episode "Double Shock", the killer uses an electric mixer.
Double subverted on Life: When facing a hitmanwoman (sic) who kills using household materials, Charlie thinks that a bathtub was rigged to be electrified as a backup plan to murder the victim in case the murderer's Plan A failed. Bobby says that it's a myth because the circuit breaker would prevent the electrocution from taking place. Charlie then tests this claim by throwing a TV into the bathtub. The TV explodes after hitting the water, and the power for the entire building goes out. They then realize that the killer had circumvented the circuit breaker as well.
Shower variant in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy is set up to shut off the water in a locker room shower just as the puddle reaches a live wire. She sees the trap and jumps out just in time, with only static-frazzled hair to show for it (which concerns her quite a bit).
Buffy is given a malfunctioning Initiative taser in The Uriah Gambit set up by Prof. Walsh — she throws it into a pool of water in which a demon is standing.
The Mentalist: In "Scarlet Ribbons", a security guard is found dead in his bathtub with a hairdryer dropped into it.
Rizzoli & Isles: In "Partners in Crime", the killer pushes a boombox into the hot tub of the first Body of the Week. This does not kill her but stuns her so the killer can hold her head underwater till she drowns.
In BioShock, any Splicer in the same water will instantly die if you hit them with an electric shock. Killing a Splicer in this manner unlocks an achievement called "Toaster in the Tub".
In Urban Chaos Riot Response, during one of the hostage situations, a burner will use a reporter as a human shield. When you successfully shoot him, he will fall backwards into a conveniently filled bathtub and said reporter will then drop a television on top of the guy ("Fry you bastard!") as payback.
One of the installments of Hitman series even had this move on advertisement posters. And indeed, in one mission this is the possible, and indeed advisable for a "true", never-seen never-recognized, killer, way to assassinate one of your targets.
Taking into account how difficult it would be to kill yourself this way, however, doing this won't be counted as an "accident".
Fallout 3 has a few skeletons found in the bathtub, as they were likely killed upon the bombs falling, this means many of them died in the tub. However, a rare few apparently died afterwards. A few can be found with a toaster in the bathtub with them. Although really, if you're going to choose between semi-instant frying by toaster assisted suicide or waiting for your flesh to fall off from radiation, fry my problems away.
In Scribblenauts, you can use this to kill hostile creatures in bodies of water, or Maxwell if you don't make sure he's safe.
The Disney game Nightmare Ned has a whole song about this. The level it appears on requires you to leap from bathtub to bathtub and avoid getting shocked in the process.
In Alone In The Dark 2008, there are some points where you have to pull electric cables out of the water so you can traverse through the area without getting zapped.
Multiple puzzles in Half-Life 2 involve a large pool of water in contact with live wires. Gordon must shut off the power source or else suffer severe damage should he find himself swimming.
Using a Lightning Gun in the water in Quake discharges all of your ammo into the surrounding area. Damage scales exponentially; one cell (out of a maximum possible of 100) will be a small hit. Ten cells will viciously maim you. Twenty or more cells will gib the player and anything nearby.
Played for laughs in Tales of Vesperia. Raven is perfectly aware that he'll get electrocuted if he goes in a hot spring because of his blastia heart. When Yuri brings it up to him, he simply says that it's Worth It.
One of the characters in Lucius dies when Lucius drops a hairdryer into her bathtub.
In Soldier of Fortune II, you kill Domingo Sanchez by blowing a fuse box while he's standing in a puddle of water.
He makes another reference to the act in his "You're a Rotten Dirty Bastard" special.
Is this a pep talk? Because pep talks are supposed to make you feel peppy, not make you want to take a shower with a FUCKING TOASTER!
Done on Sealab 2021 in the episode "Waking Quinn". Stormy drops a high powered hair dryer into a pool which electrocutes Quinn, causing him to experience lots of odd hallucinations. He did it not out of malice, but out of stupidity. Later, when Quinn wakes up, Stormy tries to revive him with a defibrillator (by putting it directly in the water, away from Quinn himself), then shows him his "bitchin'" homemade Tesla coil.
In a later episode, Sparks kills Murphy by dropping the same Tesla coil into the jacuzzi Murphy is sitting in. However, because of the slow speed of the aforementioned visible arcs of electricity, Murphy lives long enough to take Sparks down with him.
Hilariously attempted by Dale in King of the Hill to Hank when he heard he had an Erotic Dream about his wife. Dale ran in with a toaster in hand, but forget it was still plugged, so he just tripped and fell before he could make it.
On the season one Family Guy episode "A Hero Sits Next Door," (it's the episode that introduces the Swansons, for those who haven't seen Family Guy's first season) when Peter mentioned how much he hated new neighbors because they always borrow his stuff and never return it, the scene cuts to a man about to commit suicide in a bath with a toaster (implied to be one of the many things he lent to his neighbor and hasn't seen since).
In "Mom's the Word", one of Stewie's suicide attempts involves the toaster-in-the-bathtub routine, but it backfires when he becomes a toast-themed superhero as a result.
Done in Rocko's Modern Life episode "Fatal Contraption" when the new jealous appliance destroys the toaster by throwing it a piece of bread to chase in which said piece of bread falls into the sink so that the toaster follows it.
Interestingly, water in its pure form won't readily act as a conductor. In fact water is a pretty good insulator. Unfortunately, water is also a great solvent...this means that there's almost always some minerals and/or other salts dissolved within. It's these salts that readily conduct electricity. Even if you took a bath in pure H2O, the moment you dipped your toe in the tub, the salts and other contaminants on you skin have doomed your fate!
Thomas Merton died this way. Conspiracy theories abound.
Another teen died from dropping a hair dryer in the tub.
One method of execution by the Nazis involved lowering a group of prisoners on a metal plate into a vat of water, then running current through it. Then the apparatus was raised out of the water and electrified again to burn the corpses.
This murder attempt. Fortunately for the woman, she tossed out the radio in time and survived.
This is actually a common hazard for live performing musicians, especially when the set/venue/etcetera involves a pool or fountain or other large body of water and/or it's raining. Since vocalists (and to a lesser degree guitarists) might not exactly remember they are holding a highly charged electrical object when they decide to jump into the pool/run out from under the canopy/etcetera, people have almost died doing this - the only thing saving them being someone grabbing their mic or guitar or kicking it loose from power before they hit the water.
Also a hazard for photographers: batteries on modern camera gear can easily charge it up enough to deliver a fatal shock if the photographer falls into water. In at least one incident caught on video, a photographer at a wedding aiming for a better shot forgot to look behind him and fell into a fountain - the only thing making it not fatal was that someone grabbed his camera gear from him using a strap of his backpack.
There was a case in Austria in the late 1980s where a wife tried to kill her husband by throwing a running hairdryer into the bathtub he was sitting in. The residual current circuit breaker did its job and saved the man's life. The manufacturer of the circuit breaker quoted the incident in their advertising to prove the high quality of their product, which just goes to show that the ability to make quality electric parts is not always paired with good taste.