Evil Smells Bad


"As a foulness shall ye know them..."

Frequently, when a character enters an evil or cursed area, they'll find that it smells really, overpoweringly bad. It usually smells of rotten flesh (or just "death") and grows more powerful as the investigator gets closer to the threat. Another variant is an evil being carrying a bad stench with it when it appears. Frequently one of the Horror Tropes.

This trope stems from the fact that dead and unclean things smell bad, so if somewhere or something smells bad, it's probably dangerous. The belief that demons smell of sulfur is also a contributing factor.

In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones refers to this as the "Reek of Wrongness," which can take many forms besides just smell.

Compare with Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness, where the stench is just a character's poor hygiene. Please note that the smell of evil isn't always proportionate to its taste.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fruits Basket, Kyo's true form smells so bad that Tohru vomits the first time she encounters it. How evil it is depends on who you ask, but the consensus is that it is NOT friendly.
  • Watanuki from ×××HOLiC came across some situations like this, but he's the only one who can sense it. One example is at Himawari's friend's school where the game, Angel, is taking place. Domeki can't smell it. It's like some sort of spiritual stench that only Watanuki can smell, and it got worse as he got closer to the threat taking hold.
  • The very first chapter of Black Joke features two homosexual assassins that use disgusting amounts of perfume. In the climax its shown billowing inside a car in thick, choking fumes.
  • In Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z, their version of Sedusa leaves the smell of cheap make-up wherever she goes, which is the one flaw in her otherwise perfect powers of disguise.
  • In Re:Zero, the Witch of Envy and the people given favor to or connected to her have a foul scent, which only certain characters can smell. Since Subaru's Return by Death ability is given to him by the Witch, he also has this scent, which makes the other characters having a hard time trusting him.
  • Gyo lives off this trope, since the monsters in question are undead fish corpses. Even living fish doesnt exactly smell good. As it turns out, the corpses are just a delivery system, the true evil is a form of semi-sentient bacteria that propogates itself using the gasses released by decay. It's even worse for infected humans since they aren't technically DEAD.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges are stated to leave a putrefying stench of death behind them. When one of the Sisters of Death attacks Judge Kraken, he notes that she smells like a corpse.
  • A humorous case would be present in the New Spider-Man series featuring Miles Morales. During a dangerous fight against Blackheart, Miles remarked that Blackheart exuded a terrible scent that was best described as being “like a cat pooped on another cat’s poop".
    • Long-time Spidey villain Carnage apparently has an aroma similar to vomit. Given Carnage's habits, this is actually somewhat surprising - the Carnage symbiote is Axe-Crazy and blood would seem more likely.
  • All of planet Jasper in Copperhead smells like rotten eggs - partly due to its mining industry, partly due to its borderline-lawless reputation per this trope.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Graboids in the Tremors films are known for giving off a putrid stench, living or dead.
  • Italian zombie movie Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror has this line:
    Michael: Mother, this cloth... it smells of death!
  • The Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is repeatedly described as having bad breath.
    Mr. Gibbs: They say the stench of its breath is... ugh... [he shudders] Imagine, the last thing you know on God's green earth is the roar of the Kraken and the reeking odor of a thousand rotting corpses... if you believe such things.
    Insane sailor: No! Beneath us... foul breath!
    Captain Jack Sparrow: Not that bad, really.
  • Suspiria: The Three Mothers Trilogy more specifically invoke this, by mentioning that the earth that witches' houses are built upon becomes so deadly and pestilent by the evil and death that emanates from there, that the entire neighborhood has a sweetish, nauseating smell.
  • The cyborgs from Virus are said to smell "like dogshit".

  • In Gary Jennings's Aztec, the Spanish conquistadors rarely bathed, according to the European customs of the time (mid-to-late 1400s). This in contrast to the frequent bathing and saunaing habits of the Mexica. In one scene, Mixtli has them hauled into the yard and washed by force, which terrifies the invaders.
  • In the short story "Jerusalem's Lot" (set presumably before 'Salem's Lot) by Stephen King, all the buildings in the eponymous village smell terrible inside. This is probably due to the giant worm living beneath the church.
  • Also shows up in another King work, The Dark Half. A policeman inspecting the car George Stark had used earlier notes that it smells hostile and animalistic. Stark also falls into this trope later in the book, being followed by the stench of his own decaying body.
  • In Masques, the protagonist smells horrible after crawling out of the lair of the Big Bad. Granted, she did use the sewage system, but there are lots of rotting corpses in there to account for the smell of the sewage, too.
  • A lot of the creatures the Vir Requis fight in Dragons of Requiem are repeatedly noted for smelling very foul. Wyverns smell like vinegar and sulfur; sphinxes smells like urine, acid, and sulfur; mimics and demons (which are composed of rotting corpses) smell like death, and so on.
  • In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen, as a part of his education, goes to a mass where the priest gives a long, heated speech about the horrors of hell, including the eternal smell of decaying corpses.
  • Cthulhu Mythos:
    • Most of H.P. Lovecraft's eldrich horrors are described as smelling rather icky. Lovecraft himself had a sensitive sense of smell and couldnt stand bad odors.
      The Necronomicon: Iä Shub-Niggurath! As Foulness shall ye know them!
    • The titular town in The Shadow Over Innsmouth and its mutant inhabitants smell very strongly of fish.
    • The titular house from The Shunned House is noted as positively reeking of decay and foulness. Turns out to be caused by some gargantuan entity buried beneath it. Once it's been dissolved with acid, the smell disappears.
  • Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet:
    • A Wind in the Door and other books featuring the Echthroi as villains always mention how bad they smell — "makes silage smell like roses," according to Calvin. Thing is, they can disguise this smell until they are found out.
    • In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Chuck has a very sensitive sense of smell, and cruel, mean people smell distinctly bad to him.
  • In Dracula, the eponymous villain has foul breath, almost certainly due to his diet, and areas where he stays are, well, to quote the book:
    But as to the odour itself, how shall I describe it? It was not alone that it was composed of all the ills of mortality and with the pungent, acrid smell of blood, but it seemed as though corruption had become itself corrupt.
  • The regions of the world corrupted by Torak and Zandramas in The Belgariad and The Malloreon are reminiscent of Mordor: blighted wastelands overrun with fungus and other unwholesome things, and they absolutely reek.
  • While not technically truly evil at heart, Erik from Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera is described by Christine as having hands that smell of death.
  • Very frequent in The Lord of the Rings. To give a few examples, Shelob's lair is extremely odoriferous, and the flowers growing near Minas Morgul are described as smelling like rotting flesh.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Mab reports an evil smell - like one of the lords of hell, whom he is familiar with.
  • Well, technically, it's more chaotic, but Free Magic in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series is extremely dangerous and almost always wielded by nasty pieces of work, and it's described as producing an acrid, hot-metal smell.
  • In Shadows of the Empire, Prince Xizor notices something.
    He imagined he could smell the decay in the Emperor's worn body. Likely that was just a trick of the recycled air, run through dozens of filters to ensure that there was no chance of any poison gas being introduced into it. Filtered the life out of it, perhaps, giving it that dead smell.
  • Break of Dark by Robert Westall has a short story about the ghosts of a trio of loathed relations. The first signs of their malign presence involve an otherwise squeaky-clean house become beset with the smell of old woman and breath mints.
  • In Andre Norton's Dread Companion, the Dark Ones. Kosgro says it's very useful as warning, especially since they don't realize it.
  • In The Hunger Games, President Snow smells like roses...and blood. There is an actual reason for both, but still...
    • An evil reason.
  • In Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion, the protagonist finds a poor, lost, talking baby goat. He slowly becomes aware of a terrible stench surrounding it. It turns out the goat is actually Belial.
  • Infected in The Troop smell like rotting peaches, because their bodies' metabolisms are supercharged; and are breaking down their body tissues to sustain itself and the mutant tapeworms in their stomachs.
  • In The Last Battle, a foul smell follows Tash around. Eustace says it smells like a dead bird.
  • Thanks to the entire species having individual Signature Scents—which can be altered for the worse by spiritual corruption or even negative emotions—the worst of the worst Kymerans in Nancy A. Collins's Golgotham trilogy tend to eventually acquire burnt, acrid, or sulfurous odors.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Supernatural, ghosts leave a smell of ozone and demons smell like sulfur.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "The Zeppo", Giles is seeking supernatural aid in a graveyard; Xander spots him and tries to join in the apocalypse-fighting to get away from new "friend" Jack and his dead pal Bob.
    Giles: There's something different about this menace. In the air, I can feel it. The stench of death.
    Xander: Yeah, I think that's Bob.

  • Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" chorus, with the whole song being about drug addiction.
    Ooh, that smell.
    Can't you smell that smell?
    Ooh, that smell.
    The smell of death surrounds you.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • While Boogeyman was known for appearing unexpectedly, either as part of an ambush or because someone called his name, sometimes he felt the need to let everyone know of his arrival, which he usually did with a stick which overflowed with an orange smoke is said to have reeked.

  • In 2nd Maccabees chapter 9, Antiochus IV was stricken with such a devastating illness by the Lord that his entire army was sickened by the smell and no one could even come close enough to carry him around on a litter. Eventually even the king couldn't stand the smell of himself and decided to make amends with the Jewish people and God.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Gaia Garou Theurges can detect Wyrm presence through the gift Sense Wyrm. Many liken the Wyrm's presence to an odor. Mari Cabra complained that a bane-infested Umbral location stank of the Wyrm.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Chaos is said to have a cloying, sickening odor, like candy floss crossed with rotten meat.
    • More specifically, anything related to Nurgle, the Chaos god of disease, pestilence, and decay. His mortal servants and daemons are bloated, putrescent things whose bodies are foul with rot and sickness, and exude terrible scents of every rancid bodily odor known to man and some known only to the Xenos.

    Video Games 
  • Diablo. Upon entering the catacombs, the main character comments, "The smell of death surrounds me."
  • The interior of the Giant Worm in Gears of War 2 is stated as smelling terrible. Since the worm is essentially a mobile disaster and a place where one member of the squad meets a gruesome death, this trope is in full force.
  • In the Resident Evil 5 DLC story "Lost in Nightmares", Jill and Chris enter an area where there is a really bad smell. Chris states that he hopes that they don't run into whatever's making it. They do. A monster with a bloated back, wielding an ax and a horrible stench.
  • Blizzard seems to love this trope in general. In Warcraft III, it is not uncommon to hear some characters say they "smell the stench of demons" somewhere or something else along those lines.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • This is said to be the case for Scamps, the weakest and smallest known form of lesser Daedra who have a rancid smell. Oblivion's "Whom Gods Annoy" quest centers around a poor Leyawiin resident cursed with a staff that summons Scamps to stink up her home and annoy the hell out of her. While Scamps are generally in the service of Mehrunes Dagon, the staff was created by Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness and a morbid practical joker.
    • The Sload are a race of "slugmen" native to Thras, an archipelago to the southwest of Tamriel. While they themselves operate on a Blue and Orange Morality, the denizens of Tamriel instead see them as Always Chaotic Evil. (Wiping out half of the continent's population with a Mystical Plague tends to spark those sorts of feelings...) The Sload are said to emanate a constant "repugnant" stench.
    • Coldharbour is the Daedric plane of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of Domination and Corruption. The ground is sludge, the sky is on fire, and the air is freezing. It resembles a ruined and desecrated copy of Nirn that is filled with suffering and "spattered" with blood and excrement. It contains charnel houses full of the dead and slave pens beyond count. If that weren't all horrifying enough, it is said that the smell alone is enough to break most mortals. It is said that no mortals willingly visit this place except in error.

    Web Original 
  • A few shorts of the Japanese horror anthology "Tales of Terror From Tokyo" dealt with this trope, including "The Smell", where a young girl comes upon a kneeling woman who always faces her back and stinks of rotting meat (for some reason, the smell prompts her to try to call the police right before the ghost woman does her wacky hijinks on her [1]), and "The Smell of Animal", where the visiting niece is the only character who finds her aunt's husband has a horribly repulsive smell. Through flashbacks, it's revealed that, in his youth, the husband enjoyed killing animals as a hobby and the smell latched onto him [2].

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: A sleepless Billy imagines his own bed time story where there was a town so happy that it Tastes Like Diabetes watched over by an evil wizard. A few changes to the story caused the wizard to become fat and smelly, much to his chagrin. The wizard makes a Heel–Face Turn in the end when he finds out how happy they are.
  • In Camp Lazlo, Mr. Meat Man from the Halloween special would be a progressive case. He started off as rancid inanimate and harmless canned meat construct, but continued rejection by Lazlo and his friends cause him to become increasingly hostile in addition to smelling even worse.
  • In Peppermint Rose, Bugoonya as a whole smells nasty, but the queen's smell is so bad anyone who comes near breaks out in sneezes.

    Real Life 
  • David Sedaris says that crickets don't just smell bad, they smell evil.
  • According to veteran stories, battlefields stink. Burnt wood, metal and rubber, rotting dead bodies, burning oil and fuel, decay and mud. Burying the dead and removing the debris from the fields is a foremost task in the aftermath of a battle, before diseases set in. Obviously, the Western Front of World War I is the worst with a years long stalemate allowing all these problems to pile up to a degree and scale no-one imagined possible before.
  • Pirates, like most sailors at the time, would sometimes go for days or weeks without bathing due to the lack of clean freshwater on board their ships.
  • A few of Derek Lowe's "Things I Won't Work With" are chemicals which, when not being Explodium, are overpoweringly smelly as well as toxic. Worse, some of them aren't even that toxic, but are simply so utterly, overwhelmingly stinky that chemists who allow it in their labs are rare. The fact some of them can be smelled half a mile away when you spill a single droplet doesn't help, either. Selenium compounds seem to be particularly common offenders.
  • Reportedly, you could always tell when a slave ship came to port; they stunk to high heaven with the combination of human waste, blood and other substances resulting from their chained cargo and their crews were often the worst paid and behaved of any kind on the sea.